As political parties begin their campaigns for the 2023 election on Wednesday (tomorrow), the Independent National Electoral Commission, the Christian Association of Nigeria, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, have issued a strong warning to political parties to avoid violence during the process.
The development coincided with rising insecurity in the country, as politicians increased their efforts to protect themselves, with demand for bulletproof cars and security gadgets increasing in recent months.
INEC Chairman Mahmud Yakubu warned that abusive and slanderous language could incite violence during the elections.
Yakubu spoke at a workshop in Lagos on Monday, represented by a National Commissioner, Festus Okoye.
“Abusive, intemperate, slanderous or base language or innuendoes designed or likely to provoke violent reaction or emotions shall not be employed or used in political campaigns. Let me also remind the media of their constitutional and legal obligations,” he said.
The INEC chairman further reiterated this position during a sensitisation forum on political broadcasting in Abuja, with the theme, ‘Towards a fair and responsible broadcast coverage of the 2023 general elections.’
He warned that the commission would do everything within its power to ensure that the 2023 general election was free, fair, credible, transparent, inclusive and verifiable.
He said, “Candidates and their supporters, as well as the media have a responsibility to operate within the confines of the law and the provisions of the commission’s regulations and guidelines. Issue-based campaigns are essential for safe electioneering. In turn, this will create the atmosphere for the successful deployment and conduct of all electoral activities.
“Campaigns should be devoid of hate speech, abusive or slanderous language, insinuations or innuendos likely to provoke a violent reaction, physical attacks on supporters of one party or another or the destruction of campaign materials.
“More specifically, section 95 of the Electoral Act defines the responsibilities of political parties and candidates, the media and public institutions. It also provides sanctions for violations.
“For instance, in the course of our numerous interactions with political parties over the years, many of them have complained about the denial of access to public facilities for their meetings or rallies, exorbitant charges for signage and billboards and equal access to the state media.”
Similarly, the Sultan, who is also the leader of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Mohammed Abubakar, and the CAN president, Rev. Daniel Okoh, called on Nigerians to work together for peace and justice ahead of the 2023 general elections.
They made the call on Monday during the 2022 third quarter meeting of the Nigeria Inter-Religion Council, held on Victoria Island, Lagos.
The event themed, ‘Working together for justice and peace,’ was also attended by the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu; the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Boss Mustapha and leaders of NIREC.
Abubakar said, “The role of religious leaders is to be just and fair to earn the trust of the people and I urge Muslims and Christians in the country to come together to pursue peace and justice because we are inseparable.”
Okoh said, “As we prepare for another significant milestone in our country, the 2023 general elections, it is important that we guard our actions and utterances as leaders. We must not be seen as people who are fanning embers of hate, disunity, encouraging political violence, or attempting to divide the populace along tribal or religious lines.”
Mustapha, who was represented by the Permanent Secretary, Office of the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Dr Maurice Mbaeri, urged religious leaders to create the needed change so that Nigerians can always live in unity and harmony.
“I want to charge every one of us to work for peace that will endure and outlast us by creating functional structures for generations unborn. This structure must have the capacity to be proactive in responding to emerging issues while reinforcing longer and larger change processes. We cannot fold our hands when we see problems emerging,” he said.
In his address, Sanwo-Olu said, “I believe with the case of NIREC that we have today and that we have seen consistently, this country will not be put to shame. I am hoping that the conversations, discussions, and decisions at the NIREC meeting will further strengthen that thing that we all swore to; to ensure justice, peace, and equity in this country.
“We are at a time this country needs all of us, now more than ever before and so, we should not allow hate speech. We cannot afford ethnic bigotry. We cannot afford to be divided. We are going into elections; let us see the commitment and nationality in all of us.”
Also, the Executive Secretary of NIREC, Cornelius Omonokhua, noted that the meeting was aimed at changing existing narratives to allow justice and peace to reign in Nigeria.
“There is a need for mental reengineering, change of values and attitudes as well as radical emancipation to address the root of various calamities of national concerns,” he stated.
Speaking at the Abuja event, the Director-General of NBC, Balarabe Ilelah, told operators of the broadcast industry to ensure that reportages are made within the ambit of the law.
He said, “I will also use this opportunity to remind broadcasters not to allow any form of hate speech, fake news, use of derogatory or divisive remarks and any incendiary broadcast on their platforms.
“The NBC is not going to take it lightly with any station. If you want to remain after the election, you must make sure that you operate within the law. And if you want to end your broadcast before the election, okay, you can go ahead and break the law. The NBC will not fold its arms to see things done in a wrong way.”
The President, National Union of Journalists, Chris Isiguzo, advised NBC and other regulatory organisations not to see the media as competitors but as partners in delivering the Nigerian project.
The Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, represented by the Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Bala Ciroma, warned the media against reportage that could jeopardize national security before or during the 2023 general elections.
2023 voters register
Meanwhile, INEC has set January 2023 as its proposed date for the publication of the voter register ahead of the 2023 general elections.
The commission disclosed this on Monday at a two-day capacity-building workshop for journalists on critical issues in the Electoral Act, 2022 and the commission’s processes, innovations and preparations for the 2023 general elections.
It was reported that INEC found 1,126,359 records of the 2, 523,458 fresh registrants between June 28, 2021, and January 14, 2022, to be invalid and consequently delisted them.
The electoral body had said it also detected several double, multiple, and ineligible registrants and had consequently invalidated them, adding that these include entries that failed to meet the commission’s business rules.
The publication, the commission said, is in fulfilment of section 10 (6) of the Electoral Act, 2022 which stated that “as soon as claims and objections have expired, the supplementary list shall be included in the revised register which shall be certified by the commission as the official register of voters for any election conducted under this Act and supersedes all previous registers.
“In accordance with the preceding section, the commission will certify the voter register that will be used in the 2023 general elections.”
“The publication of the voter register is proposed for January 2023,” said the commission’s chairman, Mahmood Yakubu.
Before the start of political campaigns on Wednesday, Yakubu urged political parties to be mindful of the language they use, particularly against their opponents.