Extended Campaign Period is not a Platform for Negative CampaigningFeatured Contributors/Columnists, Latest News, Nigeria 2015 Election Friday, March 6th, 2015
By Prof R. A. Ipinyomi, University of Ilorin, Nigeria
A negative campaign has been identified by researchers to be an avenue that can create voter apathy and prevent accurate reporting of candidates’ acceptability, abilities, policies and ideologies. Only in few cases have we found negative campaigns bringing out more voters. Instead of focusing on issues campaign managers busy themselves passing insults and abuses on each other and turning voters away from the polls. The 6 weeks extended campaign period in Nigeria 2015 elections is already mired in aggressive negative campaigning. We hear of actual verbal abuses, distribution of money, attempts to further shift dates, intentions to sack key electoral officers and to install more “favourable ones”. Tactics of this type breed apathy and anomie among groups within society who have previously been politically engaged. Nigerian politicians are increasingly portraying themselves as corrupt, incompetent or lack the focus. From our research we can infer a possible overall decline in voter turnout and a further shift of votes from one party doing negative campaigning to the other party it intends to campaign against. Banning overtly negative campaigning should be considered a positive step henceforth; it will remove the perverse incentives that distort press coverage of the meaningful, practical details of election campaigns. Consequently, voters will be able to draw on a wider range of information when making their choice at the ballot box. A ban will prevent politicians from engaging in attrition based campaigns designed purely to breed apathy among their opponent’s supporters. Ironically the current campaign in Nigeria has been somewhat producing results outside the book where negative campaign is more likely to backfire.
Participants in the political process should be encouraged to test and investigate each other’s policies, premises and ideals. The evolutionary, dialectical pressures that debate of this type exerts will ultimately lead to more refined policy making. In attempting to do more and offer more to voters, politicians will be forced to survey and interact with a wider range of potential supporters than they normally would. Our politicians should be warned about the consequences of basing their campaign solely on distribution of money, guns and employing tugs and the like. Already the negative effects of money campaign are becoming evident amongst congregations suspected to be collecting money for votes from politicians and as the act is already rubbing on their so called “anointing, or fame” and “authority to speak for God”.
We like to reiterate that electoral campaigns are the competitive efforts by candidates and political parties to win voter support in the period preceding an election. Candidates are free to use a variety of techniques to reach the voters, such as a door to door campaign, public appearances and rallies and the use of mass media advertising. We now have many of our public infrastructures illegally covered by the pictures of politicians as if it were the correct thing to do. Campaigning for public office is usually done for a longer period of time than the ‘official’ campaign period specified in the electoral calendar, when candidates may receive special treatment, usually in the form of access to public media or public funds for campaign purposes. The incumbent candidates would have had almost all the four or more years while in office to do his re-election campaign that will not need resulting into a sudden negative campaign. While we realize that campaigns in today’s media age can cost enormous sums of money, raising integrity issues over the raising and spending of money we also realize that directly distributing large sums of moneys and items to persuade electorates can have adverse consequences. In fact our effort is to bring down the cost of campaign and not to squander money publicly. I was returning from Abuja to Ilorin recently and had to refuel at a petrol station which gave me an opportunity to listen to ordinary Nigerians on petrol line. Each Nigerian has heard various stories about the elections and they don’t trust the Nigerian politicians any more. Even fuel scarcity is politicized as every other case in Nigeria. Date of election is politicized. The opposition parties are benefitting from incumbent governments’ late efforts. We must understand that in the campaign, candidates ought to work to get their messages out and to encourage voters to turn out and vote for them or their party but there are several campaign issues that can affect the freeness and fairness of the election. These include the timing of the campaign, ability to campaign freely, the neutrality of electoral officials during the campaign, security for participants, and others.
Overall we wish to warn Nigerian politicians never to use any platform to pass insult or abuses on opponents. It has been expected that the entire system would be built responsibly to ensure an equitable and fair coverage of the process to every candidate and its political party. In future it may be necessary to draw up electoral campaign guideline for Nigerian politicians to include their own rights and our own rights, their limits and our limits. Such a robust guideline must include informing voters about relevant election matters, disseminating voter education information, guideline on balanced election coverage by media houses, censoring election materials, and all other points that could improve freedom and fairness of elections in Nigeria. Another integrity issue is the acceptable amount of money it should take by each candidate or each political party to disseminate their relevant information.
Prof. R. A. Ipinyomi
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