By Eze Onyekpere –
In the run up to the Anambra State governorship election, the parties and candidates deployed a lot of human and material resources. Like the other aspects of electioneering, the Electoral Act governs, sets limitations and prescribes permissible human and financial conduct while declaring others illegal. In all the analyses so far, the overall concern has been about what happened on the day of the election and the issues so far raised include a voter register that seemed to be adulterated, logistic challenges related to supplies of materials, late commencement of accreditation and polls and outright sabotage by electoral officials. In all of these, the popular position seems to indicate that the performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission was sub-optimal.
But there is a missing link. The Electoral Act sets limitations on the resources a candidate in a governorship election can spend. It also places a limitation on the use of state resources to the advantage or disadvantage of any candidate. By Section 91 (3) of the Act, the maximum election expenses to be incurred by a candidate at a governorship election shall be N200m. A violation of the provision attracts a fine of N800,000 or imprisonment for nine months or both. The Act also prescribes that no individual or other entity shall donate more than N1m to any candidate and a violation also attracts a sanction. For incumbents, the Code of Conduct for Political Parties states that all political parties shall separate party business from government business. No political party shall use state vehicles, or other public resources for any campaign or any other party business. However, if what we saw in Anambra is anything to go by, it appears that these rules were more obeyed in breach than in compliance.
Available evidence indicates that the frontrunning candidates spent money above the permitted ceiling. A candidate claimed and indeed has an office in every ward in the state; the cost of running these offices alone is in tens of millions. These offices had paid personnel and equipment. Candidates even housed some workers and supporters in hotels. A single carnival-like rally, many of which were held across the state by the frontrunners, with all its logistic costs relating to hire of venue, public address systems, podium, seating arrangements, security, transport, various dressing materials, food, drinks, and entertainers, live media coverage etc, requires a financial outlay of more than N15m. These frontrunning candidates held not less than 10 of such rallies. Of course, there were all manner of gifts to traditional rulers which are only known to the givers and the takers.
The advertisement in the print media was also very expensive with newspaper pages that cost over N500,000 each. For the electronic media, the massive jingles on radio and television cost hundreds of millions. The billboards that were in all nooks of the state, posters that were pasted and torn the next minute; hire of campaign managers and other staff of the campaign team cost a lot of money. The sudden charitable disposition of some candidates who donated millions of naira to all kinds of “philanthropic” purposes and candidates who offered material benefits to persons attending rallies and events also added up to the cost of the election.
For state resources, the ruling party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance, had no business appointing public officers paid at the public expense to run its campaign. Official cars and properties had no business at the rallies of the ruling party whilst the state’s fiscal resources by law should not be deployed to the advantage of the incumbent. The idea is that if the incumbent party or candidate is allowed to use public resources for campaigning, it will amount to an undue advantage against the opposition considering that the resources belong to all. It is within this context that reports of gift of vehicles to traditional rulers during electioneering fails the test of legality and legitimacy. Even the idea of dragging traditional rulers who are supposed to be fathers to all to endorse a candidate seems to be stretching politicking too far.
On the day of election, there were reports of money being shared to voters, being an attempt to induce them to vote or abstain from voting in a particular manner. Before the election, money exchanged hands and there were reports of fundraising events where huge sums of money were raised. In all the foregoing, there was little or no regard for the Act which states that any person who directly or indirectly by himself or by any other person on his behalf, gives, lends or agrees to give or lend, or offers any money or valuable consideration for the purpose of influencing a voter commits an offence and shall be liable to a sanction. The reports indicated the law enforcement agents looked the other way while these offences were being committed. No arrests were made and of course, no one has been charged to court.
Although one may query the basis of the N200m limitation in a governorship election, it is still the law and needs to be enforced. But there appears to be no political will to enforce same. The INEC may have been overwhelmed by sheer logistic arrangements as to have time to monitor the expenses of candidates. But nothing stops it from demanding an official expenditure report from candidates and their parties. The truth is that the election may be inconclusive and the stakes too high because of the financial commitment of the candidates. The INEC officials who sabotaged the election must have done so under the influence of monetary inducement. No candidate easily accepts defeat after investing billions of naira in a political enterprise. The full scale monetisation of campaigns has made it extremely difficult for reasonable men and women who do not belong to the millionaire club to emerge as candidates. Such reasonable men and women can only emerge with a godfather who if they succeed, will seek to control the state from the back door. It will be easier for elections to be free and fair if candidates stick to the legal expenditure ceilings.
If the 2015 elections will have the massive influence of money as happened in the Anambra election, then the elections will face a strong crisis of credibility. Even if INEC does not have the capacity to monitor the campaign finance provisions of the Act, it should seek a strong partnership with the civil society, anti-corruption agencies, and the academia, etc. This partnership will work out a framework to actively engage and monitor campaign finance and use of state and administrative resources in the run up to the elections in 2015. We should no longer tolerate a situation where votes are won and lost based on the quantum of money available to the candidate.
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