Election Campaigns And Rule Of Law

In every election year since 2003, political gladiators have inundated Nigerians with threats of violence, breakdown of law and order and projections about national implosion. However, none of these projections has come to pass but we have had instances in 2011 of violence that led to the loss of lives and property, although the authorities did not allow the situation to degenerate. The politicians have also deployed hate speech, incitement to violence, language that excludes and discriminates against opponents and campaigns based on primordial sentiments of ethnicity and religion. In all these instances, no one has been held accountable or brought to book despite the violation of several laws and campaign norms by these actions and omission. This has set the stage for impunity in campaigns and the idea that all is fair in campaigning to the extent that it is seen to advance the electoral fortunes of the campaigner.

However, the fact that Nigeria has been lucky in the past and did not get into aggravated violence does not mean that we will be lucky all the time. Politicians must not be seen and heard to use language that sets the stage for a violent outcome. The Political Parties Code of Conduct 2013 states that “no political party or its candidate shall during campaign resort to the use of inflammatory language, provocative actions, images or manifestations that incite violence, hatred, contempt or intimidation against another party or candidate or any person or group of persons on grounds of ethnicity, gender or for any other reasons”.

There is a recent statement from the All Progressives Congress which demands proper interrogation for its impact on society and the call to action it sends. This statement was first credited to the Rivers State Governor and the campaign coordinator of the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) bout the formation of a parallel government if the election is rigged. It was reaffirmed as the official position of the party in the New Year message of the party’s national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. He was reported as saying that: “As a party, we assure you that we will congratulate President Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party if our presidential election candidate and the party are defeated in a free and ýfair election and will not go to court. However, as a party, we wish to reiterate thatý we will not hesitate to consider forming a parallel government if the 2015 election are rigged either by use of security agencies (police and military) to harass, intimidate and cajole voters or through the use of a compromised Independent National Electoral Commission”. The statement raises several posers: At what point will the APC determine that the election has been rigged? Will it be immediately after the election or after election tribunal proceedings? Who determines whether the election is free and fair? That is, will the APC use its own judgment to determine that the election has been rigged without recourse to the due process of law? This threat leaves a lot hanging and needs to be further clarified. Ordinarily, if the presidential election is rigged and overturned by the tribunal, there will be no need for a parallel government as the complainant will be declared the winner of the polls or fresh polls will be held after cancelling the rigged one.

Admitted that every political party reserves the right to campaign and fight against the manipulation of the vote by incumbent parties and candidates, political parties should devise strategies to ensure that the votes count and are protected. Civic and political education of followers to protect their votes is important; and deploying intelligence and modern technology which will help in providing proof of rigging at the election tribunal seems to be the way to go rather than preparing in advance to form a parallel government. The threat sends a wrong message to the followers of the party Threatening to form a parallel government if an election is rigged based on the assumptions and judgment of the party which in the first case will be the complainant is a call to arms and negates the rule of law and in its raw form, a call to violence and overthrow of the existing constitutional order. This cannot happen without massive violence, bloodshed and destruction of property.

In all the foregoing, the work of all cadres of security agencies is clearly cut out. If any member of these agencies had any inclination towards tardiness and partisanship, they are advised to drop the same immediately. Nigerians demand to see impartial and professional security agencies working for the public good and not for the benefit or disadvantage of any of the candidates or political parties. The agencies should know that the stakes are higher today compared to the elections in 2011 when there was post-election violence on a fairly large scale. And there have been threats from high ranking members of the two leading parties threatening fire and brimstone should they lose the election. We cannot afford to take these threats as inconsequential. Therefore, gathering intelligence on likely flashpoints and possible actions from articulated mobs will help the agencies to nip in the bud or contain any serious threat after the elections. When the threat of the ongoing insurgency is combined with likely post-election disturbance, then the task before the security agencies will require total dedication on their part and support by citizens to ensure that our country is not engulfed by violence.

For the Independent National Electoral Commission, it needs to put its best feet forward considering the lessons of previous elections and innovations it seeks to introduce. There will be no excuse for failure and Nigerians will not accept apologies. If it requires additional resources to ensure that the February dates are successful, INEC should say so now so that the executive and legislature will provide the resources. Yes, the electoral body had four years to prepare for this; if per adventure, it is not fully ready to improve on its past performances and conduct a very credible poll, it can still ask for some weeks of postponement. We better get it right rather than apologise on why we failed. The current situation on the distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards is creating doubts in the minds of right thinking members of society of INEC’s capacity and readiness to deliver credible elections next month. If millions of Nigerians are disenfranchised due to the inability to access their PVCs, which is not their fault, but the poor management of INEC, the elections cannot in any imagination be said to be credible. The rule of law demands that every eligible voter who has expressed their intent to register and vote be allowed to do so.

Every part of society should wake to the fact that post-election violence will retard our democracy and will not be in the interest of anyone. Thus, faith-based organisations, professional groups, the media, civil society organisations, women’s groups, etc should come together and state in clear terms that we shall not tolerate any more bloodletting or destruction of property after the elections. The political parties owe Nigerians a duty to call their members to order to ensure a violence free campaign and polls.

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