Election stakeholders and citizens from Bayelsa and Kogi state have reacted to the recently released pre-election observation report by YIAGA AFRICA’s Watching The Vote. Recall that, YIAGA AFRICA through its WTV project had released its report saying there is ongoing voter inducement in both states as political actors are already inducing voters in a bid to secure their votes. The report also alleged that Civil Society Organisation leads the park when it comes to voter education, followed by the Independent National Electoral Commission and the National Orientation Agency (NOA).
Reacting to this report, Director of NOA in Bayelsa State, Mr Ideh Oduaseka admitted the agency is short in resources saying the they can improve in their effort with better resources. Ideh who spoke during Watching The Vote hour; a radio program on Peoples FM however said the NOA has been collaborating with CSOs and INEC to reach out to prospective voters with messages of peaceful and credible elections. He called on citizens to vote right and reject any form of voter inducement ahead of the polls.
Also speaking as a guest during the WTV hour in Bayelsa, Chair Person of the Nigerian Association of Women Journalists in Bayelsa State, Mrs Maria Olodi-Osuma said voter inducement for Bayelsa state is not peculiar and because of poverty and poor Orientation, a lot of people may not even understand that they are being induced, especially for those at the rural areas and this has affected Nigeria’s electoral system.
The citizens according to her also have the mindset that for every political gathering, there has to be a token for them and that is a poverty mentality which is unacceptable. She urged prospective voters to look beyond the token and analyse the credibility of candidates during campaign before taking decisions saying, “we need an ethical reorientation”.
Also speaking on WTV pre-election report in Kogi, Idris Muraina A Senior Program Officer at Lift Up Care Foundation (LUCAF) said, over time, everything has been left in the hands of CSOs to undertake the responsibility of voter education. Idris commended INEC for the recent increase in voter education and sensitization across the 21 local while urging the NOA has to make itself more visible in this regard.
He decried the lack of issue-based campaigns by political parties in the state saying the report on voter inducement may mean that the election may be determined by the highest bidder. He revealed that Voter inducement is on the high as political rallies are characterized by distribution of gift items and money. To him, It will take collective effort from all citizens to end vote buying and selling saying, It is important to also let citizens know that vote buying and selling is a crime that attracts punishment in accordance with the law.
Mr Idris who spoke during WTV hour on Prime FM 101.5 also expressed fear of electoral violence in the state saying, the political atmosphere in Kogi State is tensed ahead of the elections and If this continues, it could impact the elections. “It doesn’t speak well of a democracy if citizens cannot freely support political parties of their choice”, he said. ‘The security agencies have to openly guarantee the safety of all Kogi Citizens before, during and after the electionsas this will go a long way in tackling voter apathy”, he concluded
Similarly, Abaniwo Nathaniel, Executive Director of Rehoboth Community Advancement Initiative, a state-base organisation in Kogi said, It is worrisome that NOA is practically silent when it comes to the sensitisation of citizens and voter education, calling on the state agencies to sit up.
According to him, even political parties who should lead voter education aren’t doing the job of carrying citizens along. “Citizens want to know the plans and programs of political parties but political campaigns have been bereft of real issues affecting citizens and how they will be tackled.
He warned that Citizens need to understand that selling their vote means selling your development. “For that token you are given by the politician, you deny yourself development for 4 years. Is it worth it?”, he said.
He further urged INEC remain independent and non-partisan. For political parties, engage in issue-based campaigns. “For CSOs, keep doing what you are doing. For security agencies, ensure that the process is peaceful and safe”, he said
Reactions to the report continued with callers across various Local Government areas called into the radio program sharing their experience of voter education in their communities.
For example, SIMON Eneojo called from Lokoja to Commend religious leaders in Kogi State for using their platforms to inform citizens on the need to participate in the election.
Usman From Okehi LOcal Government of Kogi state decired the inactivity of the NOA in the LGA while also expressing fears of possible electoral violence. He blamed political parties for voter inducement saying, political parties have no manifestoes and expressed disappointment that citizens aren’t engaging political parties enough in this regard. This is also in tandem with another contributor who said that political parties of today don’t need the people educated. They need them voting on election day every 4 years and thus spend energy distributing largesse, whipping up religious and tribal sentiments and mobilizing thugs with hard cash and guns.
Overall, listeners commended YIAGA AFRICA’S Watching The Vote for prioritizing voter education ahead of the Kogi elections while urging other CSOs in other states to do same.