IDEAS RADIO SHOW EPISODE 9 The Power of Incumbency

IDEAS Radio 7 November 2018


Aghogho Oboh: Welcome back to PM Hub.  It’s Countdown 2019 and you know what happens usually this segment.  Ayo Obe on the IDEAS segment is joining us together Rotimi Sankore and so you know, where we feature all the big and significant issues on the road to the 2019 general elections.  Remember you can follow the programme on Twitter @Countdown2019NG, @RotimiSankore, and also @NigeriaInfoFM. And at IDEAS, you can also follow on Twitter.


So, big talking point, you know the campaign is supposed to open up on the 18th of November.  That’s exactly a week from now, but we’ve had some guys already beat the gun.  We’ve seen press statements from the Ministry of Information, already they are saying, saying a number of things, so there are all sorts of questions whether this is ethical or not to have incumbent and administrations talk about what they have achieved already in office before the campaign opened up, so big talking point that will be on IDEAS segment and on Countdown 2019.


So Ayo …


Ayo Obe: Hi!


AgO: Great.


AO: I should also say that you can check out the IDEAS website


But on this issue I think it’s become a question because we’ve been talking about the power of incumbency and the advantage that it gives to those who are in power simply because they make news just by themselves.  But what you have now is a specific programme by different arms of government, in particular the Federal Ministry of Information, and it’s been running a campaign of individuals who have benefited from government policies saying; Oh that this, not just that this is a wonderful policy, but: Thank god for President Buhari and all the rest of it.  And it’s a question about whether this is really Ethical. It may be strictly legal, but there’s also the question of when the campaign itself is not to, hasn’t yet started, it’s not going to start until the 18th as you said, whether this kind of activity is really kind of pushing the envelope and blurring the lines between campaign and self-promotion (which is campaign) and just doing the normal job of government which has not been being done up till now.


Rotimi Sankore: Well, just to add my bit to this, I think the real problem is that the Federal Ministry of Information is beginning to acquire more or less a credibility problem.  To some extent it can’t be separated from the Minister, because the Minister also blurs the lines when he’s speaking as Minister of Information, and then starts talking about party issues.  Because normally, if you are a Minister and you are occupying a sensitive position like Information, which means you are speaking on behalf of the government, on behalf of the country, on behalf of the citizens, when you go strictly partisan, people look at it twice and say: What’s happening there?  When the entire Ministry then puts out information in support of the incumbent’s re-election to say, these are all the things he has done, and then says: This has been brought to you by the Ministry. It’s, effectively they are using government resources to beef up a candidate. So that’s one issue. So if it’s not bad enough that you are using the government’s resources to say this is why X candidate should be re-elected,   there is also a strict time for campaigns to start. And if you use your power of incumbency to beat that starting gun, then that’s the next problem. But beyond the Federal Ministry, the real danger is that all the state governments are going to start doing it.


AO: Are they not already doing it?  I need to say that we are having a problem getting hold of Richard Akinnola at the moment, who is a journalist and one of the co-founders of the Civil Liberties Organisation, but we’re not able to get through to him at the moment.


But I think that really, this is really the issue, that the state governments are doing it.  And I dare say that if we go back into our past we can find that this has been done before, but I think that when we are trying to look at things from an Ethical point of view, then we need to ask about whether it’s in fact ethical to do this, particularly as you said, if you tag the imprimatur of the Federal Ministry of Information on to the, what could be ordinary information about government policies and programmes and how they’re working or not working.  I think that’s really where the issue lies, but I think it’s probably not just a problem that we face with the Federal Ministry.


AgO:  Maybe I can help us explain a lot more, because sometimes I think it goes beyond national lines, even regional.   A couple of years I was in Cote d’Ivoire for the presidential election, and Alhassan Ouattara was going to cast his vote, so you had his security aides trying to move people  along the sides of the path. And the aides were saying in French, “Make way for the President” and my journalist friend said “The Candidate or the President?” And he looked at him, and he said “the Candidate”.  But of course, the message was already passed. So sometimes, the lines are being blurred. When is it time for the agencies and the organs to say: Ok, we’re stepping back and allow the candidate emerge?


