INEC and disturbing threats to November polls
Appeal by the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, urging political parties to keep the peace and eschew violence in the campaign for the November 11 off-season gubernatorial elections in Bayelsa, Kogi, and Imo states is timely. But it should be backed by a tougher stance, considering that political parties have no tradition of heeding such advice.
Yakubu has urged political parties to warn their supporters against engaging in violence or disrupting the forthcoming elections. Alarmed by reports of increasing cases of pre-election violence, Yakubu said: “I appeal to party leaders for introspection on the conduct of your candidates and their supporters.
The use of thugs during elections to harass election officials, intimidate voters and disrupt processes, sometimes resulting in the destruction of election materials or even worse must be addressed. Campaigns in the public by parties and candidates in the three states commenced on July 14, 2023, as provided in the timetable and schedule of activities for the governorship elections. Sadly, there are already disturbing reports of clashes between opposing parties with claims and counter-claims of innocence or culpability. These claims help no one. Rein in your supporters.”
Indeed, the need for a violence-free electoral process cannot be overstated as credible elections are germane to the peace, progress, and stability of any country. Over the years, political campaigns and leadership exercise in Nigeria have been susceptible to violent manipulations and irregularities thereby depriving eligible voters of the opportunity of electing their choice candidates. This has constituted a stumbling block on the nation’s democratic journey.
As shown in the recent general elections, many political actors are not willing to rise above pedestrian, combative, provocative, and violent practices to access power. Invariably, party supporters take cues from such incitement to unleash violence against their opponents, leading to worse consequences for the elections’ integrity. In some instances, the elections fall below global standards, and were significantly marred with irregularities, manipulations, financial inducement, and violence of freighting proportions, including abduction of election officials, and assassination of political opponents in some parts of the country.
Ironically, before the last elections, all 18 registered political parties in Nigeria had pledged to keep the peace in writing twice! Hammering on the need for strict compliance, the Chairman of the National Accord for Peace, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), stated that the execution of the second peace pact became necessary because “there was lack of compliance by the major political parties” with the first peace accord.
He observed that: “Forty-four per cent of the violations were carried out by spokespersons of the political parties and 26 per cent by party members. Nineteen per cent of the violations were carried out by the presidential candidates themselves; 11 per cent by hard-core supporters and four per cent by party chairmen. Additionally, in January 2023, a lot of violence has occurred with at least 15 abductions (including that of a police officer) and at least 30 killings (including those of 11 security personnel). There were at least six attacks at political campaign rallies…
As a nation, we have got to put a stop to all of these. That is why on January 20, 2022, we convened a meeting of all presidential candidates and party chairmen. The meeting discussed existing and emerging issues regarding the ways campaigns were being conducted, and the need for parties to moderate their views.”
Clearly, therefore, Nigerian political parties observe the terms of the Peace Accord more in breach than in compliance. Prof. Yakubu’s recent sermon to political parties can at best be described as a ‘lifeless’ moral suasion that has since proved to be ineffective given the antecedents of political actors. Also, it is a fact of common knowledge that political elites are the mastermind of electoral crimes. However, INEC, admittedly overwhelmed by the core function to organise elections, has not brought them to book; and this absence of sanctions does not encourage political parties to play by the rule. The commission’s speeches consequently lack persuasive or deterrent value.
The 2022 Electoral Act is replete with sanctions for electoral offences, yet the authority saddled with the responsibility of setting the law in motion, is not rising to the occasion. For instance, the Act prohibits and criminalises the use of abusive, intemperate, slanderous, or base language or insinuations or innuendoes designed or likely to injure religious, ethnic, tribal, or sectional feelings, or provoke violent reactions or emotions. Also, it is an offence for a party, candidate, aspirant, or person or group of persons to 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.
However, politicians have repeatedly violated these provisions without facing any consequences. It is worrisome that political actors continue to embrace bitterness, strife, acrimony, and calumny basically because they are not held accountable. Therefore, it is expedient for INEC to live up to its true calling as the sole regulator of the political sector. The ombudsman should be manifestly seen to be wielding the big stick against election saboteurs instead of massaging their ego.
Political parties have not been faithful to the Peace Accord and there is little to suggest that the forthcoming elections will be an exception. It is time for INEC to concertedly pursue its declaration that the government should establish an agency to prosecute election offenders since the commission is unwilling to undertake that responsibility. What has become of the proposed election offences commission and tribunal? Until these take off properly, INEC will continue to be seen as the culprit in failure to sanction election violators.
Nonetheless, political gladiators should sheath their swords and focus on issue-based campaigns in the slated off-cycle governorship elections in Bayelsa, Kogi, and Imo states, as admonished by INEC. The parties should not interfere with the electoral process whether through violence, vote-buying, hate speech, rigging, manipulation, intimidation, result mutilations or any other means.
But the country can only be substantially rid of electoral vices via strict enforcement of the law. The mastermind of electoral malpractices (who are mainly the highly placed leaders and major political parties) should be made to face the full wrath of the law to serve as deterrence to others. Otherwise, power desperadoes will continue to do the unimaginable to gain undue advantage over their contenders. Therefore, INEC should strive to punish violators of electoral law rather than delivering long sermons, which no one takes seriously.
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