With the 2019 general elections just a few days away, presidential candidates and their respective political parties have in the last weeks intensified efforts in their campaigns across the country trying to woo as many voters as they can. Notable amongst these candidates are the incumbent and flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC), President Muhammadu Buhari and his major rival, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
In a bid to clinch victory at the polls, both men alongside their campaign teams have embarked on electioneering activities, traversing the nooks and crannies of the country, making promises, giving assurances and uttering whatever inanities to persuade multitudes of supporters gathered at rally grounds. While they are at it, their supporters on the other hand, are trying to outdo one other in acts of blatant political partisanship virtually and physically with a few leading to violent attacks of those opposed to their views and candidates.
Historically, elections in Nigeria have been largely characterized by violence. This led to the collapse of the first republic in the 1960s through military take-over in 1966. Also, following the return to civil rule in 1979, another violent episode was witnessed during the 1983 general election which resulted in the killings of some Nigerians. Again, after decades of military rule and the country’s eventual return to democratic rule in 1999, each election was followed by violence that lead to deaths, casualties and destruction of property across the country. And it is safe to say that these string of violence cannot be divorced from the culture of intolerance and impunity.
Much like the 2015 elections, where decorum gave way to profanity, campaigns ahead of the 2019 elections have been toxic especially, on the part of some supporters and loyalists of both candidates, who have resorted to hurling insults at each other at any given opportunity. Propaganda is constantly being spread while, bigotry and fake news have formed a major part of the campaigns all in a bid to undermine or project candidates. Pockets of violent attacks that can be likened to gang-related attacks have been reported. The candidates themselves have also not been spared from the string of invective. Critics are filled with such venom and hatred that it leaves one stunned.
But the one difference between the forthcoming election and the previous, is the similarities between the two leading candidates which thankfully, is relatively being overlooked by the electorate. Unlike the two leading candidates in the 2015 presidential election – Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari who came from different ethnic and religious background (a factor that appeared to widen the fault lines in the country’s political landscape), the two major contenders in the current race fortunately, come from the same region and are of the same faith. A factor many opine makes the contest less divisive as voters are only divided along party affiliations as opposed to ethnic or religious lines. While this particular development brings with it some sort of relief bearing in mind the intensity of the fanaticism that trailed the last election, there are equally other factors that are source of concern in the forthcoming exercise, justifiably so. These include, political intolerance and fake news.
Evidently, efforts by authorities concerned at checking speeches or remarks that undermine our peaceful co-existence on traditional media seems to be paying off, it however, persists on social media platforms as merchants of hate and destruction continue to erroneously deploy the avenue to promote hate and intolerance. While these ‘virtual vituperations’ may appear to bear little or no consequences, it is important that it be checked to avert any form of physical violence during and after the elections. As such, relevant authorities should intensify efforts to ensure that intolerance isn’t part of the campaigns. Political parties and candidates are duty bound to preach to and, censure their supporters and loyalists who resort to speeches that are capable of inciting violence.
Furthermore, it is imperative that the issue of fake news. While some trivialize the concept of fake news by making a joke of it, others have made a habit of describing or dismissing any news item that does not support their views and this has become common with politicians and supporters. But we have witnessed instances where some people were misled by reports which turned out to be nothing but a product of a person’s imagination shared for the purpose of mischief or malice and the consequences of such actions.
More than ever, the issue of fake news needs to be taken seriously and curtailed in the run-up to, during and especially after the elections to avoid violence undue tension within the polity. But in doing that, the electoral body, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) needs to ensure that the polls are devoid of irregularities.
According to political analyst, Ikenna Escobedo, “the best way to avoid threats of violence especially immediately after the polls is for the electoral umpire, to ensure that people’s desires are reflected in the outcome of the election. Most people know how they voted, who they voted for and, they expect that to be reflected in the results.
“Secondly, there needs to be a clampdown on instances of fake news; it abounds. This is because most times it is done out of mischief which is capable of wreaking havoc. Some people will project results that indicate that a particular candidate is winning online and it goes viral when in reality, reverse is the case. When eventually the actual result is made known and does not portray the expectations of those who bought in on the fake results, some of them may resort to violence. So, stakeholders just need to play their part in curbing the menace.
The candidates need to preach to their supporters on the need to await results from INEC and also shun violence. The electoral body need to ensure that the wishes of the people are reflected. The regulators on their part have to ensure that spreaders of such fake news are punished. With these measures in place, we may be able to curtail electoral violence and ensure that the polls are conducted peacefully”, he stated.
Beyond supporters, the handlers and affiliates of the candidates have engaged in outright spewing of bad and demeaning words and expressions, name-calling, and shaming by way of criticism. Criticism should be constructive and attention paid to matters that are of relevance. Politicians should learn to speak and conduct themselves properly as their words and actions are capable of dividing and igniting violence. As harmless as fake news may seem to some persons, when this fabricated piece is driven by hate, it is devastatingly harmful and such harm knows no political party, tribe, religion, gender or social status.
While the elections nigh, there is still time to create awareness amongst the voting public on the need to shun hate and be tolerant of one another. To let them know that in no way does violence solve any problem instead, it will exacerbate the crisis we have at hand as a country. But beyond that, we know that the best way to address any irregularities witnessed during the election is to head to the election tribunal to seek redress. Your preferred candidate cannot use threat to violence to win election.
All hands must be on deck to stamp out these cankerworms. Traditional and religious leaders, political parties, civil societies, the media must join hands with the government to tackle the issue of hate, intolerance, fake news and violence as we head to the polls.
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