In a few hours, citizens of Kogi and Bayelsa States will go to the polls to perform their civic responsibilities as they elect new leaders for their states. Expectations are high. Political parties, candidates and their supporters are set, tensions are approaching a crescendo and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had revealed during the two-day seminar on their preparedness for the November 16, 2019 governorship elections in Kogi and Bayelsa States to correct the mistakes in the 2019 elections and set a new standard for future elections.
While the rest of Nigeria and the international community observe the pre-electoral process, some of the questions that dominate our thoughts are: Will the elections be free and fair? Or will it be the case of the highest bidder winning? Will INEC fulfil its promises?
Election is central to democracy, and for it to be considered free and fair, it must express the will of the electorate, devoid of manipulations and electoral malpractices.
Vote buying and money politics which have taken the centre stage in our electoral process threaten the conduct of free and credible elections as well as the quality of leadership in our democracy. It perpetuates bad governance and compromises the well-being of everyone regardless of who sold or did not sell their votes for instant gratification. For every traded vote, they are unintended consequences.
According to YIAGA Africa’s Watching The Vote project, voter inducement was reported in at least one of every three of the 21 LGAs in Kogi State and all LGAs in Bayelsa State. If this is not checked it may trigger electoral violence.
In line with the Electoral Act, 2010, article 130, “A person who – (a) corruptly by himself or by any other person at any time after the date of an election has been announced, directly or indirectly gives or provides or pays money to or for any person for the purpose of corruptly influencing that person or any other person to vote or refrain from voting at such election, or on account of such person or any other person having voted or refrained from voting at such election; or (b) being a voter, corruptly accepts or takes money or any other inducement during any of the period stated in paragraph (a) of this section, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N100,000 or 12 months’ imprisonment or both.”
The preparedness of INEC as the electoral umpire as well as security agents in ensuring that electoral offenders are arrested and prosecuted is very pertinent to the success of the gubernatorial elections. As long as perpetrators are not held to account and brought to justice, they will brazenly continue to take advantage of the people and drive the democratic process into a quagmire. All hands must be on deck to stand against any form of vote trading.
YIAGA Africa’s Watching The Vote project also reported that 54.24 % registered voters in Bayelsa State are between the ages of 18-35. Young voters account for more than half of the voting population, making them a powerful force in the election. This is a great opportunity for these young voters to come out en masse to cast their votes as voter apathy aids election malpractice.
I urge all citizens of Kogi and Bayelsa States to exercise their civic duties today, November 16, 2019, and collaborate with INEC to ensure the credibility of votes cast. Remember, do NOT sell your votes! Do NOT stir up violence, Be Patriotic Nigerians.
Tracy Keshi, Program Officer, YIAGA Africa