INEC warns against campaigns in churches, mosques, violators risk imprisonment

Exactly one month to the commencement of campaigns for the presidential and National Assembly elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission has warned political parties and candidates against the use of masqueraders, public facilities and religious centres for campaigns.

The commission asked political parties to align strictly with the provisions of the Electoral Act to avoid sanctions as stipulated by the Act. INEC had fixed September 28 for the commencement of campaigns for the presidential and National Assembly, while the elections would hold on February 25, 2023.

Relying on Section 92 of the Electoral Act, 2022, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of its Committee on Information and Voter Education, Mr Festus Okoye, in a recent interview with our correspondent explained that the law expected political campaigns to be civil and devoid of abuse.

In previous electioneering, some political parties and their candidates were wont to engage in all kinds of theatrics, including the use of masqueraders, to entertain the crowd and add colour to their rallies. Some also covertly campaigned in public offices and worship centres, especially churches and mosques, to woo civil servants and worshippers, respectively.

But quoting from the provisions of the section, Okoye said, “Section 92 of the Electoral Act makes it mandatory that a political campaign or slogan shall not be tainted with abusive language directly or indirectly likely to injure religious, ethnic, tribal or sectional feelings.

“Therefore, abusive, intemperate, slanderous or base language or insinuations or innuendoes designed or likely to provoke violent reaction or emotions shall not be employed or used in political campaigns.

“Subsection 3 states that places designated for religious worship, police stations and public offices shall not be used for political campaigns, rallies and processions; or to promote, propagate or attack political parties, candidates or their programmes or ideologies.

“Masqueraders shall not be employed or used by any political party, aspirant or candidate during political campaigns or for any other political purpose.”

As witnessed in some previous elections where parties hired thugs to repel detractors, Okoye in reference to subsection (5) of Section 92, warned parties and candidates against training or enlisting the help or services of individuals or groups for the purpose of displaying physical force or coercion in a manner that could arouse reasonable apprehension during the campaigns.

In the previous campaigns, some political parties engaged thugs to ensure orderliness as well as prevent political enemies from disrupting their rallies.

In reference to Section 6 of the Act, however, Okoye added, “A political party, aspirant or candidate shall not keep or use armed private security organisation, vanguard or any other group or individual by whatever name called for the purpose of providing security, assisting or aiding the political party or candidate in whatever manner during campaigns, rallies, processions or elections.”

Speaking on the need for compliance, the INEC national commissioner pointed out that the Act already provided for sanctions for violators and that adherence to the law should be prioritised by all the parties and candidates.

In tandem with subsections 7(a)(b) and 8, Okoye stated, “A political party, aspirant or candidate who contravenes any of the provisions of Section 92 of the Act commits an offence and is liable on conviction in the case of an aspirant or candidate, to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months; and in the case of a political party, to a fine of N2,000,000 in the first instance, and N1,000,000 for any subsequent offence.

“A person or group of persons who aids or abets a political party, an aspirant or a candidate in organising or equipping any person or group for the purpose of enabling them to be employed for the use or display of physical force commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of three years or both.”

On those who coerce others to support their candidates or refrain from supporting a particular candidate during campaigns, he added, “Section 93 of the Act prohibits a party, candidate, aspirant or person or group of persons from directly or indirectly threatening any person with the use of force or violence during any political campaign in order to compel that person or any other person to support or refrain from supporting a political party or candidate.

“A political party, candidate, aspirant, person or group of persons that contravenes the provisions of Section 93(1) of the Act commits an offence and is liable on conviction in the case of a candidate, aspirant, or person or group of persons, to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months; and in the case of a political party, to a fine of N2,000,000 in the first instance, and N500,000 for any subsequent offence.”

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