2023: Issue-Based Campaigns Beyond Conventional Optics, by Anthonia Onda

2023: Issue-Based Campaigns Beyond Conventional Optics, by Anthonia Onda

Editor's note: Anthonia Onda is an experienced electoral observer. In this piece, she outlined the cruciality and importance of an issue-based campaign and how it can foster a seamless electoral process in the forthcoming 2023 general elections.

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The general election of 2023 will mark the seventh democratic election held in Nigeria since the country's return to democracy. In the history of Nigeria, this is the longest stretch of democratic rule.

With barely five months to another crucial election in Nigeria's history, political parties are taking the stage with campaigns even as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) reiterated its commitment to ensuring compliance with the new electoral law.

Anthonia Onda, 2023 Election
Anthonia Onda is a Senior Program Officer at Yiaga Africa with a decade of election observation experience. Photo: Yiaga Africa
Source: Facebook

An election is a process with an interconnected set of activities involving all stakeholders right from the pre-election phase, election day, and post-election periods, all of which affect the transparency, accountability, and overall credibility of the election.

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The pre-election activities are crucial to the outcome of any election, as these activities could influence the outcomes. Some such activities are the independent national electoral commission (INEC) preparations, political party activities, civil society organisations, and the media, amongst others.

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Following the publication of the final list of candidates running for the Presidential and Federal Legislative elections, campaigns by political parties and their supporters commenced in earnest in line with section 94 subsection (1) of the Electoral Act 2022, which provides that "the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 150 days before polling day and end 24 hours before that day.

The campaign period is an important time for political parties as it provides an opportunity for the parties to present their candidates to prospective electorates.

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It's a crucial period where political parties interphase with citizens and sell ideas and promises. Thus it's usually a period soaked with emotional and verbal wars between contending political parties.

This is why most times, Political party campaign in Nigeria is often characterised by several negative factors, like the attack on campaign trails, restriction on the use of public facility usually perpetrated by the incumbent government, hate speech targeted at candidates, gender-based violence, etc.

Similarly, since the conclusion of the political party primaries and the selection of the flag bearers of the parties, the conversations must go beyond the mere personality, gender, tribe or religion to the real issue bedevilling Nigeria. There must be tough conversations on how the parties and candidates will address the security issues if elected in 2023.

In addition, Nigerians must ask critical questions about how the country's economy will be improved and demand a practical blueprint on how to salvage the challenges facing virtually every sector of the country.

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Thus, the campaign period is not a one-way street where only the political parties dole out promises to the citizens but also an opportunity for the citizens to engage the parties and candidates, demand the manifesto of the parties, and ask questions about how the candidates will address issues of insecurity, the economy, education, poverty, and other issues that bother the country.

This is also another opportunity for citizens to document all the promises made by the parties and their candidates to hold them accountable in the future.

At this tipping point in Nigeria's democratic history, our campaigns must do without the usual verbal and physical clashes that have characterised campaigns over the years.

Instead, Nigerians expect political parties and their candidates to engage in an inclusive campaign by ensuring a level playing ground for all, including women, youths, and people with disabilities.

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Importantly, parties and candidates must comply strictly with all the provisions guiding political campaigns in the electoral law.

For instance, section 92 of the Electoral Act, 2022, says:

"Parties should refrain from using slogans tainted with abusive language directly or indirectly likely to injure religious, ethnic, tribal, or sectional feelings.
They should also avoid abusive, intemperate, defamatory, base language, insinuations, or innuendoes designed or likely to provoke violent reactions or emotions that should not be employed or used in political campaigns.
"Parties and candidates are strongly encouraged to engage in an issue-based campaign and refrain from distributing money and gift items to induce voters but focus on issue-based campaigns to win the people's hearts."

As the first beneficiaries of the votes cast on election day, political parties and candidates should engage in massive voter education and sensitise citizens on the need to vote and how to vote correctly to reduce the number of invalid votes on election day.

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As a critical stakeholder in the electoral process, the media should remain upright and unbiased in their engagement with the political parties by giving all parties an equal opportunity for airtime for paid advertisements and other campaign activities.

While doing this, the media should ensure their platforms are not used as a tool to violate the electoral law. Citizens should refuse to be induced by money and gift items. The young people should not be used as political thugs but rather serve as ambassadors of peace and voter education rockstars during this period.

The 2023 elections provide a massive opportunity for all election stakeholders to get it right. Thus this is an opportunity to make their intentions clear by ensuring compliance with the law from this stage of the process.

Thus, to hold the political parties accountable, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigerian Police, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should track the political parties' compliance with the campaign spending limit provided by law.

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