Ahead of the 2023 general election timetable, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is to beam its searchlight on politicians and political parties in a bid to track the sources of funds for their campaigns.
INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, made the plan public at a conference on political campaign finance organised by The Electoral Forum in Abuja yesterday.
According to Yakubu, the commission will set up teams to monitor election spending ahead of the polls.
Represented by Prof. Ajayi Kunle, who is INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of the party monitoring committee, the INEC boss said the electoral empire would also monitor the movement of money on election days to tackle vote-buying at polling units.
Yakubu, who said that with the assistance of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), commercial banks would be mandated to report all suspicious transactions ahead of the election, threatened to prosecute any bank that failed to cooperate.
When asked about the legal implications of the move, the INEC boss explained that the Electoral Act and the constitution empower INEC to make any other regulations that will assist its efficiency.
“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.
“We have not officially declared a notice for the 2023 general elections, but when we so declare, we will put our monitoring committees to motion like the Central Bank, Department of State Services (DSS), EFCC, Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), the (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 present their statement 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,” Yakubu said.
On the issue of vote-buying, the INEC chairman 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”.
Chairman of The Electoral Forum, Prof. Bayo Olukoshi, lamented the low implementation of the law on campaign financing, urging that the Electoral Act be amended to strengthen the monitoring mechanism.
Immediate past Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, identified lack of accountability and transparency in political campaign financing as key factors responsible for some challenges facing Nigeria’s electoral system.
“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,” Jega said.
Earlier, the National Chairman of Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Yabagi Sani, called for strict enforcement of the regulations on election funding so as to prevent monetisation of the electoral process and improve the level of trust between the electorate and political party candidates.
He said that failure to do so could debase the voting process to the level of what he described as “a commodity for the highest bidder”.
Sani, who was represented by IPAC’s National Treasurer, Obidike Okolo, noted that the triple menace of transnational drug trafficking, money-laundering and terrorism had led to corruption as well as the destruction of democratic philosophy.
To him, while the controversial Electoral Amendment Bill (2020), if eventually assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari, will usher in the upgrading of what a presidential candidate can spend at elections from N1billion to N5billion, representing a 400 per cent increment amongst others, there is need for its enforcement to ensure compliance with the provisions of the law on political campaign finance.
“A governorship candidate will now have the leverage of spending up to N1billion from the previous N200 million; a senatorial candidate, N100 million as against N40 million and a candidate for the House of Representatives, will henceforth be legally allowed to spend N70 million instead of N30 million in their election spending.
“However, political actors and commentators have been complaining that the new ceilings imply the monetisation 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.”(The Guardian)