All Systems Go

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Ojo Maduekwe write that with about 90 days to the 2019 general elections and the start of open political campaigns, candidates of the two leading parties, President Muhammadu Buhari of the All Progressives Congress and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party have launched their policy documents signaling the beginning of the struggle for votes

On Saturday, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced that campaigns for presidential and National Assembly elections would begin the following day, Sunday, November 18, 2018, while that of governorship and state Houses of Assembly would commence on December 1, 2018.

INEC had since January 9, 2018, released the timetable and schedule of activities for the elections. Section 99(1) of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended), states “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.”

In a statement released by the commission to this effect on Saturday, and in line with the relevant section of the Electoral Act, INEC charged every political party contesting the elections to “conduct their activities in an organised and peaceful manner, devoid of rancor, hate and/or inflammatory speeches.”

Hoping to score the first victory, President Muhammadu Buhari, began his campaign same day with the unveiling of what his presidential campaign council called ‘The Next Level’ to Nigerians at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.

The Director of Strategic Communications for the Buhari Campaign Organisation, Mr. Festus Keyamo, said ‘The Next Level’ is one of two documents the president was to present ahead of the main campaign.

“President Muhammadu Buhari has decided to first showcase his achievements and projections for the next four years to Nigerians before the official flag-off of the campaign,” Keyamo was quoted by some news sources.

On his part, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Atiku Abubakar unveiled the ‘People’s Policy’, a manifesto said to have been drafted during his retreat in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The manifesto is said to contain practical solutions to address pressing issues such as disunity, poverty, unemployment, insecurity and underdevelopment.

Also, Atiku will today address Nigerians on social media platform, Facebook, at exactly 12 noon to present his vision for Nigeria and his action plan to achieving it, as encapsulated in his policy document. A statement by the Atiku Presidential Campaign Organisation said the document will later be uploaded on his website (www.atiku.org) for all Nigerians to access “at no cost”.

So far the election appears to be starting on a good note as both presidential candidates have chosen to make their campaign issue based. According to the statement from the Atiku camp, the decision for the former vice president to kick-start his campaign with the launch of the ‘People’s Policy’ document, was to reiterate his earlier commitment to run an issue based campaign.

Last month the Atiku Abubakar Presidential Campaign Organisation, in a statement by the Spokesperson of the organisation, Segun Sowunmi, said they would approach the 2019 election as an issue based one, devoid of the usual slandering and name calling that has tainted previous elections.

X-raying the ‘do or die’ nature of past campaigns and linking it to the disunity the country experiences today, Sowunmi said, “We hold the view that unguarded narrative hurts the country and further divides us as a people. Elections come every four years in our country and if great effort is not taken, we could hurt the country and its people needlessly and invariably our democracy. We have to sign up to these ideals; we can campaign without recourse to hate speech, libels, lies, undue criminalisation of people and each other.”

If the message coming from both presidential candidates camp isn’t being misinterpreted, it appears next year’s election would be different from what obtained in the past. The greater part of Nigeria’s election cycle is stained by the blood of Nigerians caught in the crossfire of do or die politics. The need for the two main political parties to strictly adhere to the INEC’s charge to “conduct their activities in an organized and peaceful manner, devoid of rancor, hate and/or inflammatory speeches,” cannot be overemphasised.

Running a rancor-free campaign devoid of violence will take the collective effort of every Nigerian, especially the presidential candidates and their supporters alike. As they’ve already stated, both Buhari and Atiku must ensure to rein in on their supporters to shun violence. Having articulated their vision, they should take same directly to Nigerians as they campaign around the country.

The Atiku campaign claims that “Our campaign offers a simple message: united, the people of Nigeria can begin anew, creating a prosperous and secure future and a better life for every Nigerian.” Hopefully utterances that would be made by the candidate during the actual campaign would always echo this.

Nigeria is already bedeviled with a plethora of issues such as unemployment, and insecurity; and as such, it won’t augur well for the country, most especially the incoming president, if Nigeria is plunged into further crisis.

Presently Nigeria’s debt is pegged at about N22 trillion and with unemployment at above 18%, Nigeria is ranked as the poverty capital of the world, with about 50 percent of the population (86.9 million) now living in extreme poverty.

On the issue of insecurity, there have been documented deaths of over 20,000 Nigerians since June 2015, caused by Boko Haram and Fulani militias. These figures should help both candidates of the APC and PDP, as well as their teeming supporters to understand why it is important to ensure that campaign remains issue based and at no time should they resort to violence.

Owing to the bitter campaign by both the APC and PDP during the 2015 elections, Nigeria has never been more divided than it presently is, and so there is a need for dialogue as the campaign heats up. Buhari and Atiku should encourage dialogue from their supporters, instead of the resort to mudslinging.

They should begin with mandating their different spokespersons to engage with critics in a civil manner. So far the spokespersons of Atiku have remained civil in the defense of their principal. Those of Buhari on the other hand have shown a penchant to disparage anyone that criticizes their boss. Hopefully this would change in the coming weeks running up to the election.

The bulk of the responsibility to ensure that the 2019 elections remain rancor-free rests squarely on INEC and the security agencies. Already, because of the heated nature of the polity and the discord that have been sown amongst Nigerians, there’s the need for the security agencies to remain nonpartisan in securing the peace, while INEC conducts a free and fair election.