2023: Tension heightens as campaigns kick off

After the primaries conducted by different political parties approved by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), campaigns for the 2023 general elections are set to officially commence. As a prelude to the exercise, INEC released names of political parties and candidates for different positions on September 20. In this report, PAUL OKAH examines the underlying issues politicians and the electorate would contend with during electioneering.

After months of unofficial campaigns, the 2023 campaigns are set to kick off, with presidential and National Assembly campaigns beginning on September 28, while governorship and state assembly campaigns have been scheduled to take off on October 12.

On September 20, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released names of candidates for presidential and National Assembly elections, while names of governorship and state assembly elections are expected to be released on October 4.

Expectedly, the release of names by INEC has heightened tension as many candidates have their names excluded in the list by the electoral body; either as a result of either not featuring in the primaries or being involved in controversial primaries, while candidates cleared by INEC are gearing up to launch campaigns from next week, using resources saved up for many years.

To many political parties, electioneering is a time to sell the party and its candidates for different positions to the electorate; so that the latter can be convinced to buy into their ideologies, programmes and promises of what to do if elected into office.

As campaigns for the 2023 general elections kick off, there is no gainsaying that Nigerians are waiting anxiously to hear what candidates of various political parties would do to solve the nation’s hydra-headed problems.

There has been tension since the revelation of candidates for different elective positions in states and at the national level.

The recent revelation by INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, on September 20, that over seven million Nigerians (7,043,594) could not complete their permanent voters cards (PVCs) registration before the deadline has been attracting condemnation in some quarters.

Tension over acceptability

The greatest headache of leading political parties, including the presidential candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party (LP), is to be accepted by the generality of Nigerians.

When the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) adopted a fellow Muslim and former Borno state governor, Senator Kashim Shettima, as running mate, many Nigerians rejected the choice, giving reasons, especially as the country has a bias for religion.

Despite overtures and explanation by the APC and other interested parties, the tension is yet to die down as many are waiting to see on what basis the party will convince Christians to vote for a Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket, especially as many stalwarts dumped the party in protest of the same-religion ticket.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the PDP is presently enmeshed in crisis, which has snowballed to the withdrawal of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers state, his Oyo state counterpart, Seyi Makinde, former minister of information, Prof. Jerry Gana, and other prominent party chieftains from the party’s presidential campaign council.

The Wike camp announced their plan not to participate in the campaign council which was scheduled for inauguration next Wednesday, after a meeting at Wike’s private residence in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, on Wednesday morning.

They hinged their decision on the failure of the party’s chairman, Iyorchia Ayu, to resign from office, insisting that the position must come to the South for balance, justice, and equity and that only the removal of Ayu would make them rescind their decision.

Furthermore, Mr. Peter Obi of the Labour Party is still battling for acceptance as many regard him as being popular only on social media, and that he doesn’t have the structures to win even a single state.

It remains to be seen if the growing tension will be doused by the APC, PDP and LP convincing Nigerians to accept a same-faith presidential ticket, accepting northerners in key positions and translating social media followership to physical structures for Nigerian presidency.

‘Violence, death, destruction loom’

In an exclusive interview with Blueprint Weekend, an environmental/ human rights activist, writer and executive director of Neighbourhood Environment Watch Foundation, Dr. Kelechukwu Okezie, advised candidates and political parties to desist from enticing electorate with monetary or social gifts as “the country is jaundiced and near comatose,” adding that tension, violence, death and destruction will be recorded during campaigns for 2023 elections, just like in previous years.

He said: “As the candidates present themselves and their manifesto to the public, I want them to be guided and to speak to dreams, aspirations, pains and desires of the electorate. Making bland statements that are not tied to indicators and outcomes is now overtaken by new upsurge by youths to vote, not on the basis of parties, but individuals who can deliver.

“The country is jaundiced and near comatose. Let them be guided by patriotism, love for humanity, justice, equity and unity. They should desist from enticing the electorate with monetary or social gifts. The electorate should resist all forms of vote buying and enticements. They should look at the candidates’ antecedents, capacity and commitments.

