THE INDEPENDENT National Electoral Commission (INEC) has ruled out government funding for political parties as debate rages over possible hike in the cost of elections with the proposed introduction of compulsory adoption of direct primaries in Nigeria’s electoral system.
The National Assembly included a provision for compulsory adoption of direct primaries in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill that was passed and transmitted to President Muhammadu Buhari for signing into law.
Should the bill be signed into law, Nigerian political parties would have no option than to elect their candidates for elections through the direct primary model, which involves the participation of all registered party members.
Already, some political parties have expressed concern that direct primaries would hike the cost of conducting primary elections. The parties have suggested that they need financial support from the government to be able to meet up with the requirements of direct primaries.
The main national opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and an alliance of political parties – the Conference of United Political Parties – have kicked against direct primaries while arguing that it would be very expensive.
Opposing the introduction of direct primaries in the amendment bill, the PDP, through its spokesman Kola Ologbondiyan, said, “The PDP holds that the provision (direct primaries) is aimed at increasing the costs of nomination procedures thereby surrendering the processes to moneybags against the wishes and aspirations of Nigerians.”
The PDP noted that with the exception of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) which it alleged intended to deploy looted funds in future elections, “hardly will there be any political party that will be able to raise the cost of conducting internal elections under a direct primary process.”
* APGA makes case for government funding of political parties
National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) Victor Oye took the debate a notch higher by calling on the Federal Government to fund political parties to enable them conduct direct primaries.
Oye, who spoke on Arise Television on November 10, suggested an annual budgeted subvention of N200 million for each of the 18 registered political parties.
Speaking on the inclusion of a provision for compulsory adoption of direct primaries in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, Oye said, “It (direct primaries) is going to cost a lot of money, it is going to involve a large workforce. Most political parties do not have authenticated registers and they are supposed to have registers with INEC but to compile these registers in 774 local government areas and thousands of wards in Nigeria is something else.”
He added, “We need to have further discussions on this matter. Let us agree on the modalities for implementing the direct primary model. There is nothing wrong about that provided government can come in and fund the political parties. You can’t give what you don’t have. Now they want the political parties to perform magic but nobody funds the political parties and that is why the political parties are prone to external influence. Government used to find political parties – N10 million per party but today it does not happen again. Nigeria has the capacity to fund political parties.
“They should be giving political parties subvention just the same way they give money to the National Assembly. How many political parties do we have? Just 18 of us. They can make a budget for the political parties, maybe N200 million to each political party every year. That will give us N3.6 billion to run the political parties.”
Justifying the call for government funding, Oye noted that if the political parties were not run properly due to lack of funds, they would end up producing ‘ill prepared’ candidates for elections.
He warned that such ill-prepared candidates could go into public office and destroy the system.
* INEC says ‘NO’
However, INEC has ruled out any possibility of government funding for the political parties.
A spokesman of INEC Rotimi Oyekanmi stated the electoral commission’s position on the matter in an interview with The ICIR.
Although he observed that the debate over direct primary was speculative as the amendment bill was yet to be signed into law, Oyekanmi stressed that INEC would not be funding the political parties.
“The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is not a funding agency. Therefore, it will not be in the position to fund political parties to conduct direct primaries. The parties would have to provide their own funds to do so,” he said.
INEC used to provide financial assistance to political parties until 2010, when the National Assembly stopped the budgetary provisions for the programme.
* CSOs disagree with political parties, say direct primaries not expensive
Meanwhile some civil society organisations that are involved in the election process have faulted claims by the political parties that direct primaries would increase the cost of primary elections.
Director of the Centre for Social Justice Eze Onyekpere told The ICIR that the direct primary model should be a cheaper option for the political parties.
“They (political parties) claim to have a register of members so why should it be difficult for party members to go to the party office at the ward or local government levels to cast their votes during primaries? Lack of money is just an excuse being given by people who have no desire for a free and fair system. It does not cost money, all it requires is honesty and transparency.”
Onyekpere suggested that the direct primaries could be staggered and conducted over a stipulated period.
“It can be done in a week or two, depending on the timetable of the party,” he said.
Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD-West Africa) Idayat Hassan told The ICIR direct primaries would de-emphasise the role of money in the electoral system.
“It is not tenable for political parties to claim they don’t have enough money to conduct direct primaries. Money should not be a factor because politicians spend too much money on elections and this innovation is aimed at addressing that. It does not require money for party members to line up behind the candidate of their choice,” she added.
According to Hassan, if any organisation should talk about needing more money because of direct primaries, it should be INEC and not the political parties.
In an interview with The ICIR Executive Director Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Chairman of board of Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) Auwal Rafsanjani observed that going by INEC regulations, political parties lacking the capacity to conduct direct primaries should not participate in the electoral process as that would mean that they did not meet the requirements for registration.
Warning against government funding of political parties, Rafsanjani said, “If you finance political parties with public funds there is a tendency of the parties being hijacked by those who provide access to the funds. Nobody should finance any political party from public funds.”
He further observed that in different parts of the world, political parties were financed by members.
Rafsanjani called for the democratisation of political parties in the country so that members could have a say in how they were run.
According to him, any registered political party should be able to effectively fund its activities if the party actually met INEC’s registration requirements.
* Political parties should be funded by members – CNPP
Also contributing to the debate, the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) said political parties should be funded by members and not by the government.
In an interview with The ICIR, Secretary General of CNPP- a coalition of registered political parties – Willy Ezeugwu observed that government funding led to the situation in the recent past where about a hundred political parties emerged in the country at the same time.
Condemning the development, Ezeugwu said most of the political parties existed only in briefcases.
“As the secretary general of the CNPP, I remember that in 1999, parties funded themselves by asking their members to contribute but what is happening in this country is everybody wants to register a political party. This has led to the emergence of briefcase political parties without membership. The proper thing is that political parties should be funded by the members through contributions. When it was said that INEC should be funding political parties, it was when we had over a hundred parties just because people wanted to collect money from INEC,” Ezeugwu said.