Breaches of the Peace Law,
Breaches of the Peace Law,

By Ifeanyi Afuba

Reflecting on the horrors of the holocaust sometime in his papacy, Pope Benedict XVI remarked that the trend of human vices starts with the lack of respect for God?s law. From the perspective of the divine source of human life, human society is imperiled without the beacons of God?s statutes and moral dictates, which are only consistent with the order of creation. That law and order is the first condition of civilization is evident from the organized structures in place in modern societies that put a premium on their secularity. Thus, from the nuances of both revelation and common sense, justice holds the key to harmonious co- existence.

Breaches of the Peace Law,
Breaches of the Peace Law,

Failure to respect the law, the lack of discipline in individual conducts is what separates Nigeria from advanced countries where things work.
Nevertheless, no responsible government gives up on the task of reclamation of positive values for moving the polity forward. Anambra State, which tethered on the brink of a failed state between 2002 and 2006, is today resurgent from the impact of the Peter Obi and Willie Obiano administrations. In furtherance of the socio ? political reconstruction which time and circumstance have made imperative, the Anambra State Government has sought to address identified potentials for breach of public peace ahead of the February 2015 general elections. This concern arises from the trend of factionalisation among political parties. Indeed, the state chapter of a major political party has had no less than three rival factions since 2003. Following observed patterns of several aspirants laying claim to the tickets of a political party for the same constituency even at the conclusion of party primaries, the Anambra State Government recently took a proactive measure in the form of legislation. Surprisingly, this initiative to stave off confusion and discord is being opposed in some quarters.

Titled ?Breaches of the Peace and Unlawful Assemblies Prohibition Law, 2015,? the legislation passed by the Anambra State House of Assembly on Monday, January 19, 2015, prohibits unlawful campaigns and assemblies as acts capable of breaching the peace. The relevant sections of the Law provides: ?A person shall not advertise, publish, and solicit for votes for or otherwise engage in any campaign for himself or for a person whose name was not duly published by INEC or ANSIEC or any other electoral body within Nigeria as a nominated person or candidate for any election within Anambra State.?

?Any person who acts in contravention of Subsection [1] of this Section is hereby declared to have engaged or to be engaging in an unlawful assembly with intent to cause public disorder and breaches of public peace.?
?Any person who engages in unlawful assemblies or acts in such a manner as to cause public disorder and breach of public peace as is referred to in Subsection [2] of this Section commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of N1, 000,000 [one million naira] or to a term of one year imprisonment or to both such fine and imprisonment.?

While the legislation is generally well received in non partisan circles, reactions by actors with vested interest in the 2015 poll have ranged from the engaging to the diversionary. But perhaps the more outstanding of the opposition to the law is the declaration by a high ranking national officer of a political party that nobody can choose for the party its candidates; a right undeniably affirmed in a number of Supreme Court judgments and following from that calling on all the party?s contending aspirants to go ahead and campaign! One or two of the affected aspirants have reportedly vowed that they cannot be stopped from campaigning for their party.

Now, there is a musical – sounding expression called filibustering. It is defined by the dictionaries as long speeches made in Parliament to delay or avoid a vote [on issues]. It often serves as a democratic way of stalling democracy. With the subtle support of an interested presiding officer, this seemingly harmless right of expression could be used to block the way of the majority. Filibustering might be an occasional feature in Nigerian politics but there are other forms and extensions of such political white ? wash regularly used by politicians to try to subvert due process or the public interest. A resort to seeming legalism might actually be an adopted strategy for evading the law. This is often the case when the typical politician finds that his private agenda is in conflict with the public interest.

Do the critics of the Anambra State Law have a case? The urgent question begging for an answer is this. Is it tenable to have two or more candidates from the same political party contesting for the same elective position? An unambiguous no. It simply follows that only one out of the claimants to the position is authentic. And why then would an aspirant who has NOT been duly nominated as candidate be allowed to go out to the field asking for votes from the electorate alongside the recognized candidates of other parties and that of his own party? I doubt if there is better recipe for confusion.

The argument of disputed candidacy and extant legal processes offers no defence or justification for the acceptance of two or more aspirants each campaigning as the candidate of a party. At any point in time, there is only one candidate for a political party for any elective office. Where substitution of candidate occurs as a result of court judgment or other approved processes, again only one candidate remains authentic. The fact that a rival aspirant has filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court does not by itself change his or her status to that of candidate. The aspirant cannot lawfully begin to enjoy the rights of a candidate except until the appellate courts make the pronouncement that he is indeed the candidate of his party. It is important to correct the wrong impression that the courts, by this function, choose candidates for parties. Suffice it to say that the courts only seek to ensure that the parties select their candidates according to prescribed rules and regulations.

Let those opposed to the implementation of the aforementioned Anambra State Law tell us what benefits to the system is a situation where rival claimants to the ticket of a party are simultaneously granted recognition as candidate! The absurdity of such a scenario is so glaring that the only conclusion to be drawn on the motive of those criticizing the law is that they are interested in procuring illicit electoral advantage. In such a setting, the party with multiple claimants to the ticket receives votes inspired on false assumption by each of the aspirants except one.

Who is afraid of public peace and order in Anambra State?
Afuba writes from Nimo, Anambra State.

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