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INEC warns against campaigns in worship places or risk prison

INEC campaigns

Political parties and candidates have been forewarned by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) against using masked individuals, public spaces, and religious institutions during campaigns.

Festus Okoye, the National Commissioner and Chairman of the Committee on Information and Voter Education, urged political parties to strictly adhere to the Electoral Act’s requirements in order to avoid penalties as set down in the Act in an interview with Punch. The National Assembly and presidential campaigns will officially begin on September 28. The elections will take place 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, Okoye explained that the law expected political campaigns to be civil and devoid of abuse.

In the previous elections, 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.

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Some also covertly campaigned in public offices and worship centres, especially churches and mosques, to woo civil servants and worshippers, respectively.

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In the interview, 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.

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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.

“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.”

During campaigns, he continued, anyone who pressure others to back their candidates or desist from backing a specific candidate should be condemned.

“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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