(Published by The Cable, September 4, 2022)
Finally, the month is here. September is Nigeria’s presidential campaign flag-off, preparatory to the February 2023 election. For those who relish colour, panache and flurry of demagogical words, Nigeria’s political campaign offers a variety similar to Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colours. And much more. It is a season when lies are sold for a farthing and purchased amid the frenzy. It is also a period of psychological warfare when the hearts of electors become targets for the Cupid arrows of desperate politicians.
More fundamentally, it is a season to witness the ascendancy of a massive, multi-billion naira campaign industry which rivals 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?
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 that 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 a 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 expenditure. For instance, research shows that there has been a phenomenal and massive increase in funds allocated to campaign financing in the United States. Between 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 are expended on the recruitment of staff for campaign offices nationwide, advertisements, travels, logistics and many 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 private funding of political candidates and political parties by individuals looks harmless enough, it is most times an innocuous channel of funnelling drug proceeds and slush funds into the system. Many times as well, it provides opportunities for individuals and corporations to hold governments by their oesophagus. This they do by donating huge amounts of money to candidates and political parties during electioneering and wringing commitments off them for favours of state commitments in policy and funding 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 labelled soft money. Each of them has laws that govern their infiltration into campaigns.
Not lacking laws to curtail the infiltration of “bad money” into the electoral process, Nigeria is however acutely lax in implementing these laws. A combination of a political culture that has accepted gifts as normal and a porous banking system that is easily the funnel of unsieved funds are the Achilles’ heel 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 very robust sections on campaign financing, ceilings and penalties for violations of the law. The act addresses campaign financing by candidates and political parties. Section 88 stipulates a ceiling of expenses that is not more than N5 billion, a jerk-up from N1 billion. It also stipulates the ceiling for the chairmanship, councillorship, house of assembly, house of representatives, senatorial and governorship elections. To curb bad money from meandering into campaign financing, Section 90(3) 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 Nigeria.
In western democracies, the fear is that big corporations and wealthy individuals could wangle their way into the state purse by stealth and corrupt its system, 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 funding elections, in the United States, private and public funding is legalised as a major feature of political campaigns. As their names suggest, the former is donations by individuals and organisations while the latter is by the government itself. In the latter, the government budgets specific amounts to political parties and waives some expenses as a way of cushioning the huge financial burdens of its funding. In Nigeria, the Ibrahim Babangida military government attempted to do this with the SDP and NRC, parties it founded and 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 election.
From their first day 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 deal money, an arms procurement deal of the Nigerian government, eventually morphed into the Dasukigate, a widespread embezzlement ring perpetrated through the office of the national security adviser. Officially christened as funds budgeted for procurement of arms to fight insurgency, it was however an underhand fund for the 2015 elections.
A committee report later revealed that extra-budgetary spending to the tune of N643.8 billion and additional spending by the Goodluck Jonathan government of about $2.2 billion in foreign currency was 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 Records that a man who confessed to owning 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 state governments’ purses, as well as from questionable characters in society to actualise this dream.
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 got the sum of half a billion naira from a state government for every state he visited to solicit delegates’ support. Kickbacks from contractors, secured through hyperinflation of costs of projects and stolen monies kept in the hands of proxies, find their way into campaign funds immediately after the electioneering process kicks off. Though there is a policy and law backing up a 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 physical cash to prosecute their nocturnal spending. 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 the 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 a media report, LP has embarked on a tour of Canada and Germany and seven cities in the US in a bid to raise the sum of $150 million in the diaspora and N100 billion in Nigeria as campaign funds.
While it is not in the public domain how he wants to source his own fund as well, the candidate of the African Action Congress (AAC), Omoyele Sowore is said to be banking on crowd funding from Nigerians and aides from foreign agencies to sustain his campaign financing. The dilemmas both Obi and Sowore would face are, first, that laws forbid foreign donations in campaigns. In America, 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 have a similar provision. Again, there is the fear that the lax monitoring of the 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 public knowledge that the bulk of his campaign funds will come from government money given to him by his loyalist state governors as well as former and present occupiers of government positions. These monies are federal and state monies funnelled out by stealth. Atiku himself has waffled through the sources of his borderless wealth which many allege is linked to the subversion of public financing rules and boring 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 euphemism similar to what Americans mean when they say; “we have seen the bucks, where is the shop?” What is being alluded to is the theft of public patrimony for sustenance. To date, though the humongous wealth of Tinubu has kept tongues wagging, no one can say precisely its source. Like Atiku, it is said that the bulk of his campaign funds will come from 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 specifics of accountability in campaign financing. In developed democracies, a trackable account is opened and a certified accountant is put in charge of the campaign office account. Every penny, whether secured through crowdfunding, public or private funds so far it goes into this account, is periodically subjected to the accounting scrutiny of auditing. Not doing the same thing with our candidates and political parties vying for offices in 2023 is akin to opening the 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 funds 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.