Some members of the National Assembly are lamenting their inability to recoup the millions of naira they spent on electioneering campaign, 17 months after their inauguration, Daily Trust reports.
Section 91 of the Electoral Act 2010 caps elections spending for Senate at N40 million and House of Representatives at N20 million. Violating the Act attracts a fine of N600, 000 or six months imprisonment or both, in the case of Senate, and a fine of N500, 000 or five months imprisonment or both, for the House of Representatives.
However, aspiring national lawmakers spend well above the spending limit.
While a senator from the South-South said he spent N1billion during his campaign for the Upper Chamber, one of his colleagues from the North-Central said he spent N300 million.
The expenditures were incurred before and during elections, excluding legal fees for those taken to court by their opponents after the election.
Senator James Manager (PDP, Delta South), who has been at the Senate since 2003, said senators were drained before, during and after the election by the public.
“Calls are coming from all over the places, bring this and bring that even after the election, we are still spending. In the Electoral Act, there is specific amount but in practical terms it is not possible. We borrowed and are still borrowing,” he said.
Manager was speaking during the screening of Professor Okechukwu Ibeano as a national commissioner of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Lamenting further, Manager recalled how a Senatorial candidate jumped into the lagoon after spending huge sum on election.
“A man who contested for one of three senatorial districts of Lagos in 2011 drove to his bank six months after the election. On his way back, he asked his driver to stop, he walked for few minutes and jumped into the lagoon.
“We are in trouble, Professor please how do we resolve this?” Manager asked Professor Ibeano.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on INEC, Senator Abubakar Kyari (APC, Borno North), said the amount stipulated in the Electoral Act was not realistic.
“We have 120,000 polling units across the country and if a Presidential candidate pays N10, 000 to each agent at each of the polling units, he will spend N1.2billion just for agents on election day,” he said.
However, Professor Ibeano said: “I definitely feel your frustration but my profession is against borrowing for elections. The only way out is for political parties to go back to the 60s where volunteer party members assist without being paid. As long as you pay for everything, you will continue to spend.”
Times have changed
Daily Trust gathered that lawmakers, who served during previous assemblies, made money through deals with MDAs and other government officials. Those who failed to cooperate were frustrated.
At the peak of budget processes last year, heads of MDAs were warned against lobbying for increase in budgetary allocation at the National Assembly. A memo to this effect was issued by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Babachir David Lawal.
A lawmaker said: “We are afraid to ask them (MDAs) now and they too are afraid to bring anything. Like now that we’re approaching the end of the year, MDAs would bring a lot of things to us, but last year was totally different, and I’m sure this year too will be the same.”
A senator who is into transportation business also expressed dismay. He said: “I should have concentrated on my business than coming here because now I don’t have enough time for my business, yet I’m not making anything here.”
Another lawmaker said: “Seriously, this is not what I expected. In fact, I can tell you that I was better off as a businessman than a legislator.
“The story was different before I came here, at least so I was told. Our predecessors enjoyed their stay at the National Assembly, but our own case is different.”
Some of the lawmakers said if things continued like this up to 2019, they might not seek re-election “because the business of legislature appears to be unprofitable.”
A former lawmaker, who spoke to Daily Trust on condition of anonymity, said: “It will not be fair to say every lawmaker comes to the National Assembly to make money. But it is true that many come with that thinking that it is a goldmine. It will certainly be good to make public office unattractive so that only the best and those ready to serve will stand in election.”
He however said that the get-rich-in-office syndrome was not limited to the lawmakers alone. “Even among the executive many see their position as a key to riches and easy money. So we need to get our priorities right,” he added.
Speaking at a seminar titled “The role of the legislature in the fight against corruption in Nigeria,” organized by the anti-corruption committees of the Senate and House of Representatives in Abuja, Kenya’s former anti-corruption chief, Prof Patrick Lumumba, said if a politician was willing to spend N1billion for a N30m job, then it should be clear he was not going there to serve but to make money.