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Jonathan’s N21bn donation: Impunity taken too far

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THE Peoples Democratic Party Fund Raising Dinner held at
the Presidential Villa, Abuja, to boost President Goodluck
Jonathan’s campaign war chest has been attracting public
attention. The event, which took place last Saturday, was
attended by business people, multinational organisations,
interest groups and individuals who donated a sum of
N21.27 billion to support his campaign for the 2015
presidential election.
But the President and his party will definitely have trouble
explaining away this latest bizarre development in regard
to the law of the electoral game and the morality in
politics.
Though how a political party’s candidate raises his or her
campaign funds is the party’s affair, the process must
comply with the extant laws and pass the integrity test.
First, Nigerian laws are unambiguous on campaign
expenses and funding. The 1999 Constitution in Section
221 clearly states: “No association, other than a political
party, shall canvass for votes for any candidate at any
election or contribute to the funds of any political party or
to the election expenses of any candidate at an election.”
The Companies and Allied Matters Act also expressly
forbids companies in Section 38 (2) from funding or
donating gifts, property or money to any political party or
association. Then the Electoral Act 2010, as amended,
specifies in Section 91 (2) that “the maximum election
expenses to be incurred by a candidate at a presidential
election shall be N1 billion.”
But Jonathan, the ruling PDP and its 21 state governors
took lawlessness to a new height on Saturday when one
Tunde Ayeni, leading other donors, gave N2 billion on
behalf of himself and his unnamed “partner” and “friends.”
Jerry Gana, a permanent fixture in successive
governments, announced N5 billion on behalf of his equally
mysterious friends and “associates in the power sector.”
Not to be outdone, oil and gas sector “friends” also pledged
N5 billion; real estate and building sector, N4 billion;
transport and aviation sector, N1 billion; food and
agriculture, N500 million; power, N500 million;
construction, N310 million; road construction, N250
million; National Automotive Association, N450 million; and
Shelter Development Limited, N250 million. Going by the
Electoral Act, which caps the donation an individual could
make at N1 million, 5,000 donors must have been behind
Gana’s N5 billion gift.
There is no doubting the fact that these donations raise
salient questions verging on transparency. At a period
when the government should be taking interest in enforcing
compliance with the money laundering laws, people should
not come out to announce donations on behalf of
themselves and their “friends,” without actually naming
those “friends.” It should also be of interest to know if
those donors and their anonymous “friends” have complied
with appropriate tax obligations. International best
practices stipulate this as the minimum irreducible
requirement.
Many Nigerians will also be interested in knowing how the
Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, which
was credited with producing N15 million, came about its
donation. As a government agency, where did it derive such
powers to donate to a political party from? Having done
this for the PDP presidential campaign, will the
commission also make a similar amount available to other
parties?
As for the sectoral donors, there is also the need for total
disclosure. Who were the actors in the oil and gas sector
that donated N5 billion? If they are publicly quoted
companies, did they get the approval of their shareholders
before going on the spending spree? How did the power
sector that has not been able to muster enough investible
funds come about a N500 million donation? With the
automobile industry donating N450 million, it is no longer
surprising that it benefited so much from the government’s
controversial waivers.
Ayeni, a legal practitioner whose consortium recently
acquired NITEL and Mtel, is also the chairman of Skye Bank
Plc and a director in the Ibadan Electricity Development
Company. Given that these big time sectoral players have
suddenly become the big donors to the President’s
campaign, what is the guarantee that regulators would be
able to control them? It is little wonder that the
government, after selling the power sector to private
operators, is still interested in arranging a N213 billion
bailout for them.
So, except the players in the various sectors donated their
own money, they have brazenly violated the law if they did
so on behalf of their companies. The relevant authorities
should demand their tax returns. As of 2010, domestic
airlines collectively owed banks and regulators over N300
billion. To say the least, this is another outrageous
example of brazen impunity in government.
Indeed, a string of ugly scandals has dotted the Jonathan
administration. Among the most unsettling cases is the
N2.53 trillion paid out in 2011 as petrol subsidies to
cronies and “ghost” businessmen when the National
Assembly approved only N245 billion that year. We also
recollect the mind-numbing loss to the national treasury of
some questionable waivers that cost the country N64
billion in first six months of the year. Funds that
disappeared from the public till can now find their way back
as campaign donations. There is also the unresolved issue
of missing billions of dollars at the state-owned oil
company.
This scale of campaign slush funds and illegal
contributions in return for some political and economic
favours is deeply worrying. On moral grounds, leveraging
on political power to raise campaign funds is corrosively
anti-democratic. That it was done by previous
administrations should not be a justifiable excuse for the
flagrant abuse of power. There is next to no doubt that
some of these funds are of doubtful origin. It is just
sickening to find a President who claims to be fighting
corruption fraternising with the venal high and mighty.
But a graver worry is how the toxic donations will further
poison the electoral process and shore up the system of
patronage. We are also faced with a total collapse in
political morality, with corruption worn now as a badge of
honour. It is sad to note that there is an instinctive
conclusion among the Nigerian public that the Jonathan
government is the most financially corrupt, fiscally
irresponsible, politically insensitive and socially
disconnected in Nigerian history. What a shame! The 21
PDP governors should also explain if their state
legislatures approved the N50 million each they donated
and whether they will extend the largesse to other parties.
In real democracies, laws regulate the conduct of
candidates and international best practices demand
transparency and specificity in campaign financing. In the
United States, for instance, campaign contributions from
government contractors, personal or business funds,
individuals or sole proprietors who have entered into a
contract with the government are prohibited by law. Any
infraction or suspected questionable behaviour is
investigated and culprits punished. This explains why
French authorities since 2013 have been investigating
Nicolas Sarkozy, the immediate past French President, over
the allegation that he received €50 million from the late
Muammar Gaddaffi as financial help for his 2007
presidential campaign. The US federal prosecutors have
launched a clutch of corruption investigations against
politicians such as Washington Mayor, Vincent Gray, and
Virginia governor, Bob McDonnell, who received money
from local businessmen they claim was in accordance with
accepted campaign finance practices.
Impunity starts from little things left unpunished. These
financial irregularities inside the Jonathan re-election
campaign should also be investigated. While Section 8 (1)
of the Federal Inland Revenue Service enabling law
empowers the FIRS to adopt measures to identify, trace,
freeze, confiscate or seize proceeds derived from tax fraud
or evasion, Section 35 (3) says “…the Service may cause
investigation to be conducted into the properties of any
taxable person if it appears to the Service that the lifestyle
of the person and extent of the properties are not justified
by his source of income.” Most of the donors in this
bizarre event fall within this category. The Economic and
Financial Crimes Commission has sufficient grounds to
investigate the suspicious financial transactions.
It is all evident that Jonathan has failed badly to build a
credible, honest and minimally effective government for
almost half a decade that he has been President. This is
regrettable indeed.

_PUNCH

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