By Gabriel Ewepu and Alice Ekpang – Abuja
An election support group known as the Election Network, on Friday, called on members of the National Assembly to pass the bill to the National Electoral Offences Commission into law in order to prosecute electoral offenders.
Speaking on the essence of the proposed Commission, the Editor, Election Network, Asari Ndem, asserted that the 2019 elections were a setback for Nigeria’s electoral and democratic framework.
She added that officially, over 80 million Nigerians collected their voter cards from the Independent National Election Commission, INEC, but only about 30 per cent of those people voted during the elections, which was the lowest recorded voter turnout in the history of Nigeria’s democracy.
She also presented a documentary produced by the network titled “Left Behind” which intends to show the human impact of electoral deficiencies on average Nigerians.
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She said: “We wanted to understand why this had happened, to enable us to make submissions to policymakers on how this level of failure can be avoided in coming elections. So, we decided to talk to the people to show the human impact of electoral deficiencies on average Nigerians.
“The Election Network produced a documentary titled “Left Behind.” In this documentary, we interviewed Nigerians who were unable to or chose not to vote during the 2019 elections. We found that these Nigerians were stalled by factors like administrative shortcomings, intimidation, and violence.
“But what stood out the most is violence. Between 2003 and 2019 alone, over 1932 electoral-violence-related deaths were recorded, with 626 of these deaths occurring in 2019 alone.
She (Ndem) pointed that the presence of heavy military and police personnel in certain regions aggravated fear and prevented people from voting.
“In the 2019 general elections, there were at least 13 incidences of electoral violence as a result of military presence at polling units.
“Other barriers to voting were technical and administrative issues like the failure of card readers, and the lack of provisions for people living with disabilities.
“In light of these findings, the group proposed for the passage of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill that will help put in check several irregularities but more importantly, give way for the full implementation of electronic voting during elections.
“Electronic Accreditation, Voting, and Collation which is related to our first proposal on the Passage of the Electoral Amendment Bill will ensure credibility in the voting system, accreditation, voting, and collation need to be done electronically to avoid errors and to also trace malpractices in the system.
“Prosecution of Electoral Offenders: Snatching of ballot boxes and other election-related offences are common features during elections in Nigeria but these acts often go unpunished. We encourage Parliament to pass the bill for the enactment of the National Electoral Offences Commission, to ensure that electoral offenders are punished.
She also argued that Nigerians should not just be disenfranchised because of registering in different places, “Many voters were disenfranchised because they had registered in different places from where they currently live.
“It is important to ensure that voter cards are not only transferable but flexible, a Nigerian should be able to vote anywhere they are when the need arises.
On the issue of inclusion of people living with disabilities in the voting process, she said they should not be treated as an “after-thought” rather their needs should be included during election planning to ensure they are able to adequately exercise their rights.
“An embargo should be placed on the ability of political office holders to make financial transactions close to the elections so as to strengthen Financial Accountability”, she said.