Section 91(10) of the Electoral Act states the penalties for violating campaign finance laws, however, these penalties are not strong enough to serve as deterrents
Political campaign finance refers to funds used to promote the interest of political parties and candidates.In Nigeria, the framework governing political campaign finance is the Electoral Act. According to Section 91(2) and 91(3) of the Electoral Act, the maximum election expenses to be incurred by a candidate at a presidential and governorship election shall be one billion Naira only and two hundred million Naira only respectively. Also, Section 91(4) of the Electoral Act states that the maximum election expenses to be incurred by a candidate for a senatorial and house of representatives election shall be forty million Naira only and twenty million Naira only respectively. Independent political campaign finance experts have frequently noted that Nigeria’s president, governors, senators and members of the house of representatives spent much more than the amount allowed by the Electoral Act.
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The implication is that the campaign finance laws in Nigeria are not in tune with the realities on ground. While there is need to advocate for a reduction in the amount of money spent by politicians and political parties, there is also need to review the electoral realities and laws in Nigeria. The maximum amount of money that a candidate is legally allowed to spend in an election should be reviewed upwards. This recommendation is based on observed realities that are necessary to mount a solid electoral campaign. However, the upward review should not be contained in the Electoral Act. Rather, the Electoral Act should be amended such that the power to decide the maximum legally allowable amounts is vested on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The justification for this is the need to avoid the lengthy rigors of legislation whenever there is need for an urgent change in the maximum legally allowable amount of expenditure. Based on changes in economic indicators, INEC will be allowed to exercise this power from time to time after consultation with relevant stakeholders.
Some of the empirical factors for consideration include cost of media advertisements, cost of campaign venue, transport cost, land area and number of voters to be reached, etc. Section 91(10) of the Electoral Act states the penalties for violating campaign finance laws, however, these penalties are too petty and not strong enough to serve as deterrents. The penalties should be increased to a fine of not less than 50% of the excess expenditure, a prison term of not less than three calendar years and debarment from political offices for a period of not less than five years. The Electoral Act should be amended to make media outfits under obligation to report the cost of all campaign advertisements to INEC. Companies must be banned from making donations to political campaign finance of candidates and parties while donations by ordinary Nigerian citizens should be made tax deductible so long as it is within the maximum legally allowed amount of donations by an individual. In terms of disciplinary powers, INEC should not be a toothless bulldog.
INEC should be empowered to proactively demand from candidates and political parties the market value of government administrative resources like cars, aircrafts and media houses deployed to
political campaigns. INEC should be able to seize campaign finances that are in violation of the law. INEC should be able to issue cease orders to candidates and parties who violate electoral laws, and in extreme cases disqualify such candidates and parties. The cost of nomination and expression of interest forms is currently on the high side. This high cost has shut out individuals who are willing to contest elections but do not have a solid war chest. INEC should take advantage of Section 153 of the Electoral Act and regulate the cost of nomination and expression of interest forms.
Reforming campaign financing is not the duty of INEC alone. While the political parties must do their best to ensure full compliance with the Electoral Act and INEC Guidelines, they must also reform their own internal party funding mechanism such that party members will begin to pay dues and levies. The party must reorganize its secretariat and mechanism of administration to promote transparency and accountability in the use of finances for campaigns of their candidates.
Civil society organizations must recognize that monitoring political campaign financing is not a sprint but a marathon. They must continually monitor political campaign financing and engage in independent investigative research on financing of candidates and parties. The media must continue to raise awareness and set the agenda on the need for political parties to adhere to campaign finance laws while the churches and mosques must teach extensively on moral standards as they concern campaign financing.
Eke writes from Abuja