Nigerian politicians are already on the road canvassing for votes in violation of the electoral law; now that the Independent National Electoral Commission seems to be waking up to its responsibility to sanction erring individuals and political parties, how far can it go?
| By Anayo Ezugwu | May 26, 2014 @ 01:00 GMT
THE riot act was, apparently, overdue. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on Saturday, May 10, perhaps, in its uncharacteristic manner, ordered politicians in Taraba State to remove their posters and billboards from every part of the state within seven days or face prosecution. Austin Okojie, INEC state resident commissioner, who gave the directive at a stakeholders’ meeting reminded the politicians that general elections were still about seven months away in February 2015, and based on the electoral law, they were not supposed to start campaigning until three months to the elections. Okojie said: “The commission has given those behind the erection of campaign billboards and pasting of posters seven days within which to remove their billboards and posters. If they fail to comply with the directive, we will appeal to law enforcement agents to assist in removing them and possibly prosecute the culprits. We urge politicians to always play by the rules to instil sanity in the political arena. Okojie said that the commission has fixed general elections for February 2015, noting that political campaigns would start three months to the elections.
For now, Taraba State looks like an isolated case considering the very existence of some of the posters and billboards in other parts of the country, including Abuja, the federal capital territory. At the latter, campaign posters, billboards and customised T-shirts of people seeking different elective positions in the forthcoming general elections, are variously displayed. Leading the pack of posters is that of President Goodluck Jonathan for 2015 presidential election with the logo of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which dot every corner of the capital city. Perhaps, not to be outshined, the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, flooded the streets of Kano with presidential campaign posters of Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Kano State governor and Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, governor, Rivers State, as his running mate.
Apart from Abuja and Kano, some other states are similarly flooded with the posters, billboards and customised T-shirts of politicians aspiring for different positions, mostly for governorship positions. The unlawful campaign has forced the PDP in Cross River State to bar its members nursing ambition for any elective position to desist from open campaigns until the party releases the guidelines.
Pasting of posters and erecting billboards are not the only way politicians have been doing their campaigns ahead of time, Realnews investigations have shown that some of them have adopted some surreptitious means to carry out their campaigns in violation of the Electoral Act. For instance, political parties and individual politicians have been holding series of rallies all over the country to canvass for votes. Both the PDP and the APC, the two major political parties, have variously embarked on activities widely regarded as violating the electoral law on campaign.
For instance, the APC, in a well-attended and publicised event on March 7, 2014 in Abuja, reeled out what it said was the party’s roadmap, detailing what Nigerians stood to benefit from voting for it in 2015. It later followed up the roadmap by sending unsolicited text messages to Nigerians, highlighting some of its campaign promises which include free health care and education and giving monthly allowance of N5,000 to the elderly, among other political benefits.
The APC leaders have toured many states of the federation to woo state governors to join the party, an action many people have considered as a subtle campaign. It is no longer news that it was through this subtle campaign that the leaders of the APC were able to convince disgruntled governors of Sokoto, Adamawa, Kano, Kwara and Rivers States to join the party from the ruling PDP.
But the chief culprit appears to be the PDP. Through President Jonathan, its national leader, the party has embarked on even more elaborate campaigns ahead of the elections to woo voters to its side. The president has used the platform provided by his party’s unity rally in the geo-political zones of the country to campaign for votes. He has been to Kaduna, Kwara, Sokoto, Imo, Kano and Enugu, all in the name of welcoming important personalities from other parties to the PDP fold or welcome returning former renegades to the party.
On February 8, the PDP held a rally in Sokoto State, where it formally received Attahiru Bafarawa, former governor of the state, who joined the party from the APC. At the rally, Bafarawa re-assured Jonathan that he should not lose any sleep over Sokoto State during the 2015 elections because he would ensure that the state returns to the PDP. The president himself used the visit to declare that the gang-up against the PDP by the opposition parties would fail to the extent that the party would have more states than the APC after the 2015 elections. “This is not the first time that there has been a gang-up. In 1999, there was a gang-up. Two, three political parties came together; they brought presidential candidate from one of the parties and vice presidential candidate from another party. The gang-up failed,” Jonathan said.
A similar message was given by the president during his visit to Enugu, where he also declared that the PDP would capture the South-East. Later on February 22, President Jonathan was at the Dan Anyiam Stadium, Owerri, Imo State, where he received members of the opposition parties who joined the PDP at a unity rally organised by the party. At the event, the president and members of his entourage urged Nigerians to support the PDP in order to continue to enjoy the dividends of the transformation agenda of his administration. After Owerri, the president, in the company of other PDP leaders, stopped over in Ilorin, Kwara State on March 3, for another rally, tagged Unity/Freedom rally. The president and his entourage also paid a courtesy visit to Ibrahim Zulu Gambari, emir of Ilorin, who presented the president with a horse gift. Though the president and his men insisted it was not a political campaign per se, the event, which attracted a huge crowd, was meant to dispel the notion that the PDP was dead in Kwara State following the defection of the party’s bigwigs in the state, including Bukola Saraki, former governor and now a serving senator; Abdulfatah Ahmed, state governor, and many lawmakers to the APC. The rally was also to welcome some disgruntled members of the APC who opposed left the party when Saraki and his company joined the party from the PDP.
