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Presidential candidates must call supporters to order

Barely two months into the campaigns for the 2023 elections, the political atmosphere is choking the Nigerian public with unbridled foul language, hatred, bigotry, violence…

Barely two months into the campaigns for the 2023 elections, the political atmosphere is choking the Nigerian public with unbridled foul language, hatred, bigotry, violence and threats of violence at such a scale that diminishes the status of presidential candidates. Evidence of these abuses that violate the Electoral Act 2022 abound on both traditional and social media, as well as venues of open air campaigns, where insults and denigration of opponents and opposition parties have replaced concrete solutions to challenges ahead of the parties and their candidates. About two weeks ago, former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd) and Bishop Matthew Kukah, both of the National Peace Committee, raised concerns over this development.

The two eminent Nigerians said, among other things, that: “Nigerians have been fed a menu of intemperate language, intimidation and outright violence in the field of the campaigns. It is evident that some of our actors have not learnt any lessons from the past. There is an increasing tone of desperation, if not incitement, among some of the contestants and members of their parties. Intra and inter-party wranglings still persist, with occasions of violence. In desperation, some selfish political actors use these strategies to pursue their frivolous ambitions in the courts. When all the presidential candidates and the party chairmen signed the peace accord, they were committed to infusing a sense of decency, civility and nobility into the political process. The political actors cannot pretend to be oblivious of the content of the Peace Accord that they signed. Nigerians expect that as men and women of honour, they were committed to keeping their words.”

Apart from the moral burden that weighs on political parties and candidates that engage in abusive campaigns, they and their agents violate Section 92 of the Electoral Act 2022, as amended. Specifically, the Act says: “(1) A political campaign or slogan shall not be tainted with abusive language directly or indirectly likely to injure religious, ethnic, tribal or sectional feelings.(2) Abusive, intemperate, slanderous or base language or insinuations or innuendoes designed or likely to provoke violent reaction or emotions shall not be employed or used in political campaigns (3) Places designated for religious worship, police stations, and public offices shall not be used (a) for political campaigns, rallies and processions; or (b) to promote propagate or attack political parties, candidates or their programmes or ideologies…The Act prescribes punishment for those who violate the law, saying “Any political party, aspirant or candidate that contravenes any of the provisions of this section commits an offence and is liable on  conviction: (a)in the case of an aspirant or candidate, to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months; and (b) in the case of a political party, to a fine of N2,000,000 in the first instance, and N1,000,000, for any subsequent offence.”

The most appalling of the attacks in recent times was the alleged physical attacks on supporters of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Atiku Abubakar in Maiduguri a fortnight ago. Different accounts were given, but the PDP governorship candidate in Borno State, Mohammed Jajari, in an interview on Channels TV, gave a description of how the party’s supporters were attacked. He said, “Throughout the journey, from the airport to the Shehu’s place, they (attackers) had mounted what we call Civilian JTF (Joint Taskforce). They removed their uniforms, put down their identities and they mobilised them across the streets, throughout from the airport to the Shehu’s palace. There were stones and sticks — so many. Even at the venue (of the rally), so many people were treated, and the injured were so many that we had to send them to the hospital. Over a hundred and something people were injured and one of the casualties, last night, at about 9 pm, died…”

It is not only PDP candidates and supporters that have come under attack. Candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Labour Party (LP) have also faced all manner of insults, especially on social media. We unreservedly condemn this turn of events in the campaign. Candidates must sell their ideas, policies and programmes to the people; they must discourage their supporters from engaging in violence and insults. In order to deal with the situation, we call on the electoral umpire to invoke the Electoral Act against candidates and parties that violate the law and mete out punishment that should be a source of deterrence to others. Also, the police and other security agencies must support INEC by ensuring the arrest and prosecution of those who violate the law. Next year’s elections are crucial; Nigerians must not allow politicians to distract them with violence and unnecessary comments. They must be made to speak to issues that matter to the average Nigerian.