By Ohia Israel
A drive through the city of Abuja the Federal Capital Territory will notice bill boards sighted along some streets such as the Shehu Shagari Way, Ahmadu Bello Way/Kur Mohammed, and along Ibrahim Babangida Boulevard in Maitama. According to findings all these billboards that are in the above mentioned streets of the Abuja City Center, have on them messages urging Nigerians to vote for President Goodluck Jonathan come 2015 when the General Election will be taking place.
While pointing out that these new billboards are sponsored by a group known as Jonathan Actualization Movement, JAM, it is imperative to note that this group is brazenly breaching the Electoral Act 2006 as amended, as the message it is spreading is that they are urging Nigerians to vote for the president.
In the same way it also shows that President Goodluck Jonathan is breaching the law, even in spite of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC’s repeated warnings not to begin election campaigns before the officially fixed time.
Some of the billboards with green backgrounds read; “2015 VOTE JONATHAN FOR EQUITY, INTEGRITY & GOOD GOVERNANCE.” These messages on the billboards are an indication that President Jonathan has began his election campaigns which is a direct violation of the Electoral Act, which specifies that campaigns should commence 90 days before any election.
It is of note that Section 99 (1-3) of the Electoral Act says: “For the purpose of this Act, the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 90 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day. “Procures for publication or acquiesces in the publication of an advertisement in a Newspaper for the purpose of promoting or opposing a particular candidate, commits an offence under this Act and upon conviction is liable to a maximum fine of N500,000.”
Meanwhile, despite President Goodluck Jonathan’s deliberate reluctance to declare his intention to contest the 2015 presidential election or otherwise, some funny Nigerians under the aegis of different groups have continued to flood the nation’s capital city, Abuja, with campaign posters of the president in respect of 2015 presidential polls, thereby violating the electoral laws.
Jonathan had on several occasions told Nigerians that he has not deemed it appropriate to declare his intention given the enormous work before him, warning ambitious politicians against unnecessarily heating up the polity.
However, around-the-town checks by this medium revealed campaign posters and billboards of different dimensions and messages by individuals and groups. While some posters were out rightly campaigning for the president, others were calling on him to contest the next presidential election.
Pillars upholding Mabushi Bridge had many posters pasted on them. Of particular interest is that of a governorship aspirant in Nasarawa State, one “Alh. (Dr.) El-Kabir Wakili” appearing together with the president calling on the electorate to “vote a winning team”. Also, at the airport junction axis of Kado Expressway stood a giant billboard with a bold inscription “Nigeria Youths For Goodluck Jonathan” in 2015.
Other posters were indiscriminately pasted on available spaces especially bridge heads around the Federal Secretariat in the three-arm zone and Kashim Ibrahim way in Maitama district of the city in such a manner that constituted nuisance in the areas affected.
Others are all-glossy giant posters, which had the portrait of the president, reading, “2015: No vacancy in Aso Rock. Let’s do more. One good term deserves another; support Dr. Goodluck Azikiwe Jonathan for 2015 Presidency.”
Some of the earliest posters sighted by this medium early last year were strategically posted in high brow areas of the capital city, including Central Business District, Garki, Asokoro, Wuse, and the PDP Headquarters in the Wuse Zone 5 district of the capital.
The sponsors of these campaign posters have, by their actions knowingly or unknowingly, contravened Section 99 (subsection 1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) which states that: “For the purpose of this Act, the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 90 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day.”
Though a date for the next presidential election has not been fixed by the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), it is certainly more than 90 days from now and all eyes are on INEC to enforce the law to the letter.
Despite the presence of posters and billboards as well as the emergence of motley groups falling over one another in the quest to railroad him into entering the contest, Mr. Jonathan has consistently said it was too early for him to announce his political future because he presently has a job to do.
However as it stands the president is not the only Nigerian politician beginning the game before the whistle is blown. Sometime last year, the campaign posters of a national leader of the All Progressives Congress, Muhammadu Buhari, flooded some parts of Abuja. The green background posters were strategically posted in the Asokoro District and other areas of the federal capital.
The APC Youth Forum, which sponsored the posters, announced Mr. Buhari, a former military head of state, as the consensus presidential candidate of the party. The posters, which had the portrait of Mr Buhari, read: “Here comes the only saviour for Nigeria, Gen Muhammadu Buhari, APC Consensus candidate for 2015 presidential election; Support Buhari All Progressives Congress, Support Buhari: The only man for the job.”
The posters surprisingly emerged even when the APC was finalizing plans to file application for registration with INEC. Mr. Buhari was the presidential candidate of the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, on two occasions (2003 and 2007) and was the candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, in the 2011 election.
Also early in 2013, presidential campaign posters featuring the pair of Sule Lamido and Rotimi Amaechi, governors of Jigawa and Rivers States, as presidential and vice presidential aspirants of the PDP for the 2015 election, were also noticed in some parts of the country. Another one announcing the Niger State governor as a presidential aspirant also hit some parts of the North. But like the president, they all blamed it on the activities of political jobbers.
