30 July 2014

Nigerians Divided on Jonathan's 'Unity Rallies'

Photo: Vanguard
2015 elections.

Some groups and individuals have expressed divergent views on the “zonal unity rallies” currently being conducted by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) across the country.

While the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) described the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as a toothless bulldog for keeping quiet in the face of abuse of the Electoral Act by President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP under the guise of the “unity rallies”, others believe that no offence has been committed by carrying out the rallies.

CNPP believes that the unity rallies were being conducted in utter contravention of the 2010 Electoral Act, describing them as “huge drain on the resources of the Nigerian state”.

The umbrella body of registered political parties also noted that the cost of every zonal rally by the President and PDP in terms of logistics, honorarium and settlement run into billions of naira.

Spokesman of the group, Osita Okechukwu, gave this position in an interview with Daily Independent on Sunday.

Okechukwu noted that the intendment of the Electoral Act to empower INEC to sanction violators of early campaign rallies, erecting bill boards, posters and sundry was to forestall challengers from distracting incumbents from their arduous state function.

“It is applicable in most liberal democracies to create a conducive atmosphere for the incumbent Governor, or President to concentrate in the day to day administration.

“It is taking for granted that the challenger has more time and cannot be allowed to embark on early campaign at the disadvantage of the incumbent.

“It is therefore paradoxical that in our own situation, it is the incumbent which the law was meant to protect that has embarked on early campaign in utter contravention of the Electoral Act.

“For whatever name President Goodluck Jonathan dubs his open rallies, it is nothing but campaign.

“No matter, however diplomatically the speeches are couched, not all the speakers are reticent as was the case in Enugu rally, where several speakers, especially the Governor of Enugu State hit the nail at the head.

“Quoting Governor Sullivan Chime; ‘We have come here for simple task, to formally request you to run. Not about your performance or request for projects. Secondly, that you deliver the answer forthwith.’

“There is no doubt that this is in utter contravention of the 2010 Electoral Act and huge drain on the resources of the Nigerian state, for the cost of every zonal rally in terms of logistics, honorarium and settlement run into billions,” Okechukwu stated.

The CNPP spokesman, however, pointed out that he was one of those who did not call on INEC to sanction the President because he knew “for one that INEC is still a department in the executive and a toothless bull dog in this instance”.

Okechukwu said it was unimaginable that the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Ondo State, who courageously and openly condemned the ignoble role played by Minister of State Defence, Musilu Obanikoro, on the Ilaje/Ese Odo Federal Constituency by election, instead of receiving commendation from the INEC headquarters going by reports, may most loose his job.

In the same vein, National President of Northern Youth Consultative Forum (NYCF), Aminu Mohammed, called on INEC to ban Jonathan from contesting the 2015 elections for flaunting election guidelines stipulating 90 days to election before campaign.

According to Mohammed, Jonathan’s tour of some states under guise of PDP ‘Unity Rally’ and indirect campaign for his re-election by calling on Nigerians to consider the good works of his administration was enough evidence to nail the President and his party.

In an interview with Daily Independent, the youth leader said it is highly regrettable that a sitting President could go against the election guidelines.

“If INEC pretends not to be aware of the President and his party already campaigning ahead of the 2015 elections, then something must be wrong,” Mohammed noted.

Similarly, former old Kaduna State Governor and National Chairman of Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), Balarabe Musa, queried the PDP and Jonathan’s motives for the unity rally.

Musa, who described the rally as a “jamboree” and waste of time and resources, observed that the tour was more or less a form of campaign.

While noting that it has united neither PDP as a party nor its aggrieved members, he pointed: “All the party members and Governors that defected to APC have not returned to the party”.

Musa asked: “Where are the party members that have united after the tour?”

However, he said by now he expected INEC to have made public pronouncement over the manner the rallies where held, particularly when speeches were made canvassing for votes.

“For me, I think INEC should have taken necessary action in line with laws to serve as deterrent to others,” Musa added.

A Kaduna based lawyer who was one time Kaduna State Chairman of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Mohammed Soba, insisted that the President and his party have flaunted the INEC guideline that cautioned against campaigning days before election.

