Finally, the month is here. September is Nigeria’s presidential campaign flag-off month, preparatory to the February 2023 general elections. For those who relish colour, panache and the flurry of demagogical words, Nigeria’s political campaign would very likely offer a multiple variety, similar to Dolly Parton’s coat of many colours. And much more. It is a season when lies would be sold for a farthing and purchased amid frenzy. It is also a period of psychological warfare when the hearts of electors will become targets of desperate politicians. More fundamentally, it will be a season to witness the ascendancy of a massive, multi-billion naira campaign industry, which would rival the national budget. So, how will Bola Tinubu, Atiku Abubakar, Peter Obi and presidential candidates of other political parties in Nigeria fare in the rat race to outspend one another? Where does each of them hope to secure this breathtaking campaign funding from?
Campaign funding or financing is a major and important part of the electoral process. It is the how, when and where political parties and individuals vying for elective offices will raise and spend money with which they will influence political votes in their favour. In developed democracies, campaign financing is a big issue, which the state is interested in. This is because it involves major ethical issues that can compromise the integrity of the electoral process.
All over the world, election campaigning is not a tea party. Because money is both spirit and human; money has mouth, talks and is a major voice in electoral politics. Indeed, there is an increasing personalisation and humanisation of money as the one who ensures, in the democratic process, that, as the Americans say, it is not over until the fat lady sings. Elections require considerably huge expenditures. For instance, research shows that there has been a phenomenal and massive increase in funds allocated to campaign financing in the United States. Between the years 2000 and 2012, it was estimated that the total spending in American presidential elections almost doubled from $3.1 billion to $5.8 billion. These funds were expended on the recruitment of staff, campaign offices nationwide, advertisements, travels, logistics and much more.
To safeguard the integrity of the electoral process, laws are enacted to guide and guard the infiltration of “bad money” into elections. In America and other democracies, violations of these laws carry strict penalties. While the private funding of political candidates and political parties by individuals looks harmless enough, it is most times an innocuous channel of funneling the proceeds from illicit drugs and slush funds into the system. Many a times as well, it provides opportunities for individuals and corporations to hold governments by their esophagus. This they do by donating huge amounts of money to candidates and political parties during electioneering and wringing commitments from them for favours of state in policymaking and business access when elected. It is why in the US, there is a demarcation between what is called ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ money in campaign financing. While contributions that are made directly to a particular candidate are called hard money, the ones that go to political parties are labeled soft money. Each of them has laws that govern them in electoral campaigns.
Not lacking in laws to curtail the infiltration of “bad money” into the electoral process, Nigeria is however acutely lax in implementing these laws. The combination of a political culture that has taken the acceptance of gifts as normal and a porous banking system that is easily the funnel of unsieved funds, are dark spots of this menace. Thus, poisonous money is injected into the electioneering process, with very serious implications for the results of elections and the candidates who ultimately become representatives of the people.
For instance, the new Electoral Act 2022 contains a very robust section on campaign financing, ceilings and penalties for violations of the law. The Act addresses the use of money in elections by candidates and political parties. Section 88 of Act stipulates a ceiling of expenses at N5 billion for the presidential campaign, which is a huge increment from the earlier N1 billion limit. It also stipulates the ceiling for the financing chairmanship, councillorship, House of Assembly, House of Representatives, senatorial and governorship elections. To curb bad money from meandering into campaign financing, Section 90(3) of the new Act stipulates that “a political party shall not accept any monetary or other contribution which is more than N50,000,000 unless it can identify the source of the money or other contribution to the Commission.” Good as this provision is, its albatross is the place of Nigeria’s political culture in elections and the near-impossibility of tracing bad money spent on elections in the country.
While in Western democracies, the fear is that big corporations and wealthy individuals could wangle their ways into the state purse by stealth and corrupt it, in Nigeria the reality is that stolen government money constitutes, at a conservative estimate, 95% of funds used to campaign for political offices. The Nigerian system is aware of this, accepts it as fait accompli and closes its eyes to the numbing reality.
