BusinessDay

2023: Will deployment of huge funds determine victory?

…INEC, EFCC urged to go against heavy spenders

The conduct of the recently held Osun and Ekiti gubernatorial elections was adjudged one of the best in recent years, especially with the introduction of Biomodal Voter Accreditation System which helped in checking several abnormalities.

Observers however, said that there were other loopholes noticed in both elections that needed urgent attention in line with the amended Electoral Act, which the Independence National Electoral Commission (INEC) must address ahead of the 2023 general election.

Among these concerns is the alleged widespread voter inducement and vote-buying in both elections.

Thus, with the campaign for next year’s election set to begin, the onus is on INEC, to do more and safeguard the electoral process by implementing the Electoral Act to the letter.

The wholesale implementation would help in restoring confidence in the electoral process. Of particular concern is the aspect that puts limits on campaign funding by party and candidate.

Elections in Nigeria have become increasingly monetised in recent decades, in most instances; candidates who are not financially buoyant often lose out and cannot compete.

So, with the date for the commencement of campaign fast approaching, there is growing concern and apprehension among stakeholders that without INEC implementing the aspect of the Electoral Act that put a limit to campaign funding by politicians it could affect the chances of youths and women to compete with moneybags.

Although the commission has on several occasions expressed its readiness to enforce the law, observers say recent events may just be a pointer.

Perhaps, the inability of INEC and other security agencies to check the huge flow of cash, purposely to induce delegates in the recent parties primaries may just be a sign that expectation should not be high.

The 2022 amendment Electoral Act as signed by President Muhammadu Buhari allows presidential candidates to increase their cash haul from N1 billion to N5 billion, while governorship candidates will be able to spend up to N1 billion instead of N200 million originally permitted by the 2010 Electoral Bill.

For senatorial candidates, the ceiling has been raised from N40 million to N100 million, while those aspiring for seats in the House of Representatives can now fund their electioneering to the tune of N70 million as against the N30 million hitherto permitted by the extant law.

Also, the State Assembly candidates would be free to access N30 million instead of the previous N10 million limit.

Pundits say it would be a good thing for the electoral process if INEC can enforce its laws on campaign funding, however, they asked what mechanism INEC has to monitor it?

“INEC’s ability to enforce is hindered by the lack of accountability in our financial system. Can it trust the EFCC to help in making the banks reveal movement of monies around the system?

“Truth remains that if you cannot monitor how money gets into people’s hands, you cannot monitor how it is spent. The idea of control is good, but Nigeria is not there yet. Is it INEC that cannot control party funding that wants to control election funding? Maybe later, but definitely not now,” Wale Ogunade, a lawyer and political analyst, said.

Ogunade stressed that with the current trend youths and women would have to adopt other ways to win elections and raise funds, adding that there is too much illicit financial flow in the country, while security agencies are handicapped.

According to him, “So, with that challenge, the youths may have to devise other ways to win election and even fund it, maybe through go fund me account or crowdfunding, but to think INEC can help them through control of election funding, they may have to wait for a longer time.

“There is too much illicit financial flow in the country, the Central Bank is helpless, the security agencies are helpless. So, what can INEC possibly do?”

The Chairman of the INEC, Mahmood Yakubu, speaking recently at a conference on political campaign finance organised by the Electoral Forum in Abuja, expressed the readiness of the Commission to beam its searchlight on politicians and political parties in a bid to track the sources of funds for their campaigns, adding that a team had been set up to monitor election spending ahead of the general elections.

Represented by Ajayi Kunle, INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of the party monitoring committee, Yakubu said every candidate must be made to declare his bank asset.

“We will put our monitoring committees in motion like the Central Bank, Department of State Services (DSS), EFCC, Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), the (commercial) banks and other law enforcement agencies.

“Every candidate must be made to declare his bank asset. That is where they draw out their money. So, we will make the candidates present their statement of account right from the onset.

“We will make it mandatory for them to turn in their bank statement so that if they say they are doing billboards and the account remains the same, then there is a problem,” he said.

Speaking with BusinessDay Sunday, Sanni Yabagi National Chairman of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), said INEC alone could not be blamed for the trend and non-application of the law.

Yabagi added that there must be more synergy between INEC and security agencies for the law to be effectively enforced.

“Whatever they spend; is anybody checking them? But INEC is not the problem, the EFCC and other security agencies can enforce, but are they doing that?

“Security agencies, with INEC must rise. They must act for any meaningful impact, INEC alone cannot do it, and it should be a collaborative work,” he said.

Speaking recently, Buba Galadima, chieftains of the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP), said he did not have confidence that INEC would apply the rule fairly to all parties and their candidates ahead of the 2023 general election.

“We have two sets of laws; one for the preferred people, and the other for the unwanted people. You can only commit an offence, if you are not wanted. If they love you, even if you kill, they will look the other way.

“If not, how on earth can someone spend N50 billion to claim a party ticket and you expect him to work for the interest of the people.

“In the first place, where did he get this money? Secondly, what will he do when he gets there? I know that money plays a significant role in elections in Nigeria and that is why we left the APC and the PDP because we don’t have that kind of money to play around with,” Galadima said.

Also reacting, Publicity Secretary of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Lagos State, Akeem Amode, said INEC must not be afraid to enforce the Electoral Act, because they are mandated to do so.