Following the flurry of the posters and campaign boards, INEC repeatedly asked politicians to desist from violating the Electoral Law. “As at now, none of the parties has held any primaries. It is therefore preposterous and hasty for individuals to erect billboards or print posters urging voters to vote for them,” Mr. Jega was quoted in an edition of INEC Bulletin.
In March this year, Mr. Jega repeated the warning and threatened to sanction politicians over illegal campaign. He said he was sick of politicians breaching the Electoral Act, which stipulates that campaigns can only commence 90 days to an election. “When you look around, what you see are fundamental breaches against these agreements,” he said, adding that the police and other security agencies were already compiling names of defaulters for possible sanction.”
He stated that posting of campaign posters and billboards were parts of the breaches and that candidates or aspirants who allowed their associates or friends paste them were culpable. Mr. Jega said, “Posters and billboards fall within the offence. Candidates and parties have an obligation to prevent their candidates and sympathisers from breaking the law.
“There is a thin line in rallies. It may be to promote the natural progress of the party and not the candidate. If a party goes ahead to say vote for me, then you have crossed the rubicon. “You can’t have your poster pasted and you sit back and say someone puts it there on my behalf. If someone puts it there, why didn’t you stop him?”
In one of the statements INEC threatened to prosecute any politician found violating the laws. It is yet to do so. Mr. Idowu, the INEC chairman’s spokesperson, explained it away. According to him, INEC cannot punish anybody now because of the ambiguity of the Electoral Act. “We have not been able to punish anybody because there is no clear definition as to what constitutes the breach, especially those in government because you don’t know when somebody is doing government work or campaigning,” he said.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) has accused President Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of flagrant violation of Nigeria’s electoral law by kick-starting campaigns for re-election under the guise of rallies being staged to that effect across the country.
A social critic, Olola Kasumu, also has accused President Goodluck Jonathan of allegedly pursuing his yet to be declared re-election ambition with violation of the rule of law and democratic principles. Kasum, who made the allegation in a statement he issued in Ilorin, cautioned the president against making the country to suffer development setback.
The critic while acknowledging that Jonathan has the constitutional right to seek a second term of office said: “His only fault is that he is fighting for his right against the rule of law and due political process.” He said the president had allegedly been bastardising all constitutional structures and democratic processes “to achieve his legitimate right.”
Kasumu insinuated that alleged plan to unlawfully ease out some governors of the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) were part of the moves being made to facilitate the re-election of the president. “Political grapevine is silent on the political fate of Rabiu Kwakwanso of Kano State and AbdulFatah Ahmed of Kwara State.
“This is so because the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) national government sees the two as solid political oak trees with united and incorruptible House of Assemblies. “It is an irony of history that the Ekiti Governor-elect, Mr. Ayo Fayose, who was himself a victim of the undeserved impeachment by former President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, is now leading a campaign of calumny for impeachment against popular APC state governors,” he stated.
Also the APC in a statement issued by its Interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said the President has exhibited gross abuse of executive power by leading his party to prematurely kick-start the campaign for the 2015 elections, in violation of the law.
It said if the action is anything to go by, the 2015 general elections would be everything but free, fair and credible, calling on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to assert its independence by sanctioning the President and the PDP leadership for breaking the law. According to APC, the sanction becomes inevitable because no one is above the law. APC warns that if INEC fails to act, it loses any moral authority to stop other parties from also hitting the hustling ahead of time.
“Hiding under nomenclature, this President has led his party to engage in brazen lawlessness and shameless with impunity. They have gained an undue advantage over other parties, or beaten the gun, in athletics parlance.
“Therefore, they should suffer the consequences of their action, the least of which is a strong public rebuke, to be followed by stipulated sanctions if they persist.
”If nothing is done to check this lawlessness, Nigerians should brace up for more in the days ahead. What example is the President laying by violating the law? What signal is he sending to Nigerians about the need to respect the laws of the land?
“When a President brazenly violates the electoral law under the guise of some rally, has he not started election rigging? Has he not already started compromising the electoral umpires and the security agencies?
“We know the President’s conniving handlers and advisers do not appreciate that a higher standard of conduct is expected of the President of Nigeria, through his statements, actions and body language.
“Unfortunately, everything points to the fact that the President, by his serial violation, is telling Nigerians and the whole world loud and clear that the coming elections will neither be free, fair nor credible!”
APC said, when President Jonathan boasted in Enugu on Friday, at the so-called Unity Rally, to capture the South-east in 2015, he was engaging in electioneering, rather than reunification, campaign.
APC advised President Jonathan to concentrate his energy on putting Nigerians back to track, ensuring the security of lives and property and stopping the massive looting of the common wealth under his watch.
“A President who cannot even commiserate with the families of innocent school children who were violently hacked down under his watch has no qualms about skirting around the scene of the dastardly act in the name of electioneering campaign. Yet he has the temerity to point accusing fingers at others. What a cruel irony!” the party said.