On Sunday, the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) lifted the ban on campaigns for next’s year presidential and National Assembly elections slated for February 16, 2019.
The electoral body did this in line with the timetable and schedule of activities issued by the body. This step is also in accordance to Section 99 (1) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended), which provides that “the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 90 days before polling day and 24 hours prior to that day”.
The understanding of this, to a typical Nigerian politician, is a declaration of an open season on his political rivals. For sanity to reign in our polity, which is already like a person at the end of his tether, these are the five things politicians and the electorate must take cognizance of.
It’s A Campaign, Not Calumny
The lift of ban signals freedom. It means politicians, on the platforms of different political parties, are now constitutionally and legally allowed to squawk their plans and agenda, which they have been whispering in the circle of friends and relatives. However, though brinkmanship and firing veiled barbs come with the territory of politics and political campaign, politicians must be wary not to cross the fine line that separates campaign and calumny. They shouldn’t stealthily take a truckload of shit to the backyard of a political rival to create the impression that he eats shit, takes shit and bathes with runny shit. This is called smear campaign. You may say everything is fair in love and war, and politics is war by other names. It is a battle but it should be a battle of ideas and ideologies. Our politicians can take a cue from the actions of John McCain, the Arizona senator who died recently, in the build-up to the 2008 presidential election in the United States. During his campaign a female supporter told himn she feared an Obama presidency because she heard the Democrat was an Arab. McCain reached for the microphone, his head shaking in disagreement. He said “No ma’am, no ma’am. He (Obama) is a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues. That’s what this campaign is all about. He is not an Arab.” This was barely seven years after 9/11. McCain could have easily bought into this campaign of calumny and exploited Obama’s miscegenation to score cheap political point. But no, he resisted the urge and embraced decency. That’s why even in death he remains a hero.
Not A Time For Unguarded Utterances
Lifting the ban is not a licence for dressing up uncouthness and bitterness in the garb of campaign. While on the campaign trail, politicians must weigh their words before using them in order not heat up the polity. It will be recalled that in the electioneering of 2007, Olusegun Obasanjo, the then President, said “2007 election is a do-or-die affair. It is either PDP or nothing”. His political acolytes and party loyalists suited their actions his words and the result was an election marred with violence and other irregularities. So flawed was the election that Obasanjo’s political godson, Umaru Yar’adua, and one of the beneficiaries of the results of the election, publicly accepted he rode to power on the back of electoral malfeasance. Fast forward to 2011 electioneering, when Muhammadu Buhari contesting for the presidency on the platform of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) made a statement he said was metaphorical but which his staunch loyalists took literally. The consequence was a post-election violence that claimed 800 lives, including 10 members of the National Youth Service Corps(NYSC).
Declamation Not Demagoguery
Campaign is an avenue for political parties and their candidates to sell their ideas, policies and agenda as it were to the masses. It is a period for politicians to debate with facts and figures, not falsehood, with one another. It is not a time to appeal to the ethnic and religious sentiments of the electorate. It is not a time to put knife to the cord that holds us together, which has been worn thin over the years by mutual mistrust, by whipping up the shibboleth of tribes and tongues. How to fix bad roads, infrastructural and power problems should be on the front burner of political campaign and not the pettiness we have over the years passed for campaign.
FOR THE ELECTORATE
A political campaign is an exercise that will culminate in voting. The electorate should take their time to dispassionately assess the candidates of each political party. Has your preferred candidate held a political office before? How well did he or she perform? What is your candidate’s record in political discourse and public engagement? The electorate should refuse to be turned to automatons and robots by politicians.
Now that most of our politicians will find their ways back to you, like the Biblical prodigal son, to solicit votes, the electorate should resist the temptation to take the bait of inducement that will eventually becloud their sense of reasoning. Your vote is your right and you should not for momentary hunger sell it for mere porridge. You should not become the modern equivalent of Esau who made the same decision but when he later sought his inheritance with tears, he could not change what he had done. The cumulative consequences of our choice 19 years since our return to civil rule are still with us.