*Says new measure would frustrate fraudulent strategy by voters
*Urges NASS to pass Electoral Tribunal Bill
*As Saraki, Dogara decry electoral malpractices
*Say it’s a threat to democracy
By Okechukwu Jombo and Olugbenga Salami
Ahead of the 2019 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, yesterday, said that it had introduced a new device of dry ink on ballot papers to check vote buying by electorate at polling units.
Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, disclosed this at a one-day public hearing on “Vote Buying and Improving Electoral Processes in Nigeria”, organised by the National Assembly Joint Committee on INEC in Abuja.
Yakubu said that, in the 2019 elections, the ballot papers would be handed to voters rolled up before they proceed to the polling booths to cast their votes.
He explained that the voters, in turn, must also roll up and flatten the ballot papers before leaving the polling booths to drop them in the ballot boxes.
The INEC boss, who demonstrated the measure with a sample of the presidential ballot paper to be used in the 2019 polls, assured that it would guard against the electorate displaying thump-printed ballot papers to agents of vote buyers at the polling units.
According to him, the measure has become necessary after it was discovered that vote buyers and sellers had found a way round the recent ban on the use of smart phones and other camera devices at voting points.
He posited that voters had resorted to displaying the thumb-printed ballot papers to agents of vote buyers before dropping them in the ballot boxes, noting that the Commission’s new measure would frustrate such fraudulent strategy by voters.
Yakubu also stated that the Commission did not sell or buy votes just as he condemned vote buying, warning that it should not be allowed to define the nation’s election as such aberration was not acceptable.
He noted that such development denies the citizens quality representation and gives the nation a bad name before the international community, observing that rather than a public hearing, it would have been better if the confessional hearing is conducted by the lawmakers.
Calling on the lawmakers to pass the Electoral Offences Tribunal Bill into law as recommended by Mohammed Uwais, Ahmed Lemu and Ken Nnamani Electoral Reform Committees, Yakubu noted that vote buying was not only a Nigeria issue but had become a global phenomenon.
He said: “Vote buying is not acceptable; it must never be allowed to define our elections. It is illegal and morally wrong. It denies citizens quality representation and gives us bad name internationally. It does not give us a good representation.”
“We talk too much as a nation. We should stop talking and move on as a nation. We need a confessional hearing rather than this. We should call the people and ask them how they do it. INEC does not buy or sell votes.
“The problem has been with us for a long while and it has become an international phenomenon. It is not just a Nigerian problem. In order to address this, we need to break the chain of voters’ inducement. We have so many instances where aspirants induced electorates and candidate induced voters”.
Earlier, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and the Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara has warned security agencies and INEC against electoral malpractices during the 2019 general elections.
According to them, the alarming rate of vote buying and alleged compromise by security agencies during elections poses a great threat to the country’s democracy.
Specifically, Saraki expressed serious concerns that security agencies were beginning to emerge as a major encumbrance in the nation’s electoral process.
The Senate President, who gave a keynote address at the public hearing, also condemned the use of incidence form to bypass the lawful process of accreditation, noting that it had become evident that security agents usually collude with politicians to disenfranchise the electorate during elections, stressing that such must stop for Nigeria to move forward democratically.
Accordingly, he urged the INEC, security agencies and all election stakeholders to ensure that the 2019 elections are free, fair, credible and transparent.
Saraki said that this had become necessary as the country was in a delicate situation, where Africa and the entire world were looking forward to what would happen in the forthcoming 2019 general elections.
His words: “Let me, at this point, mention that our major concern should be entrenching global best practices in our electoral process, and ensuring that these are backed by legislation to make them sustainable and permanent. For example, the use of an Incident Form to bypass the lawful process of accreditation and voting is not good for the country. We must do away with it.”
“This is one of those issues concerning which, whether there is a law or not, all of us who are stakeholders should come to an agreement and address the anomaly. At the very least, this is one minimum condition that we must meet as we move towards 2019 polls. All stakeholders should demonstrate the fact that a credible and transparent election is far better and more important than who wins that election.
“We cannot afford to send the wrong signals with our actions or inactions as we prepare for the next elections. The world must take positive cues from us that we are ready to improve our process and make our electoral process more transparent and commendable. This is because perception matters, as you all know. Perception is, in fact, the reality”, he added.
In his remarks, Dogara cautioned that the nation must not surrender to this criminality of vote buying, adding that more worrisome dimension to vote buying was the alleged use of the officials of INEC, and officers of security agencies to induce or intimidate and coerce voters to vote for particular candidates.
“The recent phenomenon of direct pricing and buying of votes as if in a market square is very disturbing. It is one of the highest forms of corruption. The high prevalence of vote-buying in the electoral system of the country is, without any doubt, of great concern to all Nigerians and members of the global community who truly love democracy.
“It is disheartening that this absurd phenomenon has assumed alarming proportions in recent times. As citizens, we must not surrender to this criminality as we cannot do so and still expect honour. When political office holders defy the law and corruptly assume office, they will always operate as if they are above the law.
“Vote buying and other sundry criminal manipulations of the electoral process in Nigeria have left our citizens in a state of unmitigated disaster. As a result, we have been married off to a mob, a mob that rules us by the example of their power not by the dictates of law, a mob that rules by fear as an inalienable tool rather than by courage, a mob that accepts the status quo rather than challenge it.
“Mobs don’t grow others; they only destroy others in order to grow themselves. We follow the Mob because we must not because we are receiving any sense of significance for our own lives from them. Our democracy has stagnated and will sadly remain so until we eliminate all sham elections which have the effect of throwing up the worst of us to lead the best of us. I hope we can now see why today’s event is compellingly urgent.
“A more worrisome dimension to vote buying is the alleged use of the officials of the electoral umpire, INEC, and officers of security agencies to induce or intimidate and coerce voters to vote for particular candidates. The essence of this Public Hearing, therefore, is to enable all of us to interrogate these issues and proffer the way out”, he further stated.