PARTIES DAMN INEC, RUN CAMPAIGNS
We spent over N100m on Dino’s recall – Prof. Yakubu
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the timetable and schedule of the 2019 general elections as far back as January this year, when it said campaigns must not commence before December, three months to the commencement of the polls. But the Nigerian political space is already agog with campaigns. Daily Trust Saturday takes a look.
Hamza Idris, Abbas Jimoh, Clement Oloyede (Abuja), Lami Sadiq (Jos), Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos) Habibu Umar Aminu (Katsina), Itodo Daniel Sule (Lokoja), Haruna Gimba Yaya (Gombe) & Victor Chuks (Port Harcourt)
The declaration by President Muhammadu Buhari, many first-term governors, and many legislators at national and state levels that they would go for a second term is no longer news, as far as the scheming for 2019 is concerned. The same could be said for many presidential and gubernatorial aspirants, among others, who have already declared their intention to challenge those occupying various positions. Unarguably, the contest has reached a crescendo, to the extent that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the leading opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and many of the 68 registered political parties have taken the gauntlet and endorsed their aspirants for various offices, especially at state levels.
So complicated is the race that some ruling party leaders in some states have openly endorsed sitting governors, saying there is no vacancy in government houses, while in opposition states, party stalwarts variously gave such endorsements to certain prominent politician, such as the case of the minister representing them in the Federal Executive Council (FEC).
Posters and billboards are common sights in strategic places in almost all the states across Nigeria, with the FCT being no exception. Many politicians have repainted their 2015 campaign offices, while those did not have any, have procured or rented apartments for campaign purposes. Customized cars and buses with sound systems are now common sights in towns and villages, even as song writers have already made fortunes from composing jingles for politicians.
Some state houses of assembly have not been left behind as they have openly declared their preference for the sitting governor ahead of party primaries. Worried by this development, the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, three days ago cautioned politicians and political parties against trampling on the law regulating electioneering before the end of the year. He gave the warning at a town hall meeting on ‘Health, Democracy and Governance: Putting Health as Top Political Agenda of Nigeria,” organised by the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), represented by a National Commissioner, Muhammed Lecky.
Prof. Yakubu lamented that even though INEC had rolled out a timetable for the 2019 general elections, politicians were flouting it and mounting campaign billboards nationwide.
The election guidelines released by INEC over three months ago, the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) was succinct on timing for campaigns, and penalties for violators. Section 99 Subsection (1) stated that “the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 90 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day.
(2) A registered Political Party which through any person acting on its behalf during the 24 hours before polling day. (a) Advertises on the facilities of any broadcasting undertaking; or (b) Procures for publication or acquiesces in the publication of an advertisement in a newspaper, for the purpose of promoting or opposing a particular candidate, is guilty of an offence under this Act and upon conviction shall be liable to a maximum fine of N500,000.”
Prof. Yakubu had on January 10, said the notice of election would be communicated on August 17, 2018 in line with Section 30(1) of the Electoral 2010 which provides that the notice of election be made not later than 90 days before the election. He however said the conduct of party primaries including resolution of disputes arising from the primaries would take place between August 18 and October 7, 2018.
But the important message is this: “The campaigns of political parties for Presidential and National Assembly elections should begin by November 18, 2018 while that of governorship and House of Assembly is December 1, 2018.”
On campaign spending by political parties, Prof. Yakubu said, “The Electoral Act is clear on the matter because it states that no presidential candidate can spend over N1bn, no governorship candidate can spend over N200m and no senatorial candidate can spend over N40m.” He said the same Act further states that corporate bodies cannot donate money to political parties and no private individual can donate more than N1m to any aspirant or candidate.
Race for campaigns
Findings reveal that despite the unambiguous explanation by INEC, political activities are already unfolding. While some politicians are actively financing their campaigns, others have not done anything in that direction but have not also reprimanded those going against the law on their behalf. For instance, the pictures of President Buhari, indicating the need for Nigerians to give him another chance in 2019, including billboards showcasing his achievements in security, economy and fight against corruption are symbolic of his recent visits to states.
Pictures, flyers, posters and banners of ex-VP Atiku Abubakar, ex-governors Rabiu Kwankwaso, Ibrahim Shekarau, Ahmed Makarfi, Sule Lamido and outgoing governor of Gombe State Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo equally dot many highways, indicating their resolve to run.
