INEC’s Yellow Card On Illegal Campaigns

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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.

President Goodluck Jonathan
President Goodluck Jonathan

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.

PDP Rally in Enugu
PDP Rally in Enugu

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.

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