One of the recent, however, was that of Tuesday, April 15, when the train advanced to Kano, and provided the platform for President Jonathan to lash out at Governor Kwankwaso. The Kano rally was ill-timed because that was when the country was mourning the victims of the Nyanya bomb explosion in which more than 70 people were killed. All these were apparently in violation of the provisions of the constitution and the Electoral Act.
According to the 2010 Electoral Act, campaigns for 2015 general elections are expected to kick-off in seven months’ time. Section 99(1) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended, provides that the period for campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 90 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to the day. It also pegs the limit of electoral expenses parties but this is observed in the breach. For instance, the pre-campaign rallies involve heavy expenditure by individuals and parties which INEC cannot effectively monitor with a view to penalizing offenders. In fact, the INEC has conceded that some of the political parties are in breach of the Electoral Act by engaging in early campaigns.
In the midst of such acts of impunity by political parties and politicians, Attahiru Jega, chairman, INEC, is playing safe by refusing to sanction the major offenders namely the PDP and the APC that have held campaign rallies where their manifestos were freely publicised in the print and broadcast media. Instead, he announced at a forum in Lagos, on April 14, that the commission was not only identifying defaulters, but also compiling a list with a view to forwarding same to security agencies for possible prosecution. According to him, “anybody that 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. One more issue that gives us increasing concern in INEC is the growing tendency by political parties towards pre-emptive electioneering. Stakeholders need to abide by the provisions of Section 99(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).” Jega’s statement has clearly given the politicians a leeway to easily manipulate the process to suit their interest.
But what really constitutes a political campaign? Kayode Idowu, chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, has no clear definition of it. He said recently in a newspaper interview: “You don’t expect me to define what constitutes a campaign. What we have done in our statement is to call the attention of players to the fact that campaigning at this time is out of the legal framework. Electioneering broadcasts are being aired outside the statutory provision for campaigning towards elections into various elective offices. The Electoral Act 2010 requires that 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.”
Nevertheless, some political parties in the country have joined forces in calling on the INEC to sanction electoral offenders or allow others to join the campaign train. The Progressive People’s Alliance, PPA, recently called on the INEC to sanction political parties found to be violating the ban on early campaign ahead of the 2015 general elections. Peter Ameh, national chairman of the party, in a statement issued in Abuja, criticised the PDP and the APC over alleged early campaigns for the 2015 general elections. “The Electoral Act 2010 as amended has stated clearly the time frame required by political parties and their aspirants for electoral campaigns. We, as a party, have watched with dismay the continuous violations of these rules and regulations; we want to ask these two parties to tell Nigerians why they have both continued to defy the laid down rules by INEC, by campaigning for an election that is still almost one year away. We urge the commission to sanction any one responsible for rallies.
“What do you call the president and the PDP visits to Imo and Kwara states, the APC posters and billboards spread around Ekiti and Osun states (before INEC’s official timing), these are purely campaign materials. From the obvious, the PDP and APC have already commenced their campaigns for the 2015 elections without following the rules laid down by INEC, the body that is responsible for regulating political parties and their candidates seeking elective positions or offices. The PPA frowns at this development and we want INEC to call them to order. Or is INEC telling us that these people are above the law and are obviously too big for it to sanction because they are not called small parties? We want Nigerians to take note that parties that cannot obey electoral rules will definitely not keep to electoral promises and cannot be trusted. The PPA calls on INEC to sanction these defaulting parties namely the PDP and the APC, for violating its ban on early campaigns for the 2015 elections,” he said.
The Conference of Nigerian Political Parties, CNPP, has described the electoral commission as a toothless bulldog. Osita Okechukwu, its national publicity secretary, has accused the electoral body of deliberately looking the other way as some political parties and politicians circumvent the Electoral Act. “It is, therefore, paradoxical that in our own situation, it is the incumbent which the law was meant to protect that has embarked on early campaign in utter contravention of the Electoral Act. For whatever name President Goodluck Jonathan dubs his open rallies, it is nothing but a political campaign,” Okechukwu said.
