Formal campaigning for the 2023 presidential and other elections is well ongoing. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) allowed the presidential electioneering to begin September 28. It has cleared 18 political parties to contest the February 25 presidential election. 4,223 candidates will vie for 469 federal legislative seats on the same day.
The most visible presidential candidates come from the All Progressives Congress (APC), represented by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which is putting forward Atiku Abubakar, a former vice president and a serial candidate. Labour Party (LP) has Peter Obi, a former state governor, as its presidential flag bearer. There is also New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), the newest of the parties, represented by Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, also a former state governor.
Bearing in mind Nigeria’s history of violent electioneering, the INEC, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and the Nigerian Inter-Religious Commission have issued pleas, warnings and guidelines to political parties and their candidates on “acceptable electoral conduct”. INEC said, “Section 92 of the Electoral Act 2022 forbids any political campaign or slogan tainted with abusive language directly or indirectly or one likely to injure religious, ethnic, tribal or sectional feelings. Therefore, abusive, intemperate, slanderous, or base language or insinuations or innuendoes intended or likely to provoke violent reactions or emotion should be avoided.” On its part, the NBC warns parties and broadcast stations against ‘hate speech,’ while the presidential candidates have signed a peace pact at NIREC’s prompting, pledging to keep the electioneering peaceful and issue-based.
The issues that will/should drive next year’s elections are fairly straightforward. They range from national security, the economy, political restructuring and, to some extent, incessant strikes by university teachers over pay and crumbling physical facilities. To what extent are the candidates sticking to the real issues? If truth be told, they are not. The one candidate that has so much as mentioned the last ASUU strike has promised to give the university lecturers all that they are asking from the today’s government. He has forgotten that he was part of an earlier government that signed the contentious 2009 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that has led to many lecture disruptions ever since.
Another candidate’s nationality is still being challenged in court even after he had been cleared to contest the presidency many times over in the past. Yet another has been told he is too old and ailing to be president. Is it age or the platform he pushes that is important? The present United States president, Joe Biden, was almost 76 in 2020 when he was elected. What counted for American voters was not his age but ability to give the leadership they wanted.
To be sure, the candidates’ refusal to stick to issues that matter is threatening a return to the intolerance and violence of the “wild wide West”. Party thugs are attacking opposition rallies and supporters, not policies and programmes, up and down the country. This isn’t a good omen. But the violence can still be stopped if the candidates and parties invest more in political education and campaign more on the issues than personality. INEC, on its part, should engage the contestants more on how to redirect the course of the electioneering to focus more on real issues rather than individuals. This can be done in the less than the three months left to the elections.