By Afe Babalola
“A situation which the financial fortunes of a political party lies with a single individual or members of a select few is bound to increase the ills associated with godfatherism. In many countries, the activities of political parties are financed in varying degrees from public funds in order to provide a level playing field for all political parties. Nigeria stands to gain by the adoption of measures which will make godfatherism a thing of the past in Nigerian politics”.
Last week, I discussed the concept and impact of godfatherism in Nigerian politics as it relates to the internal democracy of political parties. I outlined the origin of godfatherism with emphasis on how the major political leaders of the first political republic were interested more in the performance of their protégés rather than whatever pecuniary gains their support for the said protégés would otherwise have attracted to them. Last week in particular, I linked the advent of godfatherism as we know it to questions relating to the formation,structure and funding of political parties.
Ills associated with godfatherism
As I stated earlier, a situation which the financial fortunes of a political party lies with a single individual or members of a select few is bound to increase the ills associated with godfatherism. One of the ways in which godfathers exert a lot of undue influence on political parties and their candidates is through their ability to singlehandedly finance the running of the party and the candidature of their preferred candidates. A party which is otherwise unable to fund its own operations or a politician who lacks the funds necessary to even purchase nomination forms or embark on a meaningful campaign will readily give in to the demands and machinations of a wealthy godfather. Therefore, the greatest and perhaps only measure for the eradication of the phenomenon is the strengthening of laws relating to the funding of political parties in Nigeria.
Funding under Electoral Act 2010
The Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) makes adequate provisions to regulate the funding of political parties in Nigeria. Section 90 empowers the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to limit the contributions which may be made to a political party. Section 91 also limits expenses which may be incurred by political parties at certain elections. These limits are N1 billion, N200 million, N40 million, N20 million andN10 million for the Presidential, Governorship, Senatorial, House of Representatives and State House of Assembly respectively. By virtue of Section 91 (9), the maximum which an individual or entity can donate to any candidate is N1million. To provide the Independent National Electoral Commission with the parameter to enforce compliance with these provisions, Sections 89 and 92 require political parties to submit detailed Annual Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Election Expenses to INEC.
Without a doubt, the above provisions are commendable. However, as experience has shown, the problem is hardly lack of statutory or regulatory framework but commonly one of lack of compliance and enforcement by the concerned stakeholders. It is not clear if INEC in reality holds political parties to the limits stated in the Electoral Act. It is common knowledge that most politicians expend far more than is permitted by law and they as a matter of fact make no pretensions of their ability to outspend one another in the quest to garner votes at the election. This accounts for the violence which often erupts on election day. To break the circle there is a need for strict compliance with the law and amendment to the law making provision for stiff penalty.
Donations and subscriptions
Political parties should explore other legitimate sources of funding. Political parties can encourage donations and subscriptions from the generality of their members and not just a select few. This can take the form of membership dues or specific fund raising events.However, to prevent abuse, it will be necessary for such donations to be scrutinized by the regulatory authorities to avoid the kind of abuse to which such a practice was subjected in the United Kingdom when it was discovered that peerages were awarded to contributors to party funds thereby enabling the benefactors to become members of the House of Lords. To prevent such corruption, the parliament had to pass the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 into law.
In many countries, the activities of political parties are financed in varying degrees from public funds in order to provide a level playing field for all political parties. This system has for long been operated in countries such as Germany, Sweden, Israel, Canada, Australia, Austria and Spain. Other countries such as France, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands and Poland have also adopted the system. As a matter of fact, Nigeria also operated this system until it was stopped when it became evident that some political parties existed only for the purpose of collecting grants from the Federal Government.
The stoppage of funding has in itself been condemned by some political parties on the ground that the abolition of the system is too sweeping as it fails to take into consideration the fact that most political parties do require funding owing to their inability to raise funds from their members. Without a doubt, it makes no economic sense to give public funds to a party that cannot even win a Councillorship election in a local government. However, the point must be made that public funding of political parties need not be by direct injection of cash alone. There is what is known as indirect funding by which political parties are allowed the use of public owned utilities for their everyday and campaign activities at little or no cost to them. For example, a party may be allotted broadcasting time on state media such as the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) for broadcast of its campaign rallies or it may also be permitted to utilize the services of the Nigerian Postal Service (NIPOST) in dispatching campaign materials to the public in its quest to secure votes.According to the Comparative Data from the ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, out of a sample of over 180 nations, 25% of nations provide no direct or indirect public funding, 58% provide direct public funding and 60% of nations provide indirect public funding to political parties. Funding may be equal for all parties or depend on the results of previous elections or the number of candidates participating in an election.
Avenue of funding
Another avenue of funding available to political parties is collaboration with foreign aid donors. Again, much like funding by the government, this need not take the form of direct injection of cash. It may take the form of capacity development activities including the development of party manifestos, party constitutions and campaigning skills.
In the final analysis, Nigeria stands to gain by the adoption of measures which will make godfatherism a thing of the past in Nigerian politics. If democracy as is it conceived and practiced in other parts of the world is to amount to anything in Nigeria, there must be a conscious effort to do away with every aspect of our political life which has contributed in one way or the other to the inability of the country to fulfill the promise it held at independence. A complete revamp of the funding of political parties in Nigeria will be a very good step in that direction.