By Chimezie Godfrey
The Electoral Forum, an initiative of the Electoral Hub has advocated for mechanisms on campaign finance that will allow average Nigerians be able to compete in the electoral process.
The Chairman of the Electoral Forum, Prof. Adebayo Olukoshi, made the advocacy at a High-level Policy Roundtable on Political Campaign Finance held on Friday in Abuja.
The Electoral Forum has organised the policy roundtable with support from the Macarthur Foundation, with the aim to conceptualize solutions to electoral problems in Nigeria.
Olukoshi decried the fact that the threshold for Campaign expenditures has made it difficult and almost impossible for average citizens of the country to participate and compete in Nigerian electoral process.
The Electoral Forum Chairman who noted that the threshold has been substantially reviewed upward expressed concern over the appropriateness of the new threshold and the extent in which it will serve the purpose of the particular need of the vibrancy of the country’s democracy.
He lamented that the. problem of campaign finance is multifaceted, all over the world, adding that the monitoring of campaign finance is not exactly an easy exercise especially in the context of a cash based economy.
Olukoshi considering the forgoing call for mechanisms that will accord a level playing ground to all political stakeholders especially now that the 2023 elections are at the corner.
“In the specific Nigerian context there are so many informal channels of financing as well as informal mechanisms of financing which need to be taken into account and one the things I imagine that will come out of the deliberation is the extent to which the new framework is in itself even internally coherent with the systems, when do we start counting, for example the expenditure that are incurred by candidates and political parties, what is the cut-off point.
“Is it only when the campaign season is formally declared open, what happens in the period before the campaign season is declared open when infact candidates are already campaigning before the formal declaration of the season even before primaries of political parties and nomination of candidates.
“And this speaks to the fact that the campaign exercise itself is almost a permanent ongoing exercise, and we prepare also for that point of view to put in place a monitoring mechanisms that will ensure that we are able to monitor on a permanent and ongoing basis the expenditures which are put in for contestation for political offices.
“I do know that in relation to the median income of Nigerians that is important for us to put in place mechanisms that can ensure that the average Nigerian is able to compete in the electoral process,” Olukoshi said.
He added,”Look at the median income of Nigerians, look at the threshold that have been set and review yourselves if actually it is appropriate or not. Those who play in the political terrain are of the view that actually that amount is too small. For those who play in the political terrain, if you follow the debate in the National Assembly, you would have heard them say that that amount is not sufficient.
“Those of us who are outside the political terrain, we look at the median income of Nigerians, and we wonder about the monitization campaign.”
In her remark, the Executive Director, Electoral Hub, Princess Hamman-Obels noted that money plays a significant role in the electoral process of Nigeria, adding that politicians spend billions of naira to secure not only candidacy from parties, but also victory at the poll.
According to her, the result is that without access to huge amounts of money , it is incredibly difficult if not impossible to contest for elections in Nigeria.
The Electoral Hub Executive Director pointed out that in terms regulating campaign finance , Electoral Bill 2021 increased the limits on election expenses for candidates contesting for elective offices at the national and state levels, and in the FCT Area Council.
“There are worries that marginalized groups such as women, youth and persons with disabilities will be affected disproportionately by these increased limits. This is because such groups typically have less access to financial resources or sponsorship compared to their counterparts.
“In terms of monitoring campaign finance, the situation has similarly been poor. The INEC has been tasked with enormous responsibilities, including conducting elections, registering political parties, conducting voter registration, and conducting civic and voter education.
“With these numerous responsibilities, the commission has been unable to make significant efforts in monitoring campaign finance. This is further worsened by peculiar features about Nigeria, including corruption and abuse of state resources, the existence of a largely cash-based economy, and the practice of godfatherism within the many political parties. Due to these, it is likely that even the increased expenditure limits in the Electoral Bill 2021 will be exceeded by politicians without repercussions,” she said.
Hamman-Obels added that these issues around campaign finance in Nigeria greatly undermine transparency, participation, inclusion, and trust in the electoral process.
She therefore said that it was in the recognition of these challenges that the Electoral Forum has organised the roundtable.
Other discussants at roundtable include representatives of the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu , Chairman, Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) and Action Democratic Party, and the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator, Ovie Omo-Agege.
Others are the former CPS to ex INEC Chairman, Mr Kayode Idowu, Special Adviser to the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mohammed Kuna and HoR Aspirant and Global Disability Advocate, Lois Auta, among others.