AO: Well I think that this is where that beautiful system that they have in some other countries, very few countries I must confess, like India, where the incumbent has to step out of office, to step aside completely and allow the campaign to be really fairer.  But where you have a government ministry which has really not been … because part of it is that the government is now responding to accusations of not having done anything. You find that certainly at the Federal level, you know, the “lifeless president” and all of that, “worst ever” and “nothing having been done”, and so the government is in a way is responding and you could say that the accusations of lifelessness and non-performance are themselves a form of campaign.  But I think that you see, unlike other situations, like under the Jonathan administration, there was an organisation. I’ve forgotten what it was called, but it was a specifically devoted to telling us what the President had done, but it was a private organisation.


RS: I think it was TAN …


AO: Transformation Agenda, but the point it wasn’t going under the name of ‘This is your government talking to you’, we knew it was a campaigning organisation.


RS: The other thing which we were saying on another episode of the programme, is that I know that in Nigeria, because the rules are not clear, there is room for crossing the line back and forth, but it’s really really important that we pay attention to it.  Now, before I say what I want to say, it’s also important to note that the power of incumbency did not stop the previous President from losing, and it has been known to happen like that globally, even though it seemed to be a big matter in Nigeria, it didn’t stop him from losing the election you know.  So if there is another government in power now, the power of incumbency does not necessarily prevent them, or stop them from losing. Now, when the government then decides that, if our President is campaigning, we will put state resources behind our President, one, it creates antagonism for the state, because there are citizens, including government officials, that are supporting other candidates.  So it means the state has become partisan. So the state apparatus, the Presidency, the Police, the security, the Federal Ministry of Information, if all of them go into campaign mode on behalf of an incumbent, it just really really muddies the water. And note that there are countries where, if a president is campaigning, but using the presidential jet, his or her campaign pays for the fuel. You are still president, but if it is a campaign-related travel, your campaign organisation pays for the fuel.  Your security goes with you. If they do overtime, your campaign organisation pays for their overtime because they are not on official duty, you are campaigning. And it’s important that we work all those things into the system and not take it for granted that the incumbent can use all the state resources at his or her disposal. If not, it gradually undermines the credibility of the state to the point where, once citizens lose any confidence that the state is there for the people and not for the candidate, it becomes a problem.


AgO: Do the state media outfits, like Ayo mentioned, at the state level, you have the TV and radio stations run by the states.  Does it also fall into this trap?


RS: Of course.  Of course!


AO: Even more so.  And in fact, in the states I would say it’s even worse, partly  because, whereas you have a national media, a private media to which people can turn, if you’re in a state which only has maybe the Federal Government or the NTA and a local station run by the state government, you don’t have so many private stations outside the major urban centres.  And I think, as Rotimi said, the issue is not so much that the incumbent can’t lose despite all this deploying of state power, but that the rules have been set, and when they’re being visibly blurred, and even breached, then it becomes a question of the credibility of the process, and the integrity of the electoral process as well.  And I think that it’s a pointer which we as Nigerians need to start asking questions. Yes, we’ve moved beyond the situation where you just go to the Central Bank and collect raw cash to hand out, but that doesn’t mean to say that because direct money is not passing hands, that there isn’t an assault on the Integrity of the process, or that there isn’t something unethical to look at.


RS: In Ekiti, remember, what Ayo is making reference to, the State broadcaster was run by the Chief of Staff of the then incumbent Governor.  And it just doesn’t make sense that someone who serves the Governor so closely is also the DG of the State media, because what then happened was that the State media started announcing their own results.  Yes, and INEC said: You can’t do that. And the broadcasting authorities had to step in to sanction them, but that’s how partisan it can get. And it’s happened in Nigeria before, where the national TV just started saying things that people just didn’t believe any more.


AO: But don’t you think the broadcasting authority ought probably to have stepped in, not just with regard to the Ekiti election and what was being broadcast there, but generally.  I mean the broadcasting authority is there to regulate the way that broadcasters behave, and certainly we are subject to such regulations here, and, but if the erring is on the side of the incumbent, then we find the broadcasting authorities …


RS: Yes, sometimes they are silent!


