BusinessDay

On our marks – as campaign season begins

Presidential and federal legislature campaigns kick off today – September 28, 2022 – and it promises to be heated and contentious, busy and entertaining.

Last week, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) published the details of candidates for presidency, Senate and House of Representatives. In total, we have 4,223 candidates for federal positions, 381 female and 10 people living with disabilities.

There were no surprises for the presidential list – we have 18 contestants, down from 79 in 2019, which provides a more manageable length of ballot paper when voting; the youngest presidential candidate is 38 (Accord) and youngest vice-presidential candidate is 36 from the Boot Party (don’t ask). The sole female candidate for president is flying the ticket of the Allied People’s Movement.

In terms of Senate candidacy, the fate of three entitled and privileged men has started to emerge. All three – Godswill Akapbio; Dave Umahi, current Governor of Ebonyi; and Ahmad Lawan, current Senate President had contested party presidential primaries – lost and/or stepped down and then returned to their states, where Senate primaries had already been held, to insist on getting the Senate ticket.

They were being ignorant or wilfully dismissive of Sections 29 and 33 of the Electoral Act (2022), which speaks to the timing for submitting names to INEC and conditions under which candidates can be substituted: only through new primaries, even in the case of death. These provisions are new, designed for men like Umahi who got his brother Austin to run for the Senate ticket, who, of course, won the primaries.

When Umahi did not win the All Progressives Congress presidential ticket, Austin decided he would ‘step down’ for him. Ann Agom-Eze, who got the second highest votes after Umahi’s brother, argued that if anyone was going to benefit from the change of heart of Austin, it should be her, and the Federal High Court in Abakaliki agreed with her.

Akpabio and Umahi are now both on INEC’s list of candidates – by virtue of court orders and new primaries held for them, while Lawan, who has been in the National Assembly since 1999, is waiting for a court decision. It is unfortunate that the courts, not party members or voters, have so much influence in determining who gets into power through elections.

Agom-Eze did not take part in the second primaries for determining Ebonyi South Senatorial Zone and has filed an appeal with the Court of Appeal. Considering that only 92 women make up the 1,101 candidates for the Senate and the realities of our elections i.e., where governors never lose primaries, let’s hope the Court of Appeal looks at the spirit of reforms in our revised electoral Act i.e., to even the political field and find for Agom-Eze.

Once campaigns get underway and politicians are let loose, there are several things Nigerians and stakeholders for credible elections must consider getting involved in.

The first is to monitor INEC closely to ensure that the election management body is well prepared and has the technical capacity and necessary civil society and political party oversight to ensure we do not have a repeat of 2019, when the presidential elections were postponed hours to the election. It is also important to hold INEC’s feet to the fire regarding the allegations of interference with the voter register, which was raised by Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) in a press conference.

The allegations were clear: that the insertion of fake voters could not have been done without the connivance of INEC staff, and that fact brings into question what else has been planned with insiders to rig the elections. Already, there is a lawsuit filed at the Owerri Federal High Court on August 24, 2022 to prevent the use of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System during the general elections.

Read also: Will INEC fail the stress test of 2023 again?

This is Imo, the state governed by Hope Uzodinma, whose ward was one of the samples used by CUPP to provide some of the most egregious examples of ghost voters inserted into the register: pictures of dead people and hundreds of entries of voters with 1900 as their year of birth. We must have better elections than we did in 2019 and we must collectively indicate with our words and our actions that we will not allow the political status quo to be maintained due to the machinations of the political class. Getting and sharing intel about what those we know are involved in is critical to mitigating any plans to compromise the integrity of our elections.

Second is to monitor hate speech, particularly where it originates and those who use their incumbency to thwart freedom to campaign and freedom of association. The 2023 presidential elections are set to be divisive and fiercely contested for various reasons. The country is sinking economically and socially, Buhari’s policies since 2015 have exacerbated ethnic and religious hostilities, millions of Nigerians, particularly post the youth-led ENDSARS campaign, are more aware of the connection between who gets into office and what we endure or enjoy as citizens, and some presidential candidates are so unsure of their popularity that raising decades-old narratives of suspicion about various ethnicities is the only way they can address their inadequacies.

The media has a role to play, so does INEC as umpire, but we, the people, also have powers. We can be discerning about what we share – will it inflame passions? Don’t forward. Can you verify that the short 5 second video clip tells the full story behind what you have watched and heard? Do not share. Take time to counsel family and friends …we have the control levers for spreading and amplifying hate; we can refuse to be used.

Those who have raped Nigeria for years are from every ethnicity and religion; they only want us to remember we are different when it is time for elections and they need us too incapacitated by suspicion and fear to collaborate.

Third, and by no means exhaustive for what voters and Nigerians should be concerned with over the next few months until the elections: issues, issues, issues.

Everything else is distraction: what Keyamo said, how Dino danced, what Fani Kayode and Reno are spewing will not curtail the mafia who benefit from our fuel subsidy bill blowing up by a factor of 5. Our energy should be focused on holding all candidates to account – on their past records and their potential in their new roles – everyone, not only the 18 presidential candidates but everyone who wants to be governor and legislator – where do they stand on police brutality, sexual and domestic violence, reducing the cost of governance and reducing the number of ministries, agencies and departments we have across the country?

What have they done or said; what will they do about improving the quality of our education and health care? It will be a busy time for us all – we can expect at least another 6,000 to join the 4,223 candidates whose names we already know.

After two chronically ill presidents in the last 10 years, we need candidates to have a clean bill of health – it might not be required by law, but we can demand it and we can make our decisions based on what we hear and see – twice bitten, thrice shy. We have another opportunity to reset Nigeria’s direction; let’s take it.

Ayisha Osori, author of ‘Love Does Not Win Elections’, writes for BusinessDay for the Nigeria Decides 2023 series every fortnight on Wednesdays

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