Pushing for transparency, accountability in parties’ finances

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BY BENEDICT NWACHUKWU, ABUJA

Uba Group

Barely five months to the 2023 general elections and with the official commencement of campaign by political parties, the Independent National Electoral Commission is yet to perform its statutory function of auditing the accounts of political parties. Indeed, it has not done so for the past six years.

The electoral body has as one of its numerous functions the responsibility to audit the accounts of all the registered political parties on a yearly basis to ensure accountability and eliminate financial recklessness by the parties.

However, The Point gathered authoritatively that the Commission last audited political parties accounts six years ago precisely in 2016. The failure to perform this all-important function by the Commission has been described by political and social commentators as a costly mistake that has encouraged financial mess in the parties and has led to the cancerous practice of vote buying bedeviling the country’s electoral processes of recent.

Investigations revealed that the account of the ruling All Progressives Congress was last audited by the Commission during the chairmanship of John Oyegun. The Electoral body did not make an attempt to perform this statutory duty throughout the tenures of former national chairman, Adams Oshiomole and Governor Mai Mala Buni, as national chairman Caretaker Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee.

The Buni-led CECPC conducted a successful national convention that produced the incumbent national chairman, Abdullahi Adamu and the NWC members since March this year which has in turn conducted the party’s Special Convention, where the various aspirants to the various political positions emerged as candidates.

The APC raked in huge amounts of money through the sale of forms nationwide but the INEC cannot be said to know the financial status of the party leading to the 2023 general elections which is five months away.

Same was revealed about the main opposition party, People’s Democratic Party, Labour Party, New Nigeria People’s Party, African Democratic Congress, Action Alliance, Social Democratic Party, Zenith Labour Party and others duly registered by the Commission.

Investigations revealed that activities have been grounded at the Buhari House National Secretariat of the APC as a result of the National Chairman’s claim of the paucity of funds to run the programmes and the National Working Committee is already contemplating downsizing its workforce as some staff are being owed some months salaries and the party can no longer retain them.

Confirming the information, inside sources told The Point that what is delaying the reduction of staff strength is the disapproval of the governors who see it as a distraction and counterproductive for the party that is working hard to retain power in 2023.

Our sources disclosed that the governors who have been the bedrock of the party are trying to find a way around the issue of alleged paucity of funds. And that as a result, the governors have stayed away from the national secretariat.

“You can see that activities have drastically slowed down in the national secretariat. Staff are owed some months salaries as I talk with you. Our national secretariat used to be very busy, governors and party chieftains were trooping in here but even with the campaign underway, nothing seems to be happening. Some of the staff are owed salaries and fear of a sack has gripped everyone,” our source said.

Several efforts to get the National Publicity Secretary, Felix Morka, to speak on the matter failed.

The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party’s account is also affected. Investigations revealed that the former ruling party’s account was not audited throughout the national chairmanship tenure of Uche Secondus and till date.

With the internal wrangling in the party leading to the general elections, the issue of account auditing will likely remain a mirage as the campaign has officially started.

The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba was also not available to speak when we visited the Wadata House National Secretariat in Abuja and could not reply to the message to him on his WhatsApp-enabled number.

Political and social commentator, Columba Nwahiri described it as an unhealthy situation that will have an unnecessary influence on the elections because the Commission does not have the records of the accounts of political parties and will not be able to monitor their spending.

“It’s not funny at all. Six years down the line INEC has not audited the accounts of political parties. What it means is that since the 2015 general election the Commission has not been up and doing in this aspect. It’s their constitutional responsibility and maybe they don’t know, this is one major way they can control party spending, particularly, during elections. The menace of vote-buying ravaging our political life which started recently can be traced to this period in question. When political parties have unaccounted monies to spend, such malpractices surface.”

“CBN"

“Investigations revealed that activities have been grounded at the Buhari House National Secretariat of the APC as a result of the National Chairman’s claim of the paucity of funds to run the programmes and the National Working Committee is already contemplating downsizing its workforce as some staff are being owed some months salaries and the party can no longer retain them”

He argued that the money in the coffers of political parties is public money and must be treated as so, adding that the people have the right to know the financial status or worth of these political parties and the sources of their income otherwise illicit wealth would be used to finance the parties during elections and the end result would be corruption triumphing.

“INEC should brace up on this responsibility to make political parties accountable to the people because monies in their coffers are public money. We should know how much they are worth before, during and after elections and the only way this will be possible is through the auditing of their accounts. Now how can INEC know when they have crossed the bar in the forthcoming elections when the Commission does not know how much they are worth? It’s not possible. As long as the INEC fails to audit the accounts of these parties, it gives them room for financial recklessness and that will definitely play a very prominent role in the 2023 general elections,” he said.

On a related note, Remiguse Mufor, a political analyst, blamed the electoral umpire for not asserting its authority over the financial running of the political parties. He said the politicians cash in on the flaws to not only lump ill-gotten money in the parties’ accounts but also use this money to influence election results.

“This is about five months to a general election and we are here talking about auditing and not auditing political parties’ accounts.

Is it what we should be discussing now? In fact, what we expected to hear from INEC is how much each political party is worth financially going into the 2023 general elections. APC and PDP made money during their primaries through the sales of forms. Before donations start flooding the parties, Nigerians deserve to have knowledge of what their accounts look like. In fact, this is a grey area in our politics and that is why an individual can buy off a political party and if things don’t go down well with him in the party, he moves to destroy it. INEC must work hard in this area to sustain our democracy because it’s often said, ‘who pays the piper dictates the tune.’

“The failure to audit political parties’ accounts by INEC is a major setback for our democracy. We read in newspapers about the worth of political parties in the western world. This is because their electoral bodies audit their accounts and make them public. We borrowed democracy from the western world, so it is incumbent on us to borrow all good aspects without being selective.”

Gafar Abdul, an economic and social critic differed in his submission. He said even as it is a constitutional responsibility of the INEC to audit accounts of political parties, the parties have the duty to invite the Commission to do so if the Commission had been too busy with other pressing assignments and was unable to perform that function.

“I am not holding brief for INEC but the truth is that the political parties owe it a duty to invite the Commission for the auditing of their accounts knowing full well that they are very busy year-round creating innovations and finding solutions to our elections to give us credible and transparent elections. Every one of us knows that the INEC is extremely busy, so what stops the political parties from inviting them? It’s when this is done and INEC fails to carry out its duty, we can now blame them.

“On its impact on the forthcoming general elections, I will simply say it’s an open cheque for financial recklessness and vote buying spree by all the political parties, no exemption.”

Meanwhile, INEC has promised to monitor political parties’ campaigns and expenses for the 2023 general elections to ensure compliance with the laws. The INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, gave the assurance at the signing of the peace accord for the peaceful campaign organised by the National Peace Committee last Thursday in Abuja.

“In line with the provisions of the Electoral Act 2022 and in our determination to play our role as a regulator, the Commission will vigorously monitor compliance.

“The Commission will also closely monitor compliance with the limits on campaign spending under the Electoral Act. There are sanctions provided by law.

“Political parties and candidates should study and familiarise themselves with the electoral legal framework to avoid any infraction of the law and the unhappy consequences that will follow any act of misdemeanor,” he warned.