Jonathan under fire for advocating unregulated election expenses bazaar

Culled from www.premiumtimesng.com
Published: April 9,2014

The president says limiting election financing is not realistic.

Election monitors and anti-corruption activists have launched a blistering attack on President Goodluck Jonathan over his comment Monday advocating new laws to ease existing regulation on election expenses, either by completely removing spending ceilings, or by setting higher limits.

Speaking at the presidential villa while receiving the report of the National Stakeholders’ Forum on Electoral Reform, a group headed by a former senate president, Ken Nnamani, Mr. Jonathan said existing limits on election expenses are not “realistic”.

The group had recommended a firm curtailing of lavish spending on election by politicians, and respect for the rule of law by political parties.

But the president, in an unusual blunt response, said current restrictions as stipulated in law- apparently referring to the Electoral Act 2010- do not appear realistic, and could potentially prove a “booby trap” for candidates seeking political offices.

“On the issue of campaign finance regulation, I think the electoral laws need to be properly focused on that. I am a realist and a practical person and that is why I behave differently. I don’t pretend. I believe that even the laws or even regulations must not be designed in a way that it will pretend,” the president said.

“In some countries, if you are getting funds from government then you must set restrictions but if you are generating your own funds then you have no restrictions. If you say a governor must not spend beyond certain amount of money when campaigning, how do you monitor? And sometimes the figures you put are too unrealistic because if you must campaign the media is very expensive.”

“You cannot pigeon hole a candidate to spend within a budget. So I think people must come up with what is realistic and practicable because the law itself must not be a booby trap for anybody,” the president said.

The comments have drawn anger from election and anti-corruption activists who have worked for years to have the government stamp its authority and implement relevant laws curbing extravagant election spending and financing, both, key factors blamed for a flourishing corruption.

“If you are fighting corruption, you have to check election financing,” said James Ugochukwu of the Nigeria Civil Society Election Situation Room. “Because people going into public offices now have turned that into a business, and if someone spends too much on election, when they get to the office, they will be recouping their investment.”

Election monitors blamed the lack of political will for the president’s reluctance to take firm action by either encouraging office-seekers to adhere to the lawful provisions, or formally propose an amendment to the law, if needed.

“It is the lack of political will,” said Debo Adeniran, who heads The Coalition against Corrupt Leaders, CACOL, an anti-corruption group.

Mr. Adeniran said the president’s views explains the prevalent mindset among political elites that has raised electoral extravagance to an “obscene” level.

“Such monetizing of elections gives strength to people with ill-gotten wealth, who use stolen funds and state funds to hold us to ransom,” Mr. Adeniran said.

The amended Electoral Act, 2010, provides elaborate financial guidelines for politicians and political parties, regulations that have constantly been breached, according to campaign monitors.

Under Section 91 of the Act, the maximum election expenses to be incurred by a candidate in a presidential election should not exceed N1 billion. Similar ceilings are set for governorship election at N200 million, while elections to the Senate and the House of Representatives are not to exceed N40 million and N20 million respectively.

Also, no individual donation should exceed N1 million. Like Mr. Jonathan, some political analysts have said the figures are impracticable and have justified violations of the limits at different elections.

The Centre for Social Justice, a nongovernmental organisation, which has monitored polls since national and state polls for years, and has worked with INEC and other organizations to monitor spending, said the benchmarks have never been kept.

“From 2007 election, 2011 election, and state elections, those limits have never been kept,” said Eze Onyekpere, the Lead Director of the group.

The law also provides stiff penalties that have never been implemented. If a presidential candidate exceeds the limits of spending, for instance, the law stipulates a 12-month jail term, or N 1billion in fines, or both. If a governorship candidate defaults, the penalty is N800 million or nine months in jail, or both.

The president’s remarks came on a day the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Attahiru Jega, announced to the media that his commission would be pushing more for the implementation of the law on election funding.

At a meeting Monday with newspapers editors, INEC chairman, Mr. Jega, admitted the electoral body had not done enough checking abuses, and that the commission in partnership with the civil society will enforce greater adherence to the rules in the 2015 election.

Nigerian politicians have for years, faced allegations of stealing billions of state funds for use during their re-election bids, or on the election of their cronies.

Candidates in position of authority are also known for sourcing donations far in excess of allowable limits, from rich business owners, who in return are made beneficiaries of outlandish government policies that drain the economy.

The president’s remarks also came as Nigerians deal with the missing $20 billion oil funds, exposed by the suspended governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Lamido Sanusi.

Mr. Sanusi suggested, amongst other details, that the missing funds may have been stashed for use during the 2015 elections.

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