By SKC Ogbonnia
President Muhammadu Buhari deserves commendation for
his new year pledge to reform Nigeria’s electoral process, but he should have gone
further to admit that the exercise through which he was re-elected to a second
term in office was grossly flawed. He should have equally confessed that, by
law, the degree of irregularity in the 2019 presidential election ought to have
landed both himself (Buhari) and his main opponent, former Vice-President Atiku
Abubakar, in prison.
The problem is hinged on blatant violation of
electoral campaign finance laws. Section 91 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as
amended) states that the “maximum election expenses to be incurred by a
candidate at a Presidential election shall be one billion naira (N1,000,000,000)”
while 91 (9) follows that “No individual or other entity shall donate more than
one million naira (N1,000,000) to any candidate.” Section 124 is specific with
bribery, yet different shades of world currencies, beguiling gifts and honorariums,
and other eccentric monetary rewards defined 2019 presidential election
It does not take a Rotimi Williams to prove that
Buhari and Atiku were in clear breach of the aforementioned sections. These, of
course, should have culminated to multiple convictions of “imprisonment for 12
months” as stipulated in the Electoral Act.
An apparent paradox, however, is that, even if Buhari
and Atiku were to be barred and jailed in the process, lack of funding
ostensibly made it impossible for any of the minor candidates to garner enough
votes or the electoral spread to claim outright victory or to even explore a second
round of the election as
required by the law.
The problem with campaign finance had remained
unspoken, because it is as banal as Nigeria’s endemic corruption. This goes
without saying that flouting campaign finance laws did not start in 2019 with Muhammadu
Buhari and Atiku Abubakar. In short, most major party candidates since the 1999
transitional elections, from councilor to the presidency, including Olusegun
Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua, and Goodluck Jonathan, were as guilty, or even worse.
This explains why Attahiru Jega, the erstwhile chairman
of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), had to confess that,
even though the Electoral Act empowers the commission to monitor sources and
nature of funding, the “INEC does not even have a desk that handles campaign
financing.” Jega remarked that significant improvement had been made since he
came on board, but also prayed that future leadership should focus on strengthening
internal party democracy and campaign money.
Unfortunately, however, the trajectory of electoral
progress stalled under President Muhammadu Buhari. Of course, his latest
promise to reform the system remains welcome, but such vow is far from novel. After
all, not long after assuming democratic power, the president proclaimed in 2016
an eagerness to reform the same electoral laws. But he did just the opposite. Any
objective book on 2019 elections is bound to chronicle how Buhari backpedaled
the wheel of Nigeria’s democratic journey by refusing to sign into law new reforms
to the Electoral Act, including campaign finance.
To that end, even the widely celebrated “Not Too Young
To Run bill”, signed into law to reduce the age limit for standing electoral
office in the country, became an exercise in futility. Apart from the children
of the rich, who benefited from the bill during the 2019 electoral cycle; the very
masses, including the ordinary youths, had no chance, as money determined who
vied, who won, and who lost the elections.
The need to curb illegal money in Nigeria’s election campaign
cannot be overstated, especially considering that the problem is central to elitist
corruption. Therefore, as a president whose sole claim to power was to fight
corruption, Buhari can still seize the moment and go forth to lay a strong
foundation for clean money in Nigerian democracy, with special attention to serious
consequences for violation of electoral laws.
A tenable way forward is to begin with sincerity of
purpose. Buhari can borrow from the examples of Presidents Yar’Adua and
Jonathan. Not only did Yar’Adua acknowledge that the process that brought him
to power was tainted, he also did something about the problem, leading to
impartial INEC Chairman and the 2010 Electoral Act that followed. Jonathan went
further to ensure the free and fair elections of 2015 that made it possible for
the gladsome history in which a Nigerian opposition candidate defeated an
incumbent president, even though he would become the sacrificial lamb. Yes, good
leaders make things better than how
they met them.
So, where art thou, President Buhari? Where art thou?
Here goes an opportunity to equally bequeath a
memorable legacy by occasioning a revolutionary change. As I had promoted in
the past, given that illegal campaign money in the country is explicitly or
implicitly looted from the public treasury, Nigeria might as well adopt full
public funding for inter-party elections. This proposal is well studied. It profoundly
promotes the vitally essential competition component of democracy. It is consistent
with the recommendations put forth by renowned organizations, such as the
International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) and the
International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). The proposal also
mirrors the McCain-Feingold legislation in the United States of America—without
the choice for individual contributions.
*SKC Ogbonnia, a 2019 APC presidential aspirant, is
the author of the Effective Leadership Formula.