APC Chairman Abdullahi Adamu, Senate President Ahmad Lawan, INEC Chairman Mahmood Yakubu and PDP Chairman Iyorchia Ayu
Money is the lifeblood of politics across the world but the abuse of the laws guiding how it is spent by politicians, especially on elections, continues to hurt democracy.
That abuse is rife in Nigeria where the country’s electoral commission has been unwilling or unable to enforce the laws.
After its political history had been interrupted by military coups in the first four decades of its independence, Nigeria finally restored democratic rule through a swift transition programme implemented by its last military dictator, Abdulsalami Abubakar, in 1999.
Since then, Nigeria has had six cycles of regular general elections, the most in its history. However, virtually all the political parties that participated in these elections and their presidential, governorship and federal and state legislative candidates have breached the laws on campaign and election spending.
As the political actors start their campaign activities for the 2023 general elections, PREMIUM TIMES observed that the electoral commission remains uninterested in enforcing the relevant laws stipulated in the constitution on expenditure for elections and political activities.
As in many democracies, political parties in Nigeria attract funds for their operations and activities through contributions from members and supporters, and donations from corporate organisations.
The parties are then mandated to submit to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) their audited financial reports, capturing revenue inflows and outflows, after a general election and at specific periods in the year.
However, three years since the last general elections, nearly all the political parties have not submitted reports on their expenditures on that election as mandated by the Electoral Act.
The ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Labour Party (LP), New Nigeria People Party (NNPP), African Democratic Congress (ADC), African Action Congress (AAC), All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Accord, Action Alliance (AA), Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and Boot Party are some of the parties that participated in the 2019 elections but have not filed their reports.
Others are Allied Peoples Movement (APM), Action Peoples Party (APP), National Rescue Movement (NRM), Social Democratic Party (SDP), Young Progressive Party (YPP) and Zenith Labour Party (ZLP).
Section 92 (3) of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) says “Election expenses of a political party shall be submitted to the Commission in a separate audited return within 6 months after an election and such return shall be signed by the political party’s auditor’s and countersigned by the Chairman of the party and be supported by a sworn affidavit by the signatories as to the correctness of its contents.”
In a copy of the original document submitted to the commission on 30 May 2019, the ADP said it spent a total of N95 million (N95,388,417) on the 2019 general elections.
When quizzed, INEC’s Director of Election and Party Monitoring (EPM), Aminu Idris, at two-day training for journalists in preparation for the 2023 elections in Lagos on Thursday, confirmed the infractions but was silent on what the electoral commission is doing to curb it.
The EPM monitors the finances of political parties.
Mr Idris also did not accede to requests for clarity on whether erring parties have ever been sanctioned and the amount they have paid in fines over the infractions since the 2015 general elections.
PREMIUM TIMES had approached INEC spokesperson, Festus Okoye, with the request but was directed to the EPM Director as Mr Okoye said he had no information on the subject.
There are three financial reports that political parties are expected by law to submit to INEC. They are the election contributions report, election expenses report and annual report.
The election contributions report is expected to contain details of monetary and other forms of contributions received by a party for an election while the election expenses report should provide the breakdown of money spent by or on behalf of a party for an election.
The elections contributions report is expected to be submitted three months after election results are announced while the election expenses report is expected to be submitted six months after Election Day.
Also, an annual report of a party must detail party assets, liabilities and analysis of its sources of funds and its expenditure for a year, and it is due for submission at the end of March of the following year, whether there is an election or not.
These mandates were reinforced in the 2022 amendment to the Electoral Act signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in May.
The amendment also raised the threshold for campaign spending for elections into the different offices.
For example, from the N1 billion ceiling stipulated for presidential elections in Section 91 of the 2010 amended Act, Section 88 of the new law set N5 billion as the new limit on presidential election expenses.
The new spending limits on the governorship, senatorial and House of Representatives elections have also been raised from N200 million, N40 million and N10 million to one billion, N100 million and N70 million respectively. Other state offices have also witnessed increments to reflect the country’s economic realities.
