Why Is The National Assembly Still Keeping This Law? By Sam Nda-Isaiah
Nigeria is the only democracy in the world where it is illegal to campaign for an upcoming election until the election regulatory body gives the go-ahead. This may sound improbable but it is very true. The first time I heard it would be illegal to start campaigning until INEC gave the go-ahead, I actually thought it was a joke.
It is bad enough that votes do not count in the country, and Nigeria is also probably the only country where candidates going in for elections are advised to protect their votes, whatever that means. Now, we are also being told that politicians cannot start campaigning for votes until INEC says it is legal to do so. I think we have to make up our minds whether it is democracy we really want in this country.
This is a funny law that benefits no one. Politicians are very unhappy about it; INEC officials are upset about it because it frustrates their work. In fact, many of them believe the law is largely unenforceable in a democracy — and I totally agree. Nigerians are the worse for it, because it deprives them the opportunity to assess candidates fully before it is time to vote. This must be one of the reasons that, most of the time, the wrong people are voted into offices.
The only people this very dubious electoral law favours are those who run away from campaigning because they have nothing to offer. They only wait to buy up delegates during primary elections and then wait for the general election to bribe the police and other security agents to manipulate results for them. The electorate who, in most cases, are not particularly attached to any candidates because they do not know any of them enough simply become onlookers, watching the fight among thieves. That is also why, in most cases, the people just offer themselves for sale to the highest bidders. During the 2011 presidential primaries, both aspirants of a party shared tons of dollars to their delegates.
In countries where this thing is done properly and more decently, campaigns start very early. The next United States presidential election is in November 2016, about 21 months after ours slated for February 2015, but campaigns have already started there. The frontline candidate to beat is Hilary Clinton of the Democratic Party; the Republicans have already started the struggle to identify who among them can square up to her. Last week, the Republican Party held its Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland where all the speakers, who are potential presidential aspirants, tried to outdo one another. The journey to Barack Obama’s historic November 2008 presidential victory started on February 10, 2007, when he formally and publicly announced to a crowd in Springfield, Illinois, that he would be running for president. That means that he campaigned for nearly two years. Meanwhile in Nigeria, it is illegal to start campaigning for an election that is less than one year away. We need to start doing things correctly in this country.
By the prevailing rules, INEC is supposed to allow only three months for campaigns, including presidential campaigns. That means the presidential candidates who are supposed to sell their parties’ programmes all over the 36 states and Abuja will have only three months to do this. Does anyone really think this is possible? We need to stop making ourselves the laughing stock of the world that we currently are.
We are Africa’s largest oil producer that imports all our refined oil needs. We are the world’s largest cassava producer that imports all our starch products.
We cannot call ourselves a democracy and yet restrict people from campaigning. That would be witchcraft and not democracy.
INEC officials complain about this law, politicians don’t agree with it, the electorate do not think the law makes sense, and foreigners laugh at us. So why is the National Assembly still keeping this law? We need to change it immediately.
The incident last week of a gun attack on the Enugu Government House is nothing strange in today’s Nigeria. It is the new normal. The insecurity Nigeria faces is not limited to the north-east alone as the president and his handlers want us to believe. Kidnappers and armed robbers have virtually taken over the south-east and south-south. As I write this, the president’s foster father is still being held by kidnappers in Bayelsa State. The president’s household is said to be negotiating a discount on the ransom with the kidnappers. Imagine!
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