HAVING led election observer missions in Africa since he left office in 2015, former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan was making an informed observation when, in April, he bemoaned the undue influence of money in Nigerian elections in an interview with TOS TV network.
Although he acknowledged that money was required to offset basic logistics costs during election campaigns, the former president noted that “compared to other African countries, we spend too much money here (Nigeria)” and suggested a review of Nigeria’s electoral laws to address the situation.
Pointing out that, in Tanzania, a candidate did not need to print his name on any items to woo voters, Jonathan said, “But here (Nigeria) if somebody is contesting elections you buy bags of rice, wrappers and all manner of items to induce the electorate. Ordinarily, our electoral laws are supposed to frown at such practices. If you do that, you are supposed to be disqualified from contesting in the election. So these are the things that make our election expensive. I think if the young people are willing, things should begin to change.”
However, the Electoral Act Amendment Bill prepared by the National Assembly substantially increased campaign financing limits for elections in Nigeria by raising the maximum amount political parties are permitted to spend in elections, a development which would further entrench the phenomenon of ‘money politics’ in the country.
Section 88 of the bill raised the spending limit for the presidential election from N1 billion to N15 billion – a 1,400 per cent increase. The campaign expenditure limit for the governorship election was raised by 2,400 per cent – from N200 million to N5 billion. Senatorial election was raised from N40 million to N1.5 billion, House of Representatives from N20 million to N500 million, and State House of Assembly from N10 million to N50 million.
The development has elicited concerns from many Nigerians who fear that the electoral space has increasingly become an exclusive field for moneybags in recent times.
Civil Society organisations (CSOs), including election observer groups, who spoke with The ICIR on the subject, faulted the hike of the election campaign expenditure limits.
- Equivalent of Nigeria’s national budget could be spent on campaigns during general elections
In an interview with The ICIR, Chairman of the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) Olanrewaju Suraju expressed concerns that with the hike in the maximum amount political parties were allowed to spend on elections, candidates could spend the equivalent of Nigeria’s national budget on campaigns during general elections.
“Let’s take for instance five political parties spending N5 billion each in a state – that is N25 billion and when you multiply that by 36 states and add the N15 billion per candidate for the presidential election you find out that almost the national budget of the country will be spent on election.”
Suraju said that members of the National Assembly were not in tune with current realities in the country.
Noting that the increase in election expenditure would further worsen corruption in Nigeria, Suraju added, “If you are putting the campaign spending for governorship candidates at N5 billion and the presidential election at N15 billion, where are you expecting such officers to recoup such investment if not by stealing, corruption and abuse of office? The proponents of that increment are not in tune with reality and they are not in any way representing Nigerians.”
- Political elite with access to public funds, moneybags are beneficiaries of increased election spending limits
Also speaking with The ICIR, Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre ( CISLAC) Auwal Rafsanjani observed that it would become more difficult for honest, patriotic Nigerians with no access to public funds and ill gotten wealth to effectively aspire to public office.
Commenting on Section 88 of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill, Suraju said, “That is another red flag. It will create difficulties for honest, decent, committed and patriotic Nigerians who want to participate in the electoral process. What they have done is to commercialise the process because if you have not stolen much in your life or you don’t have a godfather that is sponsoring you, you cannot participate in the electoral process.”
He pointed out that, already, the current level of financial investment in elections in the country was pushing public office holders into looking for ways of recovering the money they invested in the campaigns. He noted that the situation was also responsible for the influx of fraudsters and corrupt people into public office.
“If you look at how much Nigerians earn, it will be very difficult for honest and patriotic citizens to contest elections without the backing of godfathers who will want to recover their money when the candidate gets into office,” Suraju stressed, noting that the National Assembly would alienate Nigerians from participating in the electoral process with the current amendment.
Executive Director of Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED) Ibrahim Zikirullahi said the push to raise the threshold of campaign spending was a ploy to further monetise politics in Nigeria.
“It is a calculated attempt to make it impossible for Nigerians with bright governance ideas to make it to the ballot,” Zikirullahi told The ICIR.
He suggested that members of the National Assembly did not see anything wrong with the proposed astronomical hike of the election spending limit because they had access to public funds which they could deploy to finance their political ambitions.
“The lawmakers pushing through these provisions are being clever by half. They are making it appear as if it is on the election spending they are talking about.
“How about the primary elections of political parties, where billions are also spent to purchase the nomination? The long and short of it is that the current crop of political elite, who have access to the public treasury, know they can afford to take public funds and use them for the purpose of campaigning without consequence.”
For Zikirullahi, the implication of the proposed increase is that ordinary Nigerians, including the youth, women, People with Disabilities and other marginalised groups, who could not afford huge sums to run political campaigns, would be further alienated.
“They have made the political system all about money because they have access to public funds,” he added.
- Diminished opportunities for women, youths
Also faulting the development, Director of the Centre of Democracy and Development (CDD) Idayat Hassan, in an interview with The ICIR, observed that the increase in campaign spending emphasised money politics and also took away the opportunity for women and young people to participate in the political process.
In a further statement sent to The ICIR, titled, ‘Much work remains to be done on Nigeria’s Electoral Act, 2021,’ Hassan noted that major political parties were highly likely to be disinclined toward nominating individuals deemed incapable of making significant contribution to their campaign or attracting heavy donations to fund the campaign.
Hassan also faulted the retention of the current definition of ‘election expenditure’ in the proposed amendment.
“That means that any expenditure incurred by candidates before INEC formally announces election dates is excluded,” she said, adding that the narrow definition of election expenditure offered a convenient legal loophole to candidates, allowing them to spend considerable amounts before the official start of the campaign period.
Hassan further observed that going by the current legal provisions, even when campaigning began, candidates could use third parties to campaign on their behalf without the expenses being included as part of the concerned candidate’s expenditure.
She stressed that CDD-West Africa’s “opposition to these increases and loopholes is informed by the unwholesome and corrupting effects of big money on competitive party and electoral politics ”
- Candidates are not compelled to spend up to campaign expenditure limit
However, Lead Director of the Centre for Social Justice Eze Onyekpere, who observed that the current provisions on election spending were not realistic, argued that candidates were not compelled to spend up to the campaign expenditure limit during elections.
“They did not say you must spend N15 billion to contest for president or that you must have it and show us before campaigning. It just means you can spend up to that. Nobody spends N2 billion to run for presidential election. Nobody spends 200 million to run for governorship,” Onyekpere said, while suggesting that the proposed amendment was a little bit more realistic.
“Whether N15 billion is too much or not is another question but the previous limits were not realistic,” he added in an interview with The ICIR.
- INEC keeps mum
When The ICIR sought the views of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), media aide to INEC Chairman Rotimi Oyekanmi said the commission would not react to the proposed new spending limits since the amended Electoral Act had not been signed into law.