By Omoniyi Salaudeen
AT no time in the recent past had the issue of campaign funding of candidates in an election generated as much controversy and intense public interest as the last presidential election. And curiously, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been the whipping child in the whole saga. It all started with the Dasukigate and the attendant opprobrium over the alleged diversion of $2.1 billion dollar meant for arms purchase to fight Boko Haram. Since the lid was blown open, the embattled former National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki (retd) has remained in detention, while his trial by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) generates controversy. All attempts by his counsel to secure his release have met a brick wall, as the court denied him bail applications.
Dasuki is not alone in this matter. Virtually all other alleged accomplices, including former national publicity secretary of the PDP, Olisah metuh, Ex-PDP Chairman, Haliru Muhammed and his son, Nnenadi Esther Usman, Femi Fani- Kayode, Musiliu Obanikoro, Senator Iyiola Omisore and Governor Ayodele Fayose, to mention but a few, have been under pressure to submit their share of the arms money.
Metuh, the erstwhile national publicity secretary of the PDP, is now standing trial for allegedly receiving the sum of N400 million from the Office of the National Security Adviser. The prosecution claimed that the fund was collected through the defendant’s company Destra Investment Ltd. The defence witness testified that the instruction for the approval of Metuh’s proposal and immediate payment of the project fund was given by the former president in November 2014.
Fani-Kayode and Nnenadi Usman are equally undergoing trial on a 17-count charge bordering on conspiracy, stealing, corruption and making cash payment exceeding the amount authorized by law at the Federal High Court Lagos. Usman is a former minister of finance and director of finance of the PDP Campaign Organisation in the 2015 general election, while Fani-kayode is a former minister of aviation and director, media and publicity of the PDP presidential Campaign Organization. They were alleged to have stolen and illegally disbursed about N4.9 billion belonging to the Federal Government. Fani-Kayode had recently alleged that he was being put under pressure by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to refund N840 million without trial. The investigation of the two former ministers is still ongoing.
The first count of the charge reads in part: “Nnenadi Esther Usman, Femi Fani-Kayode, Danjuman Yusuf And Jointrust Dimentions Nigeria LTD on or about the 8th day of January, 2015, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court conspired to indirectly retain the sum of N1.5 billion.” This sum, the EFCC said, formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act of stealing.
Further revelation of the alleged diversion of the arms money also showed that the immediate past minister of state for foreign affairs, Musiliu Obanikoro, allegedly received N4.8billion from the office of the National Security Adviser. He has, however, challenged the EFCC to publish the names of the directors and signatories to the Sylvan McNamara Limited account that allegedly received the said amount from the office of the National Security Adviser.
The EFCC in its latest onslaught against the treasury looters has also declared a former deputy governor of Osun State, Senator Iyiola Omisore, wanted over an alleged N700million paid to a company in which he was said to have had interest by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA). The Head of Media and Publicity of the commission, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said in a statement: “The former senator is wanted in connection with a case of receiving and misappropriating the sum of over N700, 000,000.00 from the office of the National Security Adviser.”
Also beaming its searchlight on Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, the operatives further declared that N4.7 billion allegedly used for Fayose’s campaigns in 2014 emanated from the office of the embattled former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki. The anti-graft agency also linked former Minister of State for Defence, Musliu Obanikoro, to the disbursements. Consequently, the EFCC ordered that accounts of Governor Ayodele Fayose and that of his associates with the bank should be frozen.
But Fayose, denying the allegation, disclosed that Zenith Bank funded his campaign. He, therefore, challenged the EFCC to publish bank statements or evidence either in cash, cheque or electronic transfer affirming its allegations against him.
The issue of bank involvement in campaign funding adds a new dimension to the whole controversy. Although the bank has denied any involvement in the alleged campaign sponsorship, the truth is yet to be made public. On one hand, there is media report that the Zenith bank had sent delegation to beg Fayose for the denial. But on the other hand, the bank’s management has refused to issue an official statement either denying or confirming the report. If the allegation is found to be true, then the onus lies on the bank to prove its innocence of this allegation, which is a clear violation of the law. According to the Nigeria constitution, donation or sponsorship of campaigns of politicians or political parties is not allowed by the law. Section 221 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) clearly states: “No association, other than a political party, shall canvass for votes for any candidate at any election or contribute to the funds of any political party or to the election expenses of any candidate at an election.”
Also, the Companies and Allied Matters Act, Cap. C20 L.F.N. 2004 (CAMA) prohibits any direct or indirect donations, in cash or kind, to political association, individual or party, for any political intention.
This development also calls to question the source of campaign funds for the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress APC, Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd), who had prior to the 2015 presidential election declared that his bank manager in Kaduna facilitated the N27 million used in procuring the form to vie for the APC ticket. What the ongoing probing exercise by the anti-graft agency seems to be suggesting is that the party’s presidential campaign was funded only by members’ subscription and that none of its governors and other interest groups or individuals made donation for the campaign. If at all they did, what was the source of the money they donated? Which agency of government conducted investigation into the source of the money? Was the investigation done in secret? What makes APC to be immune to probing? Apparently, the EFCC would be making a serious mistake having self-comforting belief that Nigerians would take the procedure for the loot recovery only on its face value without raising questions.
For the ordinary observer, the frenetic energy with which the anti-graft body is going about prosecuting members of the opposition PDP over the issue of campaign funding gives room for suspicion. Former ministers who served during the administration of ex-president Goodluck Jonathan agitated by the lopsidedness of the war against corruption recently raised the alarm, wondering why only the PDP stalwarts who partook in the disbursement of the 2015 election were the ones being prosecuted. In a statement signed by Dr Abubakar Sulaiman, Jonathan’s minister of Economic Planning, the forum of ex-ministers said: “If this current attempt amounts to auditing the election funds of the Jonathan presidency, it is equally fair to probe President Muhammadu Buhari’s presidential campaign funds too.”
Similarly, a chieftain of Afenifere and members of the Social Democratic Party, Chief Supo Sonibare, frowned at the current practice where parties use public funds to support their candidates in an election. He said in an interview with Sunday Sun: “At some stage, there has to be some legislation to deal with how we apply public funds to political parties’ affairs. Public funds are funds that belong to all of us collectively and it is not all of us that belong to political parties.”
According to him, there is a need for the consensus of all stakeholders in Nigeria on the issue of funding of political parties. “We need to actually sit down at some stage and address that issue of funding because really funds that should have been used for health, education and other needs of the society are being used by political parties for their activities,” he said.
The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee against corruption, Prof Itse Sagay, however, exonerated the EFCC from insinuation of selective prosecution, stressing that only those who served in the previous government had access to public funds, hence the decision to beam the searchlight on them.
Whichever way the issue is looked at, there is a need for some measure of fair play and transparency of the process for the administration to gain support of Nigerians in its current effort to rid the country of corruption.