It is a truism that funds are very critical to the proper and effective running of political parties. Without funds, it would be absolutely difficult for political parties to articulate their ideas and visions to the public and, without which the electorates cannot make informed choices during elections.
Political parties are funded mainly through contributions from party members and individual supporters (e.g. membership fees, dues, subscriptions and donations). Funding of political parties can also come from organizations that share the parties’ political views (for instance trade union affiliation fees), or business establishments that can benefit from party activities (corporate donations).
However, in the Nigerian situation, not many political parties are able to generate funds to fund its activities except for the two dominant political parties. Consequently, these other parties who do have as much financial muscle as the “Big two” are unable to compete favourably against the big two.
At a recent event, stakeholder’s meeting on political party reforms, organized by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), political parties present noted that the inherent danger with the shortcoming is that it allows a few moneybags to hijack the party for selfish and personal interests and godfatherism. These political parties believe that if parties are given funds to operate, it will create a leveled playing field where the so-called smaller parties can compete.
Another argument has been that, because the smaller parties are not able to compete, they are susceptible to being recruited by the bigger political parties to work for them. Instances of these include agent of a party working for another party on election day, candidates stepping down for candidates of the “big two”, coalitions in support of major candidates as seen the cases of Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) and Coalition of Progressives Political Parties (COP3) which both worked for the PDP and APC candidates respectively.
These kinds of situations no doubt pose a threat to the democratic processes in Nigeria. But is government funding of political parties the solution to this? And if it is, how should this be implemented? Will the other big two political parties and others who have won elections be eligible for this government funding? What would the parameters be for government financing of political parties?
In many democracies around the world, political parties are funded through subsidies or public funding. These are sums the government pays directly to political parties to fund some or all of their political activities. This happens in countries such as Kenya, the UK, Brazil, Mexico, Zambia, etc.
In 1998, a subsidy was introduced in Nigeria to encourage the formation of political parties ahead of the transition to democracy. Over the years, this subsidy was thoroughly abused by parties, as many parties got registered and merely awaited election periods for government’s subvention. Most of these funds ended up in the pockets of a handful of party leaders. Between 2003 and 2009, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) provided funds to political parties as subventions. This made setting up political parties
quite attractive in Nigeria, as a group of persons could obviously come together to form political parties just for INEC’s ‘free money’. The requirements for registering political parties were so simple that it made it easy for various groups to abuse this provision. Arguably, the last time political parties received such from the Federal Government was in 2009, during the dispensation of late President Umaru Yar’Adua when the subsidy was removed in a 2010 constitutional amendment. That year, each registered party received N6 million.
Presently, Nigerian political parties have a wide range of avenues for raising funds. Parties can levy dues from their membership, either regularly or upon registration. They can solicit donations from supportive interest groups such as labour unions and private business. Parties also finance themselves by charging would-be candidates for nomination and expression of interest forms before elections. Finally, some parties include in their internal constitutions the right to levy a percentage of salary—usually about five per cent—from their elected and appointed public officers.
If government funding of political parties is re-introduced, how should we ensure we stem the proliferation of political parties with the aim to abuse this policy? If political parties are unable to source funds to pursue their aims and objectives, should they even be registered in the first place as political parties? More importantly, can Nigeria afford the extra expenses of funding political parties? Should this even be a priority?