Campaigns: NILDS Wants Politicians Using Abusive Words Arrested, Sanctioned 

*Tasks media on watchdog role

Udora Orizu in Abuja 

The Director General of National Institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies, NILDS, Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman on Monday lamented that security agencies are to implement the provisions of the new electoral act by arresting or sanctioning politicians using abusive words during campaigns.

The DG who stated this at a capacity building workshop for Senate and house of representatives press corps organized by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung said the electoral act, 2022 prohibits and prescribes penalties for using abusive, slanderous or base language or insinuations or innuendoes that are likely to provoke violent reactions, yet no politician or party has been charged despite abundant evidence of blatant contravention of these provisions by people from all parties. 

While accusing candidates of the three major political parties of being guilty of this, the DG called on all security and enforcement agencies to closely study all the electoral offences in the Act and take measures to arrest and prosecute offenders. 

He disclosed that he recently commissioned a research study at the Institute to systematically and comprehensively track and record media reporting across print, electronic and new media to identify the use of abusive, intemperate, slanderous as specified in the Electoral Act in the build-up to the 2023 elections. 

The research, he said is expected to assist legislative decisions and law-making by the 10th Assembly. 

He said, “A few weeks before the general elections, the very essence of our nationhood is being questioned. Nigerians are now asking whether a nation built on a fragile but optimistic foundation can long endure. Equally, there is a raging debate as to whether democracy has improved people’s lives all these years and if it has the answers to all the problems that confront our country today. Nigerians are headed to the polls on the heels of unprecedented economic hardships and insecurity that have upended the lives of millions. 

“Campaigns have arguably been the most damaging to the core values of national cohesion and unity that Nigeria has been built on. The Electoral Act has robust provisions prohibiting campaigning or broadcasting based on religious, tribal, or sectional reason for the purpose of promoting or opposing a particular political party or the election of a particular candidate (s.97). Section 91 prohibits campaigns or slogans that are tainted with abusive language that directly or indirectly injure religious, ethnic, tribal or sectional feelings.”

Speaking further, Sulaiman also lamented that the media has often fed on this frenzy to click-bait, sell more and attract viewership, and as a result, given a rise in negative and misleading headlines and media interviews focused mainly on sensational personalities and headlines. 

While suggesting media regulation, he appealed to the media to reflect on their role as watchdogs of democracy. 

“The failure of the media to re-frame the conversation and re-direct politicians to issues that confront Nigeria has largely worsened the situation. TV and radio hosts enable the circus by prioritising irrelevant and adverse topics. When politicians engage in misleading and divisive antics and rhetoric, the media has a solemn duty to call them out, condemn and re-direct the discourse on substantive issues. It is easy to get carried away and join the bandwagon of such lazy journalism. The outcomes, however, could be dire as we are presently experiencing in Nigeria. Negative reporting entrenches societal divisions, fuels hatred and violence, erodes government legitimacy, and sets up citizens against each other,” he added

In her remarks, Chairman of the House of Representatives press corps, Grace Ike expressed optimism that as political and parliamentary correspondents this training will go a long way in preparing us ahead of the crucial national assignment of covering the 2023 general elections.

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