The APC similarly asked the INEC to sanction the ruling party for flouting the nation’s electoral laws by engaging in campaigns before the time allowed by the laws governing elections in the country. In a statement by Lai Mohammed, its interim national publicity secretary, the party said President Goodluck Jonathan has exhibited gross abuse of executive power by leading his party to prematurely kick-start campaign for the 2015 elections. The party said when President Jonathan boasted on Friday, April 9, at a rally in Enugu that the PDP would capture the South-East in 2015, he was engaging in an electioneering, rather than a reunification campaign and advised him to concentrate his energy on putting Nigerians back to work, ensuring the security of lives and property and stopping the massive looting of the commonwealth under his watch.
He also denied that the APC was engaging in early campaigns explaining that unlike what the ruling party was currently engaged in, its zonal rallies merely introduced the new party to the people and provided a platform for defectors from other political parties to identify with the new platform. It called on INEC to assert its independence, if it has any, by sanctioning the lawbreakers since no one could be said to be above the law. The APC warned that if INEC failed to act, it would lose its moral authority to stop other parties from also hitting the streets to campaign ahead of time.
“Hiding under nomenclature, this president has led his party to engage in brazen lawlessness and shameless impunity. They have gained an undue advantage over other parties, or beaten the gun, in athletics parlance. Therefore, they should suffer the consequences of their action, the least of which is a strong public rebuke, to be followed by stipulated sanctions if they persist. If nothing is done to check this lawlessness, Nigerians should brace up for more in the days ahead. What example is the President laying by violating the law? When a President brazenly violates the electoral law under the guise of some rallies, has he not started election rigging? Has he not already started compromising the electoral umpires and the security agencies?
“We know the president’s conniving handlers and advisers do not appreciate that a higher standard of conduct is expected of the President of Nigeria, through his statements, actions and body language. Unfortunately, everything points to the fact that the President, by his serial violation, is telling Nigerians and the whole world loud and clear that the coming elections will neither be, free, fair nor credible,” Mohammed said.
On April 27, the civil society delegation to the national conference and the entire pro-democracy civil society movement in Nigeria called on all political parties in the country to cease their premature and illegal campaigns for the 2015 general elections. The civil society said that all campaigns ought to stop as a result of the deteriorating security situation in the country, failure of governance at all levels to protect lives and properties, and collective irresponsible actions and inactions of the political elite.
In a statement, the civil society called for collective patriotic action, asking the politicians to stop dancing on the graves of their murdered compatriots and trivializing the collective grief. “We are worried that more than two weeks after the abduction of 270 teenage school children, and days after nearly 44 of them, through their own efforts escaped from their abductors; not only has the entire security architecture failed to locate let alone rescue the pupils; but also the political leadership has continued to engage in a shameless blame game, competing to make political gains out of our collective misery. In a country with more than 10 million out-of-school children, with a majority of them being girls, it is a shame that the political elite, its regime, and the security and armed forces over which it superintends, are unable to assure our collective security, and ensure that we not only keep enrolled school pupils in school.
“We should make the school environment safe enough to encourage and attract out-of-school children and their parents. In the face of these deepening monumental crises of existential proportions confronting our nation and its people, we demand that as a measure of the seriousness of the current situation, that all political parties cease their premature and illegal campaigns for the 2015 general elections, and thus stop mocking our country’s collective loss, dancing on the graves of the murdered compatriots, as well as trivializing our trauma of collective grief,” it said.
The Coalition against Corrupt Leaders, CACOL, on its part, sees INEC as a toothless bulldog. It said it had become evident that the commission lack the inability to sanction political parties engaging in premature campaigns ahead of 2015. It, therefore, called on the electoral body to do its job in enforcing the Electoral Act by sanctioning any political party that campaigns before the time allowed by law.
The group quoted the chief press secretary to the INEC chairman, as admitting that the PDP and the APC had violated the electoral law restraining parties from embarking on campaigns until 90 days to elections, but noted that so far, no sanction had been meted out on them. Debo Adeniran, executive chairman, CACOL, said the INEC had further revealed its failure and ill-preparedness to tackle the challenges it might encounter in the conduct of the 2015 general elections by making such a statement. “As a matter of fact, the commission is indirectly telling Nigerians that it is more of a toothless bulldog that doesn’t know it wields the prosecutorial power to sanction whosoever contravenes the law it is a custodian of,” Adeniran said. He was very unhappy that the INEC clearly showed that it lacked the courage to check the excesses of the political parties and wondered if the political parties were bigger than the law of the country. “If some political parties are, indeed, running foul of the law, then, it behoves the commission to do the needful, which is applying the sanctions as spelt out in the constitution and the Electoral Act. It is not just enough for the commission to be whimpering when the law has empowered it to take care of situations like this,” he argued, urging the INEC to apply appropriate sanctions on any political party that breaches the electoral law henceforth.
