Illegal Donations: How Jonathan’s Campaign Donors Violated The Law - by Eze Onyekpere

About two weeks ago, the Peoples Democratic Party held a fund-raising dinner at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja. The sum of N21.27bn was raised to support the campaign of President Goodluck Jonathan for a second term in office. 

A lot of issues and controversies has been raised since the fund-raising especially those bordering on the legal and ethical challenges arising from the event. This discourse intends to analyse the implications of the fund-raising from the point of view of campaign finance laws binding and accepted under Nigerian jurisprudence and to urge for action from the relevant authorities.

By Section 153 of the 1999 Constitution, the Independent National Electoral Commission is inter alia authorised to monitor the organisation and operation of political parties including their finances and to carry out such other functions as may be conferred on it by an Act of the National Assembly. By Section153 of the Electoral Act, INEC has powers to make rules and regulations for the full implementation of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). 

Pursuant to the above powers, INEC enacted the Guidelines and Regulations for Political Parties 2013. By Section 11 (b), the Guidelines require all candidates to notify INEC of all events for the purpose of raising funds towards their campaign at least seven days to the event. From available information, no notice was given by the PDP to INEC on the fund-raising and there was no INEC representative at the event.

It was reported that the “PDP Governors’ Forum” announced a donation of N1.05bn and the Bauchi State Governor, Isa Yuguda, who spoke on behalf of the governors, said each of the 21 of them would donate N50m. This donation by the governors violates Section 100 (2) of the Electoral Act which clearly stipulates that state apparatus shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at an election. 

Coming at a time most states of the federation were finding it difficult to pay workers’ salaries, this was an insensitive donation. It was an illegal donation which also discriminated against other candidates and political parties against the letter and spirit of the constitutional fundamental rights of non-discrimination clause. In the so-called PDP states, there are so many citizens supporting the candidates of other political parties and these candidates are entitled to state support in the event the state decides to support political parties. The only way to right the wrong of the donation is for the PDP governors to donate N50m each to the campaign of all the presidential candidates contesting the 2015 presidential election. Pray, did any of the state budgets have legislative approval for this expenditure head? What could have been the justification of this expenditure in the budget if it had been approved?

The 15 states on the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission were reported to have donated a total of N15m, among other donations. Did this money come from the state governments or the NDDC? Definitely, it could not have come from the state governments considering that states like Rivers and Imo which are not controlled by the PDP are part of the NDDC. Thus, this is public money coming from the coffers of a public agency- the NDDC and now being “donated” for the Jonathan campaign. This is not only outrageous but a crime that should not be swept under the carpet.

The fund-raiser had “players” in the oil and gas sector announcing a donation of N5bn; those in real estate and building donated N4bn; transport and aviation, N1bn; food and agriculture, N500m; power, N500m; construction, N310m; and road construction, N250m. Who are these undisclosed players in these sectors? Are they afraid of coming out publicly to identify themselves? Only the guilty are afraid. Instructively, these anonymous donations are in violation of Section 93 (1) of the Electoral Act which clearly states that no political party shall accept or keep in its possession any anonymous monetary or pother contributions, gifts, properties, etc from any source whatsoever. Section14 of the 2013 Guidelines aforementioned also bars candidates from accepting or keeping anonymous donations, gifts or properties from any source whatsoever. So, whether it is the PDP or Jonathan the candidate, the Electoral Act has been violated.

For Shelter Development Ltd and the SIFAX Group which donated N250m and N100m respectively, the Companies and Allied Matters Act was violated. Section 38 (2) of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) prohibits corporate bodies from making contributions to political parties. The section specifically provides as follows: “A company shall not have or exercise power either directly or indirectly to make a donation or gift of any of its property or funds to a political party or political association, or for any political purpose; and if any company, in breach of this subsection makes any donation or gift of its property to a political party, or political association, or for any political purpose, the officers in default and any member who voted for the breach shall be jointly and severally liable to refund to the company the sum or value of the donation or gift and in addition, the company and every such officer or member shall be guilty of an offence and liable to a fine equal to the amount or value of the donation or gift”.

The chairman of the occasion, Tunde Ayeni, who set the ball rolling, was reported to have donated N2bn. He said the sum consisted of N1bn donated by him and his partner, and another N1bn contributed by their unnamed friends. These unnamed friends are another set of anonymous donors. No one begrudges another person who has made so much money as to the purpose to which he deploys his money. But Nigerians will like to know from this generous donor how much he has paid in personal income tax in the last couple of years. How much have his generous friends also paid in income tax?

Considering that the 1999 Constitution, extant laws and Guidelines have been violated, what is the way forward? INEC should publicly send a query to the PDP to explain why it flouted the 2013 Guidelines and make their reply public. Also, relevant administrative sanctions should be applied to the PDP. If there are no sanctions in the Guidelines, INEC should provide for them for future use. INEC should also demand that all anonymous donations at the fund- raising be paid over to it. Other presidential candidates supported by indigenes of these states who are card-carrying members of the political parties should demand their own N50m and where the PDP governors fail to make the same available, they should institute action in court to compel the governors to do so and let us see what the courts will rule on it. If the companies that donated to the President’s campaign are public companies, their shareholders should bring action for the return of the donated sums of money and invoke the penal sanctions of the law. If they are private companies, we expect the Corporate Affairs Commission, INEC, NGOs and the Nigerian Bar Association to use the courts to seek the enforcement of Section 38 of CAMA.

Finally, it was surprising to see that President Jonathan sat through this televised violation of extant campaign finance laws and approved of the violations. One would not expect to find the President in the company of those who expressly violated our laws.