Tunde Salman (08035041062) writes from Kuje, Abuja
The abuse of State and Administrative Resources (SARs) in the context of electioneering campaigns has been a recurring decimal in Nigeria’s electoral democracy since the first republic. Yet the links between campaign finance rules and misuse of incumbency powers has not been receiving significant attention it requires until much recently. Perhaps, given the undue advantages derived from incumbency factors, especially in the context of campaign finance, it becomes very important that the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) start tracking the misuse of SARs for electioneering campaigns purposes.
The misuse of power of incumbency for electoral advantages is often noticeable in elections conducted by the incumbents as reflected in all consolidation elections in the first, second, and the extant fourth republics in which the incumbents also participate as candidates for elections in the polls. Thus, the political environment in the 1st republic was marked by victimization of the opposition parties by the government at both the federal and regional levels resulting into electoral violence and other malfeasance. In the 2nd republic, the same pattern of abuse of power trended as federal might was widely used to dislodge some state governors during the 1983 general elections. In fact, many scholarly commentaries then attributed the collapse of 1st and 2nd republics to the pervasive abuse of power of incumbency to gain undue advantage over political opponents. Under the current 4th republic, each of the ruling political parties at both federal and state levels have been reported to have exploited their power of incumbency to retain political power and or improve their position against other contenders.
The stakes are always high whenever the incumbents contest as candidates as immense public resources are often deployed towards retaining power at all costs. As long as an election presents a possibility of defeat for the ruling parties, the same perverse techniques perfected at every turn, would be called into use to avert the imminence of defeat. This perversion is seen as a symptomatic of a political culture in which competitive party politics is equated with either a zero-sum game or warfare by which one’s enemies (sorry, opponents) must be annihilated.
Again, the ongoing electioneering campaigns have thrown up the issue of misuse of incumbency factors where the ruling parties at all levels overtly exploiting public resources and privileges attached to their offices for undue personal political ambitions. For example, the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Presidential candidate, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, has not disavowal the use of SARs attaches to the Office of the President of Federal Republic of Nigeria for his re-election campaigns. For instance, there were many credible news reports in both the electronic and print media that the ruling PDP held series of partisan political meetings in the State House (Presidential Villa), including a Fund Raising Dinner for the President/PDP, or using presidential aircrafts, motorcade (convoys of SUVs), state house facilities and other paraphernalia, including deploying publicly paid presidential aides/staffers for electioneering campaign purposes. Undoubtedly, this remains an abuse or misuse of privileges by the incumbent as other candidates or parties have no access to similar governmental facilities and or resources for their electioneering campaigns; as such, they might have to source for fund in order to hold similar meetings in hotels/event centres.
Aside the federal level, the employment of SARs for election campaigns has also been played out by the incumbent state governments even in the All Progressive Congress (APC) controlled states. For instance, the APC controlled Rivers State Government reluctantly accepted the PDP to use its 40,000 capacity (Adokiye Amiesiemeka) Stadium in Port Harcourt for the party’s South-South presidential rally. Nevertheless, this write up focuses on abuse of SARs at the federal level, that is, tracking presidential campaigns finance.
Estimating the market value (or cost) of using, for instance, the Banquet facilities at the State House, Abuja, could be benchmarked at the cost of hiring either the Congress Hall of Transcorp Hilton Hotel or International Conference Centre, Abuja. The rates charge for hiring Transcorp Hilton Congress Hall is given at N2millon excluding food and drinks. A 3-course meal at the prestigious Hotel is N7300 per head, when this rate is multiplied by the total number of over 500 guests that was reported to have attended the PDP presidential fundraising dinner on Saturday, December 20, 2014, more than N6million could have been expended on only the venue and meals; not to talk of accommodation and honorarium for event managers, performing artistes and live coverage of the event on three major News television channels (AIT, Channels Television and NTA). The same simple costing can be done for estimating other monetary value of all SARs items like chartering of aircraft, vehicular convoys/motorcade and accommodation for Presidential campaigns entourage using the market value or cost of the items in question.
