IDEAS Radio 14 November 2018

 

Aghogho Oboh: Right, welcome to Countdown 2019 on 99.3 Nigeria Info, where we discuss all the big and significant issues on the road to the 2019 general elections.  It is 93 days to the poll. You can follow the programme of course on Twitter @Countdown2019NG and @RotimiSankore.

 

Today on IDEAS segment with Ayo Obe, we’ll be discussing campaign finance.  What is a free gift? And what is a financial contribution? For instance, a private jet for campaign, a gift?  To help us answer these questions will be Eze Onyekpere, who’s a lawyer and Executive Director of Centre for Social Justice.

 

Eze Onyekpere: Hello?  Hello?

 

Rotimi Sankore: Hello Eze, how are you?

 

EO: Oh, fine.

 

RS: Good afternoon, this is Rotimi Sankore here with Ayo Obe on Nigeria Info.  Thank you for joining us.

 

Ayo Obe: Hello Eze,

 

EO: Yeah?

 

AO: This is Ayo.

 

EO: OK.

 

RS: Alright.

 

EO: Right, tell them to speak up a bit, it’s a bit faint.

 

RS: Yes, we are speaking up.

 

AO: OK Eze, can you hear me?  I hope you can hear me well?

 

EO: You’re more, you’re better off than the other person who is at the background.

 

AO: Well, we’re very grate … we’re very happy to have you on, as a Legal Practitioner and of course as the Executive Director of the Centre for Social Justice.  And we, I know that you’ve been looking into this issue of campaign finance. And so I’d like to ask you first of all; you know that limits have been set by the legislation for campaign finance.  Do you think that those limits are realistic in the kind of campaigns that we are running in Nigeria?

 

EO: Well let me say first of all that these limits are not realistic.  They are not based on any empirical evidence. They seem to be arbitrary, particularly if you look at the cost of electioneering in Nigeria.  And you know, because the naira has also lost so much value in the last …

 

AO: Hello?

 

RS: Our apologies, we’ve lost Eze Onyekpere, we’ll be getting him back on straight away.  But while we’re waiting to get him back on, some of the really important issues that we’d like to discuss include the concept of ‘free gifts’ in quotes.  I mean, what is a free gift? If the cap on the expenditure for a presidential candidate is N5 billion and the maximum amount that an individual or entity can contribute is N10 million, if someone gives that candidate a private jet to fly round the country for the duration of the campaign, and the cost of both the jet and the fuel exceeds N10 million, can it be considered a free gift?  Or has, you know, has that contributor or donor exceeded the N10 million, and if yes, what happens?  Will INEC sanction the candidate? Are there other stakeholders that are monitoring? These are some of the ideas …

 

EO: I’m sorry …

 

AO: Welcome back Eze.  And sorry for losing you.  You were saying that you don’t think that the limits are realistic.  And the reason why of course I started with that is so that we can look at why it is that there is this tendency to ignore the rules, or to try and circumvent them.  So you were saying that you don’t think the amounts are realistic?

 

EO: Yes, they are not realistic considering the current value of money.  You know they were set in 2010. As at that time, the current value of the naira is much, the value of the naira then is much more than what it is today.  So, but there is even a snag, beyond the rules set in the Electoral Act, N1 billion for presidential, candidates,  N200 million for governorship candidates,  N40 million for Senatorial  candidates and N20 million for House of Reps, Chairmanship positions and State House of Assembly are N10 million while councillorship is N1 million.  You know. So what I am saying is that this is for candidates, but then political parties do not have any limitation on how much they can spend.   

 

AO: I see.

 

EO: So, to circumvent this, if you spend up to your ceiling, you pass the money over to your political party and they can spend as much as they can, any amount of money they can muster.  So actually, you’ve set a limitation by one hand, and on the other hand you take it away. So that is even the challenge.

 

And look at this issue.  The governorship candidate is permitted to spend N200 million, while a presidential candidate who is going to campaign in 36 states, is only permitted to spend what, N1 billion, which is times five.  So the logical thing should have been that if you are running a state level governorship election and just one state out of 36, that the presidential campaign should have been N200 million times 36.  Although I’m not justifying to say let’s monetise …

 

AO: No, but I think it underlines the point that you were making, which is that there  isn’t any empirical basis for fixing these amounts.

