CAMPAIGN seasons would not be what they are without a shenanigan here or there: a dig at the opposition that merits a reluctant tip of the hat; creative manipulation of language with the aim of portraying members of the opposing camp in a bad light; a poke here, a tug there. All is par for the course and is part and parcel of what makes political campaigns fun to watch. But while it’s one thing to needle the opposition, it’s another thing entirely to engage in acts intended to prevent one’s opponent(s) from getting their message out to the public. Taking the mickey out of the opposition is all well and good; engaging in acts of dubious legality is beyond the pale and has no place in the democratic game.
Unfortunately, some of the (mal)practices that have come to our attention in recent weeks fall under the rubric of the latter. Last month, the approval that was granted earlier to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, to use the Ahmadu Bello Stadium (ABS), Kaduna, Kaduna State, for a rally was revoked at the last minute, throwing the PDP standard-bearer’s campaign into turmoil. The Abubakar campaign had received a terse eleventh-hour communication from the Ministry of Sports that the stadium was “under renovation.” If the stadium was indeed undergoing renovation, why was approval granted ab initio? The Abubakar campaign’s suspicion that there is more to the last-minute revocation than meets the eye seems rational.
If the PDP is the victim in Kaduna State, it would seem to be the perpetrator in Delta State, where the state’s All Progressives Congress (APC) had raised the alarm over what appeared to be an attempt by the PDP to disrupt the APC’s presidential rally scheduled for Saturday, November 26. According to the APC’s Director of Communications and Media Strategy, Ima Niboro, the PDP, acting through the Warri South Local Government Authority (LGA) chairman, Michael Tidi, had illegally ordered the closure of roads leading to and from the Warri Township Stadium, the planned venue of the rally. Other than making life difficult for the APC campaign, there seems to be no justifiable reasons for the closures.
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In Rivers State, Governor Nyesom Wike has imposed what is effectively a tax on political campaigns in the state by signing into law an Executive Order 21 forbidding the use of “public school buildings, structures and premises for political rallies” unless the campaigner has obtained permission “from the Commissioner of Education not less than two weeks before the date of the rally and paying a non-refundable security fee of N5,000,000 (five million Naira) only.” In Abakaliki, capital of Ebonyi State, the authorities appear to have gone one step further by allowing policemen to fire teargas into a crowd of supporters of Peter Obi, the Labour Party presidential candidate. As a matter of fact, Obi’s supporters have good grounds for supposing that there is a target on their back given that the plane meant to convey the party’s National Working Committee and National Executive Council members from Lagos to Ibadan to attend a rally at the Lekan Salami Stadium was grounded for unspecified “regulatory reasons.”
Clearly, there is a pattern here, and it points to systematic abuse of power by certain state executives to disrupt the campaigns of their political opponents. It goes without saying that governors are expected to be fair to all parties and contestants in making public space available for campaigns and related political activities. Levying arbitrary fees, ordering last-minute road closures, and basically deploying law enforcement against one’s political opponents are morally indefensible and contrary to the spirit of democracy. The affected state executive should desist forthwith.