It takes a village to pull off an election. No Nigerian election is complete without the candidates pulling antics, boring campaign rallies, cringey skits and dance videos, exaggerated campaign promises, and banners like this:
But more than anything, an election needs voters. In fact, the legitimacy of an election is often defined by how many people turn out to vote. These voters are the people who fuel an election campaign after buying into the vision of their preferred candidate and spreading their gospel everywhere they go.
But just like with anything that happens where two or more are gathered in service of anything, there are bound to be… issues.
The problem with Nigeria’s 2023 elections campaign
As with any sort of competition, with elections, it’s never enough to say pounded yam is your favourite swallow. It’s equally as important to outline and, with the aid of diagrams, prove that your opponent’s semo is manufactured inside Lucifer’s latrine. The goal of putting on that pressure is to get them — and other undecided people — to ditch semo and join hands with you to crown pounded yam as the king of swallow that it is.
Your choice is elite and any other choice is a counterfeit
Over the course of the campaigns for the 2023 presidential election, this culture of putting down the other camp has oftentimes crossed six lanes into harassment. The most recent episode involved Nollywood actress, Joke Silva, who openly declared her support for the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Tinubu. The wave of online harassment that followed her declaration forced her to disable comments on her Instagram page. And she’s only one of many that have been targeted for online harassment over their choice of candidate.
More than once, the presidential candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Peter Obi, has cautioned his supporters to be of good conduct. His repeated calls for restraint were fueled by the sometimes problematic online attacks against other candidates and their supporters.
But at the same time, other camps have also targeted Obi’s supporters and mislabeled them as terrorists using his campaign to further their supposed anti-government agenda. His supporters have also faced real-world violence while trying to boost support for him in the streets. In August 2022, thugs in Lagos State rough-handled a physically-challenged Obi supporter who proudly displayed his support on his wheelchair.
A couple of supporters flying his flag also suffered violence after a campaign rally in Lagos State on October 1, 2022.
The many incidents of online harassment and offline violence currently brewing aren’t new in Nigeria. And while opposing camps keep arguing over which one is more damaging to Nigeria’s democratic process, there’s a more important question to answer.
Where’s the voter’s right to choose?
The real beauty of democracy is the right it bestows on every eligible person to choose who they want to represent their interests in government. And while this right is protected by the nation’s relevant laws, it’s not completely divorced from the freedom of speech of others to criticise it. But this freedom also has certain limits, and to go beyond them is considered harmful.
Nigeria’s 2023 presidential election is deeply personal to the more than 90 million people registered to vote. Nigerians have been dragged through too many traumatic events over the past seven years. It’d be foolish not to carefully consider the nation’s next leadership choice as critical to its survival. But it’s still important to always know where the big red line is.
An election isn’t determined by who screams the loudest obscenities online but by the people that show up to vote at the polls. If you want to make sure your pounded yam becomes the king of swallow, the best strategy is to find like-minded people like yourself who love pounded yam or are at least open-minded enough to listen to your pitch. Raining fire and brimstone on semo lovers or, even worse, fufu lovers, isn’t likely to get them to turn their back on their favourite food.
It’s important that when the 2023 presidential election is over, there’s enough of a relationship to mend for everyone to work together for the country’s future, regardless of who wins. The 2023 election is a battle for Nigeria’s soul and it’s essential that participants don’t lose their own way in the pursuit of moulding a better country.