“I foresee tension. I foresee violence, death and destruction. The history of elections in Nigeria is replete with this sad reality. I do not see 2023 being less. We may not avoid it, but we can mitigate the level and dimension. Great onus lies with the electoral body, INEC, and also with our security agencies. They compromise, and embolden the corrupt and desperate politician. If INEC can wield the big stick and use sanctions, then we can mitigate impact.

“Those whose names are missing should be addressed. Voters’ names update should be a continuous process and not a one-off activity. There is anger and poverty in the land and any attempt to manipulate the electoral process may experience a backlash that will be unprecedented in the history of Nigeria. 2023 is pregnant. Let INEC, security agencies and the electorate thread with care. With the level of poverty and insecurity in the land, youth may become willing tools in the hands of desperate politicians.

“The politicians must be made to respect and abide by the electoral guidelines in terms of campaign spending and decorum in speech and action. Let them present their manifesto and not name calling or character assassination. Ethnicity, religion and gender should not be promoted in their campaigns and when they fail, they should be made to face the music.”

Foundation warns on ‘desperate politicians, electorate’

Speaking with Blueprint Weekend, the founder of the Rufus Ebegba Centre for Leadership and Environmental Sustainability (REC), Dr Rufus Ebegba, said it is important for Nigerians to reject violence and political tension during the campaign, adding that hate speech by candidates and their supporters have a dangerous potential to ignite flames of violence.

He said: “Civic space, public participation, fundamental freedoms and a violence-free environment are critical to foster inclusive engagement in the electoral process and the exercise of political rights. The use of abusive language and disrespect for opponents’ views should be avoided. All those involved in the electoral process must commit themselves to peaceful conduct prior, during and after elections.

“Candidates and political parties must refrain from using inflammatory languages, which may lead to violence and human rights abuses. Successful elections are key to mitigating the security challenges and other economic malaise bedevilling the country. Leaders and candidates should make it clear to their supporters that violence has no place in democratic elections. They should not incite, support or engage in any kind of violence before, during or after the votes are counted.

“Nigerians should peacefully express their views and reject the voices of those calling for violence. When elections are free and fair, it is the responsibility of all citizens to help keep the peace, no matter who wins.”

Poverty, unemployment alarming

In an exclusive interview with Blueprint Weekend, a development economist and Board Chairman of Amaka Chiwuike-Uba Foundation (ACUF), Dr. Chiwuike Uba, who is also the chairman of the board, ACUF Initiative for Policy and Governance, said the statistics of poverty, unemployment “are worrisome and need to be addressed by candidates during campaigns.”

According to him, it is not enough for politicians to campaign on what to do, but that it is more important to spell out, in clear terms, how to deliver on promises, and that “Nigerians need to know what each of their promises is going to cost and where the money is going to come from.”

He said: “The 2023 campaigns will provide opportunities for candidates to not only sensitise the citizens on the many challenges confronting the nation, but providing strategies to address the challenges. This should not be a period of promising an Eldorado, but responding to what, how, when and where to provide the solutions.

“Nigeria’s macro-economy is dangerously volatile, with inflation exceeding 20 per cent, an unemployment rate of 33 percent (with youth unemployment around 53 per cent) and a poverty rate of over 40 per cent. The exchange rate is unstable and the budget deficit accounts for more than 40 per cent of revenues, in addition to lower revenues.

“Nigeria is currently confronted with other development challenges such as corruption, insecurity, health, education, intractable divisions between ethnic nationalities and broken public finances. More than 90 million people in Nigeria lack access to electricity and an estimated 20 million Nigerian children are out of school.

“Kidnappings have replaced the collapsed industries in Nigeria, with more than 3,420 abductees and 564 killed in incidents associated with the abduction. Hundreds of millions of Naira are paid in ransom by families to save their abducted family members. Painfully, Nigerian security forces, for the most part underpaid and under-equipped, are waging a war of attrition against gangs of bandits, separatists, extortionists, kidnappers and terrorists.”