 

EO: And then a senatorial candidate is doing N40 million and there are three senatorial seats in a state.  So ideally, if you add 40 times 3, it will give you N120 million.  So I would have expected the N200 million to be divisible by three to get the amount a senatorial candidate should spend, so there’s nothing empirical.

 

AO: So when we have these …

 

EO: In the Electoral Act done by the National Assembly which they are trying to round up and send to the President, they have increased, they are seeking to increase these limitations, for instance, they moved governors …

 

AO: Is there any basis for these increases?

 

EO: There is no basis again.  The governors they moved them up to N1 billion and moved the presidential candidate to N5 billion.

 

AO: And that legislation is still awaiting presidential assent?

 

EO: Yes, it’s still awaiting.

 

AO: Whatever limits that are set by the Act are, the next question that I would like you to advise us about is whether INEC, the Independent National Electoral Commission, is actually capable of monitoring these expenditures?  Does it have the capacity? Is it monitoring these expenditures?

 

EO: Well INEC is by law supposed to be monitoring, and I know in 2005 they had a lot of capacity building sessions and indeed, I was informed that they did monitor some part of the elections, but I haven’t seen the report so far.  But in all fairness to INEC, INEC is overwhelmed with a lot of challenges. Logistics, the human technology. So if INEC has to be put in a position to monitor campaign finance, they have to be better resourced both in terms of technology, both in terms of human resources and in terms of finances.  And then there is a deeper part of it which I have also written to INEC to say, take it up from there, it’s called the Political Finance Monitoring Group. Now INEC may not on its own have all the capacity, but it needs the collaboration of sister agencies. For instance, INEC can be the convenor of this monitoring group.  It will get the National Broadcasting Commission. Because the NBC is the regulatory agency for all electronic media, radio and television. so the NBC is in a position to ask, to mandate all radio and television stations to give information about the number of advertisements and the cost, that ran through all radio and television stations, and then INEC can collaborate with the   Financial Intelligence Unit at and CBN and mandate all the candidates to open dedicated accounts for receiving money and spending money for the elections, so by simply using your BVN as a candidate to print out your bank statement, INEC will have an idea what money passed through that account.

 

AO: But are these proposals being adopted by INEC?

 

EO:  These are proposals my organisation, these are proposals my organisation made, and INEC seems to be interested.  But I don’t know whether it’s been adopted or not. But this is an idea that involves sister agencies, EFCC, ICPC, the police in tracking, then at the end of the day they sit down and collaborate and get the facts, so it’s doable, but as at now, to the best of my knowledge, it’s not been started.

 

AO: Now apart from INEC and this initiative which you’re hoping to work with them, do you know whether other agencies or NGOs are doing it, or is it just a matter of political parties who may or may not have an interest in monitoring what is being spent by their opponents?

 

EO: Well, the institutions have been involved in, are CSOs, …   In 2007 we tracked. Since I went over to CSJ we’ve tracked in 2011, that’s the Presidential, then we’ve done too, we’ve tracked it twice in Edo State, we’ve tracked twice in Ondo, we’ve done in  Anambra, we’ve done in Ekiti. And then like I say, we’ve collaborated with INEC in capacity building in 2015. So we are trying to build that momentum, so that other civil society organisations, and you know that of late, after the Ekiti elections, vote buying became a very topical issue.  

 

AO: Yes.

 

EO: So that’s how the momentum builds  and the media is taking interest and writing about it.  So I’m hoping that other organisations are going to join.  We’ve been doing this for close to ten years.

 

AO: But when we talk about things like vote buying, which are themselves illegal, is a political party going to reflect that kind of money in its statements to INEC, or is it just going to say that …

 

EO: No no no no!

 

AO: …  oh, that’s some  enthusiastic, like a Super PAC which we, the political party know nothing about?

 

EO:  But how do you expect, do you expect a man or a woman to report himself?

 

AO: No, that’s the point!

 

EO: So they will not do that, and that’s why I’m saying that if you involve other stakeholders who will have the capacity to track these kind of things, they will be able to say yes, this is what our investigation and monitoring find out, and they either make …  because there are provisions in both the Criminal Code and the Electoral Act against vote buying which makes it an offence and prescribes penalties. So if the tracking is very well done, people could be prosecuted, or even if you don’t want to prosecute, say, we have this data, we have this information …

 

AO: Well at the moment you see, what’s happening for, and it’s actually leaving the electorate not very well informed, is that there’s a lot of finger pointing going on by the major contenders, but since they are both pointing, they are all pointing fingers at each other, it doesn’t really leave the electorate any better informed about what’s really happening, and what’s allowed and what’s not allowed.

