Candidates from Nigeria’s main political parties in the February 25 presidential election face prison terms and eventual prosecution if the content and direction of their campaigns are investigated and prosecuted in the hard-fought contest.
A review of Atiku Abubakar’s campaigns People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Labor Party’s Peter Obi (LP) and Bola Tinubu Congress of All Progressives (APC) has stated that candidates participated in ethnic, sectarian or religiously motivated votes before the election, which is a clear violation of Nigeria’s electoral law.
In April, Peter Obi’s secret phone conversation with David Oyedebo, an influential Nigerian pastor and founder of Living Faith Church, was leaked. In the audio, Peter Obi was heard declaring the February 25 presidential election as a religious war and Mr. Oyedepo was heard repeatedly replying “I think so”.
Before that phone conversation on the eve of the presidential election, Peter Obi was accused of serially campaigning on religious lines, targeting churches with thousands of followers. He denied the accusations but his political steps proved otherwise.
In June 2022, for instance, Mr. Obi called on Nigerians to “take back” their country during a campaign visit to the Revival House of International Church (RHOGIC), Abuja’s “Powerful Men” conference.
In a speech on the theme “navigating the corridors of power, church and politics”, Peter Obi described the Nigerian political space as an “asylum”, urging Nigerians not to continue the situation.
But Peter Obi is not alone in spreading religious, sectarian or ethical sentiments for political campaigns. The other two main presidential contenders, Bola Tinubu of the APC and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, also adopted similar campaign models.
Like Peter Obi, like Bola Tinubu
Mr. Tinubu’s June 2022 “emilokan” outing surprised many Nigerians. Ahead of the APC presidential primaries, the former Lagos governor addressed delegates at the Presidential Lodge in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital. He said it was the Yoruba’s turn—and therefore his turn—to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari.
He said: “If it was not for me who led the war front, Buhari would not have emerged; He competed for the first, second and third time and lost. He said he would never compete on TV again. I went to his house in Katsina, I told him you will compete and win, but you will not joke about Yoruba affairs. Since he left, I have not been appointed Minister; I am not getting or asking for a contract. This time, it is Yoruba’s turn and in Yorubaland, my turn”.
At the event, Mr. Tinubu referred to a song by Robert Ogunde, titled ‘Yoruba Ronu’, a 1964 musical orchestra, charging the people of the South West not to betray each other politically. The historical references and Mr. Tinubu’s outbursts appealed to many Yoruba voters who then decided to rally around their own tribe rather than any other politician from another tribe.
The moonshine of a political campaign by Atiku Abubakar
In October 2022, speaking at an interactive session of policy dialogue at the Arewa town hall in Kaduna, Nigeria’s former vice president and PDP presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, said northerners needed a president like him, who comes from the north.
Mr. Abubakar asked northerners to trust their votes because he is one of them and therefore the most qualified to be president.
“I’ve been all over this country,” he said.
“I know this whole country. I have built bridges across this town. I think what the average northerner needs is someone from the north who also understands other parts of Nigeria and has been able to build bridges to the rest of the country.’
He added, “this is what the northerners need. He (from the north) does not need a Yoruba candidate or an Igbo candidate. This is what the north needs.
“I stand before you as a pan-Nigerian of northern origin.”
“There is nothing wrong with campaigning along religious lines”
On the telephone conversation with Mr. Peter Obi Oyedepo, a Labor Party leader and Professor Pat Utomi said there was nothing wrong in campaigning on religious lines.
Elsewhere, he said, political parties are sometimes established to serve the interests of people of a particular religion. Mr. Utomi said this in a brief interview with African Independent Television (AIT).
He further argued that every politician appeals to religious sentiments, no politician seeking power goes to religious leaders for endorsement.
Violating the 2022 Electoral Act, risking prison sentences
But contrary to Mr. Utomi’s contention, campaigning along ethnic, sectional and religious lines is a clear violation of Nigeria’s electoral law and violators can be jailed if prosecuted.
According to Article 92, paragraph 3 of the 2022 Electoral Law, “places designated for religious worship, police stations and public offices shall not be used for political campaigns, rallies and processions; or promote, propagate or attack political parties, candidates or their programs or ideologies.’
Again, article 97 of the same law prohibits campaigns based on religion or tribe, which states: “Any candidate who campaigns or broadcasts on religious, tribal or sectional grounds to promote or oppose a particular political party or a particular political party, individuals or associations. The selection of a particular candidate constitutes an offense under this Act and on conviction shall be punishable by (a) a maximum fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment for 12 months or both; and b) in the case of a political party, a maximum fine of N10,000,000.’
READ ALSO: How Nigeria’s presidential candidates plan to tackle the high cost of government
With campaigns set to kick off in 2022, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) warned candidates seeking office to avoid campaigning in religious spaces or coloring their elections with inter-religious divisions.
Reading sections of the Electoral Act, Festus Okoye, the INEC National Commissioner for Publicity, said offenders risked imprisonment. Mr. Okoye noted that the Act already has provisions for punishment for violators, urging parties and candidates to comply with the law and make it a priority.
It remains to be seen whether INEC would be able to muster the political will to prosecute Atiku Abubakar, Bola Tinubu and Peter Obi for violating the Electoral Act in their campaigns.
Accept PREMIUM TIMES’ journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. However, only good journalism can guarantee a good society, a responsible democracy and the possibility of a transparent government..
For free access to the best investigative journalism in the country, we ask that you make a modest contribution to this noble endeavor.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain journalism that matters and keep it free and accessible to all.
Text ad: Call Willie – +2348098788999