By Henry Umoru & Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA—AHEAD of 2019 general, Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, yesterday, urged Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, security agencies and stakeholders to ensure the country conducted free, fair, transparent and credible elections.
Meanwhile, Saraki and Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, have both taken a swipe at the security agencies and INEC over election malpractices and votes buying that have become serious threat to the country’s electioneering process.
Saraki and Dogara spoke, yesterday, in Abuja at a one-day public hearing on “Vote Buying and Improving Electoral Processes in Nigeria” organised by the National Assembly Joint Committee on INEC.
Saraki, who stressed that vote buying and election rigging, remained contemporary challenges that mar the nation’s electoral process, said: “We must deal with them in such a manner that does not detract from the credibility and legitimacy of the coming 2019 polls.
Also corroborating the Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, warned that the nation must not surrender to what he described as criminality of votes buying.
He stressed that more worrisome dimension to vote buying was the alleged use of officials of the electoral umpire, INEC, and security agents to induce or intimidate as well as force voters to vote for particular candidates.
He asked Nigerians to be wary of public officials that distribute cash to the members of the public at a time close to the 2019 general elections, noting that vote buying syndrome must be checked.
Dogara added that the recent phenomenon of direct pricing and buying of votes as if in a market square was very disturbing.
Dogara regretted that the officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and the security agencies were alleged to be accomplices of the electoral fraud and vote buying.
The speaker, who called on lovers of democracy to rise against the ill developments, said: “A more worrisome dimension to vote buying is the alleged use of the officials of the electoral umpire, INEC, and officers of security agencies to induce, or intimidate and coerce voters to vote for particular candidates.
‘’Such absurdities have been widely reported in the media and confirmed by some local and international observers in respect of the recently concluded governorship elections in Osun State.
“As expected, all lovers of democracy worldwide rose to condemn these despicable incidents. Condemnation is not enough, it will amount to hypocrisy, if we don’t take the bull by the horn by taking concrete steps to eliminate these evils that make mockery of our hard worn democracy.
“The essence of this public hearing, therefore, is to enable all of us interrogate these issues and proffer the way out. We must not leave here before we have proffered practical steps to be taken in order to ensure that each vote counts in our elections and our elections henceforth will qualify as democratic elections not the kind of sham elections usually organized by totalitarian regimes.’’
Responding, the chairman of INEC, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, explained that the commission does not sell or buy votes.
He, however, condemned votes buying, even as he warned that it should not be allowed to define the nation’s election, as such aberration was not in any way acceptable.
The INEC boss, who noted that such actions deny citizens of quality representation as well as give the country a bad image before the international community, said rather than public hearing, it would have been better if confessional hearing was conducted by the lawmakers.
Professor Mahmoud urged the National Assembly to pass the Electoral Offences Tribunal Bill into law as recommended by Uwais, Lemu and Ken Nnamani electoral reform committees, adding that votes buying was not only a Nigeria issue, but had also become an international phenomenon.
“Votes buying is not acceptable, it must never be allowed to define our elections. It is illegal and morally wrong. It denies citizens quality representation and give us bad name internationally. It does not give us a good representation,’’ he said.