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Aspirants’ huge spending and state funds

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The source of campaign funding for politicians who are also public officers has become a matter of grave concern given the high propensity for corruption in the country.

According to media reports, presidential aspirants, including sitting governors, (even before they become candidates) have been spending literally tons of money to realise their aspirations. This expenditure includes specifically dollar-denominated costs to rent airplanes. A national newspaper has lately calculated that an aspirant on a campaign may be spending between $3,000 and $10,000 per hour on a rented aircraft. And, this could be more depending on the size of aircraft appropriate for the size of an aspirant’s team.
 
Whereas persons in private life –self-employed professionals, business persons and others in private employment may not attract public concern in respect of the source(s) of the money deployed to pursue legitimate ambition, it is, naturally, professionally, and constitutionally, the duty of Nigerians and the media to take an interest in and scrutinise the sources of money that public office holders expend to push their aspiration.

Let it be made clear that the media is, like no other profession, constitutionally authorised under section 22 to perform this function as follows: ‘The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter [II] and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people. This is a service done in public interest in the face of what appears to be a squandering of state riches by its managers.

It is against this backdrop that the hiring of private planes by six sitting governors and aspiring presidents comes under media scrutiny. It is reported that two of the aspirants namely Nyesom Wike of Rivers State and Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, have each visited 20 states at the time of reporting. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State is counted to have been to 16 states. The travel cost of these personal ambition-driven visits at between $3,000 and $10,000 per hour is anybody’s guess. Calculated in naira, it is no exaggeration that tons of money is being expended on these personal aspirations of public office holders.  

The reasonable and legitimate question to ask therefore is ‘where is the money coming from?’ This question arises against the backdrop of first, the relevant sections of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, such as Section 183 which stipulates that ‘The Governor shall not, during the period when he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever; second the Code of Conduct for Public Officers stated in the Fifth Schedule, Part I and third the legally approved remuneration of governors by the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation, and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).
 
One further and arguably the most important reason to question whose money the governors are spending is the pervasive corruption in the land, especially as demonstrably, atrociously, mindlessly, perpetrated in the public sector, and to boot,  by high officials of government. It is regrettable that on matters of financial integrity, Nigerians have little cause to grant public officials the benefit of the doubt.

The RMAFC is authorised by the constitution to ‘determine the remuneration appropriate for political office holders, including the President, Vice-President, Governors, Deputy Governors, Ministers, Commissioners, Special Advisers, legislators, and the holders of the offices mentioned in Sections 84 and 124 of this Constitution…’. The Commission approves for governors as follows: annual basic pay of N2, 223,705.00; Hardship Allowance @ 50 per cent of basic pay N1, 111,852.00; Constituency @200 per cent N4, 447410.00. The total is stated as N7,782,967.50.

Besides, a governor is granted Annual leave @ 10 per cent N222, 370.00; Motor Vehicle Loan repayable @400 per cent of basic pay N8, 894,820.00; Severance Gratuity @ 300 per cent of basic pay N6, 671,115.00.  Given these modest, but in the Nigerian economic environment fair and reasonable income, it boggles the mind just how a governor serving eight years can afford such incalculable cost of pre-campaign spending (including, of course, nomination forms) as Nigerians are being made to witness. It bears repeating: where is the money coming from?

Furthermore, there are factors that, on the face of it raise eyebrows regarding how governors of relatively poor states like Ekiti and Sokoto can marshal the huge sums being spent. The 2022 budget of Ekiti State is N100.8 billion, Sokoto State N188.4 billion, and Rivers State N448 billion. Calculated in dollar terms, these are ‘small change’; considered against the urgent development needs of these states, these are drops in the ocean of funding required. 2020 Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of Ekiti State was a miserable N8.716 billion, of Sokoto State a similarly miserable N11.79 billion. Rivers State at N117.189 billion was a bit but not impressively better. So, again, where is the money coming from?

Indeed, where the money is coming from should interest not only the anti-corruption agencies but also the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). This election umpire is, for example, empowered by Section 225 of the Constitution to receive and scrutinise the ‘sources of funds and other assets together with statements of expenditure’ of ‘every political party.’ The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has wide powers under both the Constitution and its enabling Act to investigate and prosecute suspicious financial activities by whosoever.

It is gratifying though that both the (EFCC and INEC have indicated their respective concerns and intended courses of action. The EFCC chairman, Abdulrasheed Bawa, is reported to say that his agency is ‘working hand in gloves with INEC and other related agencies’ to ‘know where all the money is coming from, ‘whether it is legitimate or illegitimate…’. 

INEC promised to set up ‘monitoring committees’ to scrutinize the funding sources of contestants for public office. ‘…we will put our monitoring committees to motion like the central banks, DSS, EFCC, ICPC, the (commercial) banks and other law enforcement agencies… ‘Every candidate must be made to declare his bank asset. That is where they draw out their money so we will make them present their statement of account right from the onset. We will make it mandatory for them to turn in their bank statements so that if they say they are doing billboard and the account remains the same, then there is a problem.’

Furthermore, INEC’s National Commissioner in charge of the party monitoring committee, Prof. Kunle Ajayi, reportedly said that through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), commercial banks must mandatorily report suspicious transactions failing which they face prosecution.

The EFCC said it is concerned ‘above all … about good governance, transparency, accountability and those corrupt elements are not given leadership positions in this country.’ This is well said. Nigerians expect that the organisation can bring this laudable mission to pass.

The Electoral Act sets limits on expenditure on the presidential election at N5 billion. The law also prohibits the use of state assets such as money, vehicles, personnel, aircraft, and public buildings, including the media to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election. This being so, it seems that both INEC and EFCC have a lot of investigating to do.

The overall effect on the condition of the populace of the capacity, as well as wasteful spending by persons in high public office, is so obvious for anyone to see. An otherwise rich country is ranked as the ‘poverty capital of the world’, all the indices of development are depressingly low and for years, Nigeria remains ranked among the low-income countries of the world. These are the consequences of an unjustifiable high cost of governance, injudicious application of public funds, and outright theft of public resources. But these are not what Nigerians voted the All Progressives Congress (APC) for, to replace the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in 2015.

Nigerians threw out what they thought, rightly then though, a corrupt PDP for an APC that promised among other attractive things, to ‘prevent abuse of executive, legislative, and public offices through greater accountability, transparency, and strict enforcement of anti-corruption laws while strengthening the EFCC and ICPC.’ Alas, for obvious reasons, things have not turned out as hoped by the electorate on the one hand, or as promised by the elected on the other.

It bears repeating, therefore: INEC and the anti-corruption agencies have a great deal of scrutinising and investigating to do. Let them get to work at once if only to save this country and its hapless people from a continuation of the squandering of their riches and systematic underdevelopment.

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