Jonathan’s N21bn donation: Impunity taken too far

President Goodluck JonathanTHE 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.

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