As campaigning for 2023 elections kicks off


APPREHENSION pervades the land as campaigning for the 2023 general elections officially kicked off in the last week of September. The Independent National Electoral Commission has scheduled the elections for February and March. In well-grounded democracies, the electoral campaign season is keenly anticipated, colourful and illuminating, and humbling for candidates and political parties who struggle to woo the electorate. In Nigeria however, tension reigns. Brickbats, incendiary pronouncements, and violence had already fouled up the polity even before the September 28 flag-off date to commence campaigns. The system should be cleaned up to instil legitimacy and encourage popular participation.

In all, INEC cleared 18 political parties to contest the February 25 presidential election; 4,223 candidates will vie for the 469 federal legislative seats on the same day. The most visible presidential candidates come from the All Progressives Congress, Peoples Democratic Party, Labour Party and the New Nigeria Peoples Party. With the high stakes in the election, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), INEC and the security agencies should implement effective measures against the elements bent on derailing the exercise.

In Nigeria’s chilling political history, electioneering usually conflates with bloodshed. Consequently, the umpire, the National Broadcasting Commission, and the Nigerian Inter-Religious Commission have issued pleas, guidelines, warnings, and threats to the political parties on acceptable conduct.

INEC said, “Section 92 of the Electoral Act 2022 forbids any political campaign or slogan tainted with abusive language directly or indirectly or one likely to injure religious, ethnic, tribal, or sectional feelings. Therefore, abusive, intemperate, slanderous, or base language or insinuations or innuendoes intended or likely to provoke violent reactions or emotion should be avoided.” On its part, the NBC warned parties and broadcast stations against ‘hate speech,’ while the presidential candidates signed a peace pact at NIREC’s instigation.

These warnings are timely, as already, violence has reared its ugly head. In Enugu State, gunmen have attacked LP meetings. The first incident occurred on August 30 at Awgu Local Government Area, followed by another one there on September 4, and again on September 24 at a primary school in Nomeh, Nkanu East LGA.

In Ebonyi, thugs invaded an LP rally in support of the party’s presidential candidate on September 17 in Abakaliki, prompting security agents to teargas the procession. Last Tuesday, hoodlums sacked an APC rally in Ibadan, Oyo State, injuring some party supporters. Gombe State witnessed similar violence on Wednesday.

In retrospect, violence has repeatedly plagued Nigerian politics. Since 1999 — and even before — the country has witnessed politically-motivated carnage. In the 2011 post-election violence, 800 persons died in three days of rioting in 12 northern states protesting the victory of Goodluck Jonathan over Buhari.

Human Rights Watch recalled that 160 people died in the bloody 2011 pre-election violence as of November 2010. Bombings in Bayelsa, Borno, Kaduna and Niger states left scores dead. In Borno, the governorship candidate of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, Modu Gubio, four others, and a 10-year-old child, were assassinated by gunmen in Maiduguri.

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Governorship aspirants, Dipo Dina (Ogun), Funsho Williams (Lagos) and Ayo Daramola (Ekiti) were also brutally murdered. The PDP witnessed the murders of party chiefs, Harry Marshal and Harry Dikibo. Another unresolved murder occurred in December 2001 when Bola Ige, the then incumbent Attorney-General of the Federation, was assassinated in his Ibadan home.

Violence partly explains why many decent people steer clear of politics in Nigeria, especially women. Along with rigging and ballot box snatching, it is fuel for voter apathy. Voter turnout in Nigeria is among the lowest in Africa. From a high of 69.08 per cent in 2003, the figure had dropped sharply to 43.65 per cent in the 2015 presidential ballot. Turnout was 34.8 per cent in 2019, says the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. That is the worst in West Africa, edging out Cape Verde, which had recorded 35.5 per cent turnout in 2016. Ghana, Chad, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea Bissau recorded at least 66 per cent turnout in their most recent elections. That is food for thought for Nigeria.

Politics is a bitter, violent game here. In the contest for elective office, the winner takes all the spoils. Incumbent officeholders deploy state resources to overwhelm their opponents. In the run-up to the 2007 polls, the then incumbent president, Olusegun Obasanjo, unashamedly labelled it a ‘do-or-die’ affair. That summarises Nigeria’s political class — public office is not about service but about pursuing personal ambitions, no matter the effect on the system.

In fairness, INEC is hampered by its inability to prosecute election offenders. That is the purview of the police. The police deploy thousands of officers to cover elections, but this has failed over time. The elections are also heavily militarised with the same result. Curiously, this massive deployment of security agents does not achieve peaceful, credible polls. Instead, it adds to the ruckus.

Election-related violence seems to be endemic in Africa. Kenya, Ivory Coast and South Sudan have been embroiled in violence in recent polls, which often degenerates to inter-ethnic and sectarian scrimmage. This further paints Africa in a bad light.

Politicians do not own Nigeria; conversely, power belongs to the electorate, which votes them into office to serve. Their defilement of the political space for their egotistic interest is unacceptable. INEC and the security agencies should strategise and ensure that from electioneering, and up to the voting period, all violators of the electoral law are arrested and prosecuted.

The beauty of democracy lies in its credibility. Just like in other countries, Nigerians will troop out to exercise their franchise if they are confident that electioneering and voting will be peaceful. The candidates and their supporters should be held accountable for every act of violence.

One factor that could dissuade politicians from their win-at-all-cost mentality is to make public office less attractive materially. The judiciary should descend firmly on public officers who loot the treasury to serve as deterrence. ,

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