In a proposed amendment to the Electoral Act, the National Assembly has recommended an upward review of campaign expenditure for various categories of candidates: from presidential candidates all the way down to councillorship candidates. While the proposed spending limit for presidential candidates is now N10 billion, the limit for governorship, senatorial, house of representatives, and State House of Assembly is now N5 billion, N1.5 billion, N500 million, and N50 million respectively.
This recommendation by the National Assembly translates to an increase of over 1000%. Given the current level of inequality, poverty, and unemployment in Nigeria, this can only be tantamount to auctioning Nigeria’s democratic process to the highest bidder.
The reason for campaign finance laws, in the first place, is to regulate the amount of spending in the build-up to an election. This helps to create a level playing field for all candidates. These laws also help to reduce the overbearing influence of rich individuals or corporations in governance. It is no secret that the people who fund successful campaigns have great sway in shaping the eventual policies of the administration they help finance into power. Therefore, to avoid a situation where government works for only a few individuals or corporations, campaign finance laws are put in place to fix a ceiling for campaign donations and expenditure.
The Electoral Act clearly states that “Election expenses incurred by a political party for the management or the conduct of an election shall be determined by the Commission in consultation with the political parties.” Unfortunately, our campaign finance laws are hardly enforced by the Independent National Electoral Commission. And even if such laws were to be enforced, it only always results in a slap on the wrist for violators. Invariably, the rules are not strict enough to encourage deterrence.
For instance, the Electoral Act states that: “an individual or other entity shall not donate more than N1,000,000 to any candidate. A candidate who knowingly acts in contravention of this section commits an offence and on conviction is liable in the case of – (a) Presidential election, to a maximum fine of N1,000,000,00 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both; (b) a Governorship election to a fine of N800,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of 9 months or both; (c) Senatorial election to a fine of N600,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of 6 months or both.”
Any fine less than a million naira for a presidential candidate that violates campaign finance laws is nothing more than a slap on the wrist. They can afford such a fine and therefore have no reason to respect the law. Rather than raise the spending limits on elections, lawmakers should first ensure that the commission is enforcing the rules of engagement.
In the 2019 elections, many local and international election observers complained bitterly about voters’ inducement. Therefore, it is shocking that the monetization of election campaigns is not a matter being considered by the legislature. Instead, it intends to create a situation where money will play a more significant role in determining the outcome of elections in Nigeria. This shouldn’t be the case.
Nigerians must demand that INEC effectively carries out its function of regulating election spending in Nigeria. As stated in the Electoral Act, “election expenses of a political party shall be submitted to the Commission in a separate audited return within six months after an election and such return shall be signed by the political party’s auditors and counter-signed by the Chairman of the party and be supported by a sworn affidavit by the signatories as to the correctness of its contents.” The commission should then go a step further to recommend stricter punishments for political parties who fail to comply with this provision.
More importantly, the National Assembly cannot pretend to exist in a bubble. Increasing campaign spending in a country with growing inequality and rising poverty is insensitive and mischievous. Therefore, the National Assembly should scrap the idea of increasing spending limits and focus its attention on matters that will enhance the credibility of our electoral process and further level the playing field for candidates.