“But since PDP is the ruling party and Jonathan is the President, INEC will turn deaf ears to the campaign messages transmitted live on television and radio during the tour,” Soba stated.

He argued that INEC can redeem its image if it takes the necessary action.

Also, a Chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Cross River State, Okoi Obono-Obla, observed that INEC was powerless in the face of what many have described as commencement of campaigns by Jonathan and the PDP in violation of the 2010 Electoral Act.

Obono-Obla told Daily Independent on Sunday in Calabar that though the Electoral Act frowns at the conduct of the President and PDP for putting up such campaigns in form of rallies, the law does not empower INEC to take any action, except the candidate and the party campaigns 24 hours to an election.

Obono-Obla, who was the Deputy National Secretary of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), said “regrettably the Electoral Act does not provide for punishment of a political party or individual that violate Section 99 (1) of the Electoral Act.

“Section 99 subsections 2 and 3 of the Electoral Act only makes it offence for a political party that campaigns 24 hours to a polling day or day of election but not before 90 days to election day.

“This is the lacunae that President Jonathan and PDP have been exploiting. There is little or nothing INEC can do expect to condemn such conduct. INEC cannot punish President Jonathan or the PDP.

“Remember also that President Jonathan enjoys immunity by virtue of Section 308 of the Constitution assuming that he can be punished,”

However, Obono-Obla said given the intent of the provisions of relevant sections of the law that has to do with campaigning, Jonathan has shown complete disdain for the law he vowed to protect as President.

A Benin based lawyer, Chuks Enegide, said: “As far as I am concerned, the electoral law regarding campaign has several facets but the one that is of interest is campaigning for elective position”.

“If those going around the country as would be candidate, with bill boards all over the country, to my mind, are not campaign proper but only about expression of interest, they are trying to show relevance within the party.

“Well, that of the President may appear slightly different because he is supposed to be the number one citizen of the country and he is supposed to live above party patronage.

“But what I heard recently about the campaign for unity, so much has happened in this country that the drumbeat of separation has been beaten so loud and to my mind, cashing in on this, I dare say he is trying to bring the country together,” Enegide said.

In his own opinion, another lawyer, Olives Onoiribholo, said: “I don’t know what they mean by Jonathan campaigning, and Jonathan has not told us he is campaigning, and they should not misconstrue his intention.

“Jonathan is only going for what he called unity rally to sensitise Nigerians on the need for unity which the country requires most at the moment.

“And if that is what they meant by campaign, they should distinguish what is unity rally and what is campaign and until Jonathan tells us he is campaigning, they can now begin to hold him liable for flouting electoral law but he told us clearly that what he is doing is unity rally and if they are misinterpreting this as electioneering campaign they are missing the point.”

Osun State Coordinator of Coalition of Civil Societies Groups, Waheed Lawal, and Director General of socio political organisation, De-rauf Group, Amitolu Shittu, called for sanction against the President and the PDP by INEC over the recent unity rally held by the party in Kano.

The duo of Lawal and Shittu pointed out that the President and his party have circumstances violated the Electoral Act which stipulates that electioneering campaign can only hold within 90 days to the election.

An APC elder in Soko State, Muhammadu Sani Dodoiya, also believes that the rally by the President and PDP is an “abuse of the provisions” of INEC’s electoral guidelines.

“We should not blame President Jonathan, but INEC which has failed to regulate excess of the ruling PDP,” Dodoiya said.

According to him, since INEC was empowered by law to regulate the electoral process and has failed, the INEC Chairman and his commissioners should resign.

But former PDP state Deputy Chairman, Umar Ibrahim Gwadabawa, disagreed, pointing out that it is because the 2015 general elections are approaching and that any public outing of a politician would interpreted as campaign even if it is attending wedding ceremony, or condolences that would draw supports around him or her.

In his response, a veteran journalist and public commentator, Abubakar Umar, observed: “Any event or function by a ruling part political party has some connotations and can be used for subtle campaign”.