So carried away are Buhari’s enthusiasts, especially after he declared that he would go for a second term, that they have reinvigorated hundreds of the support groups that worked for his election in 2015. These include APC Presidential Campaign Council which recently reappointed the Minister of Transportation Rotimi Amaechi as Director-General, the National Committee for Buhari Support Groups headed by Senator Abu Ibrahim; the Buhari Campaign Organization (BCO) headed by Alhaji Danladi Pasali; the #Friends of Buhari headed by a former Minister of Information, Chief Ikeobasi Mokelu, and many others.
It is also reported that there are many groups working for Atiku’s presidential mission, while Kwankwaso has reportedly opened many offices across the six geopolitical zones. The likes of Lamido and Shekarau have written official letters to their party, the PDP, intimating the leadership of their plan to vie for the presidency.
A lot of nocturnal meetings are going while plans for merger and alliances are now the issues of discussion in political circles. All these have raised concerns by Nigerians that premature campaigns are serious distractions, especially for those in position of authority.
Campaigns in states
In Plateau State, Governor Simon Bako Lalong’s declaration on the 13th of April to re-contest the governorship seat did not come as a surprise. Even before his formal declaration, his campaign posters mostly sponsored by youth groups had flooded Jos city. The Vote Lalong Again (VOLA) group has even opened a campaign office while the 4+4 group are seen moving around town in cars branded with the governor’s picture, and the symbolic 4+4 to refer to two terms for the governor.
But Lalong’s supporters are not the only ones flaunting the INEC regulation, as opposition party candidates within the PDP also have campaign posters littered around the city. Senator Jeremiah Useni, who has expressed interest to contest the governorship seat under the PDP, has a huge billboard in front of his campaign office, and
posters around town.
However, the APC secretary in the state, Bashir Musan Sati, said the billboards seen around town were not sponsored by the governor, or the party, as both are aware of the INEC rules and guidelines. “VOLA or 4+4 are independent bodies, but for us in the APC, we have not started the campaigns yet.”
However, PDP Publicity Secretary, John Akans said theirs is a law-abiding party, but said since INEC had “allowed” the APC from the federal to state level to flaunt their campaign billboards, the PDP could not stop it’s aspirants. He added: “Since we’ve seen the president’s, and governor’s campaign billboards everywhere, we thought INEC had opened the door for everyone. But if they can caution the APC, then we will also caution our people.”
In Lagos, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has not declared intention to run for a second term, but all indications point to a bid for a tenure beyond 2019. However, typical of Nigeria’s political terrain, various political groups, politicians, and their appointees have since last year launched re-election campaigns for him. At the moment, many posters and billboards bearing ‘Ambode for 2019’ litter major parts of Lagos. Some of these billboards can be seen in areas like Alimosho, Agege, Ikorodu, Lagos Island, and many others spread across the 20 local governments, and 37 local council development areas. Flyers could also be seen at the Alausa secretariat adorning government vehicles and official cars of commissioners, special advisers and assistants.
It would be recalled that opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) had recently cried out over early campaigns for Ambode.
APC spokesman Mr. Joe Igbokwe said the governor has not committed a crime, as he himself has not declared for a second term, but only those who have seen his performance in the first tenure felt the obligation to campaign for him.
Katsina is not different, as virtually all aspiring candidates from incumbent to new ones have erected billboards or pasted posters. Even though Governor Aminu Masari has not publicly declared his interest in a second term, his billboards and posters are all over the streets of Katsina, placed by different pressure groups backing the supposed re-election bid. Most of the billboards and posters carry the picture of the president alongside the governor and the individual aspirant intending to vie.
Groups such as Masari Restoration, House To House, Masari Zalla, Masariyya and Buhari, Masari For Continuity, and more, have all gone a-campaigning for the governor.
Katsina’s ‘billboard war’ is not peculiar to the APC, as other parties like PDP and PRP are on the train, with graffiti on walls and personal buildings, all in a move to show their presence. Posters of Senator Lado and Abdullahi Tata, all of the PDP, are commonplace in Katsina and environs.
Irked by the development, the Katsina State Chairman of National Conscience Party, in March this year, petitioned INEC, Police and DSS on the issue intimating them of the need to intervene and address the illegality.