Aware of the importance of the sources of funding of elections, in the United States private and public funding is legal as major features of political campaigns. As their names suggest, the former is in terms of donations by individuals and organisations to political parties/candidates, while the latter is the funding of same by government itself. In the latter, government allocates specific amounts to political parties, and waves off some expenses as a way of cushioning the huge financial burdens of political funding. In Nigeria, the Ibrahim Babangida military government attempted to do this with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and National Republican Convention (NRC), parties it decreed into existence.
As said earlier, the kind of massive corruption that goes into campaign funding should be an issue of interest to Nigerians. It is the reason why we must be bothered about where Tinubu, Atiku and Obi, the three major presidential contenders, and governors in Nigeria, will secure the multibillion naira funds they need for the February 2023 elections.
From their first days in office, governments in Nigeria begin to ferret the nooks and crannies of the government purse for funds to prosecute their re-election campaigns. In the run-up to the 2015 election, the $2 billion arms money, an arms procurement deal of the Nigerian government, eventually morphed into Dasukigate, a widespread embezzlement ring perpetrated through the office of the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd.). Officially christened as funds budgeted for the procurement of arms to fight insurgency, it was however an underhand fund for the 2015 elections.
A committee report later revealed that an extra-budgetary spending to the tune of N643.8 billion and an additional spending by the Goodluck Jonathan government of about $2.2 billion in foreign currency were deployed towards the 2015 election. Jonathan’s opponent, Major General Muhammadu Buhari confessed his financial incapability and Nigerians applauded him. It should however be written in the Guinness Book of World Records that a man who confessed to owning only 150 cows could, in the same breath, fund a multibillion naira election that ensured his win. Later revelations came out that funds used for the campaigns were siphoned from the purses of state governments, as well as from questionable characters in society.
Since the return of party politics in 1999, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has been alleged as one of the cash cows from which slush funds for such electoral funding are secured. States also replicate such NNPC groves of dirty funds. During the political party primaries held a few months back, a top presidential contender was said to have demanded and received the sum of half a billion naira from every state government he visited to solicit for the support of their delegates. Kickbacks from contractors, secured through hyper-inflated costs of projects and stolen monies kept in the hands of proxies, find their ways into campaign funds immediately the electioneering process kicks off. Though there is a policy and law backing up the cashless economy that Nigeria claims to be running, the country is still steeped in a Ghana-Must-Go bag economy. Politicians have consistently frustrated the cashless economy policy. This they do by compromising and colluding with bank executives to get out massive amounts of physical cash to prosecute their nocturnal spendings. One of its offshoots was a bullion van loaded with cash suddenly appearing in the Lagos home of a leading political baron. Politicians approximate the state.
This is why we must be interested in where money to be used in prosecuting the 2023 presidential election comes from. A departure from the culture of depending on slush funds from state or federal government to fund campaigns is being devised by Peter Obi of the Labour Party, the man who goes by the sobriquet “he no dey give shishi!” According to media report, in a bid to raise the sum of $150 million in the Diaspora and N100 billion in Nigeria, LP has embarked on a tour of Canada and Germany and seven cities in the US, with the aim of raising this campaign fund.
While it is not in the public domain how he wants to source his own campaign funds as well, the candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), Omoyele Sowore is said to be banking on crowd funding from Nigerians and aid from foreign agencies to sustain his campaign financing. The dilemmas both Obi and Sowore would face is, first, that Nigerian laws forbid foreign donations for electoral campaigns in the country. In America, the federal law prohibits “contributions, donations, expenditures and disbursements solicited, directed, received or made directly or indirectly by or from foreign nationals” in connection to any federal, state or local election. Section 225 (3 and 4) of the Nigerian constitution similarly provides for this level of debarment. Again, there is the fear that the lax monitoring of campaign funds system in Nigeria may allow a huge percentage of these funds to go into personal pockets.
While Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has been flaunting his octopodal business empire with ease, he has not for once mentioned whether it is from this huge purse that his campaign funds will come. It is however alleged that the bulk of his campaign funds will come from government money, given to him by his loyalist PDP state governors, as well as former and present occupiers of government positions. These monies are likely to be federal and state monies funneled out by stealth. Atiku himself has waffled about the sources of his borderless wealth, which many allege to be linked to the subversion of public financing rules and boring of holes into the national till, with pipes fixed to his belly, while he was in public service.
