2023: Polemics, Tempers, Tension Rising as Hate Speeches Dominate Campaign Rallies

2023: Polemics, Tempers, Tension Rising as Hate Speeches Dominate Campaign Rallies

Usually, all activities pick up slowly in a new year. The euphoria of witnessing another year and greetings of happy new year envelope the environment. Everybody is cautious of what to say so as not to hurt the new year. The beginning of the year is associated with parties, celebrations, prayers and blessings. A season

Usually, all activities pick up slowly in a new year. The euphoria of witnessing another year and greetings of happy new year envelope the environment. Everybody is cautious of what to say so as not to hurt the new year. The beginning of the year is associated with parties, celebrations, prayers and blessings. A season characterized by so much to eat and drink. Year 2023 should ordinarily not have been different but for the politicians, it is a rapid countdown in days and weeks to a historic election. There is no time to waste. And, since politics is war by other means, Nigerian politicians have entered the year seeking who draws the first blood.

As the days to the first set of elections draw nearer, tension is rising and tempers are flaring too. Desperation attains higher crescendos with every camp going for the jugular and seeking the killer punch. Ethical campaigns are waning as gloves are falling off. It is now or never. The stakes are high; egos are not only about to be bruised, heavy financial investments are about to go down the drains and larger than life image and reputations demystified.

There’s more hate speech in the air. The campaign rallies offer little opportunity to know what the candidates have to offer; They are full of sound and fury signifying nothing. This is unhealthy to the younger generations who have watched campaigns in other climes being played in a decent, entertaining way and speaking to issues. But here they appeal to primordial issues and party chants. By definition, hate speech covers all forms of expressions that spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance. Politicians often deploy hate speech in their desperate bid to win elections or gain advantage over their opponents.

Section 97 of the Electoral Act 2022, states that any candidate, person or association that engages in campaigning or broadcasting based on religious, tribal or sectional reasons to promote or oppose a particular political party or the election of a particular candidate, commits an offence liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N1m or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both.

But that law appears incapable of scaring the politician from using hate speech as a political tool either because its prescribed punishment is not strong enough to trigger a deterrence or because the law itself has not been put to use, nobody has been put to trial on the basis of the law. More so, it is difficult for INEC with all the myriads of problems besetting it to also serve as an enforcer of that law. What the politician says at the campaign rallies may not be of much bother to the Electoral Commission which is battling with voters’ collection of their Permanent Voters Card. It wants to ensure nobody is disenfranchised in the election due to its activities.

And, the proposed bill to establish the Electoral Offences Tribunal is still gathering dust in the chambers of the National Assembly. It may have been caught in a web of still-birth bills, as the National Assembly will proceed on a long recess from this week, for election duties and would resume after the elections in March 2023.By that time the government has become a lame duck with all eyes now focusing on the incoming government and the plethora of election cases that will be taken to the tribunals.

But there has been a catalogue of hate speeches since the open campaigns for the 2023 election commenced September 28, 2022. Early in the campaigns the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, was caught in hate speech controversy when he reportedly asked his fellow Northerners to vote for him rather than a Yoruba or Ibo candidate in the 2023 general elections.

According to Atiku, Northerners need to vote for him rather than a Yoruba or Igbo candidate because he was a Pan-Nigerian of a northern extraction that had built bridges across the country. He made the remarks while responding to a question posed to him by the spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum, NEF, Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, during an Interactive Session with Arewa Joint Committee held in Kaduna State.

Similarly, the presidential candidate of APC Bola Ahmed Tinubu one day after in Ekiti State also used hate speech when he reportedly said “Yorubas must deliver 95% of their votes to me; reject Atiku, Obi:.” the former Lagos governor urged the people to ignore his rivals, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party and Peter Obi of the Labour Party because “you don’t know them.” he said.

Before that, Senator Tinubu had ruffled the political atmosphere with his famous “Emilokan” speech meaning it is the Yoruba’s turn to produce the President of Nigeria come 2023. He said this at the Presidential Lodge in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, while addressing the APC delegates ahead of the party’s presidential primary. Tinubu, who said it was the Yoruba’s turn, also noted that it was his time to become the president. In his words, “This time, it’s Yoruba turn and in Yorubaland, it’s my tenure.”

