As the election campaign kicks off this week, traditional and religious leaders have urged politicians to avoid unpatriotic activities capable of plunging the country into crisis, The Nation reports.
Also, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) advised candidates and their supporters to play by the rule.
The umpire said issue-based campaigns are essential for safe elections.
To INEC, Nigerians expect the commission and the media to maintain neutrality during the electioneering.
The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar, and President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Daniel Okoh, urged Nigerians, especially religious leaders, to desist from making unguarded utterances that can cause confusion in the polity.
Sultan Abubakar and Rev. Okoh spoke at the 2022 third quarter meeting of the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) at the Lagos Continental Hotel, Victoria Island. The event, with the theme: ‘Working together for Justice and Peace’, was also attended by Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, and Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Abubakar, who is also head of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and co-Chair of NIREC, noted that the role of religious leaders ‘is to be just and fair to earn the people’s trust’.
He urged Muslims and Christians to pursue peace and justice.
Abubakar also pleaded with the Academic Staff union of Universities (ASUU) to obey court’s order by calling off the ongoing strike.
He urged the government and ASUU to resolve their differences in the interest of the youths.
Okoh, who is also a co-chair of NIREC, urged Nigerians to ‘embrace peace, stop inciting utterances, live in peaceful co-existence with one another, be accountable, elect leaders with capacity during the 2023 general elections, abhor tribal sentiments, among others vices’.
He said: “As we prepare for the 2023 general election, it is important that we guard our action and utterances as leaders. We must not be seen as fanning the embers of hate and disunity, encouraging political violence, or attempting to divide the populace along tribal or religion lines.
“As part of NIREC’s intervention to maintain peace at all time, 60 youths representing both faiths are already gathered in Lagos, in this particular hall, for their conference. It is my hope that the outcome of their conference will include strategies to curb youth restiveness and dangers of pre and post-election violence.”
Mustapha, who was represented by Dr. Maurice Mbaeri, urged religious leaders to work for peace and unity.
Sanwo-Olu urged religious and traditional leaders to work towards promoting unity, peace, justice and tranquility in Nigeria. He said promotion of unity, peace, justice and tranquility will foster peaceful coexistence among the people.
Sanwo-Olu added: “We have a responsibility today, tomorrow and in years to come, to ensure we do not fall our nation with our own hands. I believe with interventions like this, Nigeria will not be put to shame. I am hoping the conversation, decision and discussions at this NIREC meeting will further strengthen that thing that we all swore to – justice, peace and equity in this country.
“We are in a time that this country needs all of us, now more than ever before, and so, we should not allow hate speech. We cannot afford ethnic bigotry. We cannot afford to be divided. We are going into election; let us see the commitment and nationality in all of us.”
Executive Secretary of the Council NIREC Cornelius Omonokhua said the meeting was aimed at changing existing narratives to allow justice and peace to reign in Nigeria.
He said: ‘There is need for mental re-engineering, change of values, attitudes as well as radical emancipation to address the root of various calamities of national concerns’.
INEC calls for issue based campaigns
INEC urged political actors to ensure issue based campaigns ahead of next year’s polls.
The commission also promised to ensure that the 2023 general election is free, fair, credible, transparent, inclusive, and verifiable.
INEC Chairman Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, who made the pledge, also urged political actors to avoid hate speech or slanderous language that are likely to provoke violent reaction and physical attack on supporters.
Yakubu also urged the media to moderate political discussion and avoid mundane issues.
He spoke at the fourth sensitization forum on political broadcasting, with the theme: “Towards a fair and responsible broadcast coverage of the 2023 general elections; a multi stakeholders dialogue.”
Urging stakeholder to behave within the law, Yakubu said: “I am convinced that the media has a huge responsibility. We have all been talking about issue-based campaigns. I believe that the media has a critical role to play in this respect. Equitable access for all political parties and candidates is essential to the promotion of issue-based campaigns.
“The media plays a critical role in ensuring a more effective public enlightenment on the provision of the Electoral Act 2022 in particular, and other aspects of the electoral process in general.
“In the next two days, campaigns by political parties in public as provided by Section 94, Sub-section One of the Electorate Act, will officially commence nationwide. This means that over the next five months or so, political parties, candidates and their supporters will traverse the country canvassing for votes. They will engage in media appearances, and hold town hall meetings, door to door campaigns, rallies and processions. This period is often characterised by excitement, but it is also characterised by anxiety.
“Therefore, political parties, candidates and their supporters, as well as the media have a responsibility to operate within the confines of the law and the provisions of the Commission’s regulations and guidelines.
“Issue-based campaigns are essential for safe elections. In turn, this will create the atmosphere for the successful deployment and conduct of all electoral activities.
“Campaign should be devoid of hate speech, abusive, ill-tempered or slanderous language, insinuations or innuendos likely to provoke violent reaction, physical attack on supporters of one party by another or the destruction of campaign materials.
I believe that the media has a critical role to play in this respect. Equitable access for all political parties and candidates is essential to the promotion of issue based campaigns.
“By doing so, the media will also steer the discussion and engage the candidates away from the mundane to the critical issues that matter to citizens. Consequently, the public will be in a better position to make informed decisions on election day.”
Yakubu reminded broadcasters and political actors of the sanctions contained in the new electoral laws, adding that those who breach them will be prosecuted.
He said: “Most specifically, Section 95 of the Electoral Act defines the responsibilities of political parties and candidates, the media and public institutions; they also provide sanctions for violations. For instance, in the course of our numerous interactions with political parties over the years, many of them have complained about the denial of access to public facilities for their meetings or rallies, exorbitant charges of signages and billboards and equal access to the state media.
“Using the power of incumbency, to deny opposition parties access to public facilities is outrightly illegal. Section 95, Sub-sections 2,3,4,5 and 6 are unambiguous”.
Yakubu also urged the media to “continue to fact check stories before going to press.”
The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa, urged the media practitioners to avoid unruly behavior that could violate electoral laws and attract jail term.
Nwaja also noted that EFCC is actively engaged in the issue of election funding.
He said: “The EFCC is actively engaged in the issue of election campaign funding by financial and nonfinancial institutions, as captured under the Money Laundering Prohibition and Prevention Act 120, 22.”
The Director-General of the National Broadcasting Commission, Balarabe Shehu Ilelah, urged broadcast stations to give equal access and opportunities to all political players, registered political parties and candidates.
He said: “Broadcasters are also to handle all political matters with care and due professionalism. This is in addition to studio-based live broadcast, interviews and advert.
“I also use this opportunity to remind broadcasters not to allow any form of hate speech, fake news, derogatory or divisive remarks and any incinary broadcast on their platforms. NBC is not going to take it lightly with any situation; if you want to remain until the end of the election, you must make sure that you operate within the law and if you want to end your broadcast before the end of the election, you can go ahead and break the law. NBC will not fold its arms to see things done in a wrong way.”
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