Barely a month to the 2019 general elections, offices of most support groups campaigning for presidential candidates of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have become shadows of their boisterous selves.
Most noticeable is the shrinking figure of members of the groups who hitherto thronged their offices round the clock last year, including jobs seekers trying to identify with them as supporters of President Muhammadu Buhari or those of the PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar.
Most of the members and those seeking to join the groups who hitherto made the campaign offices a beehive of activities have deserted the offices of the support groups.
LEADERSHIP investigations revealed that since Buhari declared that he will not authorise the use of government money to fund his presidential campaign, most of his support groups have been sourcing for funds to finance their electioneering activities from other channels.
Although most of the support groups and organisations seem to be on the same page with the president on the point that government monies should not be used for campaigns, it was however gathered that this did not go down well with some members of the groups who had hoped it will be an avenue to break even.
President Muhammadu Buhari had last Wednesday warned his ministers not to use public funds for his re-election campaign, suggesting instead that they carry out their campaign activities on the social media.
In the opposition camp, it was learnt that since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced last December that it was using the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFC) and other anti-graft agencies to go after political parties who spend more than N1billion in their campaigns, most of the parties, especially the major opposition party, PDP, have refused to dole out money for campaigns.
To this effect, director general of the PDP/Atiku Abubakar Presidential Campaign Council, Senate President Bukola Saraki, had during a TV interview accused the federal government of scaring away business communities from election, stressing that fund-raising associated with general elections is absent because business and private individuals are scared of being chased.
“Those that should be involved in fund raising are holding back because they are afraid that financial institutions will be asked who and who have been withdrawing money and gone after by security agents,” he said.
He also accused the ruling APC of choking the PDP campaigns with the use of security agencies. “They are frustrating the whole campaign process, but we are determined to get our messages across. They are scaring a lot of people and the police is allowed to break the law and do things that are not in line with the conduct of a free and fair election. It is those that have the strong heart that can participate in this type of campaign” Saraki added.
Prior to the 2019 campaigns, most of the support groups sourced for funds, including tasking their members to organise special functions like retreats, seminars, dinners and other programmes to discuss modalities for the electioneering process, while hoping that they will make retrievals from the candidates they are supporting.
Our correspondents observed that between December and this week, the number of meetings and programmes organised by the groups dropped abysmally.
In 2015, the PDP and APC engaged in fierce and aggressive campaigns, with candidates and their close associates pulling out resources for the support groups, hiring aircrafts and procuring many vehicles for campaigns.
President Goodluck Jonathan alone reportedly had over 300 support groups who placed adverts, sponsored radio jingles and programmes for his re-election.
But the same cannot be said of the 2019 elections, as the electioneering process across the country appears to be hit by lack of funds.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP on the development, chairman of the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO), Niyi Akinsiju, noted however that his organisation had always been self-sustained and self-contained in terms of sourcing for funds for its activities.
Akinsiju said, “We source our funds in-house as it is purely a voluntary organisation without any linkage to the fiscal policy of government in terms of funding political campaigns. Yes, we support and promote activities and policies of this government but we are also of the opinion that government should do its business as it was elected to do and the civil society organisations should also be able to do their own activities without recourse to funding from government.
“That is why we support the position of the president entirely. As I said earlier, we source our funds through the contributions of individuals who share our ideals and support for the government.”
On Buhari’s position that his government would not fund political campaigns at any level, the BMO chairman said the presidential directive signified the unmatched integrity of the president on the use of public funds, as against past leaders who looked the other way while public funds were used to fund political campaigns.
In a statement signed by Akinsiju and the Secretary of the organisation, Cassidy Madueke, the group commended the president’s stand, saying “this shows his implicit faith in the ability of Nigerians to vote according to their conscience.
“His directive further proves that his administration’s commitment to the war against corruption is unequivocal and aimed at setting new standards in electioneering campaigns in Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision not to dip his hands into public treasury to fund his campaign or share money to potential voters is a clear indication that things are turning around for better in Nigeria under his administration”, the group added.
Also speaking on the development, the national chairperson of the Grassroots Mobilisers for Buhari and Osibanjo (GMB&O), Dr Fatima Goni, stated that the group has never believed in government spending monies for campaigns.
Noting that the president was setting a template as far as the elections are concerned, she said, “Well, if you know the president, I believe you should know that he is very prudent when it comes to managing resources. We all are aware of the state of the economy when this government came into power in 2015.
“The government, through various innovative policies and programmes, has been able to keep the economy afloat. Now that the economy is stable the government cannot afford to misuse taxpayers’ money to fund its re-election like it was obtainable in the past government.
“This government promised change and that is what it has done and is still doing. The voters will be allowed to vote in line with their conscience without any inducement, and I believe they would vote for the president because of the changes he has introduced which is visible for all to see.”
Responding to how they intend to stay afloat without government resources, she added: “Just like the name of the organization, Grassroots mobiliser for Buhari and Osibanjo (GMB&O), we are running a less expensive campaign by being in touch with those at the grassroots. We do this by reaching out to prospective voters through their community leaders, as well as door to door campaign. We also send SMS to people to encourage them to vote for the president.