Although they did not submit their financial reports as required by law, INEC through tracking and monitoring established that the APC spent N4.6 billion (N4,620,144,784) while the PDP spent N3.3 billion (N3,282,206,642) on the last presidential election. The figures are at least thee times more than what the law permitted them to spend at the time
President Buhari and Atiku Abubakar were the candidates of the APC and PDP respectively in the 2019 race.
Similar infraction of spending above the threshold was also recorded by the major parties in 14 out of the 29 states where governorship elections were conducted in the same year. The candidates of the APC in 11 states, those of the PDP in five states, APGA in one state and AA in one state spent above the N200 million set for the office, according to INEC’s findings.
The four areas that gulped their money include billboards, electronic media (radio and television), political advertisements in newspapers and campaign rallies (live coverage inclusive).
Section 92 (7) of the 2010 Electoral Act states that political parties that incur “election expenses beyond the limit stipulated in this Act commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N1,000,000.00 and forfeiture to the Commission of the amount by which the expenses exceed the limit set by the Commission.”
Despite being caught out for breaching this section, neither the APC nor the PDP has paid the expected fine nor forfeited the excess of N3.6 and N2.2 billion they respectively incurred during the last presidential poll.
Accord, AA, ADC, ADP, LP, APGA, APC, PDP and NNPP submitted the report in 2015.
Until the latest deregistration of some political parties by INEC in February 2020 for not meeting the terms of their registration, the commission had scores of parties on its roll, including many that did not field candidates across elective offices.
Following the controversial deregistration exercise, only 18 parties will participate in the 2023 polls.
Respectively, 20, 25, 20, 14 and 73 political parties were on the ballots in the 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 presidential elections. Only three parties participated in the 1999 general elections. Of those three, only the PDP is still alive in the same form, the other two have since transformed or merged into new parties.
While the ruling APC and its main opposition PDP remain dominant because they have established visible structures across the country, at least two other parties are being closely watched to challenge them in this cycle, especially in the presidential poll.
The two presidential candidates are former two-term governors – Peter Obi of the Labour Party and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria People Party (NNPP).
An INEC document prepared by external auditors from the annual reports of the political parties between 2013 and 2016 revealed how the parties have been breaching the financial laws with impunity.
The auditors used the internal audit report, book account, fixed asset register, internal control procedures, membership register and the yearly budget of each party in preparing the document.
For 2013, the APC, PDP and NNPP scored 33.3 per cent on compliance after meeting only two out of the six auditing requirements. They had submitted only their books of accounts and fixed asset registers.
The LP scored 66.7 for meeting other criteria except submitting their yearly budget and internal audit report.
In 2014, the APC, PDP and NNPP, scored higher for adding internal control procedures and membership registers in their submissions.
The LP did not submit its internal control procedures, yearly budget and internal audit report that year.
The PDP ticked all boxes for the 2015 external auditing exercise while its three main rivals submitted only one each.
In 2016, the NNPP met only one of the yardsticks, but the others ticked all the boxes.
However, some of the political parties in separate interviews with PREMIUM TIMES blamed INEC for their failure to comply with the requirements.
The leaders of AA and AAC said INEC was culpable in their internal crises that diverted their attention from party governance.
The 2023 presidential candidate and former chairman of AAC, Omoyele Sowore, said the delay in the submission of the reports was caused by INEC due to its recognition of the party’s former national secretary, Leonard Ezenwa, as the chairman of the party, instead of Mr Sowore.
“You know our party was established in August 2018 and for about five months into that, we had elections and we travelled. But before we could submit, they hijacked the party from us. I was not recognised by INEC until June 2, 2022, we were in court.
“Whoever was in charge then must be able to tender what he received and what he spent. It was him that INEC recognised, for three years the party was not with us, the legitimate leaders of the party. When the Court of Appeal did justice to the matter, we went straight into elections, which led us to where we are now. We have been gathering every piece of information we have in regards to that but the party’s account has not been surrendered to us till date by this hijacker,” Mr Sowore told PREMIUM TIMES.
He said he has always published his campaign expenses and contributions from supporters.
The National Chairman of AA, Kenneth Udeze, also accused INEC of intervening in its internal affairs. He said his party slipped into crisis after the commission declared his leadership of the party illegal.
He said it took a court three years to resolve the leadership crisis of the AA.
