POLITICS is the name of the game in Nigeria now. You can feel it and smell it everywhere you go as 2015, the much-expected election year, draws nearer with each passing day. Politicians who have eyes on elective positions at various levels and their sponsors have already hit the road campaigning even though the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is yet to blow the whistle for electioneering campaigns to start. According to the amended Electoral Act, 2010, campaigns for the 2015 general elections are expected to kick-start sometime in November this year, about six months from now. Section 99(1) of the amended 2010 Electoral Act provides that the period for campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 90 days before the polling day and end 24 prior to the day of the election.
A 90-day campaign, critics insist, is too short for candidates seeking public offices to sell themselves and their programmes. But this provision of the electoral act has been flouted with impunity by both politicians and their political parties ostensibly, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and the All Progressives Congress, APC, the two major political parties in the country. In the face of such glaring impunity, the INEC has opted to play the role of a toothless bulldog.
Attahiru Jega, INEC chairman, is playing safe by refusing to sanction the major offenders namely the PDP and the APC which had started to hold political campaign rallies in the pretext of receiving new members, returnees or defectors into their fold. He merely announced at a forum in Lagos on April 14, that the commission was not only identifying defaulters, but was also compiling a list with a view to forwarding same to security agencies for possible prosecution. According to him, “anybody who comes out now to say vote for me in 2015, is breaching the electoral law. You can hold a rally as a party, but you don’t turn it into a campaign.” Jega could not define what constitutes a rally and a campaign. Kayode Idowu, chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, could not help either. He has no clear definitions of a political campaign and a political rally. Politicians have exploited the ambiguity in definitions to play on semantics to cover their illegal acts. They insist that there is a world of difference between a political rally and a political campaign and that what are currently going on in the country are political rallies and not campaigns. Whatever that is, criticisms from other smaller political parties seem to have woken INEC from its slumber.
On Saturday, May 10, Austin Okojie, INEC resident commissioner in Taraba State, red the riot act to politicians and their political parties. In an uncharacteristic manner, he ordered politicians in the state to stop political campaigns or rallies forthwith and to remove their posters and billboards from every part of the state within seven days or face prosecution. But how far can INEC go in enforcing this order? This is the subject of our cover story for this week entitled “Illegal Campaigns: INEC’s Yellow Card to Politicians”, written by Anayo Ezugwu, our dependable reporter. From his in-depth story, it is very clear that unless INEC does what it is supposed to do to establish confidence in the electorate as an independent umpire, it will be difficult to convince Nigerians to accept the results of next year’s elections as products of free, fair and credible contests.
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— May 26, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT