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Feb 19, 2019 | Nigeria

Nigeria's Delayed Polls: Electoral Commission Opens Up Campaigning

By Anne-Marie Bissada - RFI
RFI Hausa
RFI Hausa

Nigeria's Independent National Electoral Commission has approved the resumption of political campaigning in the lead-up to new election date set for 23 February. But while campaigning does not go against the electoral regulations, one wonders if this move doesn't open up Pandora's box as the tit-for-tat fighting between the two main parties is growing since the delayed polls announced on 16 February.

There's never a dull moment in Nigeria's politics.

Just as we were a week ago, there still remains 73 parties competing for presidency.

But the two top ones are still starring in their own soapopera.

The People's Democratic Party, the PDP with its candidate Atiku Aboubakar and incumbent president Muhammadu Buhari's party the All Progressive's Party, the APC.

Right from the announcement of the postponement, the PDP lashed out at both the APC and INEC, accusing them of colluding to derail the elections.

APC also issued an official statement whereby it accused the PDP of purposely trying to sabotage the voting as tweeted by its director of strategic campaign communication, Festus Keyamo.

In his tweet he added that the ACP was “truly worried because as early as Friday morning, some known PDP Social Media influencers unwittingly announced this postponement, but quickly deleted the message & apologized to the public that it was fake news.“

At this point the PDP had already vowed to continue on with their campaign.

The APC hadn't yet confirmed nor denied it.

#Snatchatyourownrisk

Late Sunday evening, the APC announced an emergency meeting to be held in Abuja on Monday at 11:00 a.m. to discuss its strategy.

It was understood at this point that the party would officially announce its campaign and its plan.

What was surprising was the comment made by President Buhari in the seven minutes speech he gave.

At one point, he alluded to authorizing the military and the police to stop any person from trying to rig the elections:

When Rfi asked the APC's national leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, about this comment, he explained that during the meeting “the president was just reinforcing the fact that if you are out there snatching boxes-ballot boxes-or causing disruptions, whatever you are at risk of your own life! Whatever happens to you! No president would give an order that a sole citizen should be shot summarily…no, no. It's ok, emotions are running high these days, a president's subject to any individual, including myself, can be misinterpreted.”

Tinubu added that those were not Buhari's words, because “he is a law-abiding president”.

Since news of those words have made its way out, a growing hashtag that pokes fun at the notion of risking your life to snatch a box is trending on twitter, called #snatchatyourownrisk.

Condoning violence

Just a few hours later in the day, without missing a beat, the PDP also held a meeting.

In a brief seven minute speech, the PDP speaker of the House of Representatives, the Honourable Yakubu Dogara, commented on Buhari's earlier declaration and responded to accusations that the PDP had earlier knowledge of the election's postponement.

He refuted the claims and then addressed the president's earlier statement:

“In regard to the president's statement as a call for extra juridical killings, considering there are adequate provisions in our laws to address electoral offenses. These statements clearly indicate that our democracy has become victim of a full blown dictatorship. When one considers that a democratically elected president who gives directive that is in clear violation of the laws of the land, which by his oath of office he is to defend and protect.”

Kola Ologbondiyan, the PDP National Publicity Secretary, told Rfi that this violation of the law “concerns the issue of asking the military and the police to shoot at election riggers."

He added that the PDP will "not allow President Mohammadu Buhari to transform himself into a full blown dictatorship that will begin to engage in extrajudicial killings and the emasculation of the ordinary Nigerians.”

Dueling parties

In short, Monday proved to be a day of slinging mud between the two parties.

APC said it did not feel convinced that election rigging would not take place.

PDP bit back calling Buhari a wanna-be dictator.

And both accused the other of colluding with INEC.

But they both agreed to continue on with campaigning despite INEC's initial response.

Idayat Hassan, the director of the Centre of Democracy and Development based in Abuja, clarified this point.

Despite what INEC had said on Saturday, according to the electoral laws, all parties can continue on. “I think INEC did not give enough thought to it or the question came as a surprise to it when the question came up.”

She adds that “the electoral act provides that campaign ends 24 hours to elections, so the campaign continues immediately; there are no two ways about it. They can legally continue on with their campaign.”

And on that note, INEC issued its statement with a change of heart late Monday evening announcing that it will allow all parties to campaign until midnight of Thursday 21 February.

The electoral commission is due to hold a meeting on Tuesday to discuss how sensitive electoral material will be delivered to polling stations on time, to avoid another logistical delay.

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