Financing political parties, elections and democracy part 2
In the U.S. and most democratic countries in the West, individual donations to political parties are severely limited and scrutinised. This is why President Obama and Senator Bernie Sanders could claim that most of their money came from personal donations that were less than a few dollars. It is, of course, entirely possible that this miraculous transformation has arrived in Nigeria and APC, APGA, Labour etc. now have millions of Nigerians sending a few Naira to them for campaign.
In that case Nigerians must be proud of this achievement and we should shout it at the top of our lungs and shame all those who continuously bray at our systemic corruption. Whatever the case may be Nigerians deserve to know how this happened: We deserve to change our electoral laws and campaign contributions such that each party accounts for its source of funds before the election and tell us how those funds were spent.
Where corporate bodies and individuals had made substantial donations we should know, the amount recorded and tax duty paid on such donations. At the end of the election all those EU and UN and other monitoring observers and agencies should come back, with their forensic auditors, a phrase we like even when they do worse than nothing (see the forensic report on NNPC) to check the books of the political parties. There is a school of thought who says that, a pig is a pig. Another says that it does not matter how a leader gets to the top provided once he is there, like the great philosopher king of Plato, or the Prince of Machiavelli, he does good. I do not know who is right but still others say that process is both vital and important.
There are too many Nigerians who know our entire problems, all our solutions but would not be caught dead at even a neighborhood meeting. Civil societies cannot shirk its responsibility to call leaders to account, to scream at injustice wherever perpetrated. To do less is to live a life of doom destined to despotism, sometimes, despotism is not confined to a person; it may be the despotism of a small group or even of a party.
We must aim at finding ways to involve a large number of our people in the political process, that involvement should go viral, as they say in social media. When it is viral, we curb excesses, we know our strength, and we motivate our people for growth and stability.
The PDP allegedly shamelessly stole to run and lose the election. How did the APC and its allies pay to win their own election?
Certain functions of Government, for example, the collection of taxes to increase internally generated revenue (IGR) were farmed out to corporations and companies for a fee, sometime as high as 5% of total collected; sometimes even more. These companies were known to be sympathetic to the fortunes of the awarding government (the concession would not have been awarded if it were not so).
Prime Government real estate was sold or offered to notable supporters of the party – any tour of Abuja, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Asaba etc. would see fantastic buildings, high rises, and hotels going up like the proverbial mushrooms. If Mr. Donald Trump was in Nigeria he would seat comfortably among fellow estate owners, hotel entrepreneurs and golf course owners and so on. His plane would park where the planes of the specially favoured and highly industrious park their planes. Since there is no law against donating huge amounts to political parties, these tycoons would be canvassed for contributions. Infrastructural concessions, shopping malls, event centres etc. are springing up all over Nigeria. Are the owners of these hotels, estates, high rises contributors to political parties? Do the parties go to bed with companies and individuals whose source of income may be suspect? The only way to avoid embarrassing questions and suspicious is to be transparent and disclose all contributors and their sources of income.
In the West the laws as to party contributions exist. The Labour party is a child of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and it is largely funded by that Union and others supporters who believe in the ideology of the Trade Union, the creation of a social welfare state.
The central office of major political parties in the West are large, complex, well funded and have several departments that study policy, strategy and tactics; they also study the economy, the environment etc. The parties sometimes farm these studies out to research institutions, public affairs institutes, public opinion monitors, researchers, advisors and enumerators – for example, gallop polls, ugov polls and other special interest groups. Members of the party work in these institutions gradually becoming experts in any chosen field of polities – international relation, economy, migration etc.
In fact the last three Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom worked inside the party or in organizations affiliated to the parties – Mr. Tony Blair, Mr. Gordon Brown and Mr. Dave Cameron. Most of their cabinet colleagues did likewise: it was from inside the party that they sought the constituencies that elected them and eventually propelled them to power. This training is almost like a political boot camp – the end of which saw the good ones in parliament and knowledgeable about the issues and portfolios given to them.
Our system has no such apprenticeship, no studies about policies beyond electioneering slogans. Many of our ministers suffer from abysmal ignorance of the subject they are supposed to minister over; the parties are not a reservoir of relevant knowledge. The result has been plain to see. The United States has set up two policy institutes in Nigeria – one for the Democratic Party, the other for the Republican. Their influence on Nigeria political parties have been minimal if not negative ( every now and again members of our national and state legislatives junket round the world to study how democracy and other institutions work). They seem to learn little.
The political parties in Nigeria seem to have little or no dialogue with any interest group. The APC neither as a party or Government engaged the various strata that make up the economy. They sometimes need or read the Press: but how about the businessmen, the professionals, the workers, the youth, the trade unions? Do they dialogue with the International Oil Companies (IOCs), and other members of the gas and oil fraternity? The President needs to know what really is going on. I have a feeling that he does not and that those around him prevent true dialogue between ruler and the ruled.
The result of the shortcomings listed above is plain to see – governments without focus, without planning, learning on the job etc.
We must reduce the cost of running political parties, the cost of conducting elections by INEC and contesting for office by the political parties; we must train and groom a leadership and knowledgeable cadre, we must make political office a lot less attractive financially, we must encourage participation and accountability and transparency at all levels of political life.