The request by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for assistance in tracking sources of funds spent by politicians and political parties seems to mark a new resolve by the Commission to enforce its statutory duties.
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, made the request when the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, visited the Commission. The request became necessary in order to enforce the provisions of the Electoral Act on electioneering funding. He said cooperation with the anti-graft agency would ensure that election results are not determined by the amount of money a political party or a candidate spends at elections. We cannot agree any less. The Electoral Act 2010 stipulates ceiling of expenses by candidates and political parties for specific elective positions. The maximum limit for presidential candidates is N1 billion, N200 million for governorship candidates, N40 million for Senate and N20 million for House of Representatives. That of State House of Assembly is pegged at N10 million.
Compliance with these regulations as well as the monitoring of all sources of funds accruing to political parties is placed on the shoulders of INEC by the constitution. Over time, however, INEC has found itself unable to investigate, prosecute and sanction erring political parties and politicians for infringing on these regulations. Sections 225 and 226 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) confer on INEC the powers to monitor, probe and assess campaign finances and a political party’s sources of and management of funds. Section 225(2) states that “every political party shall submit to the Independent National Electoral Commission a detailed annual statement and analysis of its sources of funds and other assets together with a similar statement of its expenditure in such form as the Commission may require.”
But politicians and political parties have continued to observe them in the breach. Not only has money assumed a pre-eminent role in swaying the direction of elections, it has over time debarred honest and well qualified citizens without huge financial war chest from presenting themselves for elective positions. This has inexorably had deleterious effects on the quality of leadership and the overall development of the country.
Elections have literally turned to bazaars of sorts where politicians and the electorate trade on votes with little regard to the inherent dangers for effective representation in a democracy. And with a high level of illiteracy and poverty in the country, the pervasiveness of the cankerworm could assume a frightening dimension. These have led to the rise in the cost of elections far beyond the limits set by the Electoral Act.
READ ALSO: Agenda for next electoral act amendment
It is good a thing INEC is sufficiently worried by the increasing negative role of money in the nation’s politics. Excessive deployment of money at elections runs counter to extant regulations and compromises the electoral process by infringing on the sovereignty of the electorate as freely exercised at the ballot box. It is almost impossible for the culture of democracy to grow and endure with such negative dispositions.
A new dimension to the high cost of elections is evident in the rising phenomenon of vote buying during elections. In the last two governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states, there were indiscriminate incidents of vote buying by the major political parties. Money was suspected to be a major phenomenon in swaying the direction of the votes. Though this development is not entirely new in our electioneering process, it seems to have assumed a worrisome dimension in recent times.
Excessive deployment of money at elections encourages and reinforces corruption. When people buy their way to power, they see such monies as investments that will yield huge profits. The resultant effect is the high level of graft in public places with scant regard to development challenges of the country. Selling votes cheapens the voter and compromises the pristine principle of democracy of keeping elected officials accountable to the people.
Sadly, INEC is handicapped in controlling the incidence of vote buying during election. Its request to the EFCC to monitor the sources of funds of political parties is to give meaning to the aphorism that democracy is not a commodity for sale. But, it also mirrors some of the inadequacies of the electoral umpire in effectively carrying out some of the functions bestowed on it by the constitution.
In seeking the cooperation of an agency with high capacity to monitor and track sources of funds, INEC hopes to overcome some of the constraints in monitoring sources of funds of political parties and politicians. Obviously, the EFCC has a comparative advantage in this regard and it is good that INEC wants to tap from their skills and wealth of experience.
It is a good idea that will prove helpful if well managed. For a government that has anti-corruption as a major plank of its programme, the EFCC must work assiduously with the INEC to ensure that parties and their candidates keep to extant regulations on campaign funding. With elections around the corner, the two agencies must work together not only to monitor infringement on these regulations but bring all those found culpable to book. This way, they will pass the message loud and clear that our laws are meant to be obeyed. It will serve as deterrent to future offenders.
But in carrying out this task, the two agencies must be fair to all political parties and their candidates. Any shred of partisanship or impartiality will negate the essence of the cooperation to enforce our electoral laws. We must encourage the culture of democracy to flourish by guaranteeing the rights of the electorate to freely determine their leaders without encumbrances of monetary hue.