By Emmanuel Ogbeche
In less than 24hours, the official campaigns for the 2023 elections will begin. Already, the major political parties, candidates and their supporters have even started wooing voters and pitching their arguments.
Suffice it to say that there are those who hold the notion that next year’s poll is about the most significant, therefore, nothing should be left to chance. It should, however, be known that this has become a refrain in every electoral cycle in Nigeria.
Pre-2015, there were arguments that Nigeria must get it right, else the country was headed for the brinks owing to the generally held notion that then President Goodluck Jonathan had underperformed, so should be kicked out.
It was that idea that birthed the ridiculous summation that “anything than Jonathan is better.” Nearly eight years down the line, not a few that held that jaded view have wrung their hands in regret that in governance like in all human affairs, there are no absolutes.
This piece primarily is to revert our minds to the guiding lights, laws of the country’s electoral quest. In the perking order of the laws is the 1999 Constitution that offers a roadmap to the whole process. Then there is the Electoral Act 2022 that is revolutionary in many ways, followed by the INEC guidelines as well as the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention, etc) Act 2015.
Since and after the nomination of candidates for the various offices, especially that for the Office of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, some political parties, their candidates and supporters have thrown caution to the wind.
Their utterances have been intemperate, combative, unruly and downright banal. Issues have been left and, in their place,Bolekaja kind of engagement. For those who are given to the Bolekaja politics, it is noteworthy to bring to your attention Section 92 of the Electoral Act. That section makes it mandatory that “a political campaign or slogan shall not be tainted with abusive language directly or indirectly likely to injure religious, ethnic, tribal or sectional feelings”.
It doesn’t just stop there. In Subsection 2 of that same section, it states, “abusive, intemperate, slanderous or base language or insinuations or innuendoes designed or likely to provoke violent reaction or emotions shall not be employed or used in political campaigns.”
So, political parties and their supporters have a duty to ensure that the campaigns are devoid of any untoward word or act that could inflame the already febrile pitch atmosphere.
For those who argue that President Muhammadu Buhari has deepened our fault lines and animosities, show that you are not like the Chichidodo in Ayi Kwei Armah’s “The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born” that despises shit but feasts on it.
I have been a victim of people who have shown stark intolerance of my views they feel are not in support of their candidate. For instance, one individual on Facebook called me a “Brown envelope” journalist because she was persuaded that my argument about a candidate she supports was under fact checking by me. I will return to why the Cybercrime Act could bite a lot of peddlers of falsehood, half-truths and fake news.
Owing to our religious nature, though we hardly live by the virtues of the various religions we practice, politicians find places of worship as fertile grounds for campaign. Well, the Electoral Act 2022 has cured that religious mischief. Religious grounds are now no-go areas for politicians and their supporters to canvass for support or seek for votes.
Section 92, Subsection 3 states that, “places designated for religious worship, police stations and public offices shall not be used for political campaigns, rallies and processions; or to promote, propagate or attack political parties, candidates or their programmes or ideologies”.
Also, masquerades are outlawed from campaigns. Subsection 4 says, “Masquerades shall not be employed or used by any political party, aspirant or candidate during political campaigns or for any other political purpose.”
Now to the vexatious issue of donations, there has been a huge outcry on what the law says. Section 225 (3) (a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution as Amended states “that no political party can hold or possess any funds or other assets outside Nigeria. No political party is entitled to retain any funds or assets sent to it from outside Nigeria.”
There are arguments that since all candidates are products of political parties and all votes belong to the political parties, any action or inaction of the candidates is ultimately that of the parties. While the argument rages, a court pronouncement will settle the matter.
But before then, it should be noted that Section 85 (b) of the Electoral Act 2022 provides that any political party that retains any fund or asset remitted to it from outside Nigeria shall on conviction forfeit the funds or assets to the Independent National Electoral Commission and in addition may be liable to a fine of at least five million naira.
Now to the issue of the Cybercrime Act. Given that our lives are practically online, and battles are sometimes fought and won in cyberspace, it is important that those of you of the Vawulence Fame and Wotowoto Squad be properly informed before you run afoul of the law.
While Senator Dino Melaye and Femi Fani-Kayode can afford to make mockery of each other and peddle all sorts of jabs at each other, you as a supporter may not find any alibi when the law comes calling over some outlandish claims and cursing at another individual.
For clarity, the Cybercrime Act lists the offences against people to include CYBER HARASSMENT and STALKING, e-mail phishing, the dissemination of child pornography, various sorts of spoofing, credit card fraud, human trafficking, identity theft, and online connected LIBEL or SLANDER. (Take note of highlighted crimes.)
So, in your attempt to “defend” and support your candidate against another, be mindful not to send out a message that is false, or that can cause any annoyance, inconvenience, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, hatred, ill will or needless anxiety to another, or causes such a message to be sent.
If you do and the police, come for you, know that the Act states that you shall be liable on conviction to a fine of not more than N7,000,000 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 3 years or even both fine and imprisonment. Granted that it is on the claimant to prove that he or she has been defamed, imagine the inconvenience of being arrested and charged to court.
Let the campaigns begin!
EMMANUEL OGBECHE IS CHAIRMAN OF THE NUJ FCT COUNCIL