With the 2023 elections in Nigeria come hopes and fears, expectations and optimism for a better future. However, some forces are inadvertently battling to truncate elections, jeopardize our fledgling democracy, obscure the light, and unravel all our political calculations. These seemingly imperceptible forces are powerful, subtle and distinct but not mutually exclusive. They include the use of intemperate language by candidates, the preponderance of fake news and judicial roguery. Except for those who study historical patterns of our climate and other jurisdictions, you may not notice the storm brewing. These three ungodly forces are powerful enough to wreak havoc and destroy our electoral process, in 2023, if left unchecked. They can truncate our 2023 elections and our democracy.
The first, though not the most important, of these forces struggling to escalate violence, deepen distrust of the political process and truncate elections is the use of profane language by politicians. and their supporters. It crosses party lines and begins to define the nature and character of the 2023 election. At this early stage in the campaigns, politicians resort to personal attacks, slander, bickering, insults and abuse from their opponents. Insults, ethnic and sectoral expressions have replaced all forms of serious engagement. Recently, presidential candidates from all political parties have used direct insults, derogatory statements and innuendo to vilify each other. Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) has been the subject of jokes and caricatures due to his perceived poor health. Peter Obi recently mocked BAT, claiming that some applicants have good health, verifiable classmates, easily provable certificates and backgrounds, alluding to the controversy surrounding the early years and education level of BAT. BAT, for its part, accused Obi of being vilified by IPOB supporters and spreading rumors about his health and ability to function as president. Obi has also been accused of being a purveyor of false statistics. On the other hand, Atiku boldly asked northerners at a rally in Kaduna not to vote for presidential candidates of Igbo or Yoruba origin.
These divisive and derogatory expressions by presidential candidates are more than just attacks on each other during campaigns, as mature democracies also testify. The volatile and venomous nature of these expressions is evident in offensive attacks by ill health, human frailties, or ethnic and sectional sentiments, which are often no-go areas in decent debates and are anti-cultural. Often these intemperate expressions and insinuations breed contempt, disrespect and slander among politicians and more often an intemperate statement elicits a response that is also intemperate, fueling an endless vicious cycle of hate, hurt and ultimately violence. It’s a shame that this kind of school field game has also filtered down to other campaign levels, like governorship campaigns and National Assembly races. Funny enough, Nigeria has electoral laws and an electoral arbiter who should call attention to civilized rules of engagement and if possible help implement regulations regarding them or execute some form of reprimand or punishment in the limits of its powers under the laws established to protect the decency of the electoral process. The law is meant to be blind and an ax that falls on anyone who breaks it without bias.
Section 97(1) of the Elections Act prohibits candidates or parties from campaigning on religious, tribal or sectoral grounds to promote or oppose a particular political party or the election of a specific candidate. Subsection 2 adds that “abusive, libelous, defamatory or profane language or innuendo or innuendo designed or likely to provoke violent reactions or emotions shall not be employed or used in political campaigning”. The big elephant in the room is: Has any candidate or political party ever been punished for breaking this law?
The shock and preponderance of fake news, especially in social media, is the next deadly force militating against the success of the 2023 elections. While not absent from mainstream media, their access control processes sometimes alert to such news. Fake news is the scourge of our society. Nigerians are sentimental and emotional in the way they communicate, according to the work of Erin Meyer. Increasingly, fake news is deadly, can wreak havoc on victims and lead to violence, especially when it goes viral. Deliberately spreading fake news as a political campaign strategy is wrong and immoral. The proliferation of disinformation and the weaponization of fake news threaten our democracy. This trend is one of the biggest threats to the pre-election and – very likely – post-election conduct of the 2023 polls. And it has the potential to fragment the country and skew election results. This will call into question the legitimacy of the electoral process and the leaders who emerge from it. Recently, there was a bogus letter from INEC claiming that the Commission is investigating the APC presidential candidate, and no one has yet been prosecuted for this falsification and misinformation.
I advocate for INEC and the media to institute a fact-checking center to monitor fake news from parties, candidates and their supporters. When false news is discovered, it must be quickly exposed and the facts reported for the benefit of the public. Everyone – voters, social media users, journalists and media executives – should verify information before releasing it. We must always question the sources of information, their authenticity and verify the veracity of the facts presented. I hope there will be pervasive information campaigns from the National Guidance Agency, INEC, and the media about fake news and how to curb it, so that people in are aware, have the skills to identify and destroy them. Law enforcement must investigate the sources of fake news and prosecute the instigators to deter other perpetrators of such a despicable act.
The third force is the clear and present fear of judicial compromise. That the judiciary is the last hope of the ordinary person is an accepted norm in a democracy. The judiciary interprets the law and we rely on the impartiality of the judiciary to make the system work. One of the core tasks of the judiciary is to deal with pre-election matters, election petitions and prosecutions. However, during elections, some judges render judgments that are undemocratic and openly compromised beyond the imagination of any sane person. Such intervention is contrary to our democratic progress. When such judicial roguery occurs, democracy suffers and people lose faith in the system. Some parties and candidates depend on judicial roguery to retain power. It is a political strategy doomed to failure and which tarnishes the sacred image of the judiciary. A situation where one party sues another party because of the way its primaries are conducted. And begs the court to nullify or disqualify all candidates for election. It is troubling that the court would grant such a request and allow the elections to be one-sided, with the candidates having no real opposition. Democracy is the choice of the people. Court-induced political victories outside of grassroots franchises are a slap in the face for our democracy. In recent times, the PDP in Rivers State has directly and indirectly filed multiple lawsuits against all other major parties and candidates seeking to disqualify their candidates for all elections in the hope that the party can achieve victory without contest. serious. It worked for the PDP in 2019, and they are pushing to repeat a similar destabilizing act in the 2023 election using the judiciary. A similar scenario plays out in other states that concern themselves with the internal affairs of political parties. Indeed, the judicial power cannot replace the democratic choice of the people.
The leadership of the judiciary must assume its responsibility to address judicial compromises. It must undertake to be more organized and make the judicial officers responsible for the decisions which disturb the internal affairs of the political parties and the democratic choice of the people. The CJN and the National Judicial Council must step in and save our democracy from the hands of undemocratic people using judicial compromise to steal people’s mandates. Many judges are actively executing sound judgments for the benefit of society, and I highly commend them for their work in protecting our democracy. However, they should weed out the bad elements among them, especially at the state level where the executive arm exerts undue pressure on the judiciary and uses them like puppets in the hands of a puppeteer.
The goal of all stakeholders must be to tackle the problem of profuse language, fake news and judicial compromises during our pre-election and post-election periods. All political parties and election candidates and their supporters must pledge not to use hate speech, foul language, false accusations and ethnic statements, and anyone found doing so must in the face of the wrath of the law. Our existing laws are adequate to protect us from fake news, and we must enforce them at all costs. We must investigate any fake news that harms society and the people behind it prosecuted. Government, media, regulatory agencies and civil society need to educate the public about fake news and how to identify it and stop the urge to spread or share it.
The unintended consequence of the use of intemperate language, the threat of fake news and judicial compromise, fosters violence and the truncation of the 2023 election. The truncation of the 2023 election will be the catalyst for the collapse and disintegration of Nigeria. Therefore, we must all play our part in persuading and punishing politicians against inappropriate speech, urging all regulatory authorities to act against fake news and calling on our magistrates to consider the national interest above the law. narrow self-interest.
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