By Eze Onyekpere
The fourth issue is that the sums of permissible expenditure are too low if the actual cost of elections is taken into consideration. The actual costs include the media in the print and electronic formats, payment for venues, hotels, staff, offices, administration, cost of rallies, etc. It should be upwardly reviewed, especially at the presidential and gubernatorial levels based on the empirical considerations earlier discussed. The following limits are recommended: Presidential election at seven billion naira (N7,000,000,000); Governorship election at four hundred million naira (N400,000,000);eighty million naira (N80,000,000) for Senate and fifty million naira (N50,000,000) for House of Representatives. Others include State Assembly at be twenty million naira (N20,000,000); chairmanship election to a local government council at twenty million naira (N20,000,000) and councillorship at three million naira (N3,000, 000). This is a limit to be fixed by INEC in consultation with stakeholders.
The fifth issue is in respect of the exclusion of any expenditure made before the notification of the date fixed for election. It appears that the Act is encouraging front-loading of expenditure by candidates since these expenses will not be taken into cognizance in determining the total expenses. The implication of this development is that in practical terms, there is no real expenditure limit as candidates can always rely on the loophole in the law to exceed the limits. The recommendation is that subsection (8) (b) of S.91 should be deleted as it makes an unnecessary differentiation. The new clause should read: “Any expenditure whether made before or after the notice of poll for goods, services or materials used during the election shall count towards the election expenses”.
It is a notorious fact that delegates electing candidates demand and receive money and generally vote for the highest bidder. These monies are disbursed sometimes in foreign currencies such as the United States dollar. The exclusion of this huge expenditure arena creates a big loophole in the law. This raises the sixth issue which is the issue of huge expression of interest and nomination fees charged by political parties from aspirants seeking elective offices. The exclusion is: “any deposit made by the candidate on his/her nomination in compliance with the law”. The poser is; which law provides for political parties to charge huge expression of interest and nomination fees? The author of this discourse is yet to find the enabling law under which political parties charge these huge fees.
This is exclusionary and starts the process of monetisation of politics from the very beginning. The constitution has already laid down the qualification for anyone seeking a particular elective office. It will be ultra vires the power of the parties to impose prohibitive rules, not laid down in the constitution that will further restrict participation in election contest to only the rich.
Although political parties see nomination as an opportunity to raise funds, this should not be allowed to become an impediment to the right to run for elected office. It is a commendable practice when parties reduce or even remove the cost of nomination and expression of interest to disadvantaged groups such as women and people living with disabilities. But this is just the beginning of the process as it will not facilitate the emergence of women as candidates and elected officials due to the large volume of funds required to get to that level.
A new section on fees for nomination and expression of interest is recommended. It should read: “(1) The Commission in consultation with the political parties shall have power to determine the maximum amount of money a political party shall demand from aspirants as nomination fee or for the collection of form and declaration of intent to run for public office. (2) The Commission in consultation with the political parties shall review the limitation in subsection (1) if it is satisfied that the value of the naira has been substantially altered”.
The seventh issue is that political party expenses are also excluded in the computation of whether a candidate has hit the expenditure limit. The implication is that parties have the leeway to expend enormous resources to support their candidates outside of the candidate’s expenditure ceilings. It may be difficult to draw a reasonable line between candidate’s expenditures and those stricto sensu made by a political party. This is an arbitrary and unreasonable exclusion. Thus, the limitation should apply to both the candidate and political party expenditure or in the alternative, INEC in consultation with political parties and other stakeholders should fix the limitation.
Pray, what is the definition of political party expenses in respect of a candidate standing for election? S.92 (1) defines election expenses as 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. Further, section 92 (2) offering an insight simply stated that election expenses incurred by a political party for the management or conduct of an election shall be determined by INEC in consultation with political parties. Thus, the definition is still awaiting a clarification meeting between INEC and the parties. The eighth issue is the absence of restrictions on some donations and donors. The Act should have introduced the concept of “permissible donor” to bar government contractors, contributors by proxy or in the name of another, persons who in the last five years have been convicted of offences involving fraud or dishonesty, defrauding the revenue and dealing with psychotropic substances from contributing to the coffers of political parties and candidates.
This is to ensure that money from drugs, fraud and other criminal enterprises is not allowed to influence the elections. And a reaffirmation should have been made on the bar on corporate donations and this will include statutory corporations, incorporated charitable associations like churches, non-governmental organisations, etc.
Onyekpere, a lawyer, writes from Abuja