Sunday, February 20, 2011

Issue Based Campaign, Please!

Coming on the heels of the INEC February 6 and 7, 2011 publication of the official list of candidates for the general elections in April is the kick-starting of open campaign. Section 99 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010 says “...the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 90 days before the polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day”. As it is, the April General Elections is less than two months away. Thus, it is that season again when politicians will be mounting the soapbox to tell us what they intend to do for their constituents, if voted into power. Indeed, People’s Democratic Party on Monday, February 7 flagged off its campaign at Lafia, Nassarawa State.

Campaign promises has become hollow ritual in Nigeria as it is full of platitudes; so much building of castles in the air. It does seem that in the 88 years of our history of electoral democracy (since 1923), it has been same promises of provision of dividends of democracy. How many times over have we been promised huge megawatts of electricity, steady flow of pipe borne water, endless kilometres of roads, sterling health services and quality education without as much as delivering on one tenth of these promises? It is much in the character of politicians, particularly the Nigerian breed, to be long on promises and short on delivery.

It bears analysing why this is so. To my own mind, it is largely because many of those who emerged victorious at the polls are not people’s representatives. They owe their electoral success to the god-fathers and god-mothers and are therefore accountable to the cabal who made their victory possible. Knitted to this is the high cost of electioneering as political contestants deploy humongous resources first to emerge as the party flag-bearers and later as people’s choice at the general election. Goodwill and luck count for less in Nigeria’s political contestation milieu, the language of politics is cash, endless flow of cash. From the purchase of Expression of Interest and Nomination Form, to renting, equipping and staffing of campaign offices, to organising numerous campaign rallies, mobilising supporters to register to vote and cost of litigation to either defend victory or seek restoration of stolen mandate, all of these and more do not come cheap. With such huge resources expended on contesting election, any wonder elected public office holders’ feather their nest on assumption of office? The lackadaisical attitude of the electorates to demand accountability from the elected public office holders also add to why many of those lofty electoral promises never materialised.

Furthermore, the culture of political debate is not yet rooted in Nigeria. It is however necessary to inculcate this as part of the electoral process. Contestants need to be brought to public forum to espouse their manifesto. In many of the advanced democracies, political debates help the electorates to make informed choices at the polls. It behoves state and non-state actors like the National Orientation Agency, Federal and State Ministries of Information and media agencies as well as civil society organisations to network or synergise to organise open debates that will allow the electorates the opportunity to ask probing questions of their potential representatives.

As open campaign commence in earnest, politicians and their supporters need to be reminded of laws governing such campaigns. Using section 94 – 96 of the Electoral Act 2010 as a guide, the following provisions are worth noting:
Section 94 (2) says: “A person who while present at a political rally procession or voting centre, has with him any offensive weapon or missile otherwise than in the pursuance of lawful duty commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N2, 000, 000 or imprisonment for a term of 2 years or both.”
Section 95 (1- 8) of Electoral Act 2010 highlighted conducts that are prohibited at campaign rallies. These include the use of abusive, intemperate, slanderous or base language; the use of places of worship, police stations and public offices for campaigns; and the use of masquerades, thugs or militia for campaign purposes. The section also spells out the penalties for breach of this code of ethics at campaigns. Section 96 expressly banned the use of force or violence during political campaigns while also stating the fines for the breach.

It is very instructive that section 94 (1) has saddled the Commissioner of Police with the responsibility of providing adequate security at rallies. According to the section, “For the purpose of the proper and peaceful conduct of political rallies and processions, the Commissioner of Police in each State of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory Abuja, shall provide adequate security for processions at the political rallies in the State and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
From the foregoing, it is clear that our statute book has provided some form of regulations that should guarantee hitch free and decent political campaigns. The major challenge is the faithful implementation of these provisions. If what happened during the party primaries is anything to go by, the regulatory agencies such as the security agencies, the electoral commission and the National Broadcasting Commission have a Herculean task ahead of them to ensure issue based campaign. Enough of the hate speeches and negative adverts, it is time to stick to the issues and act with decorum as candidates embark on frenzied campaigns around their constituencies to canvass for peoples votes.

Nigerians should not only be interested in what the office seekers wish to do for the people but how those lofty ideas would be achieved. If they fail to deliver, then it will be time to vote them out of power.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Nigeria 2011 party primaries in retrospect

Finally, the wheat has been separated from the chaff, the men from the boys, the contenders from the pretenders. It was battle royale, a nerve wracking game of intrigues, eventually by fair or foul means the 63 registered political parties have nominated their flag-bearers and by close of business on Monday, January 31, 2011, only 44 or thereabout of the lot were able to beat the deadline for submission of the names of their candidates for the April 2011 General Elections.

