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Campaign financing: INEC should be unbundled – Omo-Agege

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A FORMER Director of Political Parties and Liaison Office of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) Regina Omo-Agege has suggested that the Commission should be unbundled.

Omo-Agege who is the Executive Director of Women Education, Advocacy and Development Initiative, said this on Thursday when speaking as a panellist during a webinar organised by the Premium Times Centre for Investigative Journalism (PTCIJ) titled ‘Campaign Financing; The laws and road to implementation’.

She called for the unbundling of the Commission in response to a question by a participant who asked if the INEC could set up another arm to monitor affairs of political parties in Nigeria.

“First and foremost, I agree hundred percent that INEC should be unbundled, I am sure INEC themselves wants to be unbundled because the burden on them is too much, so I go for the unbundling of INEC,” Omo-Agege said.

She said, for more than 10 years, INEC has been talking about an agency that would be responsible for monitoring political parties.

Distinguishing between campaign financing and election expenses, she said  INEC has duty to monitor both the finance of political parties during campaign and election.

However, she noted that many political parties have been discreet about their finance.

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A former member of Nigeria’s House of Representative, Sani Zorro, who was also a panellist at the webinar underscored the impotence of the  Nigerian parliament regarding election reform.

He said in 2015, the 8th Assembly came up with an amended electoral act, but the executive arm had other interest and did not sign it into law.

He recollected how leadership of the National assembly then wanted to reverse the order of the general elections so that the National Assembly elections would come first, then the Presidential elections later. Still, the Executive arm used all its powers, including threats to ensure it did not happen.

Zoro, who also former president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), questioned the rational of election expenses quota stipulated by the law, saying that it is unrealistic due to the changing economic condition and geographic factor.

According to him, it was impossible for senators from various states to spend the same amount of money considering difference in demographic and geographic factors.

For example, it is not possible for a senatorial candidate in Kano State with 44 local government areas to spend the same amount of money as his counterpart in Bayelsa State with eight local government areas, he explained.

On the role of INEC in monitoring the expenses of political parties and candidates, Zorro said since the process was started in 1999, no one has been identified for flouting the law in more than 22 years.

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He noted that one of the major problems of INEC was that it was not independent because its members were appointees of the president, who is also a politician and member of a political party.

“I have no regret to say this; it is misnomer to hold the electoral body in Nigeria as Independent Electoral Commission because it is in the purview of the executive arms of the government.

“Its chairman as well as all its commissioners are appointed by the executive branch of government… We do not expect the electoral management in Nigeria as it is presently constituted to go against the interest of the ruling party,” Zorro stated.

Moderator of the session and publisher of Premium Times Dapo Olorunyomi asked the panellists if INEC lacked the power to enforce its regulations on political parties and campaign funding.

The National Publicity Secretary of the Allied People’s Movement (APM) Sidi Nassar Ali concurred, saying INEC lacks the capacity to hold the political parties in check.

He argued that the INEC could track the monies donated by party members and interest groups to political parties with the help of banking institutions if it so wants.

He added that the lawmakers who were supposed to serve as another layer of  regulation also belonged to political parties and would not make regulations that could go against their own interests.

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Ali said if INEC had been doing its job, the source of excessive funding and overspending during campaigns and elections would have been identified, investigated and prosecuted.

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