Recent trends in the polity relating to the (mis)management of state administrative resources demand the urgent attention of the authorities if Nigeria is to record free, fair and credible elections in February 2015. By way of definition, SARs are public resources placed at the disposal of public officers for the day to day administration and running of government. They are entrusted to the occupants of positions of authority for the public good. They include media, legislative, regulatory, coercive and institutional resources. The (mis)application and misuse of these resources could have far-reaching effects on the outcome of the polls and may lead candidates and parties to believe that they have been unduly shortchanged by the system. It is therefore in the overall national interest that these resources be deployed in a non-discriminatory manner across the board to all candidates and political parties.
There is a recent report that the Nigeria Communications Commission has shut down the Short Messaging Service Platform 35350, unveiled by the Buhari/Osibanjo All Progressives Congress team to raise funds for their campaign activities. The NCC was reported to have directed telecoms operators not to carry political messages and advised all service providers to avoid running political advertisements that will portray them as being partisan. The NCC also threatened to sanction any service provider that flouts this directive. The directive of the NCC raises a specific poser; if newspapers, radio and television houses are allowed to carry partisan advertisements, what is so special about using SMS messages to raise money? Is the use of the SMS platform an advertisement on its own? Considering that you must first of all desire to donate money to the campaign and what the platform offers is an easy means of doing so, instead of going to the banks or other non SMS platforms, this does not qualify as advertisement. An advertisement implies some form of solicitation, persuasion and convincing of the public to act or refrain from doing certain things.
It will be recalled that way back in 2010, the same NCC approved the use of social media platforms and issued regulatory guidelines for the use of Short Coded Numbers for political campaigns in Nigeria, as part of its support for innovation and development in products and services in the telecommunications industry. What has changed between 2010 and now? Governor Babatunde Fashola who chairs the APC fundraising team accused the NCC of double standards, saying that the commission had in a letter dated October 21, 2010, with reference no: NCC/TSMI /short Code/ Vol.9/044/ 2010 granted approval to the Goodluck/Sambo presidential campaign to use the same platform. If Fashola’s position is true, then this amounts to discrimination against the APC campaign team which is outlawed by Section 42 of the constitution. Furthermore, it amounts to the abuse of state regulatory resources and should be reversed in the spirit of fair play.
However, the SMS platform must be configured in such a way that it meets the demands of the Independent National Electoral Commission’s Guidelines and Regulations for Political Parties, 2013. In Section 13, the Guidelines state that every candidate shall maintain a record of all contributions as well as any other sources of funds and the records shall include the names, addresses, occupation of the donors and the amount donated.
Another major challenge is the crisis building up in relation to the application of the Peoples Democratic Party to use the Adokie Amasiemeka Stadium in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. The APC-led Rivers State Government had turned down the application stating that the stadium was undergoing repairs and the rally would cause unnecessary disruption to the ongoing repairs. However, the APC had used the stadium twice for its campaigns in recent times. In response, the Federal Government has deployed soldiers to barricade the stadium ahead of the rally date. Two wrongs are involved here. The state government has no right to prevent the PDP from using the stadium for its event. The state government can only ask for the appropriate user fees which should not be more than what the organisers of the APC rallies paid for use of the venue. On the other hand, the PDP-led Federal Government cannot by the sheer force of arms take over and forcefully use a stadium that does not belong to it. The parties need to sheathe their swords and come to a reasonable middle ground.
Media reports and reports verified by campaign finance monitors across the federation indicate that the President has been using aircraft in the presidential fleet for his campaigns while the governors and other public office holders have been using official vehicles for the campaigns. This is contrary to Section 100 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) which unequivocally states that state apparatuses shall not be deployed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election. This gives the incumbents an undue advantage over other contestants while deploying public resources to private ends. Since INEC has designed forms for candidates’ reports of their expenditure, the commission is enjoined to take note of these expenses when it starts the review of candidates’ reports.
There is also another disturbing development which is the sudden charitable disposition of candidates for various political offices. Campaign finance monitors are reporting the distribution of branded food items like rice, salt, flour, sugar, etc. Some candidates are distributing raw cash to their constituents or selected members of their constituencies; others are constructing boreholes and overhead tanks and buying electricity transformers for communities. Where is this money coming from? In all of the foregoing, the message after the purported charitable acts is for the electorate to vote for a specific candidate. This is nothing but vote-buying, bribery and inducement of voters which is contrary to Section 124 of the Electoral Act 2010. There is no reason justifying the law enforcement agencies looking the other way when these violations of the law occur. INEC should also take its task of monitoring the provisions of the Electoral Act more seriously. But voters should be wiser by now. No candidate is a Father Christmas; they will definitely seek to recoup their expenses from the treasury by any means possible.
The second by second and minute by minute advertisement of the front running presidential candidates in the electronic media is frightening. Furthermore, every campaign is televised live by about three television stations at the same time. This involves tens of millions of naira every day. It is a boom period for the media. But wait a minute, as a number of posers come to the fore. Are public media houses being paid by incumbents for all the advertisements? Where is this money coming from and from where will the candidates and campaign organisations recoup their investment? It is clear that the candidates hope to win and recoup through the treasury.
In conclusion, Nigerians need to “shine their eyes” to separate the wheat from the chaff. Money and inducements should not influence voting and the electorate should turn down any candidate whose appeal is money without ideas.
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