Escalation of Third Party Campaigning ,By Jibrin Ibrahim

Jibrin resizedApparently, the Secretary (to the Federal) Government, Anyim Pius Anyim is now my colleague in civil society. I say this because I heard my good friend Mike Omeri of the National Orientation Agency explaining on radio the other day that the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN) are civil society activists simply calling on President Jonathan to accept to seek his party’s nomination and they have the right to do so as citizens. Our Constitution, he explained, guarantees the freedom of assembly and speech to citizens. I wondered therefore why I had not been seeing “my colleagues” such as the Secretary to the Government, Ministers and Governors that I see on television conducting TAN rallies in our other civil society activities. More seriously, I have never seen a Secretary to the Government so immersed in partisan political campaigning as Anyim is. Although the Secretary to the Government is a political appointee, there used to a certain distance and decorum that shields that exalted and important office from direct partisan political engagement. This regime is apparently not aware of that tradition.

The stakes are very high in relation to the 2015 elections. There is great pressure on, and maybe by, the incumbent president to contest because although he inherited some of the previous president’s tenure and is about to complete his own first tenure, many in his party believe he is qualified to contest again. In this context, there is an on-going massive campaign by about 7000 Pro-Jonathan campaign groups to convince him to come out and seek the party’s nomination. Already, the Board of Trustees, the National Executive Council and the Governors Forum of the People’s Democratic Party have all endorsed President Jonathan as sole presidential candidate although the time for nomination has not arrived. I do not know why they have done so as our laws prohibit the imposition of a sole candidature for any elective position. Indeed what the laws say is that party members who meet the constitutional requirements are entitled to seek nomination for any elective office if they so wish. The decision therefore completely violates our laws.

Meanwhile, following the emergence of the All Peoples’ Congress as the common platform for the three hitherto opposition parties, they have developed the confidence that they could unseat the ruling PDP. Presidential hopefuls of the APC have launched their respective campaigns for the presidential primaries. The political atmosphere in the country is that of active campaigns and rallies giving the impression that the time for campaigns have started. Our laws are however clear on when official campaigns should start. Campaigns start 90 days before an election and end 24 hours before the election. The question therefore is are all these campaigners breaking the law.

Political campaign is the process by which political parties and their candidates, members or supporters upon the release of timelines for Elections publicly canvass for votes from registered voters for elective offices upon the release of Notice of Elections by INEC in compliance to Section 99 of Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). The law however makes a distinction between an aspirant and a candidate. An aspirant is any member of a political party seeking sponsorship and support to be a candidate for an elective office in an election. Aspirants seeking sponsorship as candidates can solicit for support from their political party members by holding private fund raising, reception, courtesy calls, visits, display of party flag, emblem, slogan, posters, billboards through traditional or new social media platforms (such as the internet and related social networks) provided that such aspirants do not solicit for votes or advance their aspirations as candidates for any specific elective office before the release of the Time-Table for elections by INEC in compliance with Section 99 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended). Campaigning before the 90-Day period is clearly illegal and I have on numerous occasions seen people in TAM rallies calling on voters to elect President Goodluck Jonathan in the 2015 elections.

Last week, I participated in the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) meeting on third party campaigning. IPAC is the umbrella organisation for all political parties. They were very concerned about the escalation of illegal campaigns in the country with rallies; processions, public advertisement and billboards giving the impression that full scale campaigning for the 2015 elections have started.

Most of the campaigning is done using by persons who are using the strategy of third party campaigners to carry out their nefarious activities. They are using these third party groups to blatantly and brazenly call on citizens to vote for specific persons in the 2015 elections. Meanwhile, massive amounts of money, far in excess of what is provided for in the law, are being expended in these third party campaigns. INEC, which has the statutory responsibility for monitoring political parties, has been largely silent on the issue. It needs to come out boldly and call these third party campaignerss to order. Those that break the law must be sanctioned.

In our political system, political parties play the key role in organizing campaigns. That is why the laws on campaigning focus on political parties. What is happening today however is that shadow “civil society” groups are controlling the campaign process and they are in effect marginalizing political parties from the process. This is not a positive development because it can undermine the democratic process. INEC and the security agencies must put an immediate stop to the activities of these groups. This is the time for INEC to come out with a bold initiative to restore order in the political party process. The law allows aspirants seeking their party’s nomination to campaign among party members. We cannot however have a situation in which people are openly campaigning that an individual should be voted for next year when the window for such campaigning has not yet opened.

It is important that the campaign for next year’s elections should be issue-based rather than focus on personalities and their zones of origin. At the national level, we have a party that has been in power since 1999 and an opposition party that has emerged from the merger of several opposition parties. We want to know what they have on offer for Nigerians. The presentation od such issues should however be done in conformity with our laws. Those who beat the whistle should be sanctioned so that sanity can begin to return to the political process.
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