By Chinonso Alozie, Owerri
Bothered about the incidence of void votes in the forthcoming 2019 general elections, the Director-General, National Orientation Agency, NOA, Dr. Garba Abari, has called on stakeholders in Imo State and other states in the South-East region to lead campaign to minimize the incidence of void votes in the election.
South-East Voice gathered in Owerri that the message to curb the occurrence of void votes, was passed at the nationwide flag-off campaign against void votes by NOA, with the theme: Minimising the incident of void votes in the 2019 general elections.
The event which attracted stakeholders from different parts of the state including political actors, women groups, civil society organisations, Independent National Electoral Commission, youth groups as well as presidents of town unions, was targeted at intensifying campaign against void votes.
Abari said according to their survey, it was discovered that it was not always lack of knowledge that could be the reason for which there is incidence of void votes. He said that in most cases, the electorate carry out such an action for personal gains.
He gave an example where some voters would collect money from different political parties with the promise to vote for them on the day of election.
The NOA DG pointed out that in order for them to justify whatever money they had collected, they would end up voting for the different parties on the ballot paper, thereby invalidating the ballot paper.
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Abari told the stakeholders that such incident could be an impediment to having the desired leader emerge through the electoral process.
For this reason, he pleaded with stakeholders in the state at the one day event to lead the campaign against void votes so as to achieve credibility in the electoral system.
Abari said: “The National Orientation Agency in line with its mandate of public enlightenment and feedback from the public to government, has identified certain traits in voter behaviour which if not tackled through mass sensitisation and awareness creation, can slow down or at worst, derail our democratic process.
“It has been noticed that not all cases of void votes are caused by lack of knowledge of how to vote correctly. Our survey has shown that a good number of void votes are deliberately done by some people.
“Sample views from the public indicate that void votes are sometimes linked to the unwholesome pervasive incidence of vote buying and selling.”
Giving some of the causes of void votes incidence, Abari said: “For instance, a voter collects money from party A and party B, he swears an oath to both parties that he will vote for their party.
“In an attempt not to violate the provisions of the oath which he or she has taken and suffer consequences arising therefrom, he or she proceeds to vote for both parties thereby rendering his or her vote invalid and void.”
To achieve this, he said: “I want to call on the state government, traditional rulers, local governments, religious leaders, civil society organisations, security agencies, among others, to support and work with our officers on the field in this all important national assignment.”
As part of the enlightenment, the the state Director of NOA, Ekeocha, went on to outline the consequences of void votes in an election. He said: “Moreover, the incidences of void votes in Nigeria’s elections have been a matter of concern to election stakeholders nationally and internationally.
“Most times, the number of void/invalid votes during election is so high that it could have determined or swayed the results of elections to the choice of voters if not prevented or minimised.
“It is an effort to minimise or avoid this occurrence in the forthcoming elections that the National Orientation Agency has been mandated to carry out a nationwide campaign in this regard.
“Consequently, it is the responsibility of every stakeholder in the electoral process to commit to free, fair, credible and transparent elections. One of the ways to ensure people’s votes count is to reduce incidence of void votes during the forthcoming 2019 elections hence, re-run/supplementary elections to determine the final winner in such election.
“This is important because having gone through the strain and stress to cast your vote, if it is declared void by INEC, the whole efforts would have been a waste.”
He also advised: “In order to minimise the incidence of invalid votes, therefore, the voter should make sure he/she thumb-prints inside the box; listen carefully to the instructions of the presiding officer on how to properly fold the ballot paper already thump-printed to avoid ink spilling to other party symbol boxes.
“No voter should leave his/her ballot paper empty; just thump-print only one box and ensure it is within the space provided for your candidate of choice; no voter should squeeze his/her ballot paper after thumb-printing but place the ballot paper in the ballot box.”