The 2019 General Elections is barely a year to go and avalanche of political campaigns from every medium of communication will start flooding the Nigerian space and beyond as politicians seek votes from prospective voters. Even though, political campaign has not been officially declared open, Nigerian politicians are already declaring their interest to run for various political offices. This in itself may be tagged an electoral offence but it’s a topic for another day.
Recently National Commissioner Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof. Anthonia Simbine stated that the rate of money spent in politics is responsible for the kind of governance we have at any given time. According to her, politicians see campaign spending as an investment which they would want to reap from which apparently is the bedrock of the corruption that pervades the political system. The increasing cost of politics is depriving a lot of ordinary and some qualified candidates from participating in politics because they cannot seem to afford the high cost involved in political activities in other to stand for political positions.
It is a fact that the amount of money spent on campaigning and political activities by our politicians is enormous. Reports have it that in 2011, all the opposition parties put together, spent N2.04 billion in visible expenses, while the then ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) spent N5.01 billion. In 2015, all the opposition parties spent N2.91 billion while PDP spent N8.74 billion. These are even traceable expenses spent on media advertisements, campaign materials among others, to the exclusion of money spent in underhand dealings and the use of state-owned facilities including stadia for campaigns and other political activities.
The 2015 elections no doubt witness massive spending by both incumbent and opposition parties with recent report by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo the sum of N100 billion and $289 million in cash were embezzled by the Jonathan administration to fund campaign expenditure. Unfortunately, amendment of Section 91 of the electoral act which seeks to increase campaign expenditure by candidates in an election to N5 Billion naira for presidential candidates and N1 Billion naira for governorship candidates will also worsen the spending spree by politicians who are not even abiding by initial expenditure stipulated by the Electoral Commission. This overtime has led to poor governance when they get into power as it becomes an opportunity to recover money spent during campaigns.
This revelation is very worrisome as the cost of election in Nigeria is becoming outrageously ridiculous. This is one major boosts to corruption in Nigeria because when politicians spend this kind of money to win elections, the first thing they do is to recover the money spent (as they see it as investments), ones they get into political office and that is why people and development suffer as a result of that.
Similarly, elected officials are becoming more accountable to those who finance their campaigns than to their constituents. Large corporate and single donor funding for parties and candidates dominates political decisions and political corruption which is a general problem. This poses a threat to the Nigerian economic growth, democracy and the stability of the country. Sadly, the peculiar nature of Nigeria’s socioeconomic environment characterized by hunger and literacy make the electorates vulnerable to manipulation by corrupt politicians.
In this vein, there is urgent need by the electoral Commission to look at better ways to regulate the amount of money being spent by politician in any election while Civil Society Organisation who work in these areas should engage in election budget tracking and reporting defaulters to appropriate authority for persecution. It is of course high time for INEC to live up to the part of their constitutional responsibilities which empowers the commission to direct political parties regarding financial records which includes campaign spending. The electoral commission is also as a matter of exigency conduct periodic (especially after elections) investigations to find out the obvious violations of financial stipulations by political parties.
More so, the recommendation on setting up a commission that would Monitor Political Party Compliance to the Electoral Act, including compliance to expenditure limit, would be a good way to monitor and check the amount of funds spent on elections. This will open up the space for more and better candidates to participate in elections, which will lead to healthier competition, better candidate and improved governance eventually.
Omolola Mamedu is a Zonal Program Officer of YIAGA Africa’s Watching The Vote Project