“We campaigned on three major issues – to secure the country, revive the economy and fight corruption. We have elections next year, politicians are already pre-occupied with the polls, but I am bothered more about security and the economy.”
–President Muhammadu Buhari during his meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, on April 16, 2018.
As we count down to the next general election scheduled for February and March 2019, apprehension has gripped Nigerians. Many compatriots are worried about how governance is often sacrificed on the altar of politicking. As many aspirants declare their ambition to contest positions in the forthcoming elections, the norm is that governance will take the back seat as those currently occupying elective offices jostle with those seeking to wrest their positions from them. It is a known fact that election in many countries of the world, especially in Nigeria, is a war. I quite appreciate the above statesmanlike quote from President Buhari not to sacrifice governance for politics ahead of 2019. I do hope he keeps to that unforced promise.
I urge current elected office holders to put the country first and ensure that while pursuing their legitimate political ambition of seeking reelection, they do not lose sight of the need to deliver on their previous campaign promises of bettering the lives of their constituents. It was reported that the attendance by senators and House of Representatives members at plenary sessions has dropped significantly as many of them are found more in their constituency perfecting plans to ensure victory in their reelection bid.
Again, as politicians are engulfed in preparations for their elections, I write to remind them on the need to be careful not to abuse the state and administrative resources at their disposal. SARs are a part of resources used in political finance and in many instances are wittingly and inadvertently misused or abused in order to gain undue political advantage. Among the SARs often abused include money; publicly (government)owned media, security agencies, government vehicles and airplanes, government personnel, as well as administrative powers.
Section 100 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended states that state apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election. (3) Media time shall be allotted equally among the political parties or candidates at similar hours of the day. (4) At any public electronic media, equal airtime shall be allotted to all political parties and candidates during prime time at similar hours each day, subject to the payment of appropriate fees. (5) At any public print media, equal coverage and conspicuity shall be allowed to all political parties. (6) Any public media that contravenes sub-sections (3) and (4) of this section shall be guilty of an offence and on conviction is liable to a maximum fine of N500,000 in the first instance and to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 for subsequent conviction. These provisions of the law have often been observed in breach.
Many public media brazenly disregard this law as they are often instructed by their appointing authorities not to allow opposition parties and candidates have access to the state-owned media. Experience shows that many opposition parties and candidates have to rely heavily on private media to air their campaign adverts and news coverage. Sometimes, the state-owned media is used to demonise opposition parties and candidates as only negative and fake news on them are aired. The National Broadcasting Commission as the regulatory agency for television and radio stations in Nigeria has to rein in this act of impunity and mete out appropriate sanctions against erring stations.
This country has witnessed a lot of abuses of state and administrative resources especially in this Fourth Republic. There was an instance where a former President declared a two-day public holiday ostensibly to allow people travel home to vote during elections but really to prevent the Supreme Court from giving judgment on a matter about the candidacy of his Vice President who has been unlawfully excluded from a presidential contest. The Supreme Court judgment asking the Independent National Electoral Commission to include the name of the Vice President, who was contesting on the platform of another party than the one that brought him to power, on the ballot came barely five days to the presidential election. In January this year, a governor in a South-West state declared a two-day public holiday ahead of the state’s Local Government election ostensibly to allow people prepare for the election but really to stall the continuation of the court proceedings challenging the legality of holding the LG polls.
There was also the instance of an airport in Northern Nigeria being shut down for an emergency repair on the order of former aviation minister but really the order was targeted at frustrating opposition political party members planning to fly into the state for their party convention. Oftentimes, opposition political parties and candidates are denied permits to use publicly-owned facilities such as stadium or park for their campaign rallies. It is also in the nature of Nigerian politicians especially the incumbents to use government vehicles, personnel, and other facilities for their campaigns. Even when they use the media or other government facilities for their campaigns, they either do not pay at all or pay a token that is not commensurate with the standard rate charged for the use of such facilities.
There have also been instances of abuse of coercive powers of the state by incumbents during the electioneering period. Security agencies are used to arrest, molest and hound opposition party members. The same way they use the anti-corruption agencies of government to arrest and carry out trial by media of opposition party members nursing political ambitions or known to be sponsoring some aspirants for elections. It gets really bad when laws are also made to target opposition political party members. Worst still is the use of state financial resources to bankroll the re-election of the incumbent or sponsor a successor. All these are acts of impunity that often rear their ugly heads during the electioneering period.
It is condemnable because it creates an uneven political field for contestants. It’s like one person riding a bicycle and another in a well-serviced car running a race, the outcome is definitely predictable. It is important for incumbent elective office holders to take heed and eschew abuse of state and administrative resources at their disposal. They are meant to be used for public good and not for undue political advantage.
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