AO: And then shouldn’t the INEC itself, the Independent National Electoral Commission itself, it  also has powers in this regard. Are they being exercised as they ought to be exercised?


RS: Ah well, that’s where INEC needs to step up and say to, for instance NTA or FRCN: You can’t say that, you can’t do that.  In fact, there are countries where once campaign starts, like in Nigeria this 90 day period, in the next election it will be 150 days, once it starts, you’re not even allowed to start launching things any more, because it is seen as campaign.  It may be a legitimate programme but you can’t go around cutting ribbons every day.


AO: There’s a problem I think also that we have to recognise, that the regulatory authority is appointed by the same Minister of Information.


RS: Exactly!


AgO: It’s a point I was coming to, because if you look at the 2015 general elections, the list of the erring stations, you find just a sprinkling of the national stations here and there, and fingers were pointed then by the opposition saying that the NBC’s head was appointed by the government then, but you know.  Even when they provided evidence to show glaringly that they had flouted many of the rules and regulations with respect to electoral conduct, this accusation still happened. What do you think, do you think that whether or not they operate in a transparent manner, you will have the accusations from the opposition party?


AO: You see, you will have the accusations, but I think that there’s more to it than saying well they accused us and we are now accusing them.   I think it’s incumbent on us as voters and as observers of the scene to actually examine the situation, because the fact that one party was accused of doing something wrong last time, does not mean that the next time, the person may not be doing something just quite as bad, it doesn’t mean to say that there isn’t a higher standard to which we should be aspiring, and I think we need to keep our eye on that higher standard of impartiality and of complete separation between the agencies of government and the campaign of a candidate.


AgO: Let me come to Rotimi on this one, because I think that this last primary for Lagos State with the ruling party sort of created this scenario which I think played out here.  You had the governor, you know, the outgoing governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode, who was on the verge of losing the primary and everyone was pointing out the information on media saying that the results were showing that he was losing, but you had the State broadcast stations out saying: Disregard anything coming out from there.  In fact, did not run anything to indicate that he was losing you know. So this sort of scenario created the opportunity that … What do you think about that? Do we scrap the state media on this?


RS: No, but first of all, let me say that that was a unique situation because that was an intra-party matter.


AO: But it’s the same thing though.


RS: Yes, it is, it is.  There’s power of incumbency.  But it is within … an aspirant, because even though he was the incumbent, he is incumbent governor, he was aspiring to come back, and members of his party, or some members of his party said: No, we have a better alternative, or we think we someone else can do it better than you.  And it wasn’t just the broadcaster, his officials, there were Commissioners that were coming out to say: You support him, he’s good, we want to return him. And you know, so when both appointed and elected officials come out and they are campaigning, you know, when the party has not resolved the matter, and then the state broadcaster steps in on his behalf, it also affects the credibility of the state broadcaster.  


Let me just step outside Nigeria for a moment.  In South Africa two Presidents, two sitting Presidents have been recalled by their party.  Mbeki first, and then Jacob Zuma. So these were battles within the ANC. The first time the South African broadcasters handled it much better.  The second time, they were vacillating because they were not sure how it was going to go, and at that point, some people felt well some senior people in the South African Broadcasting Corporation, probably were not playing the role of an independent media organisation.  But when it finally came down to the wire, they did the right thing and just reported and said: ANC has taken so so decision, even though it was the incumbent president even though in the run up they were vacillating. So it does show that it’s not just a question of India, or US or Europe or anywhere else.  In Africa, state broadcasters at the end of the day have taken the correct position. So it’s not something people should be wondering in Nigeria about, well, but can NTA really do that? Can FRSC …? Of course, they can!


AgO: Well, we’ll have to leave it like that on the IDEAS segment


AO: Well we have to apologise for not being able to bring Richard Akinnola to us, but maybe we’ll try him another time.  So thanks very much.


RS: Thank you.

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