HURIWA Asks INEC To Sanction Politicians Jumping Gun On 2023 Presidential Campaigns

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Introduction

HURIWA acknowledges that campaign, by the Cambridge Dictionary, means to organize a series of activities to try to achieve something. Political campaign is said to be an organized effort which seeks to influence the decision making process within a specific group and in democracies refers to electoral campaigns by which representatives are chosen or referendums are decided.

In systems where individuals or organizations are defined by ideologies, electoral campaigns are important as the elections themselves as they do not only give the interested individuals the opportunity to sell themselves to those with legal right to determine their political fate but also afford the electorates the ample opportunity to access, afore hand, the intent of aspirants and possible contents of potential governments. In this situation, people vote based on campaign promises expounded to them by way of manifestoes which become guiding principles of leadership and ultimately the unwritten but morally binding social contract between the electorates or the public and elected officials or government generally. Although over time this seems far from reality in the Nigerian practice of electioneering, as a lot of politicians spend the period campaign dwelling on their opponents some many others hardly present realizable articulate policy statements, electioneering campaigns are all the same worth consideration.

Regulation of Political Campaigns in Nigeria
In Nigeria, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is the body saddled with the responsibility in relation to elections and related matters. It is established under Section 153 (1) (f) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) with powers under subsection 2 as at Part 1 of the Third Schedule. Item 15 (a), (c) and (f) empowers INEC to organize, undertake and supervise elections; monitor the organization and operation of political parties; and monitor political campaigns and provide rules and regulations which shall govern political parties. In the same vein section 100(1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (Amended 2015) empowers INEC to make guidelines for the regulation of campaign which candidates and parties must comply with. It provides thus:

“A candidate and his party shall campaign for the elections in accordance with the rules and regulations as may be determined by the Commission.”

Notwithstanding the Electoral Act has expressly provided the timeline for electoral campaigns. Section 99 (1) of the Act, which is on the Limitation on Political Broadcast and Campaign by political parties, provides that:

“For the purpose of this Act, the period of campaigning in public, every political party shall commence 90 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior the day.”

Subsection 2 provides that:

“A registered Political party which through any person acting on its behalf during the 24 hours before polling day-
(a) advertises on the facilities of any broadcasting undertaking; or
(b) procures for publication or acquiesces in the publication of an advertisement in a Newspaper, for the purpose of promoting or opposing a particular candidate; is guilty of an offence under this Act and upon conviction shall be liable to a maximum fine of N500, 000.”

Furthermore section 101 prohibits broadcast 24 hours preceding or a polling day. The section provides:
“(1) A person, print or electronic medium that broadcasts, publishes, advertises or circulates any material for the purpose of promoting or opposing a particular political party or the election of a particular candidate over the radio, television, newspaper, magazine, handbills, or any print or election media whatsoever called during twenty four hours immediately preceding or on polling day is guilty of an offence under this Act.

(2)Where an offence under subsection (1) of this section is committed by a body corporate, every principal officer of that body is equally guilty of an offence under this Act.

(3) where any person is convicted of an offence under this section, he shall be liable:
(a)in the case of a body corporate to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 and (b)in the case of an individual to a maximum fine of N500,000 or to imprisonment for 12 months.”

Section 30 mandates INEC to make public notice of an election stating the date of election and appointing a place where papers are to be delivered in each state of the federation including the FCT not later than 90 days to such an election and in the case of a by-election, not later than 14 days.

The definition of “campaigning in public” under section 156 of the Act, makes the 90 day period provided under the Act more an admonition than a legally binding directive. It states thus:

“Campaigning in public referred to in section 99 means the campaign that commences after the publication of the notice of election by the Commission pursuant to section 30 of this Act.”

It would mean strictly speaking that in criminal law, a person cannot be said to have done “campaigning in public” if the campaign is before the publication of the notice for the election although it is in breach of the 90 day rule. In essence, the only principle applicable under the 90-day rule is that relating to ending the campaign 24 hours prior to the elections. This may account for why the offences created under the Act aforesaid are only directly related to the 24 hour period preceding the elections and do not include campaign done prior to the notice or outside but before the commencement of the 90 day period.

Conclusion

Until the Electoral Act (Amendment Bill) is assented to by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the extant law on elections in Nigeria which is the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended 2015) provides that political campaigns are only allowed after publication of notice of election by INEC and that not earlier than 90 days before the election or later than 24 hours preceding the election. Be that as it may, the offences created under the Act in respect of the timeline are only directly related to breaches committed as regards the 24 hour regulation. HURIWA however urges the INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION to caution politicians who are jumping the gun and are already campaigning for an election that is clearly one year ahead.

COMRADE EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO
NATIONAL COORDINATOR
HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA)
20th January 2022.

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