Tinubu said: “I want to advise Nigerians to vote wisely, a vote for Atiku or Obi would be a waste,” the APC flag bearer said. Today is a signal of our renewed hope for Nigeria, that February 25, you will go and make a wise decision, you will vote massively for me. I’m too sure and very sure that you will vote for APC and that’s why I’m very happy.” Taking a swipe at Atiku Abubakar, Tinubu said the PDP candidate could not do it. “He doesn’t want to do the brave and hard work required to build a better nation,” Asiwaju said. “Instead, he would rather sell your birthright to the highest bidder and run off with the proceeds. “He cares little that his policies and actions will impoverish you and leave you with nothing.”

Turning to Peter Obi, he said Obi had a chance to show how progressive he could be when he was governor of Anambra State. His words: “All he could do was boast that he saved money. But I tell you it is a wicked parent that holds money in his hand yet allows his children to starve. Likewise, it is a heartless governor who holds back money when people went hungry, schools, road and clinics went into disrepair. Neither the city-dweller nor farmer prospered
under him. In the end, he refused to save the people because he preferred to save the money.

“Nigeria’s money is safer with a ‘stingy’ man than a thief”, Peter Obi fired back in Asaba, Delta state. The Labour Party Presidential train which arrived in Delta a day after had Mr. Peter Obi, responding. He declared that Nigeria’s money is safer in the hand of a stingy man who will save and invest it for the future than a thief who will steal and share among family and friends. Addressing a mammoth crowd of his supporters, Obi said “I know you heard when they said Peter is stingy. I agree, Nigeria doesn’t want people who will steal their money again. We want to use our money for our people”. Obi told the people, “This election is about character and people we can trust. Everybody knows the schools I attended. When I was the governor in Anambra everybody knows what I did, all the work I did. When I left government, everybody knows where I live, go and verify”

The reign of hate speech is not limited to the presidential frontrunners only. The All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) has described the Presiding Overseer of the Citadel Global Community Church (formerly Latter Rain Assembly) and chieftain of the party, Pastor Tunde Bakare, as a political paperweight who does not deserve serious attention for urging Nigerians to shun those promoting ‘emilokan’, a term associated with Tinubu and which means “my turn” in Yoruba.

Pastor Bakare who had maintained that no good politician seeking the votes of the people would evade public debates and also task his team members with the task of answering questions specifically directed at him. For his comments Bakare got a double-barreled attack from the Tinubu camp. Reacting, Director, Special Media Projects/New Media at the PCC, Femi Fani-Kayode, said: “Bakare got zero votes at the convention”. Fleshing that up, the Special Adviser, Media, Communications and Public Affairs at the PCC, Dele Alake, also described Bakare as a man without political relevance and a political neophyte.

Pastor Bakare returned the salvos: “A man who got zero votes at primary election deserves no serious attention. He is a political paperweight whose utterances should not be given a serious thought,” saying, “Why are they then giving any thought to what I said? May be their alleged ‘paper weight’ is too heavy for them to carry. Can someone tell these people that scoring zero in a primary election with one’s true identity and integrity intact as well as having original credentials from well-known schools – primary, secondary, colleges and universities – within and outside of this nation are a veritable badge of honour, absolutely legit and unquestionable.

Answering a question at Chatham House on Wednesday, the presidential candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso took a jab at Peter Obi of Labour when he said he was more qualified than Obi to become the next president of Nigeria. He said he withdrew from the discussion of alliance with the Labour Party because the party was “carried away by media hype” and built on “ethnicity and religion”.

“I’m a PhD holder in civil engineering. I check your candidate for what he has. I have been in the system for over 30 years now. I was a civil servant for 17 years. I wasn’t a trader,” he said.

Also recently, a former aide of Atiku Abubakar, one Michael Achimugu, released a video alleging how his principal used a special purpose vehicle channel to take money out of government coffers to fund the PDP. The APC PCC subsequently came out strong against Atiku Abubakar, calling him all sorts of derogatory names, “thief, criminal” and so on even when the allegations were yet to be investigated and judgement of guilty entered against him. Worse still, Atiku Abubakar was on his way out of Nigeria to the United Kingdom for official engagements when the news broke. Hear the reaction from the opposition APC.

The former minister Femi Fani-kayode said: “Instead of taking your fellow apes to see Tarzan in London tell us about your failing health status & respond to the allegations of your former aide who claims that you are a thief and scammer, that you indulged in “SPV stealth corruption” and that you are the master of “yahoo yahoo”.

With the politicians getting more desperate as the election inches in, there will be a propensity for more hate speech and polemics from the political turf. Who will help to moderate the politicians, who will sanction their hate speeches? Nigerians can only appeal to the politicians to know that there is life after the campaigns. With the country so divided, anybody who wins will need others to unify the country and restore peace and security to the nation.

Ayo Aluko-Olokun

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