The National Orientation Agency (NOA) has warned that the rising incidence of void votes is a threat to Nigeria’s fledgeling democracy.
The agency said this on Thursday at a voters education programme in Lagos organised by different civil society organisations in collaboration with the Carrington Fellowship, an initiative of the U.S. consulate General, Lagos.
According to Waheed Ishola, who represented NOA at the event, if void votes are counted, they could be the game changer as to the calibre of leaders Nigerians elected into offices.
He cited a scenario where one vote decided the winner of an election even when there were two void votes that could not be counted.
Mr Ishola said the realisation of this was behind the various voter education campaigns NOA embarked upon to sensitise voters on the proper way to cast their votes so as to minimise the incidence of void voting.
He said 844,590 void votes were recorded in the 2015 elections alone.
“In other to drastically reduce the incidence of void votes, we have embarked on various voters education campaign because void votes are a threat to our democracy.”
He said voters sometimes deliberately voided their votes for different reasons but asserted that void votes are usually a reflection of the level of voters education.
“Void votes is bound to arise if the voter is made to sign an oath to two or more parties due to financial inducement like what happened during the Ekiti and Osun elections where the incidence of vote buying reared its ugly head.
“Some voters are also ignorant of the importance of elections due to poor voters education.”
He said Nigeria cannot afford to not have a peaceful election.
“The whole world is interested in our election because the world cannot afford or accommodate a refugee situation in Nigeria. If the population of Alimosho LG alone should move to Benin Republic as refugees, they will take over the government. Therefore Nigeria cannot afford to fail.”
He also charged the youth to resist becoming tools of violence in the elections.
“The youth must resist the temptation of being used to commit electoral malpractices. We are thankful the not too young to run bill was passed, but I ask, how many youths can afford the money to run a campaign in Nigeria? Because politics has been over monitised here. So when next they call you, make sure they and their families take the lead and you queue behind them.”
A representative of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) at the event spoke on steps taken by the commission to address issues surrounding the election including vote buying and selling.
“We are putting mechanisms in place to reduce such incidence. Like the Osun and Ekiti situation showed that evidence is needed for a vote to be bought and sold, there has to be some sort of evidence. So we are going to be collecting phones from voters before they enter the cubicle to vote and return their phones after they have voted.”
Asked how INEC was punishing offenders of vote buying, especially when they are caught on camera as it happened in Ekiti, Mr Uka said it is not the job of the electoral umpire to enforce electoral laws and punish offenders.
“That is the job of law enforcement agencies, INEC does not have the power to enforce electoral laws but we are trying our best to ensure vote buying is eradicated.”
On cases of PVC cards that are still not collected and registered voters not finding their names on the list, Mr Uka said a lot of things were responsible for these scenarios and is not about deliberate disenfranchisement.
“Some cards were skipped during printing and INEC is working to rectify this. But some might not be able to get their cards before the election. Sometimes the case of not finding your card at a registration point might be due to multiple registrations.
“We usually run our data through an automatic biometric recognition machine and once there are more than one data on the same biometric, it automatically deletes one registration and leave just one and it might be that of the location you went to for collection that was deleted meanwhile your card is ready for pick up at another registration point without you knowing.”
Ben Gordon, a representative of the U.S. Consulate in Lagos, asked the electorate to take charge of the electoral process as democracy is a participatory process.
“Bad leaders are elected by citizens who don’t vote. Positive change happens when voters elect the right leaders. If there is something you don’t like, even if it is between elections, contact your representative, speak to your neighbours about it, speak out because democracy is a participatory process. ”
The programme was supported by civil societies like Citizens Connect, Leadership Initiative for Youth Empowerment, and others. It was targeted at sensitising the youth on the need to exercise their voting rights rightly.
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