Monday, November 2, 2015

INEC sensitizes Kogi women against vote trading

On October 16, 2015, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in collaboration with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) organized a one day voter education seminar for women of Kogi State. The event held at Idrinana Hotel in Lokoja had in attendance various women groups which include National Association of Women Journalists (NAWOJ), International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), National Council of Women Societies (NCWS), National Association of Market Women, Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN), Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) as well as women NGOs. Goodwill messages were delivered by the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner for Kogi State, Hussaini Halilu Pai ably represented by the Administrative Secretary and IFES Deputy Country Director, Mrs. Uloma Osuala. 

Three papers were presented at the forum. The first was the Key Pre Election Messages delivered by Mrs. Blessing Obidegwu who is the INEC Deputy Director, Gender Division. . IFES Gender Advisor, Mrs. Mufuliat Fijabi presented a paper entitled “Importance of Women Participation in Elections” while Head of Legal Department, INEC Kogi State, Barrister Dangana gave a talk on “Vote Selling, Youth Violence and the Role of Women.” 

This writer moderated an interactive session entitled “Women and Elections in Kogi State: Challenges and Follow up Actions.” The day’s event was brought to a close with a drama sketch from Kogi State INEC Drama Troupe.  The storyline stressed the importance of Women’s Votes in the Kogi Governorship Elections.

The central messages emphasized during the roundtable were the need for women to come out en masse to vote in the upcoming November 21, 2015 scheduled gubernatorial election. The need for women to shun violence as well as to prevail on their husbands and children not to allow themselves to be used to foment trouble or perpetrate violence before, during and after the looming election. Thirdly is the imperative of issue based campaigns rather than that of personal aggrandizements.

It so happened that a day to the seminar (October 15), INEC had embarked on market outreaches to some of the major trading centers around the Confluence State as Kogi is popularly called. (This is because Lokoja, the state’s capital is the meeting point between River Niger and River Benue). According to Mrs. Obidegwu, on arrival at some of the markets, the women there were asking them for money and other gift items before they can listen to them. They had to explain to them that they are not politicians but staffers of the election management body.  This revelation made the October 16 sensitization forum to focus primarily on the need to educate the Kogi women against vote trading.

Barrister Dangana cited section 23 of the Electoral Act 2010, as amended which forbids selling or buying of voters’ card to buttress his point. The section places a penalty of N500,000 fine or maximum of 2 years imprisonment or both on any defaulter.  In the course of moderating my session I called the attention of the participants to section 124 of the Act which forbids contestants and electorates alike from giving or collecting any form of inducements which is currently referred to as “stomach infrastructure” in local parlance to vote.  The penalty for breach as stipulated in subsection 4 of the clause is 12 months imprisonment or N500,000 fine or both.

It bears mentioning that accredited observers who witnessed party primaries held in Kogi State reported high incidences of vote buying of party delegates. In the party primary that held in Lokoja on September 14, observers alleged that while one of the front runners in the primaries gave each delegates N250,000 to induce them to vote for him, another aspirant who eventually won was reported to have gave each delegates N400,000 each. Thus, the highest bidder won.

In the course of the October 16 sensitization forum, we were able to let the participants know about the evils of vote trading particularly how it engenders underdevelopment or what is popularly referred to as lack of dividends of democracy. It is heart-warming that the drama sketch was able to amplify the views of the resource persons on this issue.

One key achievement of the forum was the agreement of the women groups present to form pressure group that will meet with the various party candidates in the election to demand for a social contract which will spell out what the contestants intend to do to uplift the women of the state in terms of appointments into key political offices as well as the development agenda for the state. The women also pledged their commitment to peace and credible poll. In closing, I wish to congratulate Professor Mahmood Yakubu on his appointment as the new chairman of INEC. It would be recalled that President Mohammadu Buhari on October 21, 2015 got the National Council of State to approve Prof. Yakubu as well as five others as national commissioners of the Commission.  I wish them all a peaceful, fruitful and successful tenure in office.