Election spending: Who will bell the cat?

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The uproar that arose from the reported inflow of N21 billion into the re-election purse of President Goodluck Jonathan was one that shook the polity in the twilight of last year. But is the president alone on the issue? By Charles Kumolu

Political opponents of the president saw it as an opportunity of lampooning the president and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, given their claim that the money would more than be enough to attend to many failures in the government. Indeed, the fact that a number of the state governors who contributed to the N21 billion election project were not able to pay their workers at the end of last year it was easily a scandal in the perception of opposition politicians that such governors would be pouring out billions on an election project. To them it was another example of the hypocrisy that is evident in the PDP, even if that did not remove the fact that the opposition parties were also not innocent of pouring huge funding into their own election projects. Civil society activists and lawyers were, however, more worried that the huge campaign funds marshalled for the president touched on provisions of the law bordering on limitations on election funding. Election funding

Jega. The 2010 Electoral Act governing the ongoing election provides for a N1 billion spending limit for presidential contenders. However, with an electoral umpire that is known for conducting expensive elections in the country, it is not too shocking that political parties and candidates expend limitless funds to finance elections. Before now, controversies had trailed the nearly N100 billion spent by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on the 2011 general elections. Already, political parties seem to be walking on a similar path, with the quantum of money being mobilised and spent in the bid to acquire political office. Unarguably, conducting elections requires huge financial, administrative and logistical commitments globally. However, the dimension it has taken in the country, has popped up so many questions. Irked by the manner various political offices now go to the highest bidder, there are doubts on the workability of Nigeria’s regulatory framework for funding elections. With major players in the scene spending recklessly to get elected in a country with a wide gap between the rich and poor, it may be safe to say that concerned authorities failed to enforce earlier regulations. Indeed, the leading parties are currently putting credibility to such assumption, with the robust and colorful of patterns of their campaigns. Remarkably, the just concluded primaries into various positions, brought the matter to the fore, as allegations of financial inducement to the delegates were reported as widespread in all the major political parties. That informed concerns about the likelihood of many overshooting the N1 billion ceiling placed on presidential campaign finance by section 91 (2) of the amended 2010 Electoral Act. Faced with this, analysts are worried that failure to arrest the trend, would automatically isolate good minded people with less financial resources from the process. INEC had earlier said it had taken measures to track campaign expenditure incurred by political parties when it lifted the ban on election campaigns. The Chief Press Secretary to the INEC chairman, Kayode Idowu, who in a recent session with journalists disclosed this had said: “That structure did not exist in 2011 and we could not do much in that regard. Now we have been able to put structure in place to track expenditure and we are going to be doing that. The situation now is that we can only know whether a person has over spent until he or she has spent it. You cannot stop people from spending until the person has spent. “What the law anticipates is that we have put ceiling on spending and we will now monitor to know whether we can make a case about it.” He also stressed the need for parties to adhere to the law, but likelihood of that is in doubt under the prevailing circumstances. It particularly said: “The maximum expenses to be incurred by a candidate at a presidential election shall be N1 billion and N200 million for governorship.” The act also stipulated sanctions for candidate who flaunted the campaign spending limits. As gathered, the penalties include; N1 million or 12 months imprisonment for erring presidential aspirants, offending governorship aspirants are to pay  N800,000 or spend nine months. While the sum of N600,000 or six months imprisonment is stipulated for a senatorial candidate, the sum of 500,000 or five months imprisonment is also stipulated for a House of Representatives candidate who defaults on the campaign spending Findings also showed the existence of a department to monitor spending of candidates ahead of the 2015 exercise. Expectations that the commission may wield the big stick against big spenders, might be fruitless since it may not be able to do so until after the polls when the big spenders may have comfortably settled down in office with the power of immunity about them.

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