INEC and task of enforcing campaign finance

Why are we operating in some spheres of life as if there are no laws and policy positions? Is Nigeria a jungle? Ignoring stated rules and pretending as if they do not exist are signs and manifestations of impunity. They lead those engaged in the act nowhere and move the nation down the slope. Nigerians have watched with regret the continued violations of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) with impunity by political actors who have already started investing heavily in the 2015 campaigns. The Electoral Act provides for campaigns to start after the notice of poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission and not before then. The same Act also limits the expenses of candidates and third parties towards the elections. It stipulates penalties for non-compliance with the law and makes it the duty of INEC to enforce these provisions.

Today, we are inundated with advertisements on television, radio, newspapers and billboards urging support for President Goodluck Jonathan even before the race for political positions has been declared open. These advertisements demand tens of millions of naira from the advertisers every day excluding the money paid to artists and media personalities whose photos and voices are used for the production of the advertisements. In the last couple of weeks, despite the Ebola Virus Disease caution for people to avoid large public gatherings when possible, millions of naira have been spent on rallies and campaigns to urge the President to run for a second term. From the South-East to the South-West and to the South-South, it has been rallies galore. However, these rallies and advertisements are attempts at starting a race before the referee’s gun goes off. They create undue advantage to a candidate and make the playing field uneven.

Pray, who is providing the billions of naira for the airtime in virtually all the channels of the electronic media? Who is paying for the print media adverts and who is paying for the rallies? Going down to the specifics, can the Nigerian Television Authority produce the receipts, being evidence of payments by person(s) or organisation(s) for the endless advertisements it airs on its channels for the people and groups canvassing support for the President? Yes, the media needs to report on the achievements of the administration but not by a recorded and (purportedly paid) campaign bound jingles that assail the sensibility of reasonable Nigerians. By conservative estimates, not less than N2bn has already been spent by all manner of organisations involved in the business of selling Jonathan’s candidacy. And N1bn is the limit for presidential candidates in a presidential contest. If these organisations can spend so much before the real race begins, then, it is left to the imagination what they intend to spend when INEC blows the whistle.

From all reasonable indications, it is public resources that are being committed to these activities in violation of the law. When has it become right and proper to dedicate public resources for private purposes? If it is not public resources, I challenge the organisers of these activities to come clean and publicly put a name to these masks. Even if the organisers and mobilisers are in thousands, Nigerians demand and need to know who they are and who is funding them. They should be bold enough to declare their income in the last couple of years; how much they have contributed to other noble causes and how much they paid as tax to the authorities. Also, by indicating how much they have contributed to the campaigns, we would be in a position to know whether they have exceeded the N1bn ceiling authorised by law. The unfortunate aspect of these campaigns is that they repeat the Abacha tricks which everyone now knows. We used to think when we were young that a magician changes his tricks or relocates to a place where he is not known when his original tricks have been discovered. No, not in Nigeria, the Nigerian magician will insist on making himself ridiculous by believing he is wearing clothes when he is naked.

Again, in the just concluded Ekiti and Osun elections, there was public inducement of the electorate with money, rice and other materials by the candidates and parties. Materials such as rice and salt were branded with candidates’ names and distributed. This was not done by only one party or candidate but by candidates and parties on both sides of the divide – whether they laid claim to progressive or conservative credentials. Candidates suddenly developed a charitable disposition and all these were celebrated in the media. However, these developments are contrary to the clear and unambiguous provisions of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended. The whole scenario was taken to new heights and became the subject of jurisprudential rhapsodies in the name of “stomach infrastructure”, which has become the new language of impunity and violation of rights.

On the part of the populace, it is now taken for granted that they have to accept the proverbial pot of jam from politicians. This, they do and sell their birthrights without knowing the damage they have done to themselves and their children. The idea that poverty justifies accepting N2,000, electing the wrong person and losing the right to complain about poor governance sounds weird and wild to me. It is the same argument that a robber caught robbing and killing will offer – he was hungry and poor. But not all poor persons chose to rob their way out of poverty. Ask yourself where the politician gets the money running into billions that gets shared at a few thousands to over a million persons. If you convince yourself that the politician is Father Christmas and will not recoup his money after the election, then you can as well believe that you are reading from Pope Eze.

Where is INEC in all these activities and infractions of the law by the political elite? It is not enough for an agency clothed with the kind of powers of INEC under the Electoral Act to throw its hands in despair into the air or to pretend it is not aware of what is happening. It is interesting that INEC has developed reporting formats for candidates, something absent in previous elections. The electoral body needs a new approach and new collaboration with all relevant stakeholders to ensure that campaign finance laws are enforced as we approach 2015. It needs to collaborate with the political parties, security and anti-corruption agencies, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the media, academia and organised civil society, etc. This may take the format of a reinvention of the Political Finance Monitoring Group that got all these stakeholders together some years ago. But this time, the agenda may be more forward looking, proactive and engaging. Pilot monitoring activities of parties and selected candidates can be done collaboratively and the results used to further fine tune laws and policies after the elections. Also, violators of the campaign finance laws can be called to order and the whistle blown on their activities where the evidence exists for such calls. Violators who refuse to heed the calls present opportunities for test judicial cases to determine the applicability of the penal sections of the 2010 Electoral Act.

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