Political Campaign in Places of Worship vis a vis the Electoral Act 2022

by Akintayo Balogun, Esq.

One of the innovations that came with the amendment to the Electoral Act 2022, was the banning and criminalizing of political campaigns in places of worship, police stations and public offices as well as any form of traditional worship involving the use of masquerades. Section 92(3) and (4) of the Electoral Act 2022 provides thus:
(3) 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 programs or ideologies.
(4) Masquerades shall not be employed or used by any political party, aspirant, or candidate during political campaigns or for any other political purpose.

The Electoral Act further made provisions punishing aspirants, candidates, or a political party that faults this provision of the act. The section provides thus:
97.—(1) A candidate, person, or association that engages in campaigning or broadcasting based on religious, tribal, or sectional reason to promote or oppose a particular political party or the election of a particular candidate, commits an offense under this Act and is liable on conviction—
(a) to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or both; and
(b) in the case of a political party, to a maximum fine of N10,000,000.

The visits of some aspirants to some places of worship in Nigeria in the recent past have raised issues as to the legality or otherwise of these visits vis a vis the new provision of the Electoral Act. One of such was raised by human rights activist Mr. Deji Adeyanju when he tweeted thus:
“2023: INEC should disqualify candidates that go to churches or mosques to campaign or solicit for support/votes. Our laws forbid the use of religion or tribe to campaign.

Same Adeyanju had in earlier tweets, advised presidential candidate of the Labour Party to start building structures instead of going to churches like someone seeking to become the CAN president. He further mocked the deputy governorship candidate of the PDP for being in a church service and almost going into a trance. We also had a video clips circulating on social media where the Chairman of the All Progressives Congress was also seen addressing a congregation of worshippers. All these just to mention a few of the visits of politicians and aspirants to places of worship.

The question now is would you consider the actions of these persons so far mentioned as a form of the campaign in places of worship that should warrant invoking Section 97 of the electoral act against them?
My response certainly is negative.
Unfortunately, the Electoral act never defined the word campaign. However, the English dictionary defines a campaign as work in an organized and active way towards a particular goal, typically a political or social one. From the definition given above, it is safe to say that a mere visit of the aspirants to places of worship, does not in themselves constitute a campaign. It is their actions at those places that could amount to a campaign. One notable thing about the visits of these aspirants is that they hardly address the congregation, nor do they grant a press interview on anything involving their ambition. The Labour Party Candidate on his part has always showed carefulness to mention the purpose of his visits which are far from campaigns. They tried as much as possible to ensure that their visit is just as normal and as usual as any other visits before they ventured into these aspirations.

So would you call such a visits a campaign?
I definitely would not?

A line should be drawn between visiting places of worship for other functions and a deliberate visit to campaign. The actions of these aspirants so far does not constitute campaign in any form. It has not even created an awareness beyond the already declared intention.
If by virtue of section 92(3) of the Electoral Act, aspirants can no longer visit places of worship simply because they are contesting for a certain office, then such a provision infringes on their rights to freedom of religion, to peaceful assembly and association as enshrined and guaranteed under sections 38 and 40 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

In my view, a typical example of flouting of the rules on campaign was what happened at the Annual General Meeting of the Nigeria Bar Association held between 15th and 19th August, 2022. INEC has announced that official campaign activities would officially commence on the 28th of September 2022. However, aspirants were invited to the occasion and they were literally reeling out their political ambitions and what they had in stock for Nigerians for the next political dispensation in the event that they win the elections. This I must respectfully say was not correct. The aspirant went well overboard and contravened the provision of the law as to when campaigns should commence.
In conclusion, it is my opinion that a mere visit to various places of worship, without as much as congregation or granting a press interview does not in any way constitute a campaign.
We however look forward to a robust campaign regime where this aspirants can truthfully express their intentions and all do as they have promised in the event that they are voted in.

God bless Nigeria.
Akintayo Balogun, Esq., LL.B (Hons), BL, LL.M, is a legal practitioner in private practice and based in Abuja, FCT. A prolific writer, public affairs analyst and commentator on national issues.


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