The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega, recently expressed the determination of the agency to monitor the campaign expenses of registered political parties ahead of the 2015 general elections. Speaking at a forum in Abuja, Jega admitted that the commission, in the past, could not muster the courage to enforce the provisions of the law in this regard.
Though long overdue, the position of the INEC Chairman is in full recognition of the powers vested on the commission by sections 92-95 of the Electoral Act 2006 (as amended). These sections, among others, give the commission the right to place limitations on the monetary and other expenses of political parties and their members seeking elective offices. Although money is widely regarded as the lifeblood of politics, the failure to regulate and monitor its use by politicians can subvert the wishes of the electorate and harm democracy.
It is regrettable that politics in Nigeria has, for some years now, been awfully monetized. It has become necessary to regulate the use of money in politics to reduce its impact on the electoral process. It should not be allowed to determine the outcome of campaigns for electoral offices.
Money, thuggery and rigging have become, according to the respected cleric, Bishop Matthew Kukah, “trinity vices” threatening our fledging democracy. Therefore, any meaningful electoral reform must take cognizance of the negative impact of money in our electoral campaigns. Democracies that have blossomed around the world stipulate in their relevant laws, limits for all monetary and others forms of contributions that political parties and aspirants can receive from individuals and organisations. Penalties are also stipulated for infractions of these laws.
Instructively, the 2006 Electoral Act (as amended) is unambiguous on the need for INEC to closely monitor the expenses of political parties. While section 86 of the Act empowers INEC to “monitor and keep records of the activities of all the registered political parties, section 93(1)-(7c) gives the commission the power to “place limitations on the amount of money or other assets which an individual or group of persons can contribute to a political party.” Also, the maximum election expenses by a candidate for the presidency, governorship, Senate and House of Representatives, as well as that of the State Houses of Assembly, local council chairmanship and councillorship positions, are expressly stated in these sections.
For instance, a presidential candidate is not expected to spend more than N500 million on electoral campaigns. The ceiling for a governorship candidate is N100 million, while those of Senate and House of Representatives aspirants must not exceed N20 million and N10 million, respectively.
It is evident that the campaign expenses of candidates for these offices far exceed the amount stipulated in the Electoral Act, yet INEC has proved incapable of enforcing these laws, including the provision barring any individual or organisation from donating more than N1 million to any candidate.
Many candidates have knowingly received far above the N1 million ceiling on campaign contributions with not even a slap on the wrist from INEC.
Jega’s admission that the commission lacks the capacity to prosecute electoral offenders questions the ability of the electoral body to conduct credible polls in the country.
Nevertheless, the wish of Nigerians ahead of the 2015 elections is that money politics should be de-emphasized while candidates with bright ideas that can improve the lot of their constituents and advance the cause of democracy should be given a chance in the electoral process. The effort to transform our electoral process should start with the reformation of the behaviour of politicians. Effective regulation of the sources and volume of campaign funds will be a good step towards maintenance of the credibility of our democracy.
In that regard, we urge INEC to view election expenses from the strict sense defined in section 94(1) of the Electoral Act, to mean “expenses incurred by a political party within the period from the date notice is given by the commission to conduct an election up to and including the polling day in respect of the particular election.”
It is our view that the failure to limit the use of money in our electoral process stymies the development of our democracy and reduces our chances of having a government and political office holders that are truly elected by the people.
We urge politicians to cooperate with INEC in its efforts to ensure that the forthcoming polls are credible. There should be no room for errors in the 2015 General Elections. Let politicians reduce the amount of money that goes into electoral campaigns. It is now up to the Jega-led INEC to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Electoral Act on campaign funds.