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.