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Electoral Act provisions on donation to candidates unrealistic — Adedipe, SAN

As the activities towards the 2019 general elections gather momentum, a Senior Advocate of

Nigeria, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe, provides answers to some legal questions, arguing that certain provisions of the Electoral Acts are not realistic. He said payment for nomination and expression forms is not out of place.

Ifedayo Adedipe, SAN

Excerpts:

The opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP recently argued that buying of nomination and expression form for President Muhammadu Buhari by a group for N45 million violated  Section 91(9) of the Electoral Act, which pegs maximum donation to any political office seeker at N1m. What is your position on this?

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Under the old Electoral Act 2010, I call it the old one because the process of amendment it is still not completed. It is expressly provided that an individual or other entity shall not donate more than N1m to any candidate – the emphasis is candidate. At that moment, you have only aspirants; the President was an aspirant. The section only applies when the candidate emerges and election process begins.  I think he (Buhari) was an aspirant at that moment.

So, I do not think there is anything in the Electoral Act that says an aspirant should not receive money; although, I suspect that the essence of the law is to delimit the amount of money that could be made available to politicians. But in reality, that is dishonest.

There is absolutely no way a candidate, when one has emerged, will spend a paltry sum of N1m to get even a seat at the House of Assembly. We need to get it right. It’s not real. From getting the endorsement of party members to obtaining forms to canvassing for votes, N1 million is a drop in the ocean. It is when we live in denial like this that we make corruption a way of life. So, money will be passed under the table without accounting.

When you say I should give a candidate only N1m, I’d say very well, I will give only N1m but behind I probably will add N99 million for which there will be no account. So, the Act is not realistic but in specific terms at the moment, the President is not a candidate; so, obtaining forms for him by his admirers may not be out of place.

Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, sometimes ago canvassed that it was an illegality for political parties to sell nomination forms, based on various pronouncements of the courts. Do you agree with this?

I am not aware. My understanding of political parties is that they are voluntary associations of like minds and people wanting to canvass for votes and if they are elected, they come into office. The question is: how will they raise money for their operations if you say they cannot sell their nomination forms? For instance, the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, at the very beginning of the revered rank, the forms were free; at the moment they are being sold because you will need money to process the entries.

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I do not think it will be right to say political parties should not sell nomination forms. We do know that even though parties claim to have financial members, it is doubtful whether they actually collect subscriptions from members as they are expected to do in a proper political arrangement.

Political parties will register their members and the financial members of the party will, may be monthly or quarterly, contribute money into the coffers of the party, so that they will all be, in the language of Babangida, equal joiners and equal members. If we contribute equally to the coffers of the political party, then we will have equal say but when we have an individual contributing N10m and another just given a card to be a member, it is dishonest to expect that they will have equal rights. And that is why godfathers dictate what happens in the parties.

But I think the political parties are at liberty to source their funds without contravening the laws. But I also think that part of the reforms we need in the political systems is in actually monitoring financial members of the parties. Let everybody, who believes in a political party, be a financial member. It may be that somebody gives him money but his name will be there as a member contributing money. What they currently have does not follow that pattern.

Two, the contribution should be realistic. When you say somebody is a member of a political party and he should bring N100, which can’t even buy a recharge card. So, these are some of the things we need to factor in. I believe the political parties have a right to sell their nomination forms. If you say they shouldn’t sell their forms, how will they print it?

I agree that some of the amounts are outrageous but again it may be that they want to use it to prune down the serious contenders from the jesters.  You know, some people for the sheer fun of it, some people may say they want to be President, they want to be governor. In a political party you may have as many as 50 aspirants.

The party will have to manage them without being seen as taking sides. But I expect parties to make the prices of their forms reasonable.

INEC says it has power to prosecute electoral offenders, including vote buyers, but lacks the power to make arrest. Without the power to arrest, isn’t the prosecutorial power useless?

Vote-buying did not start in Ekiti; it began in an embarrassing fashion in Edo and INEC did not behave well in Edo State for the following reasons: for inexplicable reasons, INEC postponed election in Edo for two, three weeks, when it came to Ondo, INEC refused to do so, probably because they were under some bizzare influence, I refuse to believe that they were being altruistic.

The case in Ondo was one that would have given them the opportunity to say because of the embarrassing intervention of the Federal High Court that created crisis in Ondo for the candidates, they should be given more opportunity, so that you have a level-playing ground for all the candidates. But INEC refused, whereas they did it in Edo. So, is INEC biased? It is up to them. We began to hear about vote-buying in Edo, when it came to Ondo, it was the same song.

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Now, the one in Ekiti was probably the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, we had figure, N5,000, N10,000. I think, it should worry us because if people cannot choose freely who should represent or lead them, then we have been enslaved by those who have money.

At the end of the day, whether that fellow is good or bad, he will be there for the next four years. At the level of the Federal Government, a policy should evolve because the role of the security agencies in the elections leaves much to be desired. I have been involved in election petition cases where the while of the security agencies came and took sides. It shouldn’t be so. Elsewhere on election days, work places are not closed down. People vote and go back to their work, it is a routine thing but here we make a mess of eating an egg.

The militaristic language from our politicians should worry us all. It is another type of corruption, still democracy is the best. We need to nurture this democracy, plead with our politicians that in the name of God and for the future of our country think more of the country and less of you. I don’t care too much who the President becomes if he has modern ideas because when you look at the countries of the world, African countries are at the lowest level.

When you look at the countries in Africa, Nigeria is a joke, in spite of our population. We must be modern, we must reform ourselves and one of the best ways to do this is to put in our best hands in everything we do. If we don’t do so, we will have nobody but ourselves to blame.

Over 90 political parties are seeking to participate in next year’s election; don’t you think the conditions for registering a political party should be stricter?

I believe that we do not need more than five political parties. First, it will make it easier for INEC to conduct elections and monitor the process. Secondly, the nuisance tendencies in election will be removed. Why should we have all the wife and husband political parties? Some we don’t even know their names. We don’t need it. Politics should not be the only job in town. At the end of the day, how do we grow our economy?

Our population is increasing, we don’t have jobs, and these are the issues we should be addressing. We have more challenging issues ahead of us a country. We are approaching 200 million, we don’t have infrastructures, no good roads, no airport that is of world-class standard, then we will always have kidnappers, we will always have armed robbers, 419 amongst us.

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So, we need to grow our economy and what I will counsel this government or the one coming after them is to look for the best hands in each department across the country; you will find them. We are in an emergency, our population is ballooning, and oil alone is not enough. In fairness, this government is making efforts at diversifying the economy, we should encourage it.

Why is there a need for a large number of lawyers in election matters?

First of all, electoral litigations are fairly deadline-inspired processes, meaning that you have to finish certain things within certain period; you have to file certain papers within certain period. What you can do as a litigant is to hire a law firm, which may have 10 to 15 lawyers. When you hire a particular lawyer he comes in with his own people; it does not mean that you are hiring all those people or that you consult 30 lawyers and you pay all of them.


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