Imperative of safe and peaceful political campaigns in Edo – Punch Newspapers

Imperative of safe and peaceful political campaigns in Edo – Punch Newspapers

Jide Ojo

On February 6, 2020, the Independent National Electoral Commission announced the date for Edo and Ondo governorship elections. These are two off-cycle governorship elections to be held this year. Recall that seven out of 36 governorship elections are not held during general election.  These states are Anambra, Bayelsa, Kogi, Edo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun. This was as a result of judicial interventions at different times in the past as to when the tenure of a governor starts and ends even if such a governor has had his initial victory at the polls annulled and later wins a rerun ordered by the court. In times past, some governors were of the opinion that their tenure started to count from when they won a rerun and not when they were initially sworn into office. However, the Supreme Court in a judgement regarded as locus classicus in law on January 27, 2012 ruled otherwise.

Justice Walter Onnoghen, then Justice of the Supreme Court, leading other six justices ruled that: “To allow the governors seeking tenure elongation will allow a culture of impunity in the system. Their tenure started from the day their first oath of office was administered … no person can remain in office more than the four years provided for by the constitution”.  Aftermath of this landmark judgement, the constitution has been amended to reflect this situation in Section 180 (2A).

While INEC announced the date for Edo governorship election in February, the commission on June 1, 2020 issued Notice of Election in accordance with Section 30 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended. There were 13 activities listed on the Notice of Election and as of today, five of them have been or being done.  Most significant among the activities carried out so far are the conduct of party primaries between June 2 and 27, submission of names of candidates and their running mates latest by 6pm on June 29, and the commencement of campaigns by political parties which has already commenced by June 21 and will end by September 17, 2020.

Of utmost concern to me is how political parties can conduct safe and peaceful campaigns during this period of the COVID-19 pandemic without jeopardising public health. Nigeria is having its fair share of the global pandemic since the first positive case was detected in the country on February 27, 2020. According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, on June 29, 2020, 566 new confirmed cases and 8 deaths were recorded in Nigeria. As of that date, 25,133 cases had been confirmed, 9,402 cases discharged and 573 deaths recorded in 35 states and the Federal Capital Territory. As of June 29, Edo State that will be having its governorship election on September 19, 2020 was ranked the sixth state with the highest infection of COVID-19, had 986 confirmed cases, 230 discharged and 36 deaths.

There are extant laws on campaigns in Nigeria. Section 94 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) says, “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 political rallies in the states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.”

In order to also forestall violence, the constitution says in Section 227, “No person or association shall retain, organise, train, or equip any person or group of persons for the purpose of enabling them to be employed for the use or display of physical force or coercion in promoting any political objective or interest or in such manner as to arouse reasonable apprehension that they are organised and trained or equipped for that purpose.”

Section 95 of the Act prohibits certain conduct at political campaigns. Subsection (1) says: “No political campaign or slogan shall be tainted with abusive language directly or indirectly likely to injure religious, ethnic, tribal or sectional feelings”;  (2) says, “Abusive intemperate, slanderous or base language or insinuations or innuendoes, designed  or likely to provoke violent reactions or emotions shall not be employed or used in political campaigns”; (3) “Places designated for religious worship, police station, 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.”

Section 95 (4) says, “Masqueraders shall not be employed or used by any political party, candidate or person during political campaigns or for any other political purpose.”  Subsection (5) says, “No political party or member of a political party shall retain, organise, train or equip any person or group of persons for the purpose of enabling them to be employed for the use or display of physical force or coercion in promoting any political objective or interest or in such a manner as to arouse reasonable apprehension that they are organised, trained or equipped for that purpose.”  Subsection (6) says, “No political party, person or candidate shall keep or use private security organisation, vanguard or any other group or individual by whatever name called for the purpose of providing security assisting or aiding the political party or candidate in whatever manner during campaigns, rallies, processions or elections.”

In addition, Section 96 (1) says: “No candidate, person or group of persons shall directly or indirectly threaten any person with the use of force or violence during any political campaign in order to compel that person or any other person to support or refrain from supporting a political party or candidate.”

It is important to emphasise also that Section 100 (2) of the Act says, “State apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election. (3)  Media time shall be allotted equally among the political parties or candidates at similar hours of the day.  (4)  At any public electronic media, equal airtime shall be allotted to all political parties and candidates during prime time at similar hours each day, subject to the payment of appropriate fees. (5) At any public print media, equal coverage and conspicuity shall be allowed to all political parties.

Of great importance is also the need to let candidates contesting the Edo governorship election to know the expenditure ceilings on the amount they can spend on their campaigns. Section 91 (3) says, “The maximum election expenses to be incurred by a candidate at a governorship election shall be two hundred million naira (N200,000,000).

As INEC has stated in its June 9, 2020 Policy Framework, “Campaigns by Candidates and Political Parties shall be based on their published manifestos and shall comply with the provisions of: Regulations and Guidelines issued by the Commission; Political Parties Code of Conduct; Guidelines and regulations that may be issued by the National Broadcasting Commission; and Public Health Regulations and other protocols. I align myself with the commission’s position last Sunday which informed political parties that their guidelines for campaigns must conform with the NCDC protocols, including physical distancing and use of face masks.

The 15 political parties vying for the Edo governorship seat must realise that this is an inauspicious time to hold political rallies. The NCDC protocols have forbidden a gathering of more than 20 people. How feasible is it to have political rally of 20 people? My advice is that candidates and political parties should do away with rallies at this time and use orthodox (print and electronic) as well as social media for their campaigns. This is to avoid endangering public health and safety. Beyond this, they can do political evangelism by embarking on door-to-door campaign distributing their campaign flyers and talking to voters. They can also work the phone to woo voters. This is not the time to engage in any bloodletting, and assassination of political opponents. As I highlighted above, the Nigerian law has criminalised physical, psychological and structural violence, as well as prohibited fake news and hate speech.

– Follow me on Twitter @jideojong

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