Politicians should dwell on issues and how to harness the huge natural and human resources to boost development

The tenure of office under the current presidential system of government is just four years with the last of those years often consumed by political campaigns and succession drama. That leaves three years of effective governance to tackle a myriad of problems: poverty, fuel scarcity, unemployment, kidnapping, Boko Haram, systemic and endemic corruption, mutual special interest blackmail, dilapidated infrastructure, etc. While the jury is still out as to whether the expectations of the Nigerian electorate who cast their ballots four years ago have been met, the challenge of the moment is the absence of any meaningful engagement on the problems that ail the nation barely three months to the next election.

Going by the timetable of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the campaigns for the 2019 general election should be in full swing this week. On Friday, the commission started releasing the names of the candidates nominated by the political parties for different offices. But in mounting the rostrums, it is important for these candidates and their supporters to be well aware that, more than at any point in our history, Nigerians deserve more than the usual distribution of consumables and the procurement of musicians, comedians and dancers to entertain crowds in the name of political rallies. As things stand today, what we need are rigorous debates about the future of our country as we seek to harness the huge natural and human resources for meaningful development.

Unfortunately, available evidence suggests that all is not well in the polity going by some of the recent verbal exchanges, especially between the camps of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and that of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Aside the danger of such rhetoric in a polarised environment, trading insults and demonising opponents do not in any way advance democratic choice. Therefore, we enjoin all the stakeholders to caution their supporters from the use of intemperate language and indiscreet public commentary that could inflame passions and sow the seed for violence before, during and after the elections.

Specifically, we urge those who manage the media and public relations in the political parties to be more circumspect in their utterances and the statements they push out. We know that they have a job to do to market their candidates, but they must not create the impression that name calling and inappropriate language are acceptable behaviour. In their interventions in the public space, they must deliberately and consciously weigh everything they say. It is also important that the police and other security agencies be neutral in their activities at this period, during the election and in the days after.

What the politicians should understand is that elections will always come and go but the ideals of responsible citizenship will suffer if Nigerians are made to believe that there are no rules of engagement in the matter of competition for public offices. The desperation that leads to violence and the corruption of cash distribution that we witness in the name of campaigns, as well as the unnecessary bitterness and hate that usually arise and linger long after the votes have been counted, do not bode well for our country. We hope those who seek the votes of the people, at all levels, will be mindful of this and campaign for votes with a measure of decency.

As we have had occasions to admonish on this page several times in the past, what should not be lost on critical stakeholders is that there is a thin line between the use of inappropriate language in the run up to an election and the use of physical violence during the actual election. The forthcoming general election therefore presents an opportunity for the nation to demonstrate to what extent the fundamental principles of democratic engagement have been internalised in the past two decades. Lack of decorum and political intolerance will be proof that not much has been learnt since 1999. And that would be unfortunate indeed.

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The forthcoming general election presents an opportunity for the nation to demonstrate to what extent the fundamental principles of democratic engagement have been internalised in the past two decades