General Election: Situation Room Cautions against Scaremongering

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Lai Mohammed

By Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja

Ahead of the general election, an election observer coalition, the Situation Room, has expressed concern over what it described as scary message coming from the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.

The minister had on Monday raised the alarm, accusing some unamed opposition parties of planning to cause mayhem during the forthcoming elections, using gangsters and Boko Haram terrorists.

However, Situation Room said that such a security alarm was capable of causing more harm than good especially as the election date draws near.

Speaking at the unveiling of the Situation Room Hub for the elections, the Convener of the Civil Society coalition, Mr. Clement Nwankwo, said Monday’s statement by the Information Minister which sounded similar to outcries by the opposition over security issues, leaves much to be desired.

Nwankwo said: “It would be better if both the government and members of the opposition parties refrain from making statements which will scare voters from coming out on election day to vote.

“If an opposition party has sensed that there will be security threats, the channels for communicating this to the security agencies are well established so that it can be investigated. In the same vein, if the minister of Information knows that there are people who are talking to Boko Haram and trying to get them to cause violence, the minister should know that it should be a conversation between him and the security agencies who should tackle such a threat rather than raise fears amongst the people,” he said.

Nwankwo said that both sides in the electoral contest ought to exercise restraint as engaging in scaremongering at this stage of an election will not be helpful.

The election observer group had earlier in a statement highlighted potent dangers facing 2019 elections and outlined minimum expectations that the conduct of elections must meet to pass the test of free, fair and credible elections.

Apart from concerns on the handling of security issues, Nwankwo said that the government of the day must do everything to ensure a level playing ground for all contestants in the election, adding any attempt to do otherwise will lead to the enthronement of a government with legitimacy crisis.

“Situation Room calls on political parties to comply with election laws and regulations, shun hate speech and violence during campaigns and avoid perpetrating fraud, malpractice etc.

on election day. It also called on political parties to train and deploy polling agents to represent their parties and commit to every stage of the elections as well as commit to respecting the outcome of the General Election.

According to the Situation Room, the President should be able to give a commitment not to use security agencies to intimidate or harass candidates and avoid the resort to clamping down on the opposition candidates or parties based on spurious charges.

Regarding the concerns by former president Olusegun Obasanjo over INEC’s readiness to hold free and fair election, the Situation Room said it was important for the commission to take every criticism in good faith as it prepares for the elections.

The Situation Room also outlined minimum expectations for security agencies, including a demand that all issues of security deployment during elections should be left in the hands of INEC and that the security men deployed must act within the role assigned to them by the electoral law.

In the threshold document, Situation Room demanded that INEC must ensure that there was absence of multiple registrations, removal of under-aged and deceased voters in collaboration with the National Population Commission, ensure alignment between election data and demographic data.

It said that electoral unmpire should keep to timely adherence to guidelines for display of Voter Register, give voters sufficient time to verify their details; and audit of PVC collection process and rates, uncollected PVCs, and protocol for storage and protection.

“INEC must also publicise to all stakeholders, the reforms it has made regarding any malfunctioning of the Smart Card Reader (SCR), during the Accreditation and Voting procedure and make a commitment to a special audit in the event of a 5% card reader incidence failure,” it said.