But Olisa Metuh, national publicity secretary of the PDP, said the rallies were not a violation of the electoral law on campaigns. “What we are doing is to welcome those who are defecting to our party from other political parties. We are not campaigning as we are not giving our flags to anyone as our flag-bearers. It will be wrong for us not to receive those who want to join us or ask them to sneak into the party that is loved by Nigerians,” he said.
Metuh reiterated that the rallies were not campaigns because the PDP had not presented any candidate for any elective office yet. He said the exercise was not only meant to assure Nigerians that the party was still intact but also to sell the achievements of the PDP-led federal government to Nigerians ahead of the 2015 general election.
Be that as it may, many Nigerians believe that the ability of the INEC to address the issue of early campaigning would determine how prepared it is in handling the challenges that would be associated with the 2015 general elections. Onyekachi Ubani, chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Ikeja branch, said campaign for the 2015 general elections had started long ago. “The president, in one of his rallies, said he was not there to campaign. But the idea of going to Kano, Kwara, Imo and Enugu, all over the place is to campaign. The APC is also campaigning. All this their party roadmap and going to receive defectors are all campaigns,” Ubani said.
According to the lawyer, the INEC lacked the capacity to sanction offenders. “When you don’t have a strong political umpire, an umpire that can give clear guideline as to what a rally should be and what a campaign is, it brings confusion into the system,” But Vincent Ayogu, a Port Harcourt-based lawyer, disagreed with Ubani. He said the political parties were still working under the limits of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. He said that he did not see the rallies embarked upon by some political parties as campaign. Ayogu said the INEC should draw a line between a political party marketing its manifestoes and ideals to the electorate and a candidate campaigning for an elective position, adding that they were two different things and should be treated as such.
“As a matter of fact, political parties can go on rallies to market their ideals and manifestoes to the people. To me, that is different from campaigning. Campaigning means vote for this person for a particular position. The PDP and the APC, for instance, are saying in their rallies that this is what we stand for and this is what we can offer if we buy you over. As a matter of fact, they are on membership drive to get more people that can join their parties and that is allowed in a democracy. It is very different from campaigning,” Ayogu said.
The lawyer noted that the INEC has the power to enforce sanctions on any party campaigning before time by the virtue of the Electoral Act 2010. Regrettably, he said, that the INEC lacks the political will to implement the sanctions on offenders. He also dismissed the suggestions that campaigns should not be restricted to only 90 days. He, however, said the legislators who drafted the Act knew what they were doing when they said that election campaigns should be restricted to 90 days.
“The aim behind the restriction of election campaigns before the stipulated 90 days is to allow those who have been elected to govern to have the time to deliver their election promises to the people without distractions. Because campaigns actually distract those in elective positions, I believe that a period of 90 days is reasonable for anybody to campaign and market his manifesto to the electorate. If someone fails to convince the electorate to vote for him within 90 days, it’s equally obvious that if you give him one year, he will still fail to convince people,” Ayogu argued, adding that he would not want the INEC to conduct elections in crisis prone states, like Adamawa, Yobe and Borno. He said that INEC did well by considering the security implications of the citizens of those affected states, but counselled that arrangements be made to conduct elections whenever the security situations in those states improved considerably.
On his part, Joseph Okpara, political analyst, said there was nothing wrong with the early campaign. He said starting early to campaign would afford the electorate the opportunity to know who would represent them very well. “From my experience across the world, I don’t think there is anything wrong with what is going on now, whether campaign or rally. I believe that a 90-day period is enough for someone to campaign and sell his manifesto. “Nigerians make things difficult for themselves; on election-day, movements of the people are restricted for that purpose and yet we haven’t got the solution. We still rig the elections. So, why don’t we relax things and do things the normal way. In America that we borrowed the presidential system, campaign lasts for almost a year. The presidential campaign goes on for about a year and on the election-day, they go to work and still go to vote. But here we waste manpower on nothing and at the end of the day, we wouldn’t get it right,” Okpara said.
The analyst insisted that early campaign has no effect on the general elections, unless INEC would want to use it as an excuse to rig the elections. “With the INEC, I don’t think the 90 days are the best. People should be allowed to do things naturally. The three-month campaign period and staying at home for the whole day on election-day are not the solution. Elections are rigged in different ways. What is the big deal in conducting election in Nigeria; the 1993 presidential election was the best in the history of the country. Why can’t the INEC adopt that same process and forget all these issues? We should not adopt a system that we cannot maintain,” he said.
However, analysts would want Nigerians to take the ongoing rallies by political parties as a wakeup call for the INEC to stand up to the electoral challenges and act according to the law. Unless this is done and seen to be done, the much-awaited hope for free, fair and credible elections in 2015 will be mired in a serious controversy ahead of time.