It is as of this day 173 days to the 2019 general election. The law says it is not yet time for campaign by the political parties and their candidates.
It is assumed and indeed largely accepted that the founding fathers who framed the laws of the land meant well for the society. It is also substantially assumed that they were wise men. That is to say, they knew what they were talking about. In modern parlance, the framers of the laws of the land are assumed to have maintained a big picture perspective of issues. This implies a rounded thought system that imbued their handiwork with near unassailable profundity.
It is better, safer and healthier to keep this perspective of the framers of the laws of the land. It is good for social harmony, safer for life in the society and for sure healthy for the mind. To imagine otherwise would not only be troubling, it could form the seed of grievous corrosion of the foundation of society. Those whose duty it was and is to frame the laws of the land should, therefore, in our collective sanity and interest, be accepted as Hammurabi of sorts, givers of the best possible laws man can make for the wellbeing of the majority and the society at large.
In discussing laws of the land and the framers of say, the Constitution, matters get trickier when reference is made to the founding fathers and the laws or arrangement they bequeathed society. Founding fathers are almost gods, in almost all societies. By virtue of their being all dead, founding fathers, even in recent states such as Nigeria, are placed almost on the same pedestal as saints. They are always coated in glittering profile, such that it is extremely difficult if not impossible to think that they may not have known it all. Or worse still, to habour the thought that they may not all be wise and with the big picture thing.
If, however, for due reverence and for some other reasons, the credentials and vision of our founding fathers in making early Laws of the country are allowed to pass, the substance of the work of the framers of contemporary laws of Nigeria cannot escape being fully interrogated. For one, they are still very much here with us. The founding fathers may be romanticised as gods of some sorts, but our lawmakers of the contemporary era are no gods. Not now. They are humans with known inclinations, strengths and weaknesses. The society has the right and the obligation to continue to identify areas of our laws that are in need of strengthening and to hold the framers of the laws accountable for lapses.
That may well be what reviews and amendment of laws at the legislature are all about. So far, however, it does seem like many aspects of our basic guiding laws still have holes and unnecessary gaps.
It is not enough for lawyers and writers to say, as they are wont to when certain weaknesses of the law are exploited by either the state or individuals, that “it is not the intendment of the framers of the Constitution” that so and so should happen. The question that promptly lends itself to be asked in such circumstance is: if that was not the intendment of the framers of the Constitution, what was their intendment? And why the heck did they leave room for conjecture and discretional interpretations? It seems fair, therefore, that wherever the framers of the laws of the land – whether founding fathers or current fathers – failed to be explicit in provisions of the law, they should receive the indictment appropriate for anyone who did a tardy job. Unfortunately, there are quite a lot of gaps and thorny lacuna in the provisions of our guiding laws today which are as problematic to navigate as the cratered surface of the Ajaokuta federal highway in Kogi State.
Take the issue of campaign before elections, for instance. It is as of this day 173 days to the 2019 general election. The law says it is not yet time for campaign by the political parties and their candidates. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has been echoing the law, reminding and warning politicians that they may be on their marks and getting ready, but it is not yet time to dash into the campaign track. As it seems, INEC can have its say, but the politicians know the ass in the law. Across the states and along major and minor ways in the land, politicians are all over the place, carrying out what looks so clearly and familiarly like campaign, but which they are quick to tell you is not campaign. With posters all over the place, some declaring that there is no vacancy in places where there will obviously be vacancy and others informing whoever has eyes to see that the man/woman in the poster will do some wonders if they ever get there, the market is in full swing. Try to accost any of these seemingly campaigning elements and they will retort promptly that what they are engaged in is not campaign. A man addresses a gathering of hundreds and pleads with the crowd to give him four more years to consolidate whatever he said he has started; another embarks on a state tour exhorting the people to allow him do for them what the incumbent has failed to do, all them have their posters all over the streets and even on commercial vehicles, the airwaves are filled with pitches and proxy outreaches, but they insist they are not campaigning yet. So, when is campaigning a campaign?
This is where the guiding law and the framers of the law come into focus. Section 99 (1) of the Electoral Act, 2010 [As Amended], states so clearly that “the period of campaigning in public by every political party shall commence 90 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to that day.” The act proceeded to prescribe punishment for any political party or agent of a political party who contravenes the Law on stoppage of campaign 24 hours before the poll. Great. But please what is a campaign? The guiding law does not define that. It does not describe it either.
So here we are. INEC through its leadership, warns and explains that even “the release of election timetable does not imply commencement of campaign” and that it is only INEC that is permitted by law to say when campaign should start and that “INEC has not lifted ban on campaign” yet. The politicians tell the EMB well done and continue with what they are doing, which looks very much like campaigning. When on a personal level, I very diplomatically asked one politician whose posters adorned some strategic points in town why he was beating the gun by campaigning, he responded with a wink and a deft question: “is it not ordinary poster that we pasted?”