October 7, 2022

As the political temperature of the country heats up from the 28 of this month, many stakeholders are already expressing concern with some language and utterances of some political actors.
Sadly, political pundits aver that the vile and caustic comments on social media are a serious cause of concern. At no time in recent history,  during an election season has a campaign been taken over by cyber bullies and internet warriors like presently which if not well managed may lead to the conflagration of the country.
As usual, politicians have started dividing the electorate along fault lines of ethnicity and religion relegating the real issues. According to political pundits, it will be almost impossible to separate ethnicity and religion from politics as most Nigerians no matter their level of education are keen to vote along those lines. But this has to stop.
Expectedly, fake news will be the order of the day as the campaign starts and it is now left to discerning Nigerians to separate the wheat from the chaff.
To reverse this anomaly and have an issue-based campaign, the National Institute of Democratic and Legislative Studies (NILDS) in partnership with the Kukah Center, organised a high-level forum on political communication and issue-based campaigns ahead of the 2023 general election.
Senate President Ahmed Lawan at the forum lamented that for the first time since 1999, campaigns have moved from substantive issues to inconsequential and sometimes vile vituperations.
According to him, critical academic literature has consistently blamed politicians for exploiting existing fault lines for purely political and opportunistic reasons.
He added that the proliferation of the internet and social media platforms and the growing culture of fake news pose new dangers and threats to collective existence.
Politicians at all levels must be cognisant of this and take measures to mitigate them, he noted.
The senate president implored all stakeholders to be conscious of their messaging and focus on issue-based campaigns that shun violence and hate speech, adding that as the most populous black nation and the largest democracy in Africa, there is need to deliver credible and peaceful elections.
“Many have pointed out the extreme and prejudicial dimensions that political conversations have assumed in the last few weeks.
“Rather than emphasize discussion on policy positions to address many of the social and economic challenges we face, we are engaged in frivolous, illogical, and sensational exchanges.”
He added that for the first time since 1999, campaigns in Nigeria have moved from substantive issues to inconsequential and sometimes vile vituperations.
“Inadvertently, we are also exploiting primordial sentiments for political purposes, not minding the danger this poses to our democratic experiment.
“It is easy to dwell on trivialities and engage in a shouting contest. What should occupy our minds and discussions in the coming weeks and months include tackling insecurity and building on the gains made by the present administration of President Muhammadu Buhari in this regard.
“Other issues include economic consolidation and diversification, addressing rising unemployment, especially among youths, lowering inflation, and managing diversity.”
He noted that the current democratic dispensation was hard-earned and as such requires collective responsibility to protect and preserve it.
“We in the 9th National Assembly have taken deliberate measures to strengthen our democratic process, particularly through the passage of the 2022 Electoral Act which makes numerous innovations aimed at improving transparency and voter confidence.
“We have also ensured that the needed funds are provided to INEC to deliver a hitch-free election,” he said.
On his part, the Speaker Of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila called on Nigerians to resist the politics of division and hate.
The speaker added that when a political discussion is focused on division, governance will follow suit also in the same vein when political discourse seeks to unite the people, governance will also reflect this reality.
He lamented that many candidates are long on speeches and short on delivery, it’s time to ask how.
He said “regrettably, even in this election cycle, many have used hate and division. This time we must not allow the room as they have done in the past. We must resist them. Those who chose to engage in this must know that the times have changed and the laws have changed.
“We must not allow bad actors to distract us by conflating real issues with bad issues. we must decide to refuse the politics of wear. Let us embrace the things that elevate us,” Gbajabiamila said.
He further pledged that the National Assembly will continue to support INEC by providing funds for the 2023 elections as well as conducting oversight and supervision of election administration.
“We will empower INEC. We will see that those who seek to endanger our democracy by violating our electoral laws will be met by the full weight of the law. We must reject the politics of personal insult and reorganisation.
“We must not allow bad actors to distract us by conflating real issues with bad issues. we must decide to refuse the politics of wear. Let us embrace the things that elevate us.”
The speaker said INEC must uphold and strictly implement the provisions of the Electoral Act, 2022, and the Regulations and Guidelines.
“In this regard, INEC’s messaging should be simple, direct, and devoid of ambiguities. Only recently, the Commission has had to clarify some reports that seemed to suggest that election results in the 2023 general election will be manually collated.
“In an era of fake news and misinformation meant to mislead and cause political upheavals, INEC is tasked with staying ahead in its messaging to forestall possible misrepresentation and confusion,” he said.
On his part, the director general of NILDS, Prof Abubakar Suleiman said critics have raised significant concerns about the quality of recent political communications because negative and personality-based ones are increasingly replacing informative, policy-focused campaigns.
According to him, the lack of ‘substance’ in political debates means that voters are often confused and unable to make well-informed decisions.
He said some studies have shown that negative political communication and campaigns push people to stay away from politics altogether.
He said,“It is self-evident that the build-up to the 2023 general elections raises genuine concerns about the pattern of public communication among political actors, their publicity agents, and other related stakeholders, especially those actively engaged in media and communication.
“Experts have noted that communication by actors so far has been reactive and not based on a clear enunciation of party manifestoes, candidates’ programmes, and strategies for actualising such programs.”
He added. “Technological advancements and the proliferation of electronic media platforms have revolutionised political communication and exposed our democracy to dangerous new threats.
“New internet technologies challenge established institutions and principles of regulation of election communications. They undermine the ability of existing regulations to maintain a level playing field.
“Therefore, we must engage in an honest conversation on how to preserve our democracy and guard against emerging threats,” he added.
Pointedly, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Hassan Kukah, said  Nigerians do not need a messiah as the next president in 2023.
While he noted that the diversity as a people has not been well managed, he lamented that identity has been weaponised by politicians.
Kukah said “religion should not ordinarily be a problem. But politicians have made an issue out of it. The issue that should form the basis for the next election must be outlined.
“We should not be talking about Muslim-Muslim tickets. We need to re-imagine Nigeria. As I speak, my nephew and their driver have been kidnapped. They’re asking for about N50 million. I don’t feel safe.
“We need to protect this country. We’ve passed the Electoral Bill. That’s just the beginning. We need to convince Nigerians that their votes will count.
“You can tell Nigerians about the Electoral Act. But they need to be sure. We don’t need a messiah as Nigeria’s next president. The next election is about every Nigerian finding a seat in the tent,” he said.
So far, the political parties and their candidates have almost finished setting up their campaign structures. The expectation is that they would abide by the demand for issue-based campaigns.
© 2022 Leadership Media GroupAll Rights Reserved.
© 2022 Leadership Media GroupAll Rights Reserved.

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