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Of Elections and Limits to Campaign Finance

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Last week, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) announced the cost of expression of interest and nomination forms for various elective positions ahead of the 2023 elections, stirring reactions in various quarters. In particular, the whopping sum of N100 million for forms for presidential aspirants was deemed outrageous by several observers. In the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), its presidential ticket was also set very high – N40 million. This development reignited conversations on the continuous rise in the already high cost of elections in Nigeria.

Election expenses have been a fundamental issue in elections, particularly with regard to how it excludes certain groups of persons such as women, young people and persons with disabilities from aspiring and contesting for elective positions. Ahead of political party primaries for the 2023 general elections, some aspirants, particularly those vying to be presidential candidates of their respective parties have claimed that their supporters will be making contributions for the purchase of their parties’ forms. This has drawn attention to the limits to contribution of election expenses as provided by the Electoral Act 2022.

Section 88(8) of the Electoral Act provides that no individual or other entity shall donate more than N50 million to a candidate, while section 90(3) prohibits a political party from accepting monetary or other contribution which is more than N50 million unless it can identify the source of the money to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). It is also key to point out that the provisions of the Electoral Act on contributions are in respect of candidates and political parties and not aspirants. Therefore, persons who are vying for the candidature of their political parties and receiving contributions for that purpose are not caught by these provisions.

For contributions to political parties, section 90 of the Electoral Act provides for how political parties are to deal with contributions from individuals and entities but does not specifically state whether such contributions are for the purpose of funding election expenses or for general fundraising purposes by parties. This includes a requirement for a party sponsoring a candidate to file a report of contributions it has received with INEC, within three months after the announcement of election results.

Furthermore, section 89 of the Electoral Act makes provision for election expenses by political parties. This includes that such expenses shall be determined by INEC in consultation with the parties (sub-section 2) and a requirement for parties to submit their election expenses to INEC in an audited return within six months after the election (sub-section 3). Section 89(1) defines election expenses as expenses incurred by a party from the date INEC issues notice for an election up to and including the day of the election. The provisions of sections 89 and 90 provide laid down procedures on how political parties are expected to deal with contributions and election expenses.

Interestingly, in addition to the stipulated limits on contributions to candidates and political parties, section 87 of the Electoral Act provides that INEC shall determine donation limits to political parties and candidates, adding that the Commission can also demand information on the amount and source of such donation. The word ‘candidates’ was introduced into this provision in the re-enacted Electoral Act. Formerly, it only applied to political parties. It may be deduced that the power vested on INEC by this provision is to exert general control on contributions to candidates during elections and contributions to political parties during elections and perhaps at all material time – both during elections and for general fundraising purposes.

In the frenzy of elections and canvassing support for aspirants and candidates, it is also important to note that companies are prohibited from making donations or gifting property or funds to a political party or political association or for a political purpose according to section 43 of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020.

The outrageous cost of elections has been a challenge and even more challenging are efforts to effectively monitor candidates’ election expenses, making it almost impossible to identify and prosecute offenders. The Electoral Act sets a limit for election expenses that may be incurred by candidates vying for the various elective offices. Section 88 which lists these limits, sets the maximum expenses for a presidential candidate at N5billion. Again, election expenses as defined in section 89(1) refer to expenses incurred from the time INEC issues notice for an election. Therefore, it may be inferred that expenses incurred by an aspirant before becoming a candidate are excluded from the calculation of election expenses referred to in the provision of section 88. Nigerians continue to decry the high cost of elections but in the absence of a mechanism to checkmate this issue and bring offenders to book, the high cost of elections may linger for the foreseeable future.