It’s becoming increasingly difficult for Nigerian lawmakers to recoup their election campaign investments in the President Muhammadu Buhari era, various reports have suggested.
Section 91 of the Electoral Act 2010, pegs campaign spend into the Nigerian Senate at N40M.
To become a member of the House of Representatives, the Electoral Act stipulates that you do not exceed N20M in campaign financing.
Violating the Act attracts a fine of N600, 000 or six months imprisonment or both for aspiring Senators, and a fine of N500, 000 or five months imprisonment or both, for aspiring House of Representative members.
However, in Nigeria, the law is often observed in the breach.
Everyone in Africa’s most populous country knows that campaign outlay for political offices often runs into amounts far higher than what the law stipulates.
And no one has been fined or jailed for violating the law because no one keeps an account of what was spent during electioneering campaigns.
Election campaign financing and donations are often conducted under a cloud.
It has been common practice for lawmakers to begin recouping what they spent during the campaigns once in office.
They often go about the task of retrieving their monies from Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) with single minded determination, during their first few months in office.
How this works is simple: Lawmakers only approve fiscal budgets for MDAs only after they have made “insertions” into budget line items of MDAs or only after they’ve helped in 'padding' budgets of MDAs to reflect their own cuts.
It also used to be the case that lawmakers only approved budgets for MDAs only after extracting firm commitments from the Ministers that they are entitled a certain percentage.
Ministerial nominees are also asked for kickbacks from lawmakers as a precondition for their screening.
Mallam Nasir El-Rufai who was a ministerial nominee during the Obasanjo years, famously bucked the trend by refusing to bribe Senators preparing to hear his confirmation.
He almost lost out on becoming a Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) for being so 'stubborn'.
The culture has continued unabated until lately, it appears.
The cash seems to have dried up because MDAs are no longer playing ball with the lawmakers.
One lawmaker lamented to Daily Trust: “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 runs a transport company also told the Newspaper that times are changing.
He swore that he would have been better off managing his transport business intead.
The Senator decried that lawmaking in Nigeria is no longer a lucrative business.
“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”, Daily Trust quoted the lawmaker as saying.
There were more lamentations from a handful of Senators whose names were understandably left out of the story.
“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 lawmakers also vowed not to seek re-election “because the business of legislature appears to be unprofitable”.
James Manager, a Senator who represents a district in Delta State, recently recounted how one aspiring lawmaker threw himself into the lagoon when it became clear he had spent all he had on getting elected as a lawmaker.
“A man who contested for one of three senatorial districts of Lagos in 2011 drove to his bank six months after the election", said Manager.
“On his way back, he asked his driver to stop. He walked for few minutes and jumped into the lagoon”.
Manager didn’t say if this aspiring lawmaker survived his lagoon experience.
Nigerian lawmakers are regarded as some of the highest paid in the world and have often been criticized for running opaque budgets.
Buhari has promised to run a lean and transparent government as Nigeria's democratic President.