Political campaigns in Nigeria are usually characterized by social gatherings which include: rallies, community gatherings, and door to door campaigns amongst other strategic meeting arrangements which are deployed by politicians to interact with the people and win their votes.
Like every facet of life that has been affected by the deadly Coronavirus, the pandemic will also have impact on how we play our politics. Physical distancing has been noted by World Health Organization (WHO) and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to be one of the safest ways to reduce the spread of the virus and save lives; but the truth is that this precautionary measure by the health authorities is not without its own disadvantage to politicians who have elections to prepare for.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is preparing for the Edo and Ondo state governorship elections and the both elections slated for September 19, 2020 and October 10, 2020 respectively. While INEC has insisted that it will deploy all means necessary to make sure that elections hold in the both states to avoid constitutional crisis of any form, the conversation we should be having is on how politicians will carry out campaigns without breaking the several laws set to help curb the spread of the virus.
There are two ways to do campaigns in modern times, physical meeting and media outreach. Now that the physical meeting is out of the equation or at least reduced drastically, there is a possibility that the traditional media and the social media which includes but not limited to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – will be largely relied upon by politicians to campaign and mobilize support for themselves and fuel negative emotions against their opponents.
The big question is: Will this be the moment where politicians are forced to use social media to campaign on real issues or will politicians risk mingling with their citizens during the period of campaign despite threat of Covid-19?
Concerned about the safety of voters and its staff that would be on election duties, INEC has said it will issue an advisory, which will ensure that activities around the election took place virtually. This means that the commission plans to run both elections in compliance with the guidelines of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the directive of the Presidential Taskforce on Covid-19. The most important item on both lists arguably, is Social/Physical distancing and virtual meetings will definitely take care of this.
INEC has said that almost all its activities for the 2020 elections will moved online to avoid crowd gathering. It also advised political parties and politicians to adopt measure that will not promote physical gathering of large numbers of people.
Checks by IVOTENG reveal that most politicians will not play by the rules. This is because Nigerians find it difficult to adapt to change – even if it will come at a lower cost. In fact, the pandemic itself will be seen by politicians as a way of advancing their aspiration through the physical distribution of palliatives.
Although, the use of social media will gain more prominence during this period, but politicians will prefer to move from place to place for campaign and also engage the service of people known as canvassers to advance their ambition in different neighborhood.
Many principal will adopt virtual means to communicate with their lieutenants but these lieutenants will expose themselves to mini crowds from community to community.
Will there be any penalty for politicians who go against the NCDC guideline during these elections?