In Kogi State, Governor Yahaya Bello is in his first term, and yet to officially declare for a second one, but there are strong indications he will, eventually. In Lokoja, the state capital, there are billboards and banners erected by supporters in strategic locations with the photos of the governor and President Buhari.
Apart from Lokoja billboards and banners, some branded campaign vehicles with the photos of the governor and that of President Buhari, could be seen around. In the same vein, some of the politicians eyeing offices at both the National Assembly and state assembly have erected billboards and banners indicating their ambitions for 2019.
Governor Bello and his supporters also held rallies across some local government areas of the state to receive defectors. It was observed that such rallies were tacitly used by various political gladiators to make case for their ambitions in 2019. Speaking on the development, the Kogi State chairman of Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Mr Ibrahim Itodo urged INEC to be firm in ensuring that electoral laws are obeyed.
In Gombe, aspirants for the governorship seat have flooded the state capital with posters and billboards. Even though incumbent Governor Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo will round up his tenure in 2019, he is yet to endorse or anoint a successor, therefore prominent politicians from the ruling PDP and the opposition APC are competing fiercely. Also, politicians aspiring to contest for the National Assembly and 24 seats of the state House of Assembly from the two parties, have seen to major streets and public places strewn with posters.
Governor Dankwambo, himself believed to be aspiring for the presidency, also has his campaign posters placed in some places with inscription like ‘Hope 2019,’ ‘Visionary Dankwambo 2019’.
APC’s Zonal Vice Chairman in Gombe South, Mr Julius Ishaya, said the placing of posters by aspirants in their party is not a campaign, but internal activities.
Secretary of the PDP, Alhaji Buba Shanu, said they don’t encourage any aspirant to paste posters.
In Rivers, several interest groups have visited the Government House in Port Harcourt to appeal to Governor Nyesom Wike to seek re-election, but the governor has not given any definite response, saying he would make his intention known in due time even though it would be a straight fight with Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, who might likely support an APC candidate. The two political platforms have virtually visited all the local government areas in search for support.
A senior lawyer who had represented INEC in several legal matters, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), said while it cannot be said that what politicians are doing is illegal, it can also not be declared to diverge from laws. “INEC is the regulator of political activities, so if the extant laws grant INEC the powers to discipline them or call them to order, it has the powers to do it. And INEC is encouraged to do so except in Osun and Ekiti states, where elections have been scheduled to hold soon,” he said.
But a former president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief O.C.J Okocha (SAN), said declaration of interest is not campaigning, but a signification of an interest to contest. He said, “In my understanding, people move around to sensitise stakeholders in their political parties and indeed the general public to test the waters; to know whether they have a chance. Campaigning can only start when you are a candidate and you have filed the necessary papers and INEC has given the go-ahead as they have done in publishing the timetables for the election,” he said.
According to him, “I don’t think there is anything unlawful in what all those that have indicated interests are doing at the moment.” On groups holding rallies for such individuals that have showed interest, Okocha said, “It’s the same. You know in politics, not only the candidates, but also the electorate are involved in sensitising the people; and some candidates even need to be motivated to come forward.”
But Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) looked at the complexity of the situation differently. The Director of Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, said it is now a norm for political parties to flout the laws ahead of every elections. “Since 1999, there are clearly the challenges of imposing punitive measures; there is hardly anything that INEC has done or can really do to whip them into line. This creates unfair advantages on other smaller parties and even further engender the flouting of campaign financing regulations,” she said.
On his part, the Convener of the Good Governance Team (GGT), Malam Tunde Salman, said it is inappropriate for aspirants and parties to be violating the law on campaigns. “But it would be difficult to dissuade political aspirants from subtle campaigns at the moment, as the momentum to 2019 is building up,” he said.
The Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said what the parties are doing is the display of impunity and disregard for the rule of law. “We have to be alive to our responsibilities; they should ensure that they respect the INEC timetable. INEC has not lifted the ban on open campaign. Nigeria should not tolerate the violation of electoral laws. You cannot claim to be responsible when you violate the electoral system, such that it undermines the credibility of the whole system,” Rafsanjani said.
Governor Bello’s billboard, in Lokoja
The Mahammadu Buhari Campaign Office, in Kaduna
Campaign office of Senator Jeremiah Useni in Jos
Campaign office of Lalong, in Jos
Kaduna State PDP Secretariat
Billboards galore, in Katsina