The same goes for the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu. On Friday, the Atiku Campaign Office attacked Tinubu by calling him a billionaire without a known business. This is a description similar to what Americans mean when they say, ‘we have seen the bucks, where is the shop?’ What is being alluded to is theft of the public patrimony. Till date, although the humongous wealth of Tinubu has kept tongues wagging, no one can say precisely what its source is. Like Atiku, it is said that the bulk of his campaign funds will come from state governors in charge of public money in Nigeria, especially those in his APC, and individuals who hold cash cow positions in federal and state-owned agencies and corporations.
As the presidential campaigns begin this month, Nigerians must begin to ask their candidates specific questions about how they will finance the elections and the specifics of accountability in campaign financing. In developed democracies, a track-able account is opened and a certified accountant is put in charge of the campaign office account. Every penny, whether secured through crowd funding, public or private donations, so far it goes into this account, is periodically subjected to the scrutiny of auditing. Not doing this same thing with our candidates and political parties vying for offices in 2023 is akin to opening doors of Nigeria’s decision-making offices to the god of Mammon. It will also amount to a triumph of the whims of evil forces in society.
Drug monies, laundered funds and all manner of illicit funds easily find their way into election funding and this constitutes what Yoruba call the kanda ninu iresi – the pebbles trapped in a bowl of rice – of electoral politics. It is a pollutant that has spiritual implications of fouling up and contaminating the whole process. As we go into the campaign exercise, valid questions of where, when and how of campaign funds must be asked and satisfactorily answered.
Wike, Ayu and Lady Justice
It may be impossible to love the gruff in his voice or the stridency of his calls. Or even the monotony of his defence of where he stands. On a critical look, however, you cannot fail to notice the presence of the concept of Lady Justice and the advocacy for equity and fairness in his voice. Nyesom Wike is the lone voice in the wilderness of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who is relentlessly leading a battalion of advocacy for the return of reggae musician, Peter Tosh’s equal rights and justice to the politics of the leading opposition political party in Nigeria.
As it stands today, the PDP, in its leadership constitution, body language and disposition does not seem to have respect for equity in its dictionary. In a flagrant disclaimer of Nigeria’s national mood, the PDP went ahead and picked its presidential candidate from the northern part of the country. Before then, it had its chairman and key officers from the same part of the country. It was expected that, as a mark of respect for equity, PDP would immediately, upon the self-immolating move of a northern presidential candidate, backtrack to a face-saving path of having a Southerner as its chairman.
Its presidential candidate, however, immediately junketed back to his UAE home base, leaving the angst in the party to fester. Not only did the party leave the wound generated as a result of the presidential primary unhealed, it stood by while it festered. When Wike, who the party said was inconsequential, began to harvest politicians who ostensibly want him to jump ship and give their own aspirations fillip, the UAE-based candidate flew back to Nigeria on a visit to douse the smouldering fire.
Wike may be your own definition of irritancy. You are likely to back up this stand with his unrelenting underscore of his contributions and relevance in the PDP. You however cannot forget the fact that when Atiku and other party commissars were jumping political party ships like prostitutes changing brothels, it was to Wike they all ran to for the quelling of the fire in PDP, all over the country. So when Iyorchia Ayu, the beneficiary of this inequity and injustice was blabbering last week about some “children” in their diapers when the PDP was being formed, he forgot to say that that same PDP would have died unsung in its infancy but for the Wike childminder who sang the baby suiting lullabies and provided him breast milk to avoid his infant death.
For those who advocate justice and equity in Nigeria, Wike is fighting their fight. How can a Fulani be leaving office after eight years and another Fulani would be his apt replacement? Not only does this tantamount to ethnic arrogance and impudence, it is the singular vermin that has stagnated Nigeria’s growth since independence. The way out is to call Wike and Southerners in the PDP to the roundtable and arrive at an equitable juncture that will satisfy their yearnings in a federal Nigeria.