Not too poor to run – Punch

The Not Too Young to Run movement which began in Nigeria has inspired a global movement to allow greater participation of young people in politics and governance. On June 1, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law, the Not Too Young to Run Act (NTYTRA). In essence, the Act alters the provisions of sections 65, 106, 131 and 177 of the Constitution of Nigeria to reduce the age of persons qualified to run for election into public office.

The Act changes the age eligibility for the Office of the President from age 40 to 35; governor, from age 35 to 30; and state assemblies from age 30 to 25. While this is a good step in the right direction, especially in an African nation where the old guard has refused to relinquish political power, I believe that a lot more needs to be done for us to feel any impact from the NTYTRA.

In my view, nothing much will change in our political landscape unless and until our election structure is overhauled. Particularly problematic, in my humble view, are the areas of campaign financing and political party funding in Nigeria. Those who have the money will continue to control the selection process for candidates and the outcomes of elections.

Election in Nigeria is an enterprise. There must be return on investment for the enterprise to go on. Sometime at the beginning of the tenure of this administration, the President was at an event outside the country, and when he was asked by one of the participants what plans he had for the Niger Delta, his response in essence was that he planned to focus his energy on the areas where the citizens gave him their votes. It is not only the moneybags that invest in elections. The ordinary people invest with their votes. For the moneybags, the return on investment comes in the form of political appointments for them or their chosen representatives; operating licences in lucrative sectors for their businesses; and juicy government contracts.

For those who only have their thumbprints to give, they can hope for appointments of their worthy sons into positions of power. Through those worthy sons they hope to see the crumbs of the national cake by queuing up at the gates of these worthy sons in hopes that crumbs of school fees, hospital bills, chop money and general maintenance will fall from the table of their son who is where he is because of their votes. The Election Enterprise is all about self. There is little or no consideration for the larger Nigerian Enterprise. If you have to sell all that you have and be indebted to some moneybag for the opportunity to run for elected office, the first thing on your mind when you get into office is the return on investment (RoI) for you and your benefactor.

In a 2009 Briefing Paper published by Improving Institutions for pro-poor Growth (iiG) the key results of a study on campaign finance in Nigeria conducted by researchers at the University of Ibadan and the Centre for the Study of African Economies (CSAE), University of Oxford revealed that:

“Candidates invest large amounts of their private savings to contend in the elections. This means that only individuals willing to invest large amounts of money become candidates.

“Money distorts the candidate selection process within the parties and largely influences who wins the elections.

“Electoral laws governing how parties should secure and spend their funds are ineffective as there is a lack of knowledge about them. As a result such laws have limited enforceability.”

I always say that the problem of Nigeria is not the lack of laws but the lack of enforcement of existing laws. The Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) provides for limitations on campaign funding. Section 88 of the Act prohibits a political party from having funds or assets outside Nigeria, or receiving funds from outside Nigeria. Section 89 of the Act provides that annual statement of assets and liabilities be filed with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) along with audited financial accounts. The Act gives the commission the power to limit contributions to a political party and election expenses.

Election expenses for a presidential candidate, for instance, should not exceed N1, 000,000,000.00 (one billion naira). For a governorship candidate, the limit is N200, 000,000 (two hundred million) and for senatorial and house of representatives candidates, the limits are N40, 000,000 (forty million) and N20, 000, 000 (twenty million) respectively. Section 91(9) of the Act prohibits individuals and other entities from donating more that N1, 000,000 (one million) to any candidate. Anonymous gifts are also prohibited. Every political party is to file their statement of expenses with INEC within six months after an election, and publish same in at least two national newspapers. The penalty of exceeding the limit is a maximum fine of N1, 000, 000 and forfeiture of the excess. I do not need a soothsayer to tell me that even the major political parties flout these provisions and the INEC turns a blind eye. In addition to the Electoral Act, the Companies and Allied Matters Act also prohibits companies from giving funds to political parties.

Until we take seriously the letter of the law and scrutinise the “Committee of Friends” and “Concerned Indigenes in the Diaspora”, and the vehicles the moneybags use to disguise themselves, they will continue to rule the day. Independents and non-major party candidates cannot match the type of spending that goes into bribes and other inducements, aka stomach infrastructure, that the candidates of major parties engage in. When election campaigns begin, the money taps begin to flow. The gushing money taps get the most patronage. The trickling money taps barely get a second glance.

Until we care enough in the Nigerian Enterprise to invest in public interest litigation to enforce some of our laws, I am afraid that laws such as the NTYTRA will make little impact in changing the political landscape. But they say, the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. We are on our way; this is the first step.

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