“What actually marred our submission of those reports you mentioned was as a result of a long legal tussle between the leadership of the party after the 2019 general elections,” he said.
“It took three years before a court determined who the national leader of the party was. From that 2019 till sometime in March 2022 was when AA was able to sort out its issue of national leadership.
“It was the same INEC that wrote the leadership of this party under my humble self, Kenneth Udeze, that they will not recognise me. The letter was written on 9 August 2019, I have the records, just a few months after the general elections.
“This is the same me, the chairman, who fielded all the candidates that contested election in 2019. The same INEC came to tell me that they no longer recognised me based on one report from a member of the party and we have been in court or the other until the leadership tussle was settled in this year, March. Immediately after March, a notice of the poll came out,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
But the Organising Secretary of Boot Party, Mohammed Kabir, could not explain why the party delayed the submission of the report which he said the party’s external auditor was working on.
“We are working on it, our external accountant is working on the documentation, it will be ready soon,” he said on phone to this newspaper.
The national chairmen of APGA and Labour Party, Victor Oye and Julius Abure respectively; and the spokespersons of APC and PDP, Felix Morka and Debo Ologunagba respectively, did not answer numerous calls made to them in attempts to get their comments on this report.
A Senior Programme Officer at the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Austin Aigbe, blamed the unchecked infractions by political parties on loopholes in the Electoral Act despite its latest amendments.
Mr Aigbe noted that campaign finance law sets benchmarks for candidates but refuses to do the same for parties.
“This is where the problem is. Usually, there is a campaign finance provision that sets out benchmarks for candidates but refuses to put benchmarks for parties. When people say Atiku or Buhari spent over four billion (naira), is it Buhari that spent that money or the party? It is easy to lie about it. We do creative accounting a lot in Nigeria, creative accounting in the sense that if you want a party to send you what they spent, someone will sit somewhere and create it. It is creative accounting.
“In 2015, there was an account Buhari gave out for his campaign for people to contribute to him. In 2019, there was no such bank account. All the money for the campaign was contributed by the party and the party is unlimited in terms of campaign funding. That is the problem of campaign finance monitoring.
“I have said consistently that INEC is unable to monitor political parties’ campaign funding. In any case, there are usually non-state actors, individuals or groups of individuals, some of them will even call themselves CSOs and said they have contributed N1 million to someone’s campaign. They will put up a billboard, saying courtesy, you will see someone’s picture. You cannot calculate that person’s billboard as the spending of a candidate,” he explained in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES.
The CDD senior officer said the new N5 billion spending ceiling for presidential candidates is unrealistic given the logistics and manpower required to pull election through for candidates across the country.
“There are 8,909 wards in this country. Let’s say you give your agent at the ward level 50,000. You know what that is (N445 million). If you then look at the state and then the national. That’s just for that. There are other things that go into campaigns that we have not factored in.
“Do you know that these candidates attend burials and they spend money there? They attend birthday parties and these are not calculated among their spending. They hide them under donations and all that. These are parts of the problems,” he noted.
Speaking in the same vein, the Lead Director for the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Eze Onyekpere, said mere expenses on renting a stadium, aircraft and hotels are enough to take campaign spending beyond the threshold set by the Electoral Act.
“To post a poster during the Anambra election, they were calling for N10 million. Then you can imagine a presidential candidate who will travel around Nigeria, even on aircraft which may cost as high as five to seven million. What do you think the total would be if the party or candidate has to pay for 50 trips?”
In his recommendations, Mr Onyekpere said aggressive crowdfunding and token from candidates’ supporters, as seen in more advanced democracies, would help reduce the financial burden on the parties and candidates.
He added that it may also help in reducing candidates’ appetite for stealing public funds.
Mr Aigbe, on his part, called on INEC to seize this campaign period to exercise its authority and get the job done rather than projecting itself as helpless.
“I expect INEC to use its big stick, even once to sanction political parties that have refused to comply with its mandate. INEC is at that point where it can call political parties that if you have not submitted, we give you 24 hours to do so or otherwise, you won’t be cleared to campaign in this coming elections.
“If INEC had done that, by tomorrow morning, you will see submissions. It is after this that INEC can then use those submitted documents to appropriately sanction them,” he said.
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