In a recent television programme, Senior Advocate of Nigeria Femi Falana again drew the nation’s attention to a point that is very important to the campaigns towards the elections that would begin 31 days from now.
The point is essentially about the colour and content of the campaigns by the candidates who are out on the hustings. Falana more or less reiterated the call made by the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, that political parties and their candidates should make their campaigns issue-based. Yakubu spoke as the regulator of the process when he released the final the final list of candidates four months ago.
To be fair to the politicians, some of the issues of the election – economy, security, corruption, national integration, education, healthcare, infrastructure – have been mentioned in the campaigns, but these policy issues are not thoroughly discussed. This is because the political publicists are more interested in raining curses and heaping insults on their opponents. A lot of distractions are on display in the campaigns.
Besides, there are pertinent issues that political parties and their candidates seem to be ignoring, according to Falana. Such is the less than bright colour and shallow content of the campaigns.
One of the issues identified by Falana, for instance, is the rule of law. Falana observed that hardly is any candidate is talking about those who are illegally detained and those whose freedoms are violated in several ways. After all, citizens who are contesting elections are doing so because they have their freedom intact in the first place. This same freedom cannot be taken for granted by some other citizens. The situation would be, of course, different if one of the frontline candidates were to be detained unjustly. The nation and indeed the whole world would be awakened to the “human rights situation in Nigeria.” Rule of law would automatically become the issue in the campaigns. But the scores of voiceless people including those the police say are “awaiting trial” are languishing in various dehumanising detention centres. Some of them might have been arrested for “wondering,” despite the abrogation of the colonial law on such an “offence.” For some, a fine of N10, 000 may be all what is standing between them and freedom. Others are simply victims of oppression by men of power and means. Their freedom is never an issue for campaign. That is a class dimension to the current politics. Falana said that it would be remarkable, for instance, if a candidate promises that if he wins the election he would announce in his inaugural speech that his government would take steps to ensure the freedom of all those who are illegally detained!
It is indeed a surprise that violation of human rights is not featuring prominently in the current campaigns. Two years ago, the nation was rocked by a youth protest with the hashtag #EndSARS. It was a protest against policemen who attacked people’s freedom and the dignity of the human person. The #EndSARS movement specifically directed its anger at a squad of the police originally formed to combat robbery and other violent crimes. The mission of the unit was grossly distorted. It became a tool of oppression and corruption as reflected in the stories of horror told by the victims at the panels set up by state governments to look into the grievances of the protesters. In short, the national convulsion triggered by the #EndSARS protests was caused by the lack of respect for the rule of law by an agency of the state.
Although the noble mission of the #EndSARS movement was hijacked by anarchists and budding fascists who unleashed violence, destroying public and private properties, the federal and state governments acknowledged the genuine import of the original protest.
Now, the real dividend of democracy is freedom. Historically, the democratic struggle is essentially a fight for this intangible gain by the people. Contrary to what some politicians say, building roads and bridges are not necessarily dividends of democracy. Military regimes built some of the most important highways and bridges in Nigeria. Freedom is the most distinguishing feature of a liberal democratic order. So, respect for the existing human rights while expanding the frontier of freedom ought to be an electoral issue in the present circumstance. Anyone whose freedom has once been taken away would not see it as a thing to be taken for granted. For those in incarceration now, freedom is an issue.
Another thing that is conspicuously absent in the campaigns is a definite foreign policy articulation. Pray, how can this be the case when Nigeria is the largest black nation on earth and it is projected to be the second largest liberal democracy by 2050? The fact that domestic issues are overwhelming should not be an excuse for this absence of an all-round strategic planning as a nation. Regardless of its domestic problems, Nigeria has obligations at the sub-regional, continental and global arenas. Nigeria sends envoys out on sub-regional and continental missions. The ultimate solution to the problem of insecurity in Nigeria would require a better structured strategic partnership with other nations in the Sahel region and the Gulf of Guinea. In retrospect, with a better defined foreign policy objective Nigeria might not have voted in support of the irresponsible western intervention in Libya under the guise of fostering democracy. The arms flow that resulted from the disastrous collapse of the Libyan state after the murder of Muammar Gaddafi has been a factor in the insecurity afflicting parts of West Africa including Nigeria. From well-defined objectives such as “Africa as the Centrepiece of Nigeria’s Foreign Policy,” “Concert of Medium Powers” to “Economic Diplomacy”, Nigeria used to express a full consciousness of its place in the world and the international economic order. That happened even when the military was in power. Foreign policy issues may not determine the results of the elections; but it is a huge political and diplomatic deficit for foreign policy statements not to feature during campaigns towards the election of the president of the largest country in Africa.
Doubtless, the colour and content of the 2023 campaigns could be enhanced if greater attention is paid to the issues relating to the defense of human freedom, the qualitative improvement in the lives of the people as well as the place of Nigeria as the hope of the black people all over the world.
On the electoral expenses
Although there is the regulation of electoral expenses, the open secret is that the costs that politicians incur to get elected into executive and legislative offices are increasingly becoming prohibitive. Electoral expenses now run into hundreds of millions and billions.
If things were this way in 1979 some of the eminent politicians who got elected as governors and senators would never be in power. Some just left their jobs as school principals, civil servants and professionals employed by private companies to go into politics. Even President Shehu Shagari, who emerged as president in the election, was not a billionaire. With their modest means, the political parties were able to foot the bills of the campaigns.
The constitution provides that all suitably qualified persons can contest elections on the platform of their chosen political parties. For instance, to contest election for the office of the president, Chapter 6, Part 1, Section 131 of the 1999 Constitution says that the candidate must have the following qualifications: Nigerian citizenship, age of 40; membership of a political party and education up to the school certificate level.
However, many Nigerians who have the forgoing qualifications and are desirous of serving their country at the highest level cannot afford the huge of costs of elections.
Chief Afe Babalola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and founder of the Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, spoke about this trend recently. He said as the highest tax payer in Ekiti State, he could not dare contest presidential election because of the costs.
This element of prohibitive electoral costs poses a serious limitation on the flourishing of liberal democracy in the land. Some cynics may dismiss this observation on the ground that “elections are expensive everywhere.” To deepen democracy, the matter should not be glossed over at all. It is even hypocritical for the enthusiasts of liberal democracy at the level of theory to gloss it over. This exclusionary poltical culture should be a matter for rigorous interrogation. The liberal slogan that “you can vote and be voted for” should be seriously qualified. That is what the reality suggests. For you can only be voted for if you have money or you have sponsors who have enough money to pay the bills. Whereas the poor have the right to vote, it is only the rich or those supported by the rich who can seriously be talking of being voted for by the electorate. Well, maybe the voters in the 21st Century are luckier. That is looking at the history of western liberal democracy. Once upon a time, ownership of property was a condition to be qualified as a voter just as those of the female gender were once not qualified to vote. This underlying class dimension is not often discussed when the beauty of liberal democracy is celebrated by theorists.
Meanwhile, another practical aspect of electoral expenses that should interest Aare Afe Babalola is the cost of electoral litigation especially when the outcomes of elections are contested in courts. Some politicians have said that they spent more money to sustain the cases at the tribunals than they spent in the pre-election activities.
Perhaps, the first step to take in reducing the cost of elections is to ensure that as much as possible elections are determined at the polling booths and not in the court rooms.