Nigeria’s Polls Consumed By Propaganda And Doubt - by Idayat Hassan

As the days of Nigeria’s rescheduled elections approach, tension continues to pervade the polity. Vitriol pours into the air from partisan political actors and everyday even greater quantities of propaganda are released. This ranges from death threats on a presidential candidate to rumours that members of the opposition party will be implicated if the Boko Haram kingpin, Abubakar Shekau, is captured.

Press conference after press conference take place, held by both the ruling and opposition parties to spew propaganda or paint dire scenarios waiting to unfold. Rather than limiting the vitriol to the country, the political gladiators are shifting their focus abroad, such as at the recently held Chatham House event in London, where the opposition All Progressives Congress’ presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, delivered a lecture. Protests were held there both in support and against both the two major political parties.

What is becoming obvious is that the six-week delay has heightened the stakes in what was already a tense contest – rather than engaging in issue-based campaigns, emphasis is being laid on propaganda.

First, the Permanent Voter Cards, the incomplete distribution of which was a key reason given for postponing the elections, are turning into an albatross hanging around the neck of the Independent National Electoral Commission. It was alleged, several weeks ago, that millions of Nigerians had not collected their PVCs and would, consequently, find themselves unable to vote on election days. But the latest thinking on this is that is the PVCs and the resultant use of card readers constitute a form of electronic voting, which Section 52 of the Electoral Act 2010 states is “for the time being prohibited”. Protests are now being organised both for and against INEC’s decision to use the PVCs and card readers during the elections anyway – legal cases have been instituted in courts calling for the non-usage of the PVCs.

The use of the military in the forthcoming elections is also another scenario waiting to unfold. There are presently two court judgments precluding the use of Nigerian Armed Forces in the security and supervision of the elections until an enabling act of the National Assembly is passed. The opposition All Progressives Congress has already written a letter to INEC and other relevant stakeholders requesting that the aforementioned court orders should be strictly adhered to. Will these judgments be adhered to? And, if not, what implications will this have on the electoral process?

Many Nigerians are already upset that the elections were rescheduled at the behest of the military. The high level of militarisation witnessed during the Ekiti and Osun governorship elections was controversial and the newly-released audio #Ekitigate of how the military was used to the advantage of the ruling party puts the supposed impartiality of the of the security agencies in doubt. Some have argued that a new and increased role has been added to the military, in particular, and other security agencies by the ruling party. The real fear is not in the use, but rather in the misuse, of the security agencies in these elections, particularly in light of outright partisanship displayed by some of their members.

On the ongoing judicial war, there are presently over 10 cases instituted in various courts in the country, ranging from suits to disqualify the opposition party’s presidential candidate on the grounds that he was not able to produce a certificate of high school graduation, to the eligibility of the president and the PDP presidential candidate, Goodluck Jonathan.

Nor is INEC excluded – it is being sued over the decision to use PVCs and card readers to boost the credibility of the elections. The judiciary is being accorded an inglorious role in determining matters bordering on pure politics and mostly initiated in bad faith. In a country where rumour cannot be dismissed with a wave of hand, news is circulating that most of these instituted suits are being assigned to just one judge.

Former president Olusegun Obasanjo added to the theatrics with his renunciation of his membership of the PDP and public tearing up of his membership card by his ward chairman. According to the former president, there is a plan to install an interim government in place come May 29 instead of an elected president. While the ruling party has debunked this claim, the rumour or threat of an interim government has refused to fade away.

The events currently unfolding are reminiscent of the aborted June 12, 1993 presidential election. Who knows, maybe the master-stroke once again will be a court judgment stopping elections from being held, for one reason or the other, or the disqualification of a candidate. Scenarios, such as the chairman of INEC being removed or forced to resign, escalation of the insurgency in the North East and further rescheduling of the elections, invoking sections of the constitution that Nigeria is in a state of war, are real but may not be palatable in the long run. Who in the international community will kick against the judgment of a court of competent jurisdiction?

As it becomes increasingly difficult to define the master narrative in Nigeria’s political process the fact remains that it is Nigerians that must fight for Nigeria.

- Ms. Hassan is the Director of Centre for Democracy and Development, Abuja