It is yet unknown if the 19 political parties who did not submit list of their candidates to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as at when due decided of their own volition not to field candidates for the April polls or they were negligent with time, thinking that it will be business as usual when INEC’s time-table could be treated with disdain.

An evaluation of the party congresses, conventions and primaries held between INEC stipulated time of November 26, 2010 and January 15, 2011 shows that Nigeria’s political class have refused to learn any positive lessons from the past. The candidates nomination process in many of the parties were at variance with letters and spirit of Nigeria’s legal framework for elections, be it the 1999 Constitution as amended, the 2010 Electoral Act as amended, Constitutions of the various political parties themselves, and INEC as well as respective political parties’ electoral guidelines. Some of the party primaries were not only very rancorous; they were undemocratic, prejudiced and unscrupulous. Any wonder the dust stirred by controversies surrounding some of the party nomination exercises is yet to settle several weeks after the conclusion of the party primaries? That is to be expected as all manner of tricks were used by the party executive to deliver the party tickets to their favoured aspirants. This has led to arson, assassinations, mass decampments and litigations.

As it happened in the lead up to 2007 elections, there is hullabaloo about some candidates who won the party primaries being substituted in the final list of nominees submitted to INEC. In its trademark policy, Peoples Democratic Party decided to annul primaries conducted into the gubernatorial positions in Kogi and Kano states as well as 10 senatorial seats. The party thereafter ordered a re-run into those seats well after the timeline set by INEC which was January 15. Confusion has trailed the ordered re-run as INEC officially communicated PDP of the breach its action will constitute on the electoral timetable if it goes ahead with the re-run. PDP dared INEC by conducting fresh primaries in some of the constituencies, leaving out the others. INEC on its part has said it will not accept the names of the candidates that emerged after the deadline. Some of the candidates whose victories were annulled have either approached the court to restore their mandate or resort to lobbying the members of the National Working Committee of PDP whose responsibility it was to compile the names of the party candidates.

Still on PDP, in states like Ogun, Enugu, Delta, Anambra there were reported cases of conduct of parallel primaries for some of the elective offices. This has put the party leadership at the national level as well as the electoral commission in a quandary. This is because injunctions were being dished out to some of the aggrieved people by the court. On daily basis there are ‘ex-parte applications’ ‘interlocutory injunctions’ and ‘restraining orders’ from a State or Federal High Courts compelling INEC to accept one set of nominations against another. This is the scenario with the PDP in Oyo, Ogun, Yobe, Bayelsa, Enugu and Kogi states. This ugly phenomenon has raised fear about the negative impact the litany of litigations will likely have on the preparation and conduct of the April polls which is barely two months away.

PDP is not the only political party that has acted in breach of legal provisions backing the 2011 elections. Another major culprit is the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) who has added another word to the political lexicon of Nigeria. The new word is ‘baba-sope’ politics. Baba-sope literally means ‘Father has declared’. Contextually speaking, however, it can be taken as euphemism for anointed candidacy. It is the process of imposing the choice of party elders, willy- nilly, on party members. It is so unfortunate that a party that funded the establishment of Coalition of Democrats on Electoral Reform (CODER) and organised several ‘one-man: one-vote’ crusades will shamelessly be saying that it chose consensus arrangement over and above having elected delegates vote for candidates of their choice.

Chief Bisi Akande in a recent press interview had this to say on why ACN opted for consensus arrangement instead of conducting party primaries: “If election within our party is what you are trying to describe as internal democracy, then we reject such idea. Can we impose when we are contesting against PDP? But we can do something within our party if the leadership of the party feels that that is the best thing. This is because it is the leadership of the party that understands the manifestoes of the party and knows what the people really want. This is not a matter of individual but the party. Nobody should accuse ACN of imposition because that is our style. Anyone that is not comfortable with that should go and contest in another political party.” It is in ACN that aspirants are made to fill out and sign withdrawal form ahead of purported party primaries. This is quite unfortunate. When ACN knows that it was going to handpick its candidates, why did the party sell nomination forms to the aspirants?

What the former Osun State governor does not know or chose to ignore is that the candidate nomination process arrangement of his party is against the prescriptions of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended, which had stipulated in section 87 subsections 1 – 10 the procedures for conduct of the nomination process. According to the section of the Act, parties are supposed to conduct primaries where elected delegates will vote for the candidates of their choice. The example of UK, Canada and India candidates’ nomination process cited by ACN Chairman is untenable as those countries operate parliamentary system of government while Nigeria operates presidential system modelled after that of the United States of America.