“INEC must act, the capacity is there, and they are empowered to do so by the Electoral Act, and I see no reason why they should not,” Amode said.

A politician, who spoke on condition of anonymity, blamed the EFCC and INEC for the impunity being displayed by some parties and their members in relation to deployment of excessive funds to buy votes and compromise electoral process.

He said: “During the presidential primaries of the APC and PDP, we were shown pictures and videos of EFCC operatives. What did they do? Did they not hear about the massive corruption that was going on there? For them, it was a matter of “See nothing; hear nothing.” They are complicit if you ask me.”

After the emergence of Muhammadu Buhari as the presidential flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in 2014, the party was encumbered with the big task of appointing a good hand to handle the campaign against the 2015 presidential election, which the party eventually won.

But the major criteria, according to APC leadership then, was someone with huge financial capacity to out give, out pay, out bribe and overtake the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in all forms of financial inducements or vote buying.

It was no surprise when Lai Mohammed, the then national publicity secretary of the APC, announced Chibuike Amaechi, the then governor of Rivers State, as the director-general of the party’s presidential campaign.

With the oil money in Amaechi’s pocket, the APC truly made a good choice, which resulted in its victory at the polls in 2015; while credit also went to states like Lagos that also allegedly emptied their treasury to ensure steady flow of money at the polls.

The parties vying for the presidential seat in 2023 are even in more precarious situation now than the case was in 2015, as the APC needs all the money to remain in power, the PDP needs all the money to regain power, and Labour Party also needs all the money to match the two political warlords, amid huge youth followership.

The above scenarios are the reasons political and public affairs experts are agitated on the campaign funding of the parties ahead of the 2023 elections as campaign begins soon.

Read also: US nears deal on Governor Bagudu’s money-laundering case

Speaking on the issue, Sam Onikoyi, a Nigerian researcher in Belgium, an academia and activist, thinks that funding has never been an issue and will not be in the 2023 election because the parties and politicians have long planned and stashed public funds for the election.

“You saw how the national budget padding issue died a natural death and what do you think happened to the money. It is for election. The politicians are crafty,” Onikoyi said.

The Nigerian Diaspora, who is ashamed of the economic and security challenge in the country, noted that politics is a gamble game and money bags are the only players because they can take risks, though with stolen funds.

“I heard and followed the sad story of Ahmed Idris, the accountant-general of Nigeria, who was accused of diverting and laundering of N80 billion. The story will end with the EFCC’s arrest and the money will be shared, and the bulk of it will go into the election campaign,” he said.

Toeing same line, Linsu Alusigwe, an Owerri-based politician and businessman, said the money for campaign for the parties will not be difficult to get as party members are capable of raising billions within a week and will even raise more if there is need because sponsorship of Nigerian election is an investment with the highest yield in the world.

“You heard of the over N2 billion APC raised from mere sale of presidential nomination forms, there are more, even hard currencies, from where the politicians pulled the money from. See, all director generals, managers of top government agencies and all juicy appointments are influenced by politicians and such are settlements for their financial support to election campaigns. So, there is money to spend and rub on the faces of the poor masses in 2023,” he said.

Alusigwe, a hotelier and PDP stalwart in Imo State, noted that an associate of his, who was part of the 2019 APC presidential campaign, built and opened an 80-room hotel within eight months and the money was from the campaign.

“See, money can never be an issue for parties during the campaign, at worst; the government, through party agents, and its regulatory agencies will force companies and businesses to pay for the campaign. The issue for me is misuse of the fund, which is sure,” he noted.

But he feared that smaller parties may not raise enough money to challenge the big ones who have looted a lot to spend on campaigns.

Giving instance with the Labour Party, he feared that while the party parades the best among all the candidates for the 2023 presidential election, it may not have enough money to buy votes or influence security in its favour like the APC and PDP.

Countering that, Nkwachukwu Egwuonwu, a Nigerian medical doctor in Huston, Texas, USA, noted that if Nigerians truly want to come out of their economic, social and security woes, they need to jettison money politics and go for good leadership.

“Some of my family members have been querying my social media posts since the APC presidential candidates chose his running mate. See, let us save Nigeria in 2023 and not vote according to tribal, religious or party lines. In the USA, people vote against candidates they think cannot deliver what America needs at that time and not party. Let’s vote performance and the present Nigeria has seen no performance and toeing the same way in 2023 means Nigeria will be irredeemable for a long time. Of course, we will laugh from abroad when it happens,” he said.

The senior surgeon in a Huston specialist hospital, who has not visited Umuahia, his country home, in the last seven years, decried that Nigeria keeps missing opportunities of being truly the giant of Africa because of corrupt politicians who use ethnicity, religious bigotry, poverty and intimidation to enslave the people, and that 2023 election will be different because they people seems to have woken from their slumber.

“Consider the level of insecurity, bandits even hoisting their flags in Nigeria’s territory without challenge, check the daily death toll in your country, check how much Naira has fallen in seven years, how education has rotten, how almost everybody is now poor in Nigeria, all courtesy of poor leadership by a party and you still want them in power. You don’t need money to change the bad government, you need your vote and don’t sell it to suffer another four or eight years,” he said.