2015: Early campaigns as litmus test for democracy




 

FRIDAY OLOKOR writes that campaigns by various interest groups, ahead of the 2015 general elections, not only contravene sections of the Electoral Act, but also threatens the nation’s democracy

It’s about two years to the 2015 general elections but Nigeria’s political firmament is already awash with subtle, sometimes open political campaigns. These acts contravene rules set by the Independent National Electoral Commission.

Individuals and groups, especially members of leading political parties, have started printing posters, banners and making statements which border on campaigns for elective offices.

In societies where democracy is the system of government, politicians are expected to abide by a code of conduct when seeking elective offices. The election management body is expected to issue a timetable to guide the process.

Nigerian politicians like their counterparts in other developing countries, often ignore such provisions by taking the laws into their own hands.

Many examples abound at the federal and state level.  For example, former Federal Information Commissioner, Chief E.K. Clark, has since gone public with his 2015 campaign for the re-election of President Goodluck Jonathan. He premised his actions on the disposition of those opposed to the President’s second coming.

For several weeks, Presidential/ Vice Presidential campaign posters bearing the portraits of Jigawa State governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido and the Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, adorned vehicles and other public spaces first, in the northern city of Kaduna before spreading to Abuja, and Minna.

Both men have dissociated themselves from these posters.

Posters announcing a former Head of State, Maj.-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), as the consensus presidential candidate of the yet-to-be registered All Progressives Congress in the 2015 elections have also surfaced in Abuja.

The posters which were pasted on walls, trees and dust bins, were mostly sighted at Asokoro and Maitama districts of the city. The posters, many of which carried the logo of the yet-to-be registered APC, described Buhari as the “only” saviour of Nigeria. An Inscription on one of the posters read: “2015: Here comes the only saviour for Nigeria.” Another read: “Support the All Progressives Congress, support Buhari: The only man for the job.” A group, Forum of all Progressive Congress Youths, sponsored the campaign. He, like his fellow politicians dissociated himself from the posters.

Worried by the tension generated by these activities, the Independent National Electoral Commission has warned  perpetrators of these illegal campaigns, describing such acts as a threat to democracy. While urging security agencies to arrest the violators of the Electoral Act “whose activities in this regard pose a threat to public order,” the Commission also reminded “all players of the provision of Section 99(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (As Amended), which reads:-”For the purpose of this Act, the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 90 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day.” According to Section 86 of the Electoral Act, 2010, as amended, INEC shall monitor and keep record of the activities of all the registered political parties. If any person is observed to have contravened section 99 of the Electoral Act by pushing campaigns for elections now rather than wait, 90 days to the 2015 election date yet to be scheduled, as bound by statute, INEC should monitor it, write to them and possibly threaten legal sanctions if they persist in their wrongful acts.

Political pundits are of the view that perpetrators of such acts may not be punished after all. This, they argue, is without prejudice to the threat by INEC which many do not take seriously. According to Section 95(4) of the Electoral Act, the use of Masqueraders, at campaign rallies or for any other political purpose is prohibited.

A Second Republic Senate President, Dr. Joseph Wayas, advised political parties to keep to the provisions of the Electoral Act. He had in an interview with THE PUNCH noted that: “the only thing that can bring sanity into democracy is to keep to the rules.”

He, however, said, although there is a timetable for everything, “politics is always a thing that continues and that is why we call it democracy.”

Wayas said, “So long as the programme is such that will not close people’s lips, there is nothing wrong with it. But I think also that we must assist the regulating electoral body (INEC) so that we can continue to make progress in democracy.”

A human rights lawyer, Dame Carol Ajie, observed that “we find big parties like PDP honour this provision more in breach.” She said although a plethora of “dos” and “don’ts” exist in the Electoral Act which also prohibits abuse, some politicians call their counterparts names like “creek boy” and “fisherman’s son” and violate the rules, yet go unscathed. Ajie recalled how a certain presidential candidate compared monkey blood to human blood in a public speech in Kaduna last year, while giving a hint that he may be interested in flying his political party’s presidential flag in 2015. “Did he get a warning letter from the electoral umpire more than twelve months after he issued these threats? No! I think INEC should play more active monitoring roles,” she said.

But another Lawyer, Mr. Kayode Ajulo, identified some flaws in the Electoral Act. According to him, the electoral laws and regulations are inadequate to guide the nation in times like this.

He said, “The law forbids ‘political parties’ and ‘candidates’ from campaigning until 60 to 90 days before the elections. It does not take into consideration political jobbers and lobbyists, mere aspirants and mischievous elements.”

Ajulo said despite the fact that Goodluck Jonathan is currently the President of Nigeria, “he is for now, merely an aspirant if he’s interested in contesting again, as far as the 2015 elections are concerned. To right some wrongs, he suggested an amendment to relevant sections of the constitution”.

He said, “Unless we change the relevant portions of the extant laws to include these persons and also find the political will to enforce those laws as amended, we may continually have Nigeria at the mercy of the above classes of persons whose premature actions might heat up the polity,” he said. Ajulo observed that it was irresponsible and unpatriotic for anyone to start campaigns at this time because it might  lead to anarchy.

A senior lecturer in the Department of English/Literature at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Dr. Chijioke Uwasomba, blames the trend on the desperation of the average Nigerian politician to remain in power at all costs. Uwasomba describes Nigeria as a country where there is no limit to chicaneries and where the impossible and bizzare always find an outlet. He said, “The Nigerian politician does not pay serious attention to rules. What is uppermost in his mind is how to perpetually remain in office and in power at the expense of the people. So, it should not surprise us that even when 2015 is a long time from now, the campaigns and all the noise and maneuverings have begun.”

He specifically fingered close associates of President Goodluck Jonathan, for starting the current tempo of campaigns; “when suddenly they realised that it may be a tall order for the President to get a second term in office and they started shouting themselves hoarse on Jonathan’s second term even when it is obvious that the man is not performing.”

The lecturer advised those who are campaigning to first deliver on their current mandate because their performance will determine their re-election.

Chief Press Secretary to INEC Chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, said security agencies have promised to prosecute any individual or political party who henceforth contravenes Sections of the Electoral Act through such campaigns.

He, however, expressed the hope that key actors on the political scene would cooperate accordingly. While explaining the reason for INEC’s recent action, Idowu said, “INEC does not discuss or deal on the basis of personalities.  As we have repeatedly said, the commission is a dispassionate and neutral regulatory body that operates strictly according to the law.

“The said warning was issued pursuant to a specific provision of the law, and it is obviously in the best interest of Nigeria’s democracy that every citizen, no matter who they are, obey the laws of the land. The commission is hopeful that all political players, as law-abiding citizens, will respect the rules. In the unlikely event of persistent default, the commission will apply the law to mete out sanctions. Meanwhile, the Police have promised to enforce that provision of the law.”

As the politics of 2015 election gets more interesting, it is hoped that all stakeholders especially politicians will set aside their parochial interests to respect the rule of law. Nigerians should take a cue from advanced democracies.

 

 

Culled from Punch







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