Exactly one month to the commencement of campaigns for the presidential and National Assembly elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission has warned political parties and candidates against the use of masqueraders, public facilities and religious centres for campaigns.
The commission asked political parties to align strictly with the provisions of the Electoral Act to avoid sanctions as stipulated by the Act. INEC had fixed September 28 for the commencement of campaigns for the presidential and National Assembly, while the elections would hold on February 25, 2023.
Relying on Section 92 of the Electoral Act, 2022, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of its Committee on Information and Voter Education, Mr Festus Okoye, in a recent interview with our correspondent explained that the law expected political campaigns to be civil and devoid of abuse.
In previous electioneering, some political parties and their candidates were wont to engage in all kinds of theatrics, including the use of masqueraders, to entertain the crowd and add colour to their rallies. Some also covertly campaigned in public offices and worship centres, especially churches and mosques, to woo civil servants and worshippers, respectively.
But quoting from the provisions of the section, Okoye said, “Section 92 of the Electoral Act makes it mandatory that a political campaign or slogan shall not be tainted with abusive language directly or indirectly likely to injure religious, ethnic, tribal or sectional feelings.
“Therefore, 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.
“Subsection 3 states that places designated for religious worship, police stations and public offices shall not be used for political campaigns, rallies and processions; or to promote, propagate or attack political parties, candidates or their programmes or ideologies.
“Masqueraders shall not be employed or used by any political party, aspirant or candidate during political campaigns or for any other political purpose.”
As witnessed in some previous elections where parties hired thugs to repel detractors, Okoye in reference to subsection (5) of Section 92, warned parties and candidates against training or enlisting the help or services of individuals or groups for the purpose of displaying physical force or coercion in a manner that could arouse reasonable apprehension during the campaigns.
Newsmen reports that in previous campaigns, some political parties engaged thugs to ensure orderliness as well as prevent political enemies from disrupting their rallies.
In reference to Section 6 of the Act, however, Okoye added, “A political party, aspirant or candidate shall not keep or use armed private security organisation, vanguard or any other group or individual by whatever name called for the purpose of providing security, assisting or aiding the political party or candidate in whatever manner during campaigns, rallies, processions or elections.”
Imprisonment awaits offenders
Speaking on the need for compliance, the INEC national commissioner pointed out that the Act already provided for sanctions for violators and that adherence to the law should be prioritised by all the parties and candidates.
In tandem with subsections 7(a)(b) and 8, Okoye stated, “A political party, aspirant or candidate who contravenes any of the provisions of Section 92 of the Act commits an offence and is liable on conviction in the case of an aspirant or candidate, to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months; and in the case of a political party, to a fine of N2,000,000 in the first instance, and N1,000,000 for any subsequent offence.
“A person or group of persons who aids or abets a political party, an aspirant or a candidate in organising or equipping any person or group for the purpose of enabling them to be employed for the use or display of physical force commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of three years or both.”
On those who coerce others to support their candidates or refrain from supporting a particular candidate during campaigns, he added, “Section 93 of the Act prohibits a party, candidate, aspirant or person or group of persons from directly or indirectly threatening any person with the use of force or violence during any political campaign in order to compel that person or any other person to support or refrain from supporting a political party or candidate.
“A political party, candidate, aspirant, person or group of persons that contravenes the provisions of Section 93(1) of the Act commits an offence and is liable on conviction in the case of a candidate, aspirant, or person or group of persons, to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months; and in the case of a political party, to a fine of N2,000,000 in the first instance, and N500,000 for any subsequent offence.”
Electoral materials procurement
Meanwhile, about 181 days to the general elections, starting with presidential and National Assembly polls scheduled to hold on February 25, INEC said tender had begun for the procurement of sensitive materials for the elections, save for those that needed to be procured close to the polls.
The timetable released by the commission also indicated that governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections would be held on March 11, 2023.
When asked if the commission had commenced the procurement of sensitive and non-sensitive materials, Okoye said, “Our zonal stores have started receiving the non-sensitive materials required for the conduct of the 2023 general elections.
“We have determined the reusable materials and are making up for the shortfalls. Major and minor renovations are going on in our local government offices. Tenders are on for the procurement of sensitive materials. There are sensitive materials that must wait and be produced or procured close to the election period.”
