As INEC Blows Whistle for Take-off of 2023 Election Campaign Today…

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Emameh Gabriel writes that the stage is set for campaigns and fireworks as the Independent National Electoral Commission lifts ban on political parties’ campaign today.

Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) today blows the kick off whistle for the 2023 general elections campaigns in line with its scheduled timetable. Campaigns for the next year’s general elections, including the Presidential and National Assembly elections will now officially take off in earnest.

In an already charged and frenzied political atmosphere and extremely polarized nation, currently battling insecurity in all fronts coupled with economic challenges, it is expected that drums for the elections will sound louder than witnessed in previous polls as Nigerians become more concious of the happenings in their political environment, especially in the last few months.

The country holds its breath; the frills, the thrills, jabs and counter jabs will increase and the political atmosphere will be enveloped with apprehension as the major political parties position themselves before the electorate to gather more sympathisers either by conviction or enticements of any kind.

INEC had on Monday read the rules of engagement to political parties for the campaigns in accordance with the 2022 Electoral Act.

Chairman of the Commission, Prof  Mamood Yakubu, advised political parties to study and pay attention to the provisions of the Constitution, the Electoral Act, the Police Act and the Public Order Act for the proper and peaceful conduct of political campaigns, rallies and processions.

Yakubu also reminded the parties that their campaigns and slogans must not be tainted with “abusive language directly or indirectly, which are likely going to injure religious, ethnic, tribal or sectional feelings”.

The INEC boss who sounded the note of warning at the opening of a two- day Capacity building workshop on the Commission’s Processes, Preparations for the 2023 General Election and Critical Issues in the Electoral Act 2022 for INEC Press Corps, held in Lagos, cautioned that “abusive, intemperate, slanderous or base language or innuendoes designed or likely to provoke violent reactions or emotions must not be employed or used in political campaigns”.

Represented by INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, Yakubu charged the media to exercise their constitutional responsibility and hold the political parties to task, ensuring they uphold the guidelines and provisions of the Electoral Act as it relates to the coming elections.

He reiterated that the media has a critical role to play in the overall success of the election and reassured that INEC will deploy technology to give Nigerians a full experience of electoral justice.

According to him, “I want to assure Nigerians that the Commission will deploy and continue to deploy appropriate technology for the conduct of elections. The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Result Viewing Portal (IreV) will be deployed for the conduct of the 2023 general election.

”We will continue to use technology to improve and enhance the credibility of elections in Nigeria. Our goal is electoral justice where every Nigerian will experience electoral fulfilment”.

While candidates are expected soon to sign a peace pact with the Abdulsalami Abubakar-led National Peace Committee, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has also appealed to political parties to conduct themselves in the manner that will not escalate tension among their supporters. 

Although 18 political parties are in the race for the presidential election, it seems clearly that it is going to be a four horse race with only the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC), with former Lagos State Governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu as its flag bearer, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has settled for former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi will lead the pack under Labour Party (LP) which came into the race lately looking likely to create an upset. Also the New Nigerian Peoples’ Party (NNPP), which looks more like a regional force with former Kano State Governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso as its standard bearer also contending for the plum job.

What are the issues at stake for political parties?

With a high unemployment rate, worsening poverty level, escalating insecurity, and rising debt burden fuelling dismay in Nigeria, the 2023 campaign promises to be issues based. It is therefore expected that political paries’ candidates will provide credible, practicable and pragmatic solutions to the challenges bedeviling the nation’s economy and security.

Nigeria deserves the best this time. No doubt, they will express their resolve, anger and frustration at the polls next year.

The 2023 campaigns would not be business as usual; it’s going to be issues based rather than a cacophony of expired fairy tales. Political parties’ candidates would be confronted with burning questions that require honest answers to Nigerians who are now better informed and politically sensitized.

Nigerians will be more concerned about candidates antecedents, their policy programmes and party’s achievements to make their choices.

The APC for instance, after enjoying soaring popularity in the buildup to the 2015 general elections, has recently become a subject of increased criticism after almost eight years in the helm of affairs, and the main opposition PDP has taken advantage largely on the global economy crisis which Nigeria is not spared too, the slow pace of economic recovery and steady rise in inflation, as a tool for campaign.

On the other, the PDP has a damaged reputation to repair. The party had in the build up to the 2019 general elections apologized to Nigerians for how it mismanaged the country’s economy and promised to turn things around if given another chance.

The party is currently battling to rescue itself from how it poorly managed the country’s economy in its 16 years in power. The PDP was largely criticised for corruption, insecurity and impunity, especially under the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration- factors that majorly contributed to its defeat in 2015.

Tinubu promises to navigate Nigeria to prosperity. He has promised to build on President Muhammadu’s legacies and turn the fortune of the country around if elected. Apart from agriculture, infrastructure, education and security, the former Lagos State Governor has also promised to make Nigeria youth a key component of his administration and nurture them to take over leadership from the current generation.

Minister of State for Labour and Productivity, and the spokesperson for APC 2023 presidential election campaign council, Festus Keyamo, in a recent interview with THISDAY described Tinubu as the best bet for Nigeria under the current circumstances.

“By the time we begin to role out the records, the facts and the figures, it will now become clear that nobody is close to Asiwaju. Because really it is about what you have done.

“I am sorry, this is an issue based campaign, I am not using abusive words, I am addressing issues and I said Atiku cannot come close to Asiwaju”, said Keyamo who explained how Tinubu would assemble the best hands to run the economy.