He said further that, “Nigeria’s high public debt, which stood at N42.84 trillion in the first half of 2022, is a huge concern. Unfortunately, much of the debt is used to finance consumption (recurring expenditures and overhead costs). In addition, Nigeria’s most important source of income and foreign exchange suffers from oil theft. The Nigeria National Petroleum Company (NNPC) recently estimated that 400,000 barrels of oil were stolen every day. State refineries have not functioned well for years, instead Nigeria has seen a proliferation of illegal refineries dealing with stolen oil.”

“Candidates need to provide answers on how they intend to rebuild Nigeria’s public finances and put them back on the path to sustainability. The campaigns should provide answers on how to shrink the domain of the public sector to free resources to enlarge the domain of the private sector; in order to truly have a private-sector-led, market economy. The many ‘How’ questions should provide the strategy to achieve uninterrupted power supply, ensure an accurate population census with the bio-metric data of every citizen, revolutionise the education and health sector, and deal with the tripartite problems of poverty, urbanisation and unemployment.

“At present, most Nigerians have lost confidence in Nigeria, as evidenced by the number of people leaving the country. The country appears to have failed everyone, especially when it comes to the safety of lives and property. The campaign issues have the potency to revive the waned interest of Nigerians in the nation. Therefore, the 2023 campaigns need to focus on how to address the key challenges facing the country. It should not focus on the problems because everyone knows the problems. We need the candidates to indicate, in practical terms, how they intend to solve the problems. The days of rhetoric and bad-mouthing are over. We need solutions!”

Traditional ruler’s warning

In an exclusive interview with this reporter, a traditional ruler, His Royal Majesty, Oba Mukaila Akanni Salako Olukuewu II, the Adokun of Igan-Okoto in Yewa (Egbado) North local government area of Ogun state, said desperate politicians always make promises of what they don’t hope to fulfil if elected and advised voters to tackle politicians during campaigns.

He said: “I am a traditional ruler and I must tell the truth. As campaigns kickoff, I want politicians to always tell the truth regarding their objectives and programmes. We have a lot of problems in Nigeria. Voters are selling off themselves and mortgaging their futures when they accept money from politicians. For instance, I have been in Abuja since yesterday, but I refused to call on my representatives in government. Election is coming and immediately I call the politicians, they will be happy. They are not performing well at home, but they stay in Abuja to spend money. They would tell me to convince those around me to vote for them. But they have been here in Abuja for many years and have not even visited my palace, but would like to rush and meet me because they hear I am in Abuja.

“They would like to give me money to please me and expect me to confuse voters, but I cannot do that. I also advise people not to accept money from abysmal politicians. If I collect money from politicians, then I am selling my people. I am selling my community. I am robbing my community. It is not only about money, politicians are robbing people of many things. So, communities should stand up to politicians.

“If a politician comes to me, I will tell him the truth. It is good that campaigns are starting. We will tackle politicians on their programmes, on what they want to do for us so that we will know whether to vote for them or not. Political thuggery is too much and should be condemned.

“I want the government to use good and trusted security agents in the elections, not hungry personnel, who will be given N50, 000 by politicians to look the other way, while thugs operate freely and unleash mayhem. If any ballot box is snatched anywhere, INEC should cancel the votes there.”

Myetti Allah’s admonition

Meanwhile, the leadership of the South East Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association (MACBAN) has advised Nigerians to vote for the most credible presidential candidate in the 2023 general elections.

Speaking Tuesday during a press conference in Awka, the Anambra state capital, the South-east chairman of MACBAN, Alhaji Gidado Sidikki, said Nigerians should shun primordial sentiments and ethno-religious leanings during the polls to save the country from the doldrums, assuring that his members would continue to live in peace and harmony with their host communities not only in Anambra but the entire South-East states.

“About the 2023 presidential elections, I advise Nigerians to vote for the most credible presidential candidate that will make Nigeria safe for every citizen, irrespective of tribe or religion. I also call on our members across the country to restrict their movement during the campaigns. They should inform their parents or masters whenever they are going out for grazing,” he said.