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Anthonia Onda, Senior Program Officer, Yiaga Africa

2023 : Issue-Based Campaigns Beyond Conventional Optics - Anthonia Onda

The general election of 2023 will mark the seventh democratic election held in Nigeria since the country's return to democracy. In the history of Nigeria, this is the longest stretch of democratic rule. With barely 5 months to another crucial election in Nigeria's history, political parties are taking the stage with campaigns even as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) reiterated their commitment to ensure compliance with the new electoral law. 

Election is a process with an interconnected set of activities involving all stakeholders right from  the pre-election phase, election day, and post-election periods, all of which affect the  transparency, accountability and overall credibility of the election. The pre-election activities are crucial to the outcome of any election, as these activities could influence the outcomes. Some such activities are the independent national electoral commission (INEC) preparations, political party activities, civil society organizations, and the media, amongst others. 

Following the  publication  of the final list of candidates running for the Presidential and Federal Legislative elections, campaigns by political parties and their supporters commenced in earnest in line with section 94 subsection (1) of the Electoral Act 2022 which provides that "the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 150 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day.

The period of the campaign is an important time for political parties as it provides an opportunity for the parties to present their candidates to prospective electorates. It's a crucial period where political parties inter phase with citizens, sell ideas and promises. Thus its usually a period soaked with emotional and verbal wars between contending political parties. 

This is why most times, Political party campaign in Nigeria is often characterized by several negative factors, like attack on campaign trails, restriction in the use of the public facility usually perpetrated by the incumbent government, hate speech targeted at candidates, gender-based violence, etc

Similarly, since the conclusion of the political party primaries and the selection of the flag bearers of the parties, the conversations must go beyond the mere personality, their gender, tribe or religion to the real issue bedevilling Nigeria. There must be  serious conversations on how the parties and candidates will address the security issues if elected in 2023. Nigerians must ask important questions of how the country's economy will be improved and demand a practical  blueprint on how to salvage the challenges facing virtually every sector of the country.

Thus,  the campaign period is not a one-way street where only the political parties dole out promises to the citizens, but also an opportunity for the citizens to engage the parties and candidates, demand the manifesto of the parties, and ask questions about how the candidates will address issues of insecurity, the economy, education, poverty, and other issues that bother the country. This is also another opportunity for citizens to document all the promises that will be made by the parties and their candidates to hold them accountable in the future.

At this tipping point in Nigeria's democratic history, our campaigns must do without the usual verbal and physical clashes that has characterised campaigns over the years. Nigerians expect political parties and their candidates to  engage in an inclusive campaign by ensuring  a level playing ground for all including women, youths, and people with disabilities. 

Importantly, parties and candidates must comply  strictly to all the provisions guiding political campaigns in the electoral law. For instance, as provided in section 92 of the Electoral Act, 2022, "parties should refrain from using slogans tainted with abusive language directly or indirectly likely to injure religious, ethnic, tribal, or sectional feelings. They should also stay away from abusive, intemperate, slanderous, or base language or insinuations or innuendoes designed or likely to provoke violent reactions or emotions that should not be employed or used in political campaigns. Parties and candidates are strongly encouraged to engage in an issue-based campaign and refrain from distributing money and gift items to induce voters but focus on issue-based campaigns to win the hearts of the people."

As the first beneficiaries of the votes cast on election day, political parties and candidates should engage in massive voter education and sensitize citizens on the need to vote and how to vote correctly to reduce the number of invalid votes on election day.

The media, as a critical stakeholder in the electoral process should remain  upright and unbiased in their engagement with the political parties by giving all parties an equal opportunity of airtime for paid advertisements and other campaign activities. While doing this, the media should ensure their platforms are not used as a tool to violate the electoral law. Citizens should refuse to be induced by money and gift items and also, the young people should refuse to be used as political thugs but rather serve as ambassadors of peace and voter education rockstars during this period.

The 2023 elections provide a huge opportunity for all election stakeholders to get it right. Thus this is an opportunity to make their intentions clear by ensuring  compliance to law from this stage of the process. Thus to hold the political parties accountable, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigerian Police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should track the compliance of the political parties with the campaign spending limit provided by law.

Anthonia Onda is a Senior Program Officer at Yiaga Africa with a decade of election observation experience.

You can reach her via aadi@yiaga.org

She tweets @adi_tonia

About

Yiaga Africa is a non-profit civic hub of change makers committed to the promotion of democratic governance, human rights and civic engagement. With its operational base in Abuja, Nigeria, Yiaga Africa focuses on in-depth research, providing critical analysis on key democratic and governance issues, crafting practical solutions, training and empowering citizens to lead change in their community. Yiaga Africa implements several innovative programs aimed at stimulating active citizenship, protecting human rights and deepening democratic governance. We invest in building networks and social movements to drive social change and transformation. Yiaga Africa has leadership structures and members in all 36 states and 774 Local Government Areas (LGA) of Nigeria.