But the pervading air of insecurity across Nigeria is taking the shine off the campaigns and preparations for the April 2011 general elections. While the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) assures of safe polls, the northern Islamic sect, Boko Haram, and the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) in the South-South are threatening fire and brimstone. The result is that Nigerians are skeptical about safety of lives and property, which forms the thrust of the opposition parties’ campaigns against the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
In the last five months, the country has lost many lives to what has come to be seen as terrorist attacks, particularly in the northern part of the country.
For instance, the Warri Bomb Blasts of March 2010 claimed eight lives, while the Suleja explosions of 3rd March 2011 claimed over five (5) lives. The Abuja Bomb Blasts of October 1st 2010 and 31st December 2010 saw the death of about 25 people; while, in Jos bomb blast on Christmas Eve (24/12/10), about 80 died, with many injured. Yenegoa Bomb blast on Wednesday, 29th December 2010 also had its casualties.
With this background, the road to the April polls has been cautious and relatively uneventful as opposition parties, including the PDP in some states, grapple with the might of the ruling parties.
Unlike the 2007 campaigns when there was a bit of competition, from the presidency to the National Assembly, the 2011 campaigns are winding up in a generally dull manner. Besides, there was limited time frame.
Some of the political parties also complain of insufficient funds to organize their campaigns because of INEC’s refusal to fund campaigns this time around.
Former Governor of Old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, does not seem to agree that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) monopolized the presidential campaign as many people argue. “Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) did campaign very well like the PDP in the entire North. The impact of the CPC campaign was felt like the PDP. The ACN also did very well in the South West and in some parts of the South East and North. There were challenges because, as it were, none of the parties can be too sure of easy victory until after the election.”
Musa, however, acknowledged the fact that most of the parties lack sufficient funds to campaign. He accused the ruling PDP of using public funds in campaigning for the April polls. “This gave the ruling parties undue advantage over the opposition,” he said.
For the National Publicity Secretary of the ACN, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the campaign has been interesting except in some certain areas where PDP deliberately want to muzzle the opposition party. “This is basically out of fear that the opposition is waxing stronger beyond the expectations of the PDP,” he said.
In Lagos, opposition parties also express worry over the rate at which agents and party loyalists of the ruling ACN administration tried to muzzle their campaign efforts by destroying their posters and leaving that of Governor Babatunde Fashola, who is also running for a second term in office.
Governorship candidates of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Yomi Tokoya, and the Social Democratic Mega Party (SDMP), Bashorun Jaiye Randle, expressed worry over the destruction of their posters.
The PDP candidate, Ade Dosunmu, described the act by ACN as cowardly. “It is a sign of jittery of the opposition for ACN to have gone to the extent of destroying the opposition party’s posters. It is also a sheer waste of public funds, the type of expensive campaign ACN embarked on in the state, being the ruling party.”
But the Managing Director, LASAA, Tunji Bello, said that procedures were laid down for political parties regarding the use of posters for political campaigns, even before the process began.
In Anambra, the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) was, two days ago, accused of sponsoring violence against the Senatorial candidates of the Accord Party, Senator Annie Okonkwo, and ACN, Chief Chris Ngige. Senator Okonkwo, who lost out in the PP primaries, is pursuing his re-election to the upper legislative chamber in the Accord party. He was said to have been targeted by thugs loyal to the ruling APGA last Monday while on campaign tour. Ngige, who was governor of the state for slightly less than two years - having had his election declared null and void by the election tribunal - was said to have suffered the same fate in the hands of thugs.
Another ANPP chieftain, Cassidy Agbai, described harassment of opposition parties during campaigns in the states and at national levels as “worrisome.”
“There was no level-playing field at all, as the ruling party showed hostility to the opposition most often at the state levels,” he said.
In Oyo State, the opposition parties did not find it easy as well. The Otunba Adebayo Alao Akala PDP-led government was hostile to dissenting voices. Former Governor Rasheed Ladoja, who defected from the ruling PDP to contest the governorship election on the platform of the Accord Party, expressed worry that he could not have his political jingle aired on the state-owned broadcasting service. He alleged that the governor issued subtle orders ordering the management of the radio house not to honor a contract already entered into. Even the protest by the former governor was ignored.
It was also a near war situation before the state government could allow the CPC the use of the Mapo Hall for its campaign in Ibadan.
A similar situation was reported in Niger State, where Governor Babangida Aliyu, resented the presence of the CPC. The party’s request to use the trade fair center to flag off its presidential campaign for the North central zone was rejected. The state government was alleged to have rejected their application on the grounds that the venue had been allocated to another party.
Some alleged that the bomb blast at Suleija during a PDP gubernatorial rally was an open display of partisan indignation against a government that wants no opposition.
The situation in Ebonyi State was even more threatening when Governor Martins Elechi went on air to cancel a scheduled campaign rally that was to mark the flagging off of the presidential campaign rally of the ANPP in the South East zone. The National Chairman of ANPP, Ogbonnaya Onu, denounced the action of the governor maintaining that the governor has no constitutional right to do so. He condemned the governor’s action, saying that it was part of the ruling party’s antics to muzzle the opposition.
But Elechi hinged his actions on security considerations.
Observers also decried the attitude of the ruling party in Bauchi State to the campaign of the opposition. It was alleged that the action was responsible for the near-air mishap that nearly took the life of ACN’s Vice Presidential candidate, Mr. Fola Adeola.
The campaign in Benue State was more of a cat and dog relationship between the ruling PDP and the ACN.
It was by a stroke of miracle that an ACN senatorial candidate, General Lawrence Onoja, escaped death few days after the state government banned a scheduled ACN rally in Otukpo. Onoja, who was in the company of the party’s gubernatorial running mate, was attacked on his way to receive decampees from the PDP.
The situation in Abia State was not different. An American style ‘gangsterism’ was introduced where thugs, otherwise referred to as ‘Ochendo boys,’ went all over the place intimidating political opponents and chasing some into unending flight.
Gubernatorial candidate of the ACN, Mr. Paul Ikone, narrowly escaped being kidnapped by sponsored party thugs at Umuahia, the state capital.
The trend got so bad that House of Representatives had to direct the Inspector General of police, Hafiz Ringim, to invoke the constitutional provisions in calling to order, governments that use state resources to deny the opposition opportunity to sell themselves to the electorate.
The chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Attaihiru Jega, at a point had to call the ruling party to order over intimidation of the opposition particularly at the state level.
However, the 2011 campaigns witnessed a new dimension and trends where modern technology took over the old traditional method of campaigning.
In most cases, parties make use of the Internet to reach their audience.
PDP at the national level is not resting on its oars. It wants to capture lost grounds, especially the ACN-controlled Lagos State and other South West States lost through the court process.
Already, the opposition sees PDP’s seeming romance with ex-convict, Bode George, as a wrong message for the touted war against corruption. In an effort to set up machinery for the “South West contest” in April, George was given a VIP treatment and reception by his party after serving more than two years in Lagos prison for corruption during his tenure as Chairman of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA). The Late President Umaru Yar’Adua, whose action was, however, seen by a faction of the PDP, at the time, as politically motivated, jailed him.
Buhari’s camp was quick to point out that since Olabode George sat prominently in the VIP stand at the PDP’s presidential campaign rally in Lagos, “By this very act, PDP has sent a clear message that they cannot fight corruption…”
Yar’Adua’s predecessor and PDP’s Board of Trustees Chairman, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, who was part of the celebration and church thanksgiving, is now reportedly isolating himself from the “Bode George mania.”