By SKC Ogbonnia, Ph.D
The Electoral Act of 2010 empowers the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) to regulate the sources and nature of funding for political campaigns in Nigeria. However, even though the 2011 general election was declared free and fair by the government, the chairman of INEC, Attahiru Jega, would later confess that the Commission “does not even have a desk that handles campaign financing” (As quoted in Vanguard Newspaper, May 8, 2011). After a public rebuke, Jega has decided to toe the path of honor and now says that INEC will monitor campaign funds in the 2015 elections (The Punch Newspaper, April 7, 2014). Similar position is canvassed by a broad spectrum of Nigerian elites, including the National Stakeholders’ Forum on Electoral Reform led by former Senate President Ken Nnamani. But President Goodluck Jonathan has flatly rejected the idea, arguing that regulation can only be realistic, “if you’re getting funds from government, then you must set restrictions; but if you’re generating your own funds, then you’ve no restrictions” (As quoted in Daily Trust, April 8, 2014).
While it can be convenient to lampoon both the INEC and the President for this pattern of inconsistency, the simple truth is that the issue of campaign finance in Nigeria has been a frustrating mirage.
For transparency and fairness, Nigeria should explore the implications of Jonathan’s remarks and adopt without delay full public funding for inter-party elections. This proposal is consistent with the recommendations of notable organizations, such as the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). The proposal is also similar to the McCain-Feingold legislation for presidential elections in the United States of America—without the choice for individual contributions. Unlike before, implementation will not be burdened by the number of political parties since the parties themselves are dramatically decreasing to the desired two-party structure. To frustrate political merchants eager to capitalize on the loopholes of the government funding, the INEC should employ more stringent conditions for registration as well as participation of parties in elections.
Perhaps the process to public funding is not expected to be a cakewalk in this nation. Nevertheless, any genuine effort must ensure that that the long awaited Cashless Policy by the Central Bank of Nigeria is fully implemented and INEC itself strengthened to enforce existing laws on campaign finance, including the costs for elections as stipulated in the Electoral Act of 2010.
Public funding has become necessary for obvious reasons:
To begin with, Nigeria can adequately afford government funding for inter-party elections. After all, virtually all individual elections in the country are already being financed one way or another through looted funds from government treasury. In fact, a cursory look at recent Nigerian political diary readily shows that most elective office holders are individuals who have become wealthy by stealing public money or sponsored by godfathers who thrive in stealing public money.
Second, lack of public funding accelerates the engine of corruption in the country. For instance, the corrupt military brigade that funded President Olusegun Obasanjo’s elections enjoyed immunity while he was in office. President Umaru Yar’Adua’s failure to investigate clear cases of corruption by his predecessor and some ex-governors is tied to the source of the funds used in ushering him (Yar’Adua) to power. Ditto President Goodluck Jonathan, whose party is making matters worse by aggressively soliciting corrupt politicians, particularly notorious ex-governors currently facing charges for looting state treasuries. Besides, public funding will finally allay the fears of some influential Nigerians (including President Jonathan) who claim that their main reason for advocating single tenure for governors and the president is attributed to the fact that cost of re-elections only goes to worsen corruption.
More significantly, lack of public funding has weakened competition as well as opposition in national body politics. Public funding would curtail the prevailing pattern where money, instead of the masses, determines the outcome of our elections. It would also broaden the political process so that true competition for ideas—rather than competition for access to illegitimate funds—is the backbone of Nigerian democracy. The country can then maximize her abundant human resources by attracting the youth, women, and many true patriots who have shied away from politics simply because of funding and manner of the funding. Very essentially, public finance has the potential to engender dynamic opposition activities toward the much desired checks and balances and effective leadership by consequence. Any system—whether native authority, military regime, democracy or quasi-democracy—without true competition, equal opportunity, and viable mechanisms for checks and balances is nothing but dictatorship.
(Ogbonnia wrote from Houston, Texas and can be reached via: SKCOgbonnia@firsttexasenergy.com)