By Tonnie Iredia
The official take-off date for electioneering campaigns for next year’s general elections in Nigeria is exactly10 days away. The take-off date must be seen for what is – merely official and not real because campaigns for the elections are not only already on, they have been actively on-going since the end of the last elections in 2019.
This confirms that Nigerian politicians cherish experimenting with the rules of the game of politics and elections. As a result, the trend has encouraged feeble development in the country because the time that was originally designed and reserved for governance has been usurped and converted to unending electioneering.
The more irritating aspect of the trend is that such campaigns have neither been issue-based nor devoted to substantive matters of public interest. Unfortunately, the subsisting mundane pattern of political campaigns does not point to the possibility that the so-called official period of campaign would in any way be different from past experiences.
In fact, it has never changed from what obtained in the military era. It will be recalled that exactly 30 years ago, elder statesman, Ben Nwabueze had observed that “the transition to civil rule elections in Nigeria organized under the military were fought not on the basis of issues but on mere trivialities – mudslinging between the parties and denigration of each other’s emblems and symbols.” If the political culture has for more than three decades taken the same pattern in which the public was always short-changed by politicians, how to reverse the trend should be a subject that all civil society groups must agree upon.
It is time to compel our politicians to play the game of elections by its rules. Interestingly, there have always been copious laws as well as rules and guidelines made by the electoral body but the inclination has always been for political actors to find ways and means of circumventing them to fraudulently win the polls and institute a new government that performs below its predecessor which had itself performed abysmally low.
In particular, civil society groups must insist that the period labelled as the official time for campaigns must be devoted to substantive voter and public education. We have had almost one year of jokes and lighted hearted issues. It is therefore time for politicians especially their support groups to relegate the denigration of their opponents to the background so that the real issues of politics can occupy thefront burner. For example, having gone beyond the picking of party flag bearers, we have had enough of ‘emi-lo-kan’ jokes.
It is no longer necessary to seek to denounce the life-time ambition of any candidate who thinks it is his turn to be president. In any case, the subject is not the exclusive preserve of only the APC candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. A cursory look at the political journeys of Atiku Abubakar the PDP candidate and Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso of the NNPP will easily show them all in the same bracket. Indeed, of the four leading candidates, Peter Obi of the Labour Party is probably the only one that has not severally attempted to be president.
To attain a conducive environment, divisive issues such as same faith ticket or zoning that can inflame passion which have since pitched people in different camps should be allowed to rest. After all, those who are bothered about it have since made up their minds where to go. In particular, North Central Christians under the leadership of notable politicians like Yakubu Dogara, former Speaker of the House of Representatives and Babachir Lawal, former Secretary to the government of the federation have greatly popularized their perception of inequity as far as the subject is concerned.
Southwest PDP led by Bode George has similarly made its point about imbalance. If those in support did not heed the calls to make amends, there is no need to make them issues of campaign rallies thereby heading towards violence; instead, those in favour or against the issues should vote accordingly.
The question whether Musa Kwankwaso is only a local leader in Kano or not should be left with the electorate, just as those who appear angered by the enthusiasm of Igbo voters in support of Peter Obi, should also realise that voters have a right to determine who to vote for. But if the truth must be told, Kwankwaso and Obi are not the only ones who anticipate and rely on support from specific geographical areas.
Even those who claim to be detribalized elites are never able to hide their ethnic preferences. In a recent interview, one analyst expressed disappointment over what he called a parochial opinion by a former PDP presidential candidate, Mohammed Hayatu-Deen who was quoted to have said he has been unable to see the works of Peter Obi that can sway northern votes to him. If so, what is wrong with him seeking to sway Igbo votes?
In addition to what has been said so far, two more issues must be underscored if proper campaigns can hold from September 28, 2022. The first is to ensure that overzealous party officials do not take over the role of candidates. Already, all the parties have appointed eloquent and persuasive spokespersons who are capable of deliberately becoming unnecessarily argumentative just to strategically shield their principals from tough questions by opponents and the media.
Examples abound where image-makers have displayed the tendency to engage largely in fabrications and inaccurate statements to make their points. This time around, we need to insist that the candidates should speak for themselves. For example, whereas one of Tinubu’s aides has in a bid to paint a strong and healthy picture of his principal claimed that the candidate currently works for 20 hours a day, Tinubu himself or any other candidate would hardly claim such abnormal stamina
Another reason why candidates should be encouraged to make policy statements by themselves is for Nigerians to confirm the viability of such candidates. It can also help to avoid a situation in which some candidates may in future disown statements made on their behalf. The PDP candidate needs to note that many people heard and look forward to his comment on scaling down our unwieldy federal legislature.
All the candidates need to know that this time around speaking for themselves is not even enough, they should expect that voters would be anxious to ascertain that they are fully aware of the implications of their statements. Never again should Nigeria allow candidates and their parties to promise reforms only to claim after getting into office that they actually didn’t know the situation was as bad as they eventually discovered. In other words, a campaign devoid of mere acrobatic displays and slogans is more likely to establish that a victorious political party is really ready to make the security and welfare of the citizenry its main obligation in government.
Campaigns for 2023 elections must be issue-based, no ‘rhetorics.’ The other parties that are yet to launch their manifestos should realize that they are already steps behind. We need to see such documents and thoroughly examine them to be able to interrogate the candidates during campaigns.
The APC officials who have been promising to get theirs out must do so forthwith. The PDP that has released hers should be ready to focus on how it intends to achieve the blue print it has generated. Many who have praised the Labour Party for its mastery of the statistics of governance still need the party to break down how it intends to use such knowledge to solve basic issues like unemployment.
While looking forward to clean campaigns devoid of intemperate language and the use of thugs, Nigerians need to passionately plead with our judiciary to elevate our elections above their jargons and technicalities. We have all fought for free and fair elections without manual manipulations.
We have hailed INEC for standing-up to the antics die-hard election riggers. Using technicalities to impose on INEC and the electoral process, candidates that did not participate in party primaries monitored by INEC would be a disservice. 2023 is Nigeria’s year of hope, it must not be truncated.