With the flag off of election campaigns on September 28, 2022, which would last for a period of 150 days, which is five months, according to Section 94 (1) of the Electoral Act 2022, political parties in the country would have ample time to rally their faithful and garner new converts before the polling day.
A credible election remains the basis for conferring legitimacy on any government in a democratic dispensation.
Nigeria has had a rich history of severely blemished elections ever since the first post-independence general elections in 1965. Since then, practically all elections in the country have been characterised by one form of stigma or the other.
The new Electoral Act, 2022, which was signed into law on the 25th February, 2022, to repeal the 2010 Electoral Act, has addressed some of the thorny challenges to credible elections in Nigeria.
The Act was conceived, framed and enacted to correct the ills which had bedevilled previous elections in Nigeria that were fraught with intimidation, vote buying, rigging, forgery of ballot papers, ballot box snatching and other electoral malpractices, that were to become the label of elections in Nigeria.
Some of the innovations can be seen in the aspect of political campaigns.
2.0.0: THE NEW ELECTORAL ACT INNOVATIONS AND THEIR IMPLICATIONS ON POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS WITH EMPHASIS ON SECTION 92, 93, 94, 95 and 96.
Section 92 of the Electoral Act, 2022, provides for prohibition of certain conduct at political campaigns.
Some certain conducts at political campaigns has been expanded to include political parties, candidates and even aspirants who were previously not included.
Some of the prohibitions includes:
• mandatory provision that a political campaign or slogan shall not be tainted with abusive language directly or indirectly likely to injure religious, ethnic, tribal or sectional feelings. -Section 92(1)
• That “abusive, intemperate, slanderous or base language or insinuations or innuendoes designed or likely to provoke violent reaction or emotions shall not be employed or used in political campaigns”. – Section 92(2)
• That “places designated for religious worship, police stations and public offices shall not be used for political campaigns, rallies and processions; or to promote, propagate or attack political parties, candidates or their programmes or ideologies”. Section 92(3)
By the above provision prohibiting the use of public offices for election campaigns, it is therefore safe to submit that the Palaces of our traditional rulers that are funded and maintained with public funds are categorized as public offices.
• That “Masquerades shall not be employed or used by any political party, aspirant or candidate during political campaigns or for any other political purpose.”-Section 92(4)
• That “a political party, aspirant or candidate of a political party shall not retain, organise, train or equip any person or group of persons for the purpose of enabling them to be employed for the use or display of physical force or coercion in promoting any political objective or interests, or in such manner as to arouse reasonable apprehension that they are organised, trained or equipped for that purpose.”-Section 92(5)
• That “a political party, aspirant or candidate shall not keep or use armed private security organization, vanguard or any other group or individual by whatever name called for the purpose of providing security, assisting or aiding the political party or candidate in whatever manner during campaigns, rallies, processions or elections.-Section 92(6)
Relying on Section 92 of the Electoral Act, 2022, the commission expects the political campaigns to be civil, devoid of abusive language and without any rancour. The Act also enjoined political parties and their candidates to comply with these provisions as contravening them will attract sanctions as any political party, aspirant or candidate who contravened Section 92 of the Act would be fined N1 million or 12 months imprisonment.
In addition to this prohibitions, Section 93 of The Electoral Act, 2022 provides for prohibition of use of force or violence during campaigns.
It states that A party, candidate, aspirant, or person or group of persons shall not directly or indirectly threaten any person with the use of force or violence during any political campaign in order to compel that person or any other person to support or refrain from supporting a political party or candidate.
Any political party, candidate, aspirant, or person or group of persons that contravenes the above provisions commits an offence and liable on conviction In the case of a candidate, a maximum fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months while, in the case of a political party, a fine of N2,000,000 in the first instance, and N500,000 for any subsequent offence.
Another salient provision of the prohibition of conducts at political campaigns can be found in section 94(1) of The Electoral Act, 2022, which says “For the purpose of this Act, the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 150 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day.” Previously, the period of campaign in public was for 90 days.
Any form of campaigns done after the stipulated period shall be regarded as an electoral offense.
Section 95 of The Electoral Act, 2022, further provides for Specific Provisions On Campaign For Election. They are as follows:
• A candidate and his or her party shall campaign for the elections in accordance with such rules and regulations as may be determined by the Commission.
• State apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election.
• Media time shall be allocated equally among the political parties or candidates at similar hours of the day.
• At any public electronic media, equal airtime shall be allotted to all political parties or candidates during prime times at similar hours each day, subject to the payment of appropriate fees.
• At any public print media, equal coverage and visibility shall be allotted to all political parties.
Any person who contravenes the provisions under reference commits an offence and is liable on conviction, in a case of a public media, to a fine of N2,000,000 in the first instance and N5,000,000 for subsequent conviction; while, in the case of principal officers and other officers of the media house, to a fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment for a term of six months.
As stated above in Section 94 of The Electoral act, all political campaigns must stop 24 hours before the polling day. Section 96 of The Electoral Act, 2022 lays emphasis on this rule and further provides for the consequences of campaigning during 24 hours before the polling day. It states that a person, print or electronic medium that broadcasts, publishes, advertises or circulates any material for the purpose of promoting or opposing a particular political party or the election of particular candidate over the radio, television, newspaper, magazine, handbills, or any print or electronic media whatsoever called within twenty four hours immediately preceding or on polling day commits an offence under this Act.
It further states that where an offence under reference is committed by a body corporate, the principal officers of that body shall be deemed to have equally committed the same offence.A person convicted of an offence under the referenced provision is liable in the case of a body corporate to a maximum fine of N1,000,000; and in the case of an individual to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 or to imprisonment for a term of six months or both.
In conclusion, the 2022 Electoral Act has widely reviewed timelines, penalties and fines It is still too early to speak about the reformatory capacity of the 2022 amended electoral act. It is however a law with promise yet with obvious flaws.