As controversies continue to trail the nominations of some candidates for the April general elections, my unsolicited advice to INEC is to refrain from using candidates’ name and pictures for the ballot in April. The Commission should just feature the names and logos of all the registered political parties on the ballot papers and allow the electorate to vote for the party of their choice. If INEC heeds this advice, it will save itself a lot of stress and resources that may be incurred if the court ruled late into the preparation for the polls that it is not the candidate whose picture and name appear on the ballot that is the rightful flag-bearer.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Nexus between campaign finance and electoral violence

Preparation for the fourth successive elections since Nigeria’s return to civil rule in 1999 is in top gear. In recent weeks, particularly from November 26, 2010 to January 15, 2011 all the 63 registered political parties in Nigeria have taken turns to organise their party congresses and conventions for the nomination of their candidates. In the process of organising these party primaries, political observers have witnessed two major incidents. First is the mind-blowing spending spree by the aspirants and their political parties. Second, there was also an unprecedented incident of electoral violence be it physical, psychological or structural. This piece is an attempt to establish the nexus between campaign finance and electoral violence.

As this is a season of high wire politics, it is therefore not surprising that those competing for positions at the general elections in April 2011 jostled to out-spend one another in order to get nominated as flag bearers of their political parties. Not only did aspirants campaign offices sprout with alacrity, there was also a significant increase in the number of bill-boards, newspaper and television adverts, radio jingles, live telecast of party congresses and conventions, automobile branding, stickers, engagement of social networking media such as facebook, twitter etcetera, all in a bid to solicit votes from the delegates meant to pick the parties candidates. These are all legitimate spending in any serious political contest.

On the flip side however, just as many of the aspirants spent legitimate amount contesting for the tickets of their political parties, some of them additionally employ the Machiavellian principle of ‘the end justifies the means’ by funding thugs to kill and maim their opponents or to disrupt party primaries. Most of the Nigerian dailies are replete with news of incidences of electoral violence. For instance, Vanguard newspaper reported in its December 29, 2010 edition that crowd violence marred the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) Ward congress in Benue State and that scores of people were also injured at the campaign rally of Beimo Rufus-Spiff, a governorship aspirant under the platform of PDP in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.
On December 30, 2010, the factional leader of the Oyo State National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Alhaji Lateef Salako (aka Eleweomo) was murdered in Ibadan at the venue of PDP Local Government congress. A medical doctor, Dr. Akpan Akpudo who was an aspirant to the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly was murdered on Saturday, January 1, 2011. Furthermore, suspected thugs on Friday, January 7, 2011 attacked the Labour Party governorship aspirant in Bayelsa State, Mr. Timi Alaibe and his supporters at his country home at Opokuma area of the state killing four persons while Daily Trust newspaper of Friday, January 14, 2011 also reported that six persons were killed in various parts of Edo State during the Action Congress of Nigeria’s (ACN) primaries held from January 12 – 13, 2011. The list is by no means exhaustive; I have cited these few instances to show that Nigerian politicians have devised all sorts of foul means to edge out their opponents in a contest that ordinarily should be devoid of rancour since the commonly mouthed objective is to serve the people.

The aforementioned has shown that there is a strong connection between campaign finance and electoral violence. The rationale behind the resort to violence during campaigns is multifarious. Top on the list is the perks of political office in Nigeria. In terms of salaries, the Nigerian political office holders receive reasonable wages. However, the allowances are too many and very enticing. Aside the emoluments are the high level of influence a Nigerian political office holder peddles. Due to the weakness of democratic institutions perhaps traceable to the about three decades of military interventions in Nigerian politics, the checks and balances that are supposed to moderate the inter-agency and inter-governmental relationships is virtually non-existing or better still, not very effective. These ineffective checks and balances created several loopholes for operators and regulators of Nigeria’s political systems to take advantage of. This accounts for the high incidences of corrupt practices in Nigeria so much so that the country in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index in 2010 ranks 134 amongst 177 countries.

Politics, as it were, is the biggest and most rewarding industry in Nigeria. The dividends are higher than that given by telecommunications or oil and gas industry. A pauper of yesterday, if he plays his game right and gets elected into any political office, within few months, such fellow would start to indulge in ostentatious living to the envy of his peers outside politics. This is the main attraction why political office seekers abandon decorum to engage in politics of gangsterism or ‘do or die’. Concomitant to this is the high cost of electioneering in Nigeria. The legitimate cost incurred contesting for political office is too high and this makes aspirants not to brook failure of their ambition. Injustices meted out by party executives to some of the aspirants could also warrant violence as there were many reported cases of imposition of candidates and all manner of sharp and malpractices during the just concluded party congresses and conventions. Considering the fact that all the aspirants were made to pay huge sums of money for Expression of Interest and Nomination Forms as well as incurring other sundry expenses it is unfair to exhibit preferential treatments for some of the aspirants.

The ultimate solution to the phenomenon of electoral violence in Nigeria is for the government to block avenues for corrupt enrichment in politics, reduce the cost of electioneering as well as observe the principles of internal democracy in political party administration.