 

EO: No, I think the average Nigerian knows that accepting gratification before you do something is illegal.  But that’s even at the retail side of it. There is a wholesale rigging and vote buying, for instance, what happens at the convention primary, you know, where delegates come, you know delegates are few, they could be 1,000, they could be 1,000 at the presidential level at some other level they could be two hundred, three hundred where people, if the candidates, where aspirants will come on them and make budgets running into …

 

AO: But Eze, does INEC monitor those expenditures?

 

EO: INEC, INEC should monitor, but as at now, it does not monitor, or it may not have the capacity to monitor, but ideally they should monitor, because they send representatives to the primaries, and these things are not even rocket science to monitor.  You go into a town or a city where you are having presidential primaries, look around the hotels, they will tell you who booked up the hotel. You’ll be able to know somebody paid for five different hotels, and those hotels, you have an idea of the number of rooms, and how much each room costs.

 

AO: Well,

 

EO: In fact in extreme cases, these people even distribute raw cash where you could take pictures of them!

 

AO: I guess that unfortunately, the primaries are in the past, they may become the subject of litigation, but looking forward, because we have this position that we always take, that somebody has to have a lot of money  to run for elections, and yet you have, in other countries you have people volunteering, and you know, whether it’s to go round campaigning, whether it’s to send out envelopes, whatever it is, you do have people volunteering their time and services.  And against that, you have those who say that “I can’t volunteer my time, but I can volunteer my private jet” or some other form of material assistance. And I wonder whether any, how these things are calculated for the purposes of saying whether this is part of campaign financing or campaign spending, or whether it is, it’s not going to be counted because the people say that they are doing it for free, or they are giving it for free.

 

EO: Ideally this should count.  This should count because even INEC has made regulations asking candidates to report.  But to the best of my knowledge, nobody has so far reported.

 

AO: Ok, INEC asked candidates to report gifts or voluntary services?

 

EO: Yes.  To report not just gifts alone and voluntary, to report all the expenditure, and   And the way campaign expenditure is defined includes even non-material which are convertible to cash.  I mean, if my price for consulting or doing a service is say, N50,000 a day, if I give you five days, that reasonably should amount to N250,000.

 

AO: But then the person will say he’s giving a discount or he’s doing it for free.

 

EO: Yeah, yeah, but, ideally, it should count, but it doesn’t, as at today It appears it’s not counting.  Even in some other countries like in Germany, the individuals are encouraged to donate to political causes to candidates and political parties, and what you donate is counted as  tax deductible up to a certain limit, I think about E5,000

 

AO: That’s if you donate cash, or money.

 

EO: Yes.  If you donate, it can be calculated as part of your tax

 

AO: But if you donate your time, what happens?

 

EO: Well I didn’t quite check out what exactly happens in terms of how you calculate the time but if you donate money, it could be tax deductible in countries like  Germany.

 

AO: Ok.  So actually, if we were to have that as a tax issue here in Nigeria, it could also help.  Because we do find that the problem of financing political parties is a major cause for concern when we’re talking about the integrity of elections and of course the accountability of those who get elected and how they behave afterwards.

 

EO: Right.  No, in fact what, what we … it’s somehow of a social challenge in Nigeria.  You know, in other countries like you pointed out, where you come with an idea that you’re running, people come to support you.  But here, the idea is that you are rich, you have a bag of money somewhere, and so everybody comes to the party with his fork and knife to eat, rather than assisting.  So the idea should have been like, you can not give more than N1 million to a political party, or a candidate as stated in the Electoral Act.  We have been proposing if you give that amount, it should count in your taxation for the year, You should be able to get a tax credit for it, so that people are encouraged, not just N1 million, N5,000, N1,000 by the time you have an average of 0ne million people giving you an average of N10,000, it’s so much money, it turns into billions.  So that’s the kind of proposals going forward, that we’re thinking about.