For the PDP, its presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, has promised to resuscitate Nigeria’s economy by launching a $10 billion Economic Stimulus Fund within his first 100 days in office, stressing that the fund would prioritise support to micro, small and medium scale enterprises (MSMEs) that offer greatest opportunity for inclusive economic growth.

Atiku who spoke recently at the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) noted that his economic plan was carefully designed to salvage the country’s economic fortunes before members of Nigeria’s organised private sector.

He further hinted of his plan to privatise Nigeria’s dilapidated refineries rather than spend $1.55 billion on their revitalisation.

Spokesperson of the Atiku Abubakar Presidential Campaign Organisation, Charles Aniagwu, has also said the PDP was ready to embrace issue-based campaigns ahead of the 2023 general elections.

Aniagwu who spoke on a national Television programme, said the party was prepared to stay on the issues because it was well abreast with the challenges bedeviling the nation.

According to him: “It is important for every Nigerian to appreciate the fact that we must remain on the issues that our people are contending with.

“I am happy that our party, particularly our presidential candidate has clearly identified what the issues are and it is only those who don’t understand what the issues are that try to bring up propaganda or try to attack individuals.

“As a party we have been able to reel out the issues we are going to deal with. Earlier, I listened to your interview with the Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, and I can see that he was unable to give answers that you needed to put smiles on the faces of Nigerians.

“We have identified the issues which are, the need to revamp the economy, ensure security of lives and property, devolution of power to the different component parts of the country.

“We will be addressing issues of education to the extent that today for over 220 days now our children have been at home because our universities are under lock and key due to ASUU strike”.

The presidential candidate of Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi came into the race as a paperweight politician who would pose no serious threat to the two major political parties, the ruling APC and the main opposition PDP.

But the tide seems to have changed; the party has witnessed a resurgence across the country in the past few months as fresh faced and youthful politicians rally to what they now tagged, ‘Obi-dient’ call, compelling analysts and observers to believe that a Third Force seeking to upstage the two dominant political parties, the APC and PDP, has emerged.

Until now, the Labour Party, was just an affiliate of the nation’s main trade union, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), with little or no presence in several states of the federation since after the reign of former Governor Olusegun Agagu of Ondo State from 2003 to 2009 on the platform of the party.

Last week, Obi at the  Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) forum where he unveiled his proposed economic blueprint, told the leaders of the organised private sector that his administration would liberalise the entire power sector value chain, including transmission, to ensure a steady power supply if elected president next year.

The economic package Obi presented to his audience include; power sector reforms; removal of petroleum subsidy; new approach to combatting insecurity; borrowing to fund infrastructure and accountability to the people.

Four months old New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) of Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, on its part, has promised to initiate good economic policies, tackle insecurity and provide quality education if elected president in 2023.

Kwankwaso, former Nigeria’s Defence Minister and two-time Kano State governor, said his party is all out to ensure Nigeria’s unity.

His words: “I shall tackle insecurity, provide quality and good education and better economic policies that can lift the nation to a higher pedestal”.

The former Kano State Governor is still one of the candidates many believe might be a pawn in the game for APC.

The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Dr Agbo Major, has also declared that the party would focus on issue-based political campaigns ahead of the forthcoming 2023 presidential election.

Said he: “NNPP campaign will be issues-based as we take the lead in strengthening and deepening our emerging democracy.

“We also urge other political parties and their candidates to imbibe issues-based campaign and eschew politics of bitterness and rancour that impeded the nation’s electoral process.

“INEC should also provide a level playing field to all political parties and we their candidates participating in various elections.

“Nigerians, indeed the whole world, expect free, fair, credible, transparent, generally acceptable, and peaceful elections. The people’s mandate must be respected.

“NNPP’s voice must be heard and resonate across the nation with its message of hope for a NEW NIGERIA that has a future for all Nigerians. We see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Ex Presidents speak

On their part, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and immediate past President Goodluck Jonathan have urged Nigerians to make the right choice by electing credible leaders at all levels, warning that making the wrong choice in the election may consume the nation.

Obasanjo made his call recently while delivering a lecture in Lagos at the Wilson Badejo Foundation’s 15th annual lecture with the theme, ‘Overcoming the twin challenge of poverty and insecurity in Nigeria’.

The ex-president said the country cannot afford to make the mistake of choosing bad people at the helm of affairs considering the myriads of challenges facing the nation.

He said: “Nigeria is not what it should be today. If anybody says anything to the contrary, then the person’s head needs to be examined.

“Nobody will do it for us and nobody needs to be blamed. But the choice is in our hands. You don’t have anybody to blame.

“Is there any choice, that is where prayer is very important? Don’t let us deceive ourselves, we have a choice. It is whether we make the right choice or not. If we don’t make the right choice, we don’t blame anybody but ourselves.”

Jonathan also warned Nigerians to be wary of those to vote into office next year.

He offered the advice recently during a special interdenominational service to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the creation of Akwa Ibom State on Sunday, September 25, 2022.

His words: “In 2023, you must not make the mistake to vote killers. Those who will carry knives, guns, and all kinds of gadgets to go and kill people because of politics, are the enemies of society. If you kill to become a leader, you will continue to kill to remain a leader.

“The people will continue to suffer. Make sure that from the House of Assembly to the House of Representatives to Senate to governor, you vote the right people in Akwa Ibom State.”

As the elections draw closer, analysts have identified several factors that will influence the outcome of the 2023 elections. Key among them are: resolve and the will of the people to take back the government for themselves; economic blueprints of the candidates and their records in the past and of course financial inducement by deep pocket politicians.

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