By Ikechukwu Okaforadi and Musa Adamu
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, has cautioned that Nigeria is sitting on a delicate situation over the 2019 general elections, emphasizing that the bar for credible election, as was set in 2015 polls, could not afford to be lowered as the country heads into another general election in February next year.
“The period we are in now puts Nigeria in a delicate situation where Africa and the entire world is looking forward to what happens in our coming elections. This is understandable when you consider that our President is the Chairman of ECOWAS. Moreover, the Chairman of our INEC is the head of Electoral Commissions in West Africa. With these positions, it is clear that we cannot afford to conduct an election that will not be credible, peaceful, free and fair.
“It is instructive that in 2015, we set an enviable standard that encouraged more countries in Africa to democratise. In 2019, we cannot lower the standard. We must up the ante, because whatever we do will have impact on the continent and serve as a representation of Africa on the global stage,” said Saraki.
The Senate president stated this while declaring open a one day public hearing on the menace of Vote Buying and Improving Electoral Process in Nigeria, during which he said that a credible election in 2019 general election is more important than who wins that elections. He pointed out that vote buying and election rigging by whatever means, remains one of the contemporary challenges that mar electoral process.
“We must deal with them in such a manner that does not detract from the
credibility and legitimacy of the coming 2019 Polls. Our major concern should be entrenching global best practices in our electoral process, and ensuring that these are backed by legislations to make them sustainable and permanent. For example, the use of Incident Form to bypass the lawful process of accreditation and voting is not good for the country. We must do away with it.
“It is all too clear that security agents are beginning to emerge as major clogs in the election process. We cannot under any circumstances militarise elections, because that defeats the purpose of free, fair and credible polls.
“The security agencies work for INEC as the electoral body is the one charged by the constitution and our laws to conduct election. INEC must, therefore, set the rules for their engagement during elections, which they are to follow. The Commission should further seek the co-operation of the respective security agencies to ensure strict compliance. It is that way that Nigerians can trust the process, and it will be clear to all that the right steps have been taken with regard to the involvement of security agents.”
Speaking on the same issue, the Speaker of House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, observed that vote buying and selling has become of the most topical issues that must be address before the 2019 elections could peacefully take place.
He said elections have become attractive because they provide the opportunity to have leaders elected through democratic process, but warned that not all elections are democratic. He said that anything that will affect the processes leading to credible elections is against democracy.
According to him, the menace of vote buying is in itself a corruption that has to be addressed, describing it as a major concern to Nigerians and international community, especially conceding to the fact that it has assumed an alarming level, even as he cautioned that Nigerians should not for any reason submit to it.
He said manipulation of electoral process has left Nigerians to unmitigated disaster, stating that until there is a fight to stop the process that throws up the worst of the people to lead Nigerians, the country cannot meet her potentials as a country.
Earlier in his address of welcome, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Suleiman Nazif, said the essence of the public hearing was to analyze, understand the gravity of vote buying, and to address it for a better democracy.
He said vote buying has become endemic as those involved do it with impunity, thereby negatively affecting the quality of Nigeria’s democracy. He said it has consequent effect on poverty and bad governance, adding that the Electoral Act has been amended to punish such electoral offense with jail term of five years or one million.
To this end, he regretted that this noble idea and efforts by the National Assembly has been rendered ineffective by the refusal of the executive to grant assent to the amendments on the 2010 Electoral Act.
While making his presentation at the hearing, the Chairman of INEC, Mahmud Yakubu, said vote buying must be tackled. He said vote buying must not be allowed to define the Nigerian democratic process because it negates the sanctity of the ballot paper, as well as reprehensible to morale justice. This, he said, is evident because those who are elected by vote buying are not responsible to voters.
Yakubu who exonerated INEC from the crime, said the commission is not involved in buying or selling votes, urging those who sponsor vote buying to confess how it is done so that INEC can know how to stop it.
He, therefore, blamed impunity by the political actors, and poverty, just as he warned that credible election is a recipe for peace.
Also, the chairman of Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Peter Ameh, while presenting the position of political parties, said card readers and PVCs must be sustained in the conduct of the 2019 elections given its effectiveness in the last general elections. He said the political parties have met and resolved that there should not be any incidence form in the 2019 elections.