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Achieving standards for electoral integrity


[FILE PHOTO] INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu

Events across the country in the past few months have tended to question our preparedness to have free, fair, transparent, credible and violence-free elections in 2019.

Elections are said to be the central feature of democracy. And for people to be able to exercise their franchise, they must be able to make their choice of candidates without imposition, inducement, molestation and violence.

In a nutshell, we cannot talk of democratic consolidation in Nigeria, if elections are not integrity-driven.

The implication is that relevant stakeholders and parties to elections at any point in time must perform their duties with the highest level of efficiency, responsibility and transparency.

It is no longer in doubt that one major drawback to our attempts at conducting credible and acceptable elections has been the desperation of political actors to win at all cost through unethical strategies; to beat the efforts of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to checkmate them.

From premeditated inflation of voter registers and under-age voting, politicians have graduated to ballot box snatching, maiming and killing of opponents and vote buying.

The issue of vote buying has now made the integrity of our electoral processes to be in doubt. In the past, vote buying was done in secrecy, but today, it is openly done without any fear of arrest or prosecution.

This development is sad as it is capable of hampering and hurting the development of democracy in the country in the long run.

Apart from the fact that the Electoral Act has criminalised vote buying, security agents and polling officials must not condone and encourage vote buying in future elections.

The electoral law must be enforced in every election circle. The electorate should equally know that giving away their votes for cash will not in any way help them. Vote buying is a threat to the integrity of the electoral process.

The INEC has a responsibility to ensure that anyone who sells or buys votes is prosecuted. As the electoral umpire, the INEC must also provide a level-playing field for all the political parties. The Commission must sustain the current momentum in the planning and preparation for elections.

All logistics must be in place and there should be adequate manpower and materials to cater for the registered voters.

The role of the security agencies, particularly the police, as critical stakeholders in the electoral process, is to maintain law and order and ensure that there is a social environment that is germane for peace and conducive for electoral activities to take place.

The allegiance and loyalty of the police and other security agencies must be seen to display the highest level of neutrality and treat all political parties with equality.

The political parties must be mindful of their actions and utterances and guard against provocative statements capable of over-heating the polity and precipitating the breakdown of law and order in their political campaigns.

Responsible and civilized campaign requires that politicians address issues of ideas and development and not to succumb to mudslinging or the appeal to primordial emotions.

Internal democracy must be equally embraced by the political parties. Equally important is that politicians must abide by rules of the game. Any act capable of negatively affecting the electoral process such as rigging, snatching of ballot box, ballot stuffing, thuggery, hate speech and electoral violence must be avoided.

As the principal means of public information dissemination, both the traditional and social media should provide the widest platform for electoral activities to be brought to the door-step of the electorate.

The way Media report political events can go a long way in determining the course of action. Issue of fake news must be avoided. Media professionals must be factual, objective and carry out their duties with the highest sense of decorum.

The youths are often the cannon fodders for electoral violence. They must resist every temptation to be used by desperate politicians to perpetrate electoral fraud that could lead to the breach of peace, law and order.

For the integrity of the electoral process, civil society organisations have the responsibility to monitor exercise, from issuance of notice of election to the swearing in of elected candidates to ensure that the tenets of electoral procedures as contained in the Electoral Act are strictly adhered.

When engaged in election monitoring for instance, the civil society enhance voters’ confidence and affirms credibility by exposing electoral fraud and other undemocratic activities.

The media, civil society organisations, traditional institutions and religious bodies should endeavour to complement the efforts of the National Orientation Agency in the onerous tasks of educating the public on the adverse implication of vote buying, electoral violence, hate speech and other irregularities that could mar the success of the current electoral process and successful conduct of the forth-coming general elections in the country.

• Aminu is Director of Documentation, Translation and Publication, NOA, Abuja.

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