Amidst the ecstasy surrounding the 2019 general elections in Nigeria, as reflected in banter on Twitter and campaigns on Facebook coupled with online savagery and activism, it is important to note that there are laws which everyone ought to accord more significance.
Some of the issues addressed by the laws are campaign financing and deadlines. We are all aware of the extravagance that plays out during campaigns for political positions. Billions of Naira are most times spent on branded cars, multitude posters and flyers, amidst other uses.
The Electoral Act provides that no individual or other entity shall donate more than one million naira (N1,000,000) to any candidate. It also provides that a presidential candidate can only spend a maximum amount of N1 billion while the spending limit for a governorship candidate is N200 million.
The Electoral Act permits a senatorial candidate to spend only a maximum amount of N40 million while the limit for a House of Representatives candidate is N20 million.
For state assembly election, the limit is N10 million; chairmanship, N10 million and councillorship, N1 million.
Section 91 (10) (a) provides that “a candidate who knowingly acts in contravention of this section commits an offence and on convictions shall be liable (a) in case of presidential election to a maximum fine of N1, 000,000.00 or imprisonment of 12 months or both.”
Notwithstanding the clear provisions of the law as laid out above, informal sources indicate that almost every frontline political candidate violates the law on campaign spending limits and possibly not a single one has been prosecuted for such violation. It is important to note that the continued violation of the law may not be far removed from the very light penalty imposed by the law. Paying a fine of N1 million probably means nothing to many frontline politicians in Nigeria and the fear of paying such penalty cannot adequately deter such candidates.
Regarding campaign deadlines, Section 99 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, provides that campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 90 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to the polling day. This means that any form of campaign, done by a political party or through its proxies, after the 14th of February (for the presidential and national assembly elections) is unlawful and attracts a form of punishment under the law.
It is however intriguing that many political parties observe the law in breach as their campaigns never stop and many continue to solicit for votes at polling booths on election day, going by recent history. Just as there has been no reports of prosecution for violating the law on campaign spending limits, little is being done to enforce the law on campaign deadlines.
In conclusion, it is necessary to stress that the provisions of the Electoral Act on campaign finance and deadline were enacted for good reasons such as limiting corruption tendencies and undue influence of voters. More however needs to be done to enforce the same provisions.