Many clerics and politicians in Kaduna State risk 12 months in jail or N1 million in fine, if the Electoral Act 2010 is invoked in the on-going governorship and State House of Assembly elections in the State.
In recent weeks, the governorship election in Kaduna has taken a religious dimension. Governor Nasir El-Rufai of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is being projected as Muslims’ candidate while the Isah Ashiru of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is seen as Christians’ candidate. Clerics and politicians are said to be promoting this religious divide, contrary to Section 102 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended.
The section says: “A candidate, person or association who engages in campaigning or broadcasting based on religious, tribal or sectional reason for the purpose of promoting or opposing a particular political party or the election of a particular candidate, commits an offence under this Act and is liable on conviction to a maximum fine of N1,OOO,OOO or imprisonment for a term of 12 months or to both.”
In that last few weeks, candidates in the election have used radio, television, social media, mosques and their pulpits to invoke religious dichotomy in the campaigns in Kaduna State. It is inferred that Southern Kaduna, where there is the majority Christian population, would support the PDP, while other sections of the state should support the APC. This promotes “religious, tribal and sectional” division, in violation of the above section of the Electoral Act.
As the situation is escalating, both PDP and APC spokespersons are trading blames. The PDP campaign spokesperson, Yakubu Lere, in a statement on Friday called for an investigation into an allegation that Muslim clerics in Kaduna State had been bribed in order to preach against its candidate in Saturday, March 9 elections.
The statement read thus, “It is most unfortunate that Kaduna State government will use our meagre resources to drag these Imams into politics and create division among Muslims ummah as well as create religious and ethnic tensions in the state as we approach the gubernatorial elections. We equally want to call on security agencies to commence an investigation into the matter for possible arrest and prosecution of those Imams under the hate speech law introduced by the federal government, for preaching violence. It is most unfortunate that a government that is supposed to use its resources in uniting the people and encourage religious and ethnic harmony will rather encourage Muslim clerics in the state to brainwash their followers to take the next election as a holy war against Christians.”
The religious divide is so dangerous that Mr Labari Tella, a member Kaduna State House of Assembly representing Jema’a constituency, had to call on the people to shun the bigotry.
He told the News Agency of Nigeria that, “These developments, especially as proliferated on the social media are highly regrettable and I urge all and sundry, for the sake of peace, to desist from such acts. People should realise that beyond politics, we are our brothers and sisters keepers as such, let us not allow party, religious or ethnic affinities cause division among us. I urge the people to vote for candidates of their conscience, those who have the masses at heart and are willing to take Kaduna state and indeed the nation to the desired height.”
In spite of this apparent violation of the provisions of the Electoral Act, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has not issued any statement to dissuade the people against the use of religion to campaign. Kaduna has suffered from constant sectional and sectarian violence over the years, and the current campaign of bigotry has caused tension to rise dangerously.