On whether or not the commission had received from the Federal Government all the funds it needed to prosecute the elections, Okoye affirmed that INEC had the funds it needed for the activities within this period, adding, “We are confident that the commission will continue to receive funds for its various activities as and when due.”
Ballot papers printing
As part of preparations for the elections, INEC says it cannot print the ballot papers yet until the clean-up of the voter register is concluded, which will enable it to know the actual number of registered voters. The figure, it affirmed, would inform the quantity of ballot papers to be printed.
Okoye, responding to a question on the printing, said, “The commission cannot print the ballot papers at this point. The commission must be sure of the approximate number of registered voters before printing ballot papers.
“This means the commission must complete the clean-up of the voters’ register and display the register for claims and objections before making a determination on the number of voters that will participate in the election.”
He explained further that the commission would later invite the political parties participating in the elections to inspect their identities as they would appear on the ballot papers.
Okoye stated, “The commission must also design the ballot papers. Coterminous to this, section 42(3) of the Act provides that the commission shall, not later than 20 days to an election, invite in writing, a political party that nominated a candidate in the election to inspect its identity appearing on samples of relevant electoral materials proposed for the election and the political party may state in writing within two days of being so invited by the commission that it approves or disapproves of its identity as it appears on the samples.”
On the collection of permanent voter cards, Okoye said the PVCs that were ready for the 2019 general elections were available for collection across the country.
He added, “Registration officers of the commission moved to the various registration centres with the uncollected cards. The cards for those who registered during the first and second quarters of the CVR are still being collected.
“The commission will only make a determination of the number of uncollected cards at the stoppage of collection of the cards close to the period of election.”
Also, when asked the number of Bimodal Voter Accreditation System the commission would procure to replace those lost during attacks on some INEC offices, Okoye said the procurement was ongoing and the commission would have the number it needed before the polls.
Okoye added, “The commission will procure and deploy at least 200,000 BVAS for the 2023 general elections. The commission introduced an all-in-one device to improve the quality and efficiency of electoral services.
“The multi-functional integrated device introduced by the commission has different acronyms for the different activities it is used for. During the registration of voters, it is called the INEC voter enrolment device. During the accreditation of voters, it is called Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, also known as BVAS. During the result upload, it is called the INEC result viewing device.
“The device will be deployed in the 176,846 polling units in Nigeria and the redundancies will be deployed in the 8,809 registration areas as backup. The commission continues to procure the device and we are confident that we will have the required number way ahead of the elections.”
However, the commission has maintained that vote-buying remains a dent on the electoral process as it impairs the primacy of the voter to exercise rational choices and diminishes the sanctity of the vote.
The INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, had expressed the commission’s support for the establishment of the Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal to address electoral offences. He spoke on Tuesday at the public hearing organised by the House of Representatives for the bill to establish the commission.
Okoye, however, stated, “Our considered view is that the conduct and management of elections is a multi-stakeholder venture and all the components of the unit must organise for the delivery of electoral services.
“All the stakeholders must work in unison to stamp out the virus of vote-buying and selling. The commission will continue to improve the electoral environment to actualise the secrecy of the vote. The commission will continue to cooperate and consult with the security agencies in terms of arrest, investigation and prosecution of vote buyers and sellers.
“The commission supports the setting up of an Electoral Offences Commission and Tribunal that will have the power to arrest, investigate and prosecute electoral offenders. We must break the cycle of cynical electoral impunity in Nigeria.”
‘Issues-based campaigns critical’
Meanwhile, in addition to the provisions of Section 92 of the Electoral Act that speaks to the prohibition of certain conduct at political campaigns, there is an increasing call on political parties and candidates to base their campaigns on issues and not personal attacks for the benefit of all.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan and his deputy, Namadi Sambo, at the 2022 IBB Legacy Dialogue in Abuja on Thursday asked candidates and their supporters to shun hate speech and focus on issues.
Sambo said, “As we approach the critical stage towards the 2023 general election in Nigeria, it is important to use this opportunity to call on all political parties and indeed, candidates and other key stakeholders to adopt issue-based campaigns. We must all shun the use of hate or foul language and mudslinging to avoid overheating the polity.”