 

AO: But meanwhile there is supposed to be some support given to parties by INEC.  In fact it used to be a joke, that forming a political party in Nigeria and getting the grant that was accruable if you formed a political party, was the fastest way of making the biggest return on an investment that anybody could have.  But I wonder, what is the situation now with regard to INEC …

 

EO: No, no, it’s been stopped.  The 2010 Electoral Act stopped that, so nobody is giving any of them a dime again.

 

AO: So the smaller parties are at a huge disadvantage then?

 

EO: Nothing, they are getting nothing from INEC, from the State.  Because like you did point out, it was seen that it was abused. But the smaller parties are clamouring that actually they should be given some resources to help them to reach out.  But some of us, how some of us are reacting to it is that they may not necessarily be given cash. They could be given some free airtime in public electronic media houses particularly during this election period to reach out.  They could also be granted the use of public facilities like halls or stadiums to be able to reach the electorate in this period of electioneering.

But physical cash doesn’t appear to be the best way to encourage people because that’s really becoming another institution, another agency of political baggage, looking up to the state to fund.  That’s not ideal. Not ideal.

 

AO: Yes, well I want to thank you Eze.  I don’t know whether Rotimi has any questions for you

 

RS: No, no, you’ve asked all the really important questions.

 

AO: So Eze, I want to thank you very much.  We’ll be calling on you because I know that the Centre for Social Justice is really looking into some of these issues at a really granular level and getting into the nitty gritty of it.  So thank you very much for coming on to IDEAS Radio.

 

EO: Thank you, my pleasure.

 

RS: Thank you Eze.

 

AO: And be sure to check us out on the IDEAS website which is www.ideasradio.ng or to follow us on Twitter @ideasradiong and of course you can get me @naijama.

 

RS: Ok, so thank you so much Ayo.

 

I hope that listeners are picking up from all these discussions, because it’s really important to the growth of democracy in Nigeria that people understand that politicians have to have some form of Integrity and be Accountable.  If not, without all these issues of Ethics, you know, this is why, when people are elected, they just think it is their own turn to dip their hand into the national cake and just walk away with it. Hence you hear all these, you know, rubbish arguments: “Oh, it’s our turn for it to be rotated.”  “Yes, the other Local Government they’ve been there twice now.” It has, it’s as if …

 

AO: And it’s never about: What have they done  for us

 

RS: … or what do they plan?  It’s just that it’s their turn now.  And it’s not the turn of everybody from that Local Government, it’s just the turn of those standing in front who claim that they are from there.  And if you foolishly support them and they rotate it to them, that’s the last you’re going to hear of the matter. I mean, we’ve seen famous cases of Presidents, Senate Presidents, governors, they stay four years, sometimes eight years, the road to their village is just not done.

 

AO: Shake rattle and roll, as we say!

 

RS: So even this idea that your village guy is there, or your village woman is there, it doesn’t even translate …

 

AO: … In fact some of them make a virtue out of it by saying: I’m not helping myself!”  You know, so they actually make a point of not helping the village that they never visit!

 

RS: Yes.  So it’s really important that  we start to pay attention to this because I suspect that if after the next cycle or two, there’s no real improvement in terms of development, governance, Nigeria will just slide very rapidly down the road of ethnic conflict …

 

AO: But at the moment, don’t you find that people still do talk in these terms of ethnicity as if those are the most important things, and the issue of delivery to the people, whether in terms of security, in terms of governance, in terms of infrastructure, all take a second place, and they are only used as arguments because the person is or is not of the right or wrong ethnicity.

 

RS: Well, we did a poll on the Twitter …

 

AO: Yes, people say

 

RS: Yes, that’s what I’m saying.  So we did a poll on our Twitter handle  of the programme, @Countdown2019NG and we asked four important questions, what do you think is the most important criteria: Good Governance, Gender Balance, Ethnic, or Religious?  Governance won by a fantastic, fantastically …

 

AO: Oh yes.  But in reality, what do we do?

 

RS: Yes.  In reality, many people fall back to this: “Ah, those people have been dominating us, it’s our turn …”

 

AO: Or, they say that Yes, Competence is important but those people, because those people who are from there are not competent.

RS: It’s only your village guy or woman that is competent: Well, we’ll come back to those issues more and more.  It’s going to be 90 days of campaign from the 18th of November, and that’s what we are discussing next Aghogho.