The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is going tough with political parties and their candidates in next year’s elections on how they source and disburse their campaign funds.
The commission plans to work with the Central Bank of Nigeria, Department of State Services (DSS), Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) and commercial banks to carry out the task, INEC chairman Mahmood Yakubu, said yesterday.
Yakubu spoke in Abuja during a policy roundtable conference on political campaign finance organised by The Electoral Forum (TEF).
At a separate forum yesterday, the INEC Chairman said 8,260,076 eligible Nigerians had completed the online and physical registration with students and other young Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 34 dominating the ongoing voter registration.
Yakubu, who was represented at the policy roundtable conference by the National Commissioner and chairman (Committee on Party Monitoring), Prof. Kunle Ajayi, said the commission was determined to track and ascertain campaign expenditure by politicians before and during the elections.
The commercial banks will be required to report all suspicious transactions ahead of the elections.
Failure to report any such suspicious transactions, he said, would attract prosecution.
“As long as we have not notified anybody that the race to the 2023 general election has started, we are not unaware of what anybody is doing. We follow the law strictly,” Yakubu said.
He added: “We have not officially declared notice for the 2023 general elections. But when we so declare, we will put our monitoring committees to motion, like the Central Bank of Nigeria, DSS, EFCC, the ICPC (commercial) banks and other law enforcement agencies. We have that plan already.
“Every candidate must be made to declare his bank asset; that is where they draw out their money. So we will make them to present their statements of account right from the onset.
“We will make it mandatory for them to turn in their bank statement so that if they say they are doing billboard and the account remains the same, then there is a problem.”
The commission also plans to check vote buying, according to Yakubu, who said: “We are going to establish finance monitoring teams and they will be among the electorate but they (politicians and political parties) won’t know.
“We are going to do it in a way that the influence of money will be reduced, because we want to make the electoral field a level playing ground for both rich and poor candidates and the electorate.
“Everybody will go on an equal economic level so that you won’t influence the voting pattern.”
His immediate predecessor, Prof. Attahiru Jega, who contributed from abroad, described lack of accountability and transparency in political campaign financing as key factors responsible for some challenges facing Nigeria’s electoral system.
His words: “If we insist on accountability, then you can begin to somehow sanitise the way political parties raise funds. I think what has happened is that we paid too much attention to the issue of electronic transmission of results, and somehow they quickly passed the Sections about raising the threshold. The civil societies did not pay much attention in their advocacy against this particular issue.
“Nevertheless, I wouldn’t advise or recommend that we delay the passage of the Bill on account of this particular issue. What we should be exploring are ways and means of ensuring that there is accountability about how these funds are raised and the spending ceiling is met as well as how the expenditure is done.”
Also speaking, the National Chairman of Inter-Party Advisory Council, Yabagi Sani, represented by its National Treasurer, Mr.Obidike Okolo, called for a strict enforcement of the regulations on election funding with a view to preventing the monetisation of the electoral process and improving the level of trust between the electorate and candidates.
He said the need to step up enforcement of the regulation on election funding was borne out of the imperatives of sanity and integrity in elections.
He said while the controversial Electoral Act Amendment Bill (2020), if assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari, would raise the ceiling of what a presidential candidate can spend on elections from N1 billion to N5 billion, representing a 400 per cent increment amongst others, there was need for its enforcement to ensure compliance with the provisions of the law on political campaign finance.
He said: “Political actors and commentators have been complaining that the new ceilings imply the monetization of the election process beyond the low-income groups in spite of their other qualifications. In this context, it is feared that women, youths and people living with disabilities will be the most excluded from the political process and governance.
“Further, there is the observation that the big political parties would hardly want to give their tickets to their members who are deemed not to have the capacity to generate either on their own, or, from wealthy donors to enable them cope with the big electioneering campaign funds.
“The more serious reservations about the potency of regulatory laws on elections is that such laws are hardly observed because of the poor or near-absence of enforcement mechanisms.
“An example of the brazen non-compliance with the law on election funding is the breach, especially by the ruling political party or ruling political parties, of the provisions of the Companies and Allied Matter Act, 2014 which prohibits corporate organisations and public institutions from donating to political parties or candidates for the purpose canvassing for votes.
“It is an open secret that private sector corporations and public institutions and agencies mostly surreptitiously make huge donations for reasons of getting patronage from the government or as a result of coercion by government officials.
“In our view, at IPAC, much as we believe like most Nigerians that the new election funding limits by the new Act is on the high side, we are however more concerned about enforcement and compliance.
“To achieve this objective, we are recommending, among others, that the Independent National Electoral Commission should be supported by all stakeholders in the exercise of its regulatory role.”
The TEF is a multidisciplinary strategic think-tank aimed at strengthening electoral governance and accountability in Nigeria through the provision of data, critical and contextualized analysis and solutions to improve the credibility and integrity of the electoral process.
Youths, students top voter registration as applications hit 8m
Speaking also yesterday at INEC’s quarterly meeting with media executives in Abuja, Yakubu said 8,260,076 eligible Nigerians have so far applied for inclusion in the Permanent Voters Register ahead of next year’s elections.
Culled from THE NATION