WE may never know how much Corporate Nigeria, an irritating organisation that impetuously springs to life at the approach of a presidential election, contributed to the 29 October Jonathan-Sambo fund raising dinner.
Estimates have ranged from N450 million to N500 million, a big statement on the willingness of politicians to comply with the 2010 Electoral Act.
Does it mean there is no difference between N450 million and N500 million or the organisers do not think the details are important? How do these help the transparency in the 2011 elections?
Corporate Nigeria tried to simulate compliance with the law in the manner of the latest dinner, yet there are gaps that should worry anyone. It says no individual gave more than N1 million.
How would we know how much each person gave, when there would be no public records of the donations? What if this was only a show while the real donations would be funnelled through other channels? Does the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, have the will and resources to monitor the finances of political parties and candidates, in line with the law?
In the 2003 and 2007 elections, Corporate Nigeria raised billions of Naira for Olusegun Obasanjo, in violation of the Constitution. Corporate bodies were named as contributors and some individuals, including those resident abroad, made donations, contrary to Section 225 (3) “No political party shall — (a) hold or possess any funds or other assets outside Nigeria; or (b) be entitled to retain any funds or assets remitted or sent to it from outside Nigeria.”
Still more questions need to be asked about the issue of compliance with the law. Many organisations and support groups are canvassing finances and votes for candidates, even aspirants. They are violating the law.
According to Section 221 of the Constitution, “No association, other than a political party, shall canvass for votes for any candidate at any election or contribute to the funds of any political party or to the election expenses of any candidate at an election.”
Is Corporate Nigeria a political party? Is Corporate Nigeria another name for Peoples Democratic Party, PDP as it only raises money for PDP presidential candidates? Could all those who gave money at the event be members of PDP, in which case their action could qualify them as acting for a political party?
We still remember the nauseating defences Corporate Nigeria chieftains made of their earlier intrusions into Nigeria ’s politics through the back door. Their position summarised the impunity government awarded them. They are still drawing from it and in a more dangerous manner.
The fund raising violated the Constitution and shows clearly the tenuous convictions of those who preach free and fair elections. Why should they openly operate against the law while claiming to be law abiding?
In earlier instances, Corporate Nigeria waited until after party primaries to line behind the PDP presidential candidate. This time, it is impatient, throwing its finances to an aspirant, not a candidate in an election.
Corporate Nigeria skirts round the law, though in its defences it rushes to Section 91 (9) of the 2010 Electoral Act which states, “No individual or other entity shall donate more than one million naira (N1, 000,000) to any candidate.”
How do we confirm what each individual gave? Were the contributions made to a candidate or an aspirant? Is there no longer a difference between a candidate and an aspirant? Or do the donors already know PDP’s presidential candidate without the party’s decision?
Section 91 (10) further provides, “A candidate who knowingly acts in contravention of this section commits an offence and on conviction shall be liable — (a) in case of presidential election to a maximum fine of N1, 000,000 or imprisonment of 12 months or both.”
In Section 91 (11) states, “Any individual who knowingly acts in contravention of subsection (9) shall on conviction be liable to a maximum fine of N500,000 or 9 months imprisonment or both.” We know nobody would be punished. Beneficiaries have immunity; they can protect their benefactors.
There are good reasons for the law to be stiff on contributions to the finances of a candidate in an election. Fears exist that those who finance a candidate’s election can exert pressure on him, if elected, to act to please them rather than the electorate as the Constitution expects.
The implications of this situation are vast and complicated.
In strident condemnation of the money raised for the Jonathan-Sambo campaign, the Conference of Political Parties in Nigeria said the main motive of business chieftains, who donate at these events is continuous enjoyment of favourable business opportunities created for them through customs waivers and importation of essential items like petroleum products.
We also note the improprieties associated with contributions to political causes, made inadvertently public during the pre-2007 election tiff between then President Obasanjo and former Vice-President Abubakar Atiku. Both accused each other of unauthorised expenditures with the remnant of their campaign funds, another confirmation that INEC does not monitor these funds.
It may be asking too much to request President Goodluck Jonathan to return the money raise on 29 October to its contributors, but that is what he should do. He has been guided into a mistake and he has to admit it openly, frankly.
He needs to wait until he is a candidate before he can raise money for the election. Today, he is an aspirant like others, who can only become candidates, if they are successful at party primaries. There is no immunity to this law.
Other aspirants in the election too cannot solicit for funds at this stage. When they become their party’s candidates, they can solicit for funds still in compliance with the provisions of the law.
The law lays emphasis on a political party being behind the candidate, in order that nobody, who so feels, takes advantage of the public. Until primaries are conducted, there are no candidates in the elections; all we have are aspirants, no matter their stand or status.
We cannot endlessly preach about free and fair elections when our actions point to the contrary, particularly with open disrespect for the Constitution.
Examples are important to rescue our country from the uncertainties the imperious conducts those in high offices portend. Those who lead, and those who intend to lead, must provide sterling examples of adherence to the law with an obvious faithfulness.