Prof. James Apam, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Kogi, on Thursday urged voters in the country to always turn out en masse in elections, saying it would discourage vote-buying.
Apam made the call at a “Stakeholders Consultative Meeting on Vote-Buying/Selling and Election Violence” in Lokoja ahead of Saturday’s bye-election in Kogi-Koton-Karfe/Lokoja Federal Constituency.
The meeting was organized by Participation for Behavioural Change in Development (PIBCID) with Hands across Africa Development Initiative and Activista, with support from ActionAid Nigeria.
Explaining the need for a high turn-out of the electorate during elections, Apam said “one thing that makes it too easy for people who want to disrupt elections is very low turnout”
According to him, if they turn out in good number, the buyers also will be discouraged.
The REC urged voters not to sell their votes or “collect money and vote according to your conscience, insisting that nobody should collect anybody’s money for the sake of vote-buying at all.
“We will make sure that unauthorized persons don’t hang around the polling units because the buying and selling of votes are perpetrated mostly by those who hang around polling units.
“Security agents will be on alert to ensure that unauthorized persons don’t hang around the polling units.
“Indeed, the security agents will also report whatever cases of vote-buying they come across, apprehend culprits and bring them to the law,” he said.
Mr Idris Miliki, Executive Director, Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution (CHRCR), said money or