2023: Electoral Act violation amid presidential campaign

In violation of Section 97 of the 2022 Electoral Act, political actors have started stoking ethno-religious sentiments in the ongoing presidential campaigns to set the federation on the perilous path to sectional politics that truncated the first and second republics.


On September 28, the presidential campaign officially kicked off nationwide in line with the schedule of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Consequently, political parties have stepped up activities, marketing their candidates to about 96.2 million registered voters who will decide their fate on February 25, 2023.


Like other political environments worldwide, there are clearly defined rules of engagement, by which all political parties and their candidates must abide in the interest of peace. The engagement rules are spelt out in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and Electoral Act, 2022.


Besides these legal instruments, nearly all political parties and their presidential candidates have, directly and indirectly, committed themselves to orderly and peaceful electioneering with the signing of peace agreement a day after the campaign kicked off. The National Peace Committee under the chairmanship of former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar midwived the agreements recently signed in Abuja.


But despite the clearly defined rules, presidential candidates have been resorting to their own rules of desperation, self-help and ethnic manipulation, which they believed, would guarantee them electoral victory. This came to the fore penultimate Saturday when the presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar was addressing an assembly of core northern leaders during a town-hall policy dialogue held in Kaduna.


The dialogue, organised by Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Northern Elders Forum (NEF), Sir Ahmadu Bello Foundation (ABF), Arewa Research and Development Project (ARDP) and Jamiyyar Matan Arewa (JMA), was designed to interact with key presidential candidates on their policy orientation and approaches to multi-tiered crises that beset Nigeria.


At this forum, Atiku unequivocally used the platform to urge the northerners not to vote for any presidential candidate from the South. He said: “What an average northerner needs is somebody, who is from the North, who understands other parts of Nigeria, and who has been able to build bridges across the country. He does not need a Yoruba candidate or an Igbo candidate…”


The former vice president declared that the North needs him because he is “a pan-Nigerian of northern origin.”


Atiku’s statement was greeted with outrage from the All Progressives Congress (APC), Labour Party (LP), New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) and others. Among other socio-cultural organisations, Afenifere and Ohanaeze Ndigbo immediately expressed their disappointment at Atiku’s descent to sectional politics, the kind of which weaponised ethno-regional conflicts and rivalries that crashed the First and Second Republics.


Like other civil society organisations, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) and Universal Global Resolve for Peace have raised diverse questions about the way political actors are leveraging ethnicity, regionalism, sectionalism and tribalism to gain some political milestones ahead of the 2023 presidential poll without considering its implications for national peace and stability.


The first question relates to whether Atiku’s statement is really consistent with the provisions of the existing statutes. Neither the 1999 Constitution nor 2022 Electoral Act supports the use of ethnicity or religion to gain political control in any part of the federation. With respect to religion, Section 10 of the 999 Constitution stipulates that the Government of the Federation or of a State “shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.”


In the same way, Section 97 of the Electoral Act warns against the resort to ethnicity, regionalism, sectionalism and tribalism as the instruments of political contests. The section states: “A candidate, person or association that engages in campaigning or broadcasting based on religious, tribal or sectional reason to promote or oppose a particular political party or the election of a particular candidate, commits an offence under this Act and is liable on conviction to (a) a maximum fine of N1 million or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both and (b) in the case of a political party, to a maximum of N10 million.”


In the context, as civil society leaders have explained, Atiku’s statement has flagrantly violated the extant statutes governing the administration and conduct of elections in the federation. By implication, onus is upon the INEC not just to ensure compliance with the statutes, but equally enforce all the provisions of the Electoral Act, when violated, to forestall incessant breach?


Again, is Atiku the only presidential candidate who weaponised ethnicity to gain some political mileage? First, the presidential candidate of APC, Senator Bola Tinubu adopted the campaign mantra, ‘Emi Lokan, Yoruba Lokan’ to woo South-west voters. But unlike Atiku’s case, Tinubu premised his own campaign on the need for the northern political actors to respect the power-shift agreement of APC. When APC was formed, the bulk of the southerners that gave it victory were from the South-west. So, when it was the turn of the South in the party, it was natural for Tinubu to make a case for the South-west and himself. To be fair to the former Lagos State governor, he never asked South-west voters not to vote for Igbo or Hausa candidate, unlike his counterpart in the PDP.


On his part, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi has also not personally toed the path of ethno-regional politics. When he was visiting churches and was accused of campaigning in the church, his supporters were quick to point out that he started visiting churches before he indicated interest in the presidential race. Obi’s popularity first soared on October 1, 2016 when he delivered a famous speech at a popular annual event known as ‘The Platform’, a brainchild of Pastor Poju Oyemade, founder and Senior Pastor of Covenant Christian Centre.


Even his cult followers, also codenamed the Obidients, have not spoken in favour of or identified with ethno-regional politics or the need to shift power to any geo-political zone.


The Financial Times of London reported on October 18, that Obi enjoys the “support of a youthful, ‘Obidient’ movement,” who is “tired of a profligate elite.”


To the Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos and former leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, the Obidient Movement, “like the #EndSARS Movement, is driven by the idea of a better Nigeria, with the youths occupying the central place.”


Whether by weaponising ethnicity for political advantage or by outright disregard to the principle of power sharing, some of the presidential candidates are subtly deploying ethno-regional politics to garner overwhelming political support within their geo-political configurations, which civil society leaders claimed, could bring down the Fourth Republic if not averted. As the Director of CDD, Idayat Hassan recently argued, Atiku’s statement is a cause for concern.


Hassan argued that it could encourage the electorate to cast their ballots along the ethno-religious lines. This was the trend during the 1964/1965 elections when the political actors then resorted to the instruments of ethno-regional politics to gain control of federal power. The failure to manage electoral violence that erupted in the Western Region instigated the January 15, 1966 coup that ended the first coup de’tat.


In 1979 too, as shown in the presidential election results, the trend glaringly repeated itself. Like 1964/1965, the process was concluded without any political party clearly meeting constitutional requirements. This subsequently led to the infamous two-thirds of 19 states on which the election tribunal then premised its decision to pronounce the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) the winner of the election. The 1983 elections suffered the same fate, which eventually triggered the December 31, 1983 coup that crashed the Second Republic.


Political analysts have raised the alarm that the country is already on the reverse transmission that can end in political jeopardy except INEC is courageous enough to wield big sticks when required and serve carrots where needed. With the current ethno-religious dimension ahead of the 2023 elections, Nigeria obviously risks relapse to the era of intractable political crises and contradictions if INEC fails to ensure outright compliance with the statutes and inculcate the equitable political values in the political gladiators.





Show More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button