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2023 Election in Nigeria amid suffering and smiling

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Picture: Akintunde Akinleyea/EPA-EFE – Labour Party supporter wears a T-Shirt backing Peter Obi for president. With a unique electioneering campaign strategy, the LP candidate attracted more support from the youth, who were still reeling from the trauma of the 2020 #EndSARS protest, the writer says.

By Omololu Fagbadebo

Amid biting hardship and pains, Nigerians are preparing to determine who leads Africa’s most populous country. Rumours of postponement or outright cancellation of the elections slated to begin on February 25 started to filter in the past few days. The decision of the government to redesign three of the denominations of the country’s currency, with a specific deadline for the withdrawal of the old, threw the country’s financial sector into a frenzy.

The scarcity of the redesigned currency unsettled the political campaigns as politicians were finding it hard to access money. Sadly, a majority of citizens have been thrown into needless pain and suffering because of the government’s ill-timed policy. For the past week, politicians, even within the governing party, who felt that the policy was a deliberate attempt to scuttle their ambitions or disrupt the electoral process to pave the way for an interim government, came up with the presence of the Fifth Columnist.

While a High Court mandated the government not to extend the deadline for the use of the old currency, the country’s highest court, the Supreme Court, granted an injunction that barred the government from insisting on the February 10 deadline for the withdrawal of the old currency. Thus, the coast was clear, and the electioneering campaign trains started to move.

The Nigerian political environment cannot be precisely predicted. Indeed, the various controversies over the 2023 general elections have continued to trail political activities that have altered the traditional pattern of electoral support and electioneering campaigns. Initially, when the different political parties were jostling for their preferred presidential candidates, the focus was on the governing All Progressive Congress (APC) and the main opposition, the People Democratic Party (PDP).

The emergence of Peter Obi as the presidential candidate of the little-known Labour Party (LP) threw the political environment off balance. With a unique electioneering campaign strategy, the LP candidate attracted more support from the youth, who were still reeling from the trauma of the 2020 #EndSARS protest.

Known as the OBEDIENT Movement, the campaigns deviated from the rented-crowd strategy associated with the traditional electioneering campaign method. The sentiment now is that in a free and fair election, 2023 might be the biggest electoral surprise where a perceived political underdog, akin to the emergence of Adama Barrow as the president of the Gambia in 2017.

The public pains inflicted on citizens in the past two weeks have been so horrendous. There is an insufficient supply of petroleum products. Where available, fuel stations charge triple the official price. Artificial scarcity often leads to the arbitrary fixing of prices that often cripple the economy as commuters find it difficult to pay exorbitant transport fares amid a scarcity of the naira and an epileptic supply of electricity.

With this development, there is no doubt that the 2023 election is standing on shaky ground. Though the National Electoral Commission (INEC) has debunked the rumour of the postponement of the election, the current situation, going by the experience of the past, would shape to an extent the outcome of the election if it holds eventually.

Hostility based on intolerance of opposition is rife. Unconfirmed information has it that all tertiary institutions, public and private, will be mandated to close before the election. Intra-party hostile disposition, especially within the governing party and the opposition PDP has continued to cast aspersions on the preparedness of the political elites to accept politics as a game rather than a war.

Electioneering campaigns have been characterised by activities coloured by attacks on the personality of the major contenders rather than issue-based campaigns. The media is not left out as some pitched tents with their sponsors and owners whose vested interest in the contest directs the editorial and reporting policies.

Just last week, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Nigeria’s broadcast media regulator, imposed a fine of US$4,290.72 each on Arise News TV and Television Continental (TVC) for what it called the breach of the national broadcasting code concerning electioneering campaigns. The two broadcasting stations have affiliations with the presidential candidates of the PDP and the APC respectively. Indeed, the management of the media section of the presidential campaigns has been so hostile.

The new dimension introduced by the emergence of the LP changed the traditional propaganda associated with precious elections. The desperation to win the election at all costs manifested in the electioneering campaign language that depicted a craving for power without purpose. While the crisis of governance bites harder, the justification was that the new government would address the ills.

Having reneged on its promise to reclaim the country from the woes of past administrations with worsening socio-economic woes, will Nigerians be deceived the second time into another round of chains of pains?

The time is tickling. February 25 is around the corner.

Dr Omololu Fagbadebo – Department of Public Management, Law and Economics Durban University of Technology, Riverside Campus, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

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