More so, abuse of public resources by the ruling parties in their electoral campaigns also include the coercive, regulatory, legislative, institutional (human/material), and financial resources, etc. for example, the opposition APC has accused (and even taken) the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to court for shutting down its online Fund Raising SMS platform. Media reports had it that the chair of APC fund raising committee for the Buhari/Osinbajo presidential campaign, Governor Babatunde Fashola, accused the NCC of shutting down the SMS platform set up by the party for interested Nigerians to donate to its campaign fund; noting that the Commission had even threatened to sanction any service provider that runs political advertisement or promotions which could portray them as being partisan. Suffice to say that the same NCC that couldn’t flex its regulatory muscles on the avalanche of complaint over daily bombardment of unsolicited SMS on subscribers quickly remembers its regulatory powers to sanction erring GSM service providers!!!
More recently, the opposition APC has had course to accuse the Federal Government of planning to use the State Security Services, SSS, and the Police to harass and intimidate its leaders. While noting the threats of arrest on its leaders by key government officials and the collaboration of the security agencies, the party said it was clear that the President Goodluck Jonathan administration was set to crackdown on the opposition. Although the presidency dismissed the allegation as baseless; and stressed that it was part of APC’s agenda to malign the President.
The tussle between the Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA) and the State Police Command may amount to infraction in terms of the SARs as other federal authorities purportedly ban outdoor ads on all federal roads in the state even against the backdrop that the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Department of Outdoor Advertisement and Signage (DOAS) has been doing similar removal of unauthorized political campaign materials without any hindrances. The Lagos Police command was reported to have threatened LASAA officials with arrests for allegedly destroying campaign posters and billboards of opposition parties within the state. The police said it being bombarded with series of complaints from candidates of other political parties (apart from APC), alleging mass destruction of their posters and billboards by LASAA. The police thus said it won’t take lightly with anyone caught in such act as it was ready to ensure a level playing field for all political parties and their respective candidates seeking any elective office in the forthcoming general elections.
There are also concerns that sudden news of plans of payment of compensation for the victims of 2011 postelection violence (in some of the affected states like Bauchi, Gombe, Kaduna, etc) on the eve of another presidential election is questionable. Kaduna State Government has advertised the schedule of Disbursement of Assistance to the Victims of the 2011 Post Presidential Election Violence in State in some national dailies. This is also the same sense majority of the populace views the sudden reduction of N10 from petrol price. This fear is not farfetched as the ruling PDP always makes political capital out of these sometimes questionable Greek gifts; we all remember the announcement of establishment of 12 new federal universities across the country during the 2011 presidential campaign season and the recent similar announcement of plans to build 6 new federal airports in some states of the federation. Interestingly, these out-of-the-blue policies announcements at campaign rallies are not often found in the federal budget documents even years after their announcements leaving many campaign finance observers like this writer wondering?
In a nutshell, the issue of party and or campaign finance remain integral to sanitize Nigeria’s growing electoral democracy given the corrosive influence of dirty money and abuse of state and administrative resources on our electoral geography. It is at the root of political corruption as campaign corruption has been noted to take three main forms; namely: one, Quid Pro Quo donations where parties or candidates receives campaign resources in return for favourable treatments (which the World Bank considers as the foundation of state capture); two, use SARs where incumbent candidates or parties overtly exploit their official paraphernalia unduly; and three, bribery of voters (apparently decipher in sudden charitable gesture by candidates now termed stomach infrastructure) and election officials. The need for a level playing field for the various contending political parties and their candidates cannot be achieved if some candidates enjoin undue advantages attached to their offices for electoral gains. Thus, the level of openness or otherwise of funding for political parties and the effectiveness of campaign finance rules remain very important to contain the abuse of SARs and corrosive impact of moneybags (and their dirty money) on the electoral process.