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South, Middle Belt leaders reject probe panel on underage voting


The Southern and Middle Belt Forum has rejected the probe panel set up by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to investigate cases of underage voting in Kano State local council election.The group decried the phenomenon of underage children possessing Permanent Voters Card and voting in elections as witnessed in the recent council elections in Kano State and the 2015 general elections.

Rising from its meeting in Abuja yesterday, hosted by former Plateau State Governor, Jonah Jang, the forum condemned underage voting, noting that this confirmed the reports that children voted in the 2015 general elections.

The group in its communique, read by its spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, dismissed the excuse by INEC that the children merely voted in a state election.He said: “We have seen the images of children who are not up to three or four years holding PVC all over the country which suggests and confirms the allegation that in 2015 elections, voters cards were given to community leaders or emir to distribute to children.

“In Nigeria, the voting age is 18 and when you have children holding PVCs all over the place, it is worrisome and disturbing for our democracy. And we have noticed the very lame and very weak excuse by INEC that ‘the children that were seen with PVCs were voting in state elections,’ what absurdity.”The forum accused the electoral commission of covering up the discrepancies in the Kano elections, stating that the panel set up to investigate the incident was unacceptable to it.

With the position taken by the electoral umpire, the group said it does not trust INEC to conduct credible elections in the future, stressing that the only basis for the commission to do so was to set up an impartial panel to probe underage voting in the country.The group added that by taking that first line of defense,  it cannot trust INEC to unilateral look into the matter. Therefore, “we are asking for a judicial panel of inquiry to be headed by a retired justice of the Supreme Court to look into this matter.”

It demanded that the proposed panel should comprise of INEC, all registered political parties, civil society bodies and international bodies who usually monitor elections in Nigeria, to vet all voters register across the country, especially in the areas where children have been voting.The forum also demanded more voters registration centres, stating that it did not want Nigerians to be disenfranchised.

The group criticized President Muhammadu Buhari for not visiting Benue State, two months after over 75 people were killed by Fulani herdsmen.It said it was disturbed that the northern state governors who visited Benue “only went there to play politics,” stressing that their demeanour did not demonstrate that they were on a condolence visit.The forum opposed the ‘Cat Race Exercise’ being conducted by the military in the state, adding that it got information that troops who are participating in the exercise were seen distributing leaflets stating that Tiv people were cattle rustlers.

It called on the military authorities to immediately investigate the allegation and also disarm armed herdsmen and further cautioned the military against turning the victims of herdsmen killings to villains.It expressed opposition to cattle colonies in the southern and middle belt regions and cautioned governors against implementing the initiative, stressing that any state helmsman who authorized cattle colonies would pay dearly for it.

The group also flayed the president for appointing 16 out of the 17 service chiefs from a section of the country, describing it as parochial and clannish, adding that this is not healthy for an inclusive society.

South-South delegation to the meeting include: Chief Edwin Clark, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, South-West, Chief Nnia Nwodo, South-East and Dr. Bala Takaya, Middle Belt.
Other dignitaries include: Chief Olu Falade, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Senator Christy Anyanwu, former Ondo state governor, Segun Mimiko, Air Commodore Dan Suleiman (retd.) and others.

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