Also in Yola, Adamawa State capital, a chieftain of the PDP, P.P. Elisha, believes that Jonathan has every constitutional right to attend the unity rallies organised by his party to receive new and defected members to the party at state level.

Elisha, who was the immediate past factional state Secretary of the PDP, loyal to Governor Murtala Nyako, however, averred that Jonathan never flouted INEC’s guidelines.

Nyako is now a member of the APC.

“He (Jonathan) has not declared his intention nor declared any member for any political position, his visit is merely to grace the rally,” Elisha said.

Similarly, a former Adamawa State Commissioner for Information, Musa Kamale, disagreed that Jonathan flouted INEC guidelines hence his visits are to embrace and address those recently defected to the party.

Also commenting, zonal Vice Chairman of the APC, Umar Duhu, blamed the President for having his personal and PDP’s interests at heart instead of the recent killings in the country, stressing that Jonathan should have declared days of national mourning for the departed souls rather than dancing Kano state during PDP rally.

Duhu said Jonathan should be sanctioned for flouting the INEC’s guidelines, but regretted that INEC and other security agents in the country are merged with the ruling PDP to causing most of the happenings.

However, INEC in the state said the President has constitutional and electoral law backings to attend political rallies provided such rallies were not turned to political campaigns, where “he directly or indirectly be calling for the electorates to vote for a particular candidate or party”.

In a telephone interview, Public Affairs Officer of INEC in Adamawa State, Rifkhatu Maxwell, said “the President did not flout INEC’s guidelines as alleged” and called on those clamouring for sanction against him to read the electoral law for detail.

Chairman of the Plateau State chapter of PDP, Haruna Dabin, disagreed with those who alleged that Jonathan and his party are already campaigning, saying the President has only been receiving new members into the party’s fold.

Dabin told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Jos on Sunday that this was in consonance with the fact that “a political party is just a social mobilisation outfit”.

“PDP cannot start any campaigns now because it has no candidate for the 2015 elections yet.’’

NAN recalls that such rallies had taken place in Kano, Enugu, Sokoto, Kaduna, Bauchi, Minna and Owerri, among others.

Dabin held that people were merely confusing INEC’s position on the matter and the statutory responsibility of political parties.

“A political party is just a social mobilisation outfit; what the PDP has been doing lately is to receive new members into its fold and that does not translate into campaigns.

“It is not the first time political parties are receiving new entrants.

“You remember that the APC started it by receiving even Governors and Senators that defected to their fold. No one accused them of campaigning.

“Again, it is also fair to draw a line between President Goodluck Jonathan and PDP member Goodluck Jonathan.

“When Jonathan visited Sokoto, Owerri, Kano and the other towns recently, he did so in his capacity as a PDP member and not necessarily as President.

“It is always good and fair to draw the line,’’ he said.

Dabin noted that there had been calls for Jonathan to seek a second tenure, but said the President was yet to declare his stand on the matter.

“You campaign if there are candidates or aspirants, but there is none now. So, for whom shall we campaign? And what shall we be saying?

“All we are doing now is receiving defectors and as far as I know, no INEC law forbids that,’’ he added.

Dabin appealed to politicians and political analysts to be fair to the President in their interpretations of such visits, stressing that PDP is a law-abiding outfit that would always respect due processes.

Senator representing Uyo District of Akwa Ibom State, Ita Enang, also defended the President, saying what he is doing is not political rally, but rather a tour to unify the party.

Enang said such nationwide tour was necessary due to defections by some members of the party, which may have affected its strength in some states.

“We know that in each of the states that he’s gone to, there must have been issues of people defecting, either the Governor defecting and going away with the party structure to another party, and so he goes there to assess the strength of the party and reassure members,” Enang added.

On his part, former Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ilorin branch, Rafiu Balogun, advised Jonathan to be cautious of heating up the polity with the unity rally of his party.

Balogun, who spoke to Daily Independent in interview in Ilorin, said the rally is a subtle way of flouting the guidelines of the INEC and Electoral Act.

“I want to agree with the view that the rally is a more of a campaign. It is a clever and subterfuge way to flout the Act,” he said.

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