Similarly, the Chairman of the Transition Monitoring Group, Auwal Rafsanjani, explained that some political parties indeed had no programmes or agenda and were only interested in getting power, which made them focus on irrelevant things. He called on Nigerians to resist such parties.
He said in an interview with our correspondent on Thursday, “Politicians do that deliberately in order to run away from the issues and it is important that we resist that. What we need are tangible programmes that we can use to hold them accountable, not abuse, personal attacks or sweet talk that we can’t hold on to.
“At all levels of the contest, we want to know their plans on security, how they plan to revitalise the education sector, fight corruption, strengthen anti-corruption institutions, improve health care, infrastructure, public procurement process, address illicit financial flow and how they plan to create an enabling environment for businesses and industries.
“They are elected on the basis of those commitments they made and we in the TMG are interested in seeing issues-based debates by all so that we can hold them accountable on that basis.”
Yiaga demands clarity
The Director of Programmes at Yiaga Africa, Mrs Cynthia Mbamalu, also said citizens must insist on issues-based campaigns and not the usual abuse and personal attacks.
She stated, “Election is the process through which we choose our leaders; people who can take charge of driving this democracy and sustainable development and this is the period for us to identify who these leaders are, but the only way to do that is by listening to the candidates.
“Nigeria’s electoral democracy must get to the point where conversations are beyond primordial sentiments like ethnic, religious or regional biases and attacks on personalities or hate speech. We need campaigns to be driven by issues affecting the country and there are many of such issues. For example, we need candidates who have a clear plan on how to promote the rights of women and gender inclusion in their government. Only politicians who engage on these issues deserve the votes of the people.
“Beyond telling us what they will do, we want to know how they will do it; I mean a clear road map. We want to see the ‘how’ in these campaigns, whether it is unemployment or education, in terms of strikes, increasing number of out-of-school children and other issues, how will they address these issues? We want to know how, not just we will do it.”
She said citizens needed to set the agenda so that they would not be distracted, adding, “The next election is about the soul of this country and if we do not make the right decision to vote for the right people, we may lose our future.”
Meanwhile, the National Chairman, Inter-Party Advisory Council, Yabagi Sani, said people would love to see issues-based campaigns, but he expressed worry that Nigerian politics was still characterised by sentiments.
He stated, “Of course, we would like to have issues-based debates, but our politics is characterised by some of these dichotomies and then people are dragged into some of these things. It also played out during the primaries. We know the situation we are confronted with is one that requires somebody who can take us out of this quagmire but it will be up to the media to set the agenda.
“Yes, Nigerians also have a role to play but the challenge is how they can rise above ethnic and religious sentiments, because it’s like there is a competition between the three major tribes to grab Nigeria. That is what we face.”
We’re ready – APC
The ruling All Progressives Congress said it was ready to engage voters based on issues and not frivolities.
The party’s spokesperson, Felix Morka, said in an interview with our correspondent, “As the ruling party, we have complete interest in discussing the issues and the role of the government in the lives of our people. Our focus is to share with Nigerians the work this government has done; how the government has impacted the lives of people and how our presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and his running mate, Kashim Shettima, will mobilise every resource to make life meaningful for them. That’s all we are interested in.
“Those who want to focus on other matters or personal issues and talk about how people dress, whether they wear an expensive suit or not; they can focus on those things. But we are interested in discussing the issues and convincing Nigerians that on the issues that affect their well-being, this government has done well. The next leadership we offer will do better than the current government has done.”
‘PDP always issues-focused’
Similarly, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party also said it had always based its engagements on issues and that Nigerians should insist on being engaged on issues.
The party’s National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, said in an interview with Sunday PUNCH on Friday, “In this election cycle, we have been basing all our conversations on issues and we have been doing comparative analysis based on the issues in the areas of the economy, security, education, human capital development and other areas. Before 2015, rather than discuss the issues, the APC kept insulting the then President Goodluck Jonathan, calling him all sorts of names and disseminating propaganda. The outcome is what we are seeing today.
“That is why our presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, and his running mate, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State, have been talking about issues and not individuals. But where there are individuals whose records we need to challenge, we, the PDP, will challenge such. However, Nigerians are ready for this issue-based conversation and we are ready.”