Political campaigns in Nigeria have their unique Nigerianness which adds excitement to the season.
Shadow campaigns and proxy wars on the political turf have been going on around us for the past one year at least, many times not so subtly. Now it is official and legit; the doors into campaign for presidential and National Assembly elections in 2019 have officially been thrown open by the Independent National Electoral Commission. So let’s hear it now from the candidates; their ideas, their vision and the record they are running on. There will also be room to look at the record some of the candidates may be running away from. And many surely have records to run from. The assessment just has to be total.
READ ALSO: As the campaigns begin: A call for decorum
Electoral Act 2010 [As Amended] stipulates the duration of election campaigns – 90 days in all, terminating 24 hours before the polls. What the Law did not prescribe and could not have prescribed is what the candidates have to tell the electorate. That – the content of each candidate’s pitch – is what the society is waiting to hear.
Nigeria’s democracy may be nascent, as many love to describe it, but from many indications, the people are increasingly alive and less dead to their environment and the offering of those they elected into government. It is doubtful that empty sentimentalities still sway many. Or maybe they still do. The next three months will tell. For now there seems to be broad enthusiasm and anticipation for what the presidential candidates especially will come to town with. They are 79 by the way. Aren’t we so blessed?
Political campaigns in Nigeria have their unique Nigerianness which adds excitement to this season. You can be sure for one that there will be boisterous rallies across cities and states by virtually all the candidates and their parties, featuring thousands of people who, more often than not, comprise preponderantly of hired mercantile rally rats rather than the faithful of any clear ideology or idea. Whatever else may count as the character of campaigns in this society, the era and the culture of campaigns that constitute substantially of candidates and their parties going round states singing winner o oooo, winner you don win….. after which they distribute wrapper and basic food item to people and everyone goes home just have to end. The duty to re-invent Nigeria and imbue it with substance and higher values must be subscribed to by those who lead or aspire to lead in the society. Election campaigns must, as of necessity, be anchored on substance and sincere, well articulated ideas that can be pursued to lift man and society. Here now therefore, is an opportunity for those who aspire to lead to properly stand up to be assessed.
Actually political campaigns hold out greater value in democracy than people are yet to fully appreciate in our environment. It remains one of those illogical expectations of our time and space that
political parties or individuals who did not put across any meaningful policy proposals during campaigns are expected on finding themselves in government to begin to pursue purposeful programmes. It does not tally. If any individual or group cannot be on their best when still pitching for votes, it is difficult to imagine that such persons will, on assumption of the office, suddenly conjure solid policies and programmes that will make a difference.
It is true that campaign stomping come many times with promises that are never redeemed after election. Not advancing any purposeful policy option on the other hand offers no hope at all. A candidate is as good as his message to the electorate. It is not for nothing that candidates in more developed democracies and societies allocate huge resources to locate and hire communication experts and to develop messages that reach home.
For candidates seeking renewal of mandate, the terrain is understandably more challenging. They run against their record in office. However much they strive to shade their record in the hues they desire, the electorate already have the scorecard in their hands. It is called time for reckoning.
Even as the parties and their candidates are contending with the substance in their campaigns and how best to convince the electorate, of critical importance equally is the tone and bearing of the campaigns. The extant Electoral Act clearly came ahead of the recent government sermons against hate speech. Section 95 (1) of the Act provides that “A political campaign or slogan shall not be tainted with abusive language directly or indirectly likely to injure religion, ethnic, tribal or sectional feelings” and (2); “Abusive, intemperate, slanderous or base language or insinuations or innuendoes designed or likely
to provoke violent reaction or emotions shall not be employed or used in political campaigns”. The Law follows these previsions with clear outline of stiff sanctions for anyone who violets these sections of the Electoral Act. The challenge, as always is with enforcement of the law.
In addition to whatever measures INEC will layout to monitor utterances at campaigns, it may need to turn to the parties themselves for a creative collaboration. Perhaps the best way to monitor the compliance of candidates and party elements to the Code of Conduct for campaigns may be through peer intelligence gathering and report to the Election Management Body. Although INEC has robust Election and Party Monitoring departments in both its headquarters and in all its offices in the States, relying on the authenticated report or complaint made by parties against opponents who breached the Code of Conduct may offer an effective way to monitor and sanction offenders. The need for strict monitoring and enforcement of sanctions against breach of peace and decorum in the campaign towards 2019 cannot be over emphasized.
The campaigns have just begun. How so wonderful it will be if proceedings follow a civilized path. But that is not always the way of politics and politicians, not in this zone anyway. To be realistic, contest for power hardly goes with niceties. Sooner or later, matter will come to a head. And when (not if) that time comes, expect a resort to base sentiments by elements who cannot restrain themselves. For a society that has become so badly fractured in recent times, the prayer is for democracy to prevail.
So much of what happens in this sensitive phase of the march towards the 2019 General Elections will depend on what the security agencies do. We shall return to that subsequently.