“These measures we have employed, as you can see, is less expensive and can be easily funded by members of the organisation nationwide. We also get donations from members of the public who also love the president and besides, the achievements of the government are enough to convince Nigerians to re-elect the president.”
On his part, executive director of Organising for Change (OfC), Mallam Nasir Galadanchi, said the directive by President Buhari that the APC government should not expend public funds on election campaigns was a departure from the old political order.
In an exclusive chat with LEADERSHIP, Galadanchi noted that the President didn’t just make a political statement, but has issued a directive to all heads of government, ministries and agencies to desist from such act.
He said, “The presidents instruction was not just a statement, a memo was actually released to MDA’s to effect the presidential directive. It is also evident in the happenings around the APC campaigns so far. Just few weeks to the elections and campaigns have not fully started. Basically, it is the state-based campaign that the APC has been aligning with.
“If you look at the one that happened in Kano, it was organised by the state government, and even the one in Bauchi. And that has nothing to do with the president. The president who is in charge of the federal government made his position clear”.
According to Galadanchi, the president’s directive represents a paradigm shift in the way elections are been conducted and funded by ruling political parties.
“In the past, ruling political parties try to ensure that they exercise full authority through the use of state security, INEC and state finances. In some cases, you will realise that the security agents become partisan and INEC becomes compromised. We were all witnesses to elections in Nigeria from 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015,” he stated.
He however acknowledged that campaigns by various support groups had been very low due to unavailability of funds, just as he said the situation has changed campaign strategies of the support groups.
He said, “You can imagine that support groups are currently not funded, and a lot of them have relaxed. It is not the same situation in what transpired in the 2015 elections. You heard the revelations by the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, that funds meant to purchase arms for the military was diverted to fund political campaigns”.
But the executive director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, described President Buhari’s directive as deceitful and insincere.
Auwal who is also the Head of Transparency International (Nigeria) noted that public funds are already been deployed for campaign purposes.
In an exclusive chat with LEADERSHIP, he said, “That is very a deceitful statement because already public funds are allegedly being used for his re-election campaigns. The vice president is seen all over sharing money to the so-called traders and this is just happening around election campaign and also some people in government are allegedly taking public funds for his campaign.
They didn’t remember to help traders three years ago until when it’s around the 2019 election. I don’t think conscious Nigerians can be deceived because nothing has changed in terms of the old ways politicians are abusing electoral law regarding campaign financing and inducing and corrupting our electoral system.”
In the same vein, a former president of the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) Wale Ajani said the directive was a mere political statement without any force of action.
Ajani who is also the convener of Emerging Political Leaders Network (EPL) observed that public officers who occupy positions in various government ministries and agencies will directly or indirectly use government funds for campaign purposes.
He said, “The statement is just a political statement that won’t have any effect; it won’t make any difference because that statement by the president is not correct and can never be correct. The government has appointed different people into different capacities in agencies of government, and these people are doing one thing or the other to support the campaigns, and the funds will come directly or indirectly from the government. So, it is still government’s money.
“Don’t forget that the President moves from one location to the other for political campaigns. He moves in government vehicles and he is not moving around for official engagements. So, he has spent government money on campaigns. There is no how the government in power would not use public funds for campaign purposes. What the current government can do is to reduce the amount of money that goes into election campaign compared to what has been happening before now”.
He further alleged that the reported cases of vote buying witnessed in the Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun gubernatorial elections were evidences of huge deployment of government funds and kickbacks from contractors to electioneering process.
“If you notice during the 2015 election that was conducted by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government, the menace of vote buying wasn’t too obvious. But the few gubernatorial elections conducted by the APC government recorded huge reports of vote buying. This is due to the level of poverty in Nigeria today. So, where is the money used to buy votes coming from, because some politicians in the APC were allegedly involved? Where is the money coming from? It is definitely from government coffers or kick-backs from contractors,” Ajani stated.
LEADERSHIP reports that, while the Electoral Act prescribes limits to how much candidates can spend on their elections, there is neither a way to monitor such expenses nor a method to enforce compliance.
According to the Electoral Act, a presidential candidate can spend a maximum amount of N1 billion, while the spending limit for a governorship candidate is N200 million. A senatorial candidate can spend only a maximum amount of N40 million, while the limit for a House of Representatives candidate is N20 million. For State House of Assembly elections, the limit is N10 million; while chairmanship and councillorship are N10 million N1 million respectively.
Nigeria has a history of not disclosing election-spending figures, and data is equally unavailable on the actual spending of politicians on campaigns but going by the volume of materials churned out through the different communication materials on all platforms for political parties, billions of naira was spent in the 2015 election campaigns.
A report by Compliance and Content Monitoring Ltd (CCM) revealed that PDP and APC spent a combined N3.23 billion on campaign advertisements in the 2015 general elections.
The report said PDP spent about N2.5 billion (77 per cent) and APC spent N728 million (23 per cent).
INEC recently implored the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to monitor campaign finances of political parties and their candidates ahead of the 2019 elections.
Consequently, the EFCC warned politicians against reckless spending and bribery as the 2019 general elections draws close, saying it will monitor banks for suspicious transactions in the build up to the elections.