As we approach the 2019 polls, many issues are fast cropping up that need to be urgently addressed. While some Nigerians have identified fake news, hate speech and security as issues that can mar the poll, others believe that vote buying or voter inducement, ballot snatching and thuggery, intimidation of voters or political opponents are matters that must not be overlooked.
Yet some other Nigerians are worried that the campaign is very dull. So far, it lacks drama and fun associated with political campaigns in this part of the world. Let me start with the campaigns. This may be the worst campaigns in the nation’s political history if the parties and their candidates do not hit the ground running now.
The billboards are almost empty, not much political adverts in the papers, the airwaves are not churning campaign jingles as witnessed in 1993, 1999, 2007 2011 and 2015 polls for instance. Let the candidates do something about their campaigns and change its pace. They can never win election without robust campaigns.
There are so many young voters who are waiting to hear from them before they can take a final decision on who to vote for in the presidential poll. About 42.9 million registered voters are said to be young people of 18-35 years. With this demography, it appears that the youths may determine the outcome of the polls. While male voters constitute 44.4 million, female voters constitute 39.6 million. Unfortunately, many of these youthful voters are in tertiary institutions some of which are presently under lock and key due to strikes.
Many of these young voters are unemployed because there are no jobs for them. Some of them are angry with a nation that has seemingly abandoned them. Many of them will be recruited to perform some election duties. Some may be employed as thugs or body guards for some politicians.
Some may be engaged to buy votes for politicians. The girls among them will be used as ushers for many political campaigns. Let me in no particular order take the issue of fake news. Of recent fake news has hugged the headlines with many public figures claiming that they have been victims of fake news.
Fake news, irrespective of who defines it and how it is defined, is inimical to the well-being of the society. It can cause trouble in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious entity like ours. But the danger of fake news in our own peculiar case is who defines it.
What may be fake news to the government may not exactly be fake news to the governed. The same applies to the ruling party and the opposition parties. The politics of defining what constitutes fake news must be addressed before the problem of fake news can be effectively resolved. It is worth noting that fake news or speculative news thrive where the real news is hoarded by those in power.
There is creeping fear that the government might use fake news to muzzle the media as well as the vocal opposition as we inch towards the 2019 polls. Because of the fear of fake news, the media is cautious, the politicians are equally cautious. This can explain why the campaign so far is dull and drab.
So, the issue of fake news is neither here nor there. Fortunately, there are laws against libel, false or misleading publication. Any person who feels being libeled or misrepresented can seek redress in the courts. It does not require unnecessary arrest and intimidation by security agents.
But now, any slight misrepresentation in the course of reporting is being regarded as fake news. This is indeed the danger of who interprets fake news. What is fake news to one may not be fake news to another. I think that lawyers can really help all of us here. It requires an unbiased interpreter to really determine fake news in our present circumstance.
Closely related to fake news is the issue of hate speech. Can we honestly say that what one leading political party is dishing out against another leading party’s candidate is free of hate speech? How do we separate hate speech from campaign speech? Can the ruling party be accused of dishing out hate speech even during campaign? These are questions that beg for urgent answers.
Just like in the issue of fake news, we need an unbiased interpreter to determine what hate speech is. Hate speech should not be determined by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and their supporters alone. They should allow other Nigerians to also define what constitutes hate speech. Hate speech like fake news is indeterminate. Its definition is open to abuse and manipulation.
Another problem that all Nigerians should worry about the 2019 polls is the issue of security. The provision of security will determine how far we can go in the election. Already with 84 million voters, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) must contend with security issues.
Policing 84 million voters is not a tea party. The Nigeria Police Force should be able to provide adequate security during the elections. But where there is need for more security, other security agencies may be drafted for election duties. But this must not be used as an alibi to lay siege on the nation or any particular zone or state.
Although INEC has assured that the Smart Card Reader will function effectively and where it fails, the voter will be required to thumbprint a box next to his/her picture on the register and enter his/her mobile telephone number before voting. This arrangement forecloses the use of incidence form. What happens if the voter has no mobile telephone number? This is one question that INEC should try to provide answer.
What happens if the voter’s name is not in the register? Since electronic transmission of results has been disallowed, INEC has not told Nigerians how it can prevent falsification of results that happen during the manual transmission of results. INEC has not been forthcoming on how it plans to stop vote buying and how it must ensure that politicians do not exceed their campaign expenses limit.
It has not told us how it plans to stop ballot snatching, thuggery and other infractions that may mar the exercise. It is regrettable that with only a few weeks to the presidential and national assembly polls, many registered voters are yet to collect their PVCs. Those that transferred their PVCs whether inter-state or intra-state are yet to collect their PVCs.
The government and relevant agencies must ensure that these issues are addressed before the voting starts. A free and fair poll is the minimum Nigerians require from the government and the electoral umpire.