By KOLA KING
There is some sort of nostalgia for the political campaigns of the past. No matter the shortcomings of our past political leaders, they laid emphasis on the main issues as well as their plans for implementing the political programmes which they had in store for the people. It is not as if they were paragons of virtue but hardly was there any recourse to personal insults and brickbats. There was a measure of civility and decency during the campaigns and soapbox speeches were seasoned and spiced with wisecracks, anecdotes, and grand oratory. Back in the day, politicians on the hustings were a delight to reporters covering them and the crowd that came out to welcome them and listen to what they had in store for the populace.
This time the political campaigns are a different kettle of fish. To be specific, the 2023 presidential election campaigns have been anything but civil. Actually, the campaigns have turned out to be a festival of insults or an insultfest. The campaigns have been long on insults and short on ideas. More, the campaigns have generated more heat than light. Generally, the elections have been characterised by mudslinging, character assassination, vitriol, scurrilous attacks, and venomous bile and bitterness. These election campaigns will take the cake as the vilest and most venomous in the nation’s political history. As a result of this, the main issues that are germane to the electorate are being swept under the carpet and buried under the avalanche of insults, bromide, verbal grenades, and vitriol. If left unchecked, the ocean of insults and hate speech is capable of sinking the ship of our fledgling democracy.
The principal actors in the mainstream parties that is, the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party have virtually removed the gloves, as it were, and gone for the jugular of each other. It’s been a no holds barred campaign of calumny and invectives. However, it is instructive to recall that the flagbearer of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu had forewarned that he was prepared to wrestle in the mud with his traducers and opponents in order to achieve the great political prize.
Not only had Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar of the PDP been wrestling in the mud, as it were, but they have also coopted their aides and hangers-on in this epic battle for the presidency. All manner of wild allegations has been flung at each other. In fact, a cottage industry has been spawned by the campaigns, with political gladiators on social media fanning the flames and embers of hatred and bitterness. Furthermore, a BBC investigation has revealed that social media influencers were neck-deep in spreading fake news, disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech on the internet. According to the BBC report, the political parties had engaged these influencers to spread fake news and disinformation about opponents.
Indeed, if it were possible to slug it out in physical combat both candidates would have picked up the gauntlet. Worse still, both Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar have accused each other of having health challenges, urging each other to own up and come out clean with his true health status. This is coming on the heels of fears expressed by Nigerians about the health status of both candidates who are septuagenarians and who have undertaken medical tourism in the past few years.
Now the insultfest or festival of insults is on overdrive despite the fact that the electoral act as amended frowns on hate speech and abuses. The electoral act stipulates decency and decorum during political campaigns. In fact, there is a penalty for those who circumvent the terms of the electoral act. Yet there has been no letup between the leading candidates of the two parties. They have stopped short of calling each other a thief and a drug dealer. For example, the APC flagbearer during one of the campaign rallies had called his main opponent a smuggler, saying his plans to throw the borders open were a reflection of his past as a smuggler. On his part, Atiku Abubakar had told a campaign rally in Lagos to end the oppressive hold of Tinubu on Lagos because he had cornered all the money belonging to Lagosians and turned Lagos into a family affair.
In all this, the main political gladiators may be flouting the law since its instructive to note that sections 95 and 96 of the 2010 Electoral Act prohibited the use of any language in campaigns that will hurt tribal, religious and/or sectional feelings. Other legal frameworks that abhor the use of derogatory language in Nigeria are the Political Party Code of Conduct (2013) and the Abuja Accord (2015)
Apparently irked by the turn of events, the Arewa Consultative Forum, in a statement issued by the Secretary-General, Murtala Aliyu observed that: “The fact that hate speeches and acts of violence and aggression are rife in this campaign season can only mean that the laws are not being enforced. This hasn’t come as a surprise considering the fact that the National Assembly has so far chosen not to enact the law that will see to the birth of the Electoral Offences Tribunal.
“In the meantime, INEC has a responsibility to act and enforce the Electoral Act as amended. It should impose the harshest punishment possible on politicians who think achieving their personal ambitions is more important than national peace and harmony. Such persons are unfit for any form of leadership at whatever level,” Arewa Consultative Forum said. In a similar vein, Afenifere has cautioned both candidates of the PDP and APC against inflammatory and hate speech.
As the campaign of calumny boils over, the APC campaign council has called for the arrest of Atiku Abubakar based on the allegations raised by a former aide, Michael Achimugu that Atiku along with his principal, former President Olusegun Obasanjo while in government between 1999 and 2007 had set up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) which was allegedly used to launder money and for other corrupt purposes. Reacting to Achimugu’s allegations, the Director of Communication of the APC presidential campaign, Mr. Festus Keyamo has called on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to immediately arrest and prosecute Atiku, saying he would head for the courts to seek the disqualification of Atiku based on allegations raised by Achimugu on Atiku’s involvement in corrupt practice. As the festival of insults gathers steam, the allegations being peddled against Atiku have been dubbed #Atikugate by APC supporters on social media.
Meanwhile, intrigues trailing the race for the presidency assumed a dangerous twist, as the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; and his Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, counterpart, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, called for the arrest and disqualification of each other over allegations of graft. Tinubu fired the first salvo when he asked security agencies in the country to invite, arrest, interrogate and prosecute Alhaji Atiku Abubakar over what he described as #AtikuGate.
Latching to a video clip made by one Michael Achimugu, believed to be a former aide of the PDP standard bearer, Tinubu said Atiku as vice president between 1999 and 2007, colluded with his then boss, President Olusegun Obasanjo, to operate an illegal account tagged, “Special Purpose Vehicles” SPVs. He accused the PDP-led administration between 1999 and 2007 of running a criminal enterprise, describing the era as the “SPV Years.”
In a quick response, Atiku and the PDP described Tinubu as a convict, who should not be in the presidential race, adding that Tinubu’s alleged $460,000 drug money forfeiture was evidence of a crime.
In a counterattack, the Atiku/Okowa Presidential Campaign has demanded the immediate arrest and questioning of Tinubu for his alleged formation of a uniformed gang of thugs code-named “Jagaban Army” for the sole purpose of committing an electoral heist. The spokesman of the campaign, Kola Ologbondiyan in a statement last Monday described the formation of the uniformed squad by the All Progressives Congress (APC) code-named “Jagaban Army” as “a treasonable act and calls for the arrest and questioning of the APC Presidential Candidate, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu.”
He further said: “The Jagaban Army, which is apparently set up to disrupt the 2023 general elections and raid polling units for votes on behalf of APC Presidential candidate, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, is a direct affront to the Nigeria Armed Forces and other security agencies as well as an assault on the sovereignty of our nation.
“It is reprehensible that Tinubu can create a rogue force just for the purposes of undermining the electoral and security arrangements of our nation.”
As the political dogfight between the two front runners degenerates further, the Presidential Campaign Council, PCC, of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has asked the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency, NDLEA, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to arrest and prosecute the Presidential Candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, in order to avoid worsening Nigeria’s already bad situation.
Addressing the press in Abuja on Sunday, a member of the PCC, Frank Shaibu explained that Tinubu’s forfeiture of $460,000 believed to be proceeds of crime, specifically the sale and distribution of heroin to authorities in the United States, is worthy of further probe.
Without a doubt, the slanderous and vitriolic campaigns speak to the quality of the candidates thrown up by the main political parties. The septuagenarians running for the highest office in the land appear too desperate and both seem prepared to outdo each other in the campaign of calumny as well as throw the kitchen sink at each other so long as that would earn them the biggest political prize. It is as if the parties have presented to Nigerians deeply flawed candidates, paying less consideration to the moral character of the candidates. Going forward parties should evolve a more credible selection process during the primaries. Even though we don’t expect angels to lead us, apparently the two leading candidates seem to be caught up in the cesspit of their personal failings and moral turpitude.
If nothing else, the campaigns have derailed from their original course, it is imperative that the main actors engaged in these scurrilous tactics should retrace their steps and stick to the original purpose of the campaign which is to sell their candidacy and programmes to Nigerians. Clearly, failure by both parties to put a stop to the brickbats and flood of insults is a sure road to political Golgotha. At this point, Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar should be aware that they have set themselves up for mutually assured destruction, and unless there’s a ceasefire and they call their attack dogs to order, invariably a third force will turn out to be the main beneficiary of their political dogfights.
In light of all these, it is clear that there are no permanent friends or enemies in politics but only permanent interests. Politicians are unpredictable. Both candidates of the mainstream parties, that is Atiku Abubakar and Bola Tinubu have been allies in the past. When Atiku had his brush with Obasanjo in 2007 it was Tinubu who offered him the platform of Action Congress to run for president. At the same time, when Obasanjo used subterfuge to get the AD governors in the southwest to support his reelection bid in 2003, it was reported that Atiku had tipped off Tinubu about the PDP plans to steamroll the gubernatorial elections in the region, which reportedly helped save Tinubu’s seat. At the moment, their vaulting ambition is now tearing them apart.
All the same, the danger that this tirade of insults and hate speech portends has been highlighted by the National Peace Council. The NPC, last Friday, January 20, invited the presidential candidates and their political parties to another round of peace talks during which they were made to sign a fresh commitment to the peace pact they earlier signed ahead of the polls. But PDP standard bearer, Atiku Abubakar and his running mate did not attend the meeting.
The co-chairman of the peace committee and former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, at the roundtable talks, advised the presidential candidates to stop overheating the polity and causing tension in the country. General Abdulsalami expressed concern that Nigerians are disturbed over the likely outcome of the forthcoming 2023 general elections due to their fear that the polls might be inconclusive and marred by violence.
With the elections barely four weeks ahead, Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar should sheath their swords and stick to the issues that are uppermost in the minds of Nigerians, namely insecurity and economic challenge. For in truth, buffeted by the prevailing economic and security challenges, one can wager that Nigerians are least interested in the dirty linens being dried out in the sun by the septuagenarians. Though both candidates of the Labour Party and New Nigeria Peoples Party would consider the current distraction a gift to their cause. Still yet, the deleterious effects of hate speech and violent language cannot be overemphasized since there is every possibility that it would not only overheat the polity but may snowball into widespread post-election violence. Undeniably it is better to have a ceasefire instead of fighting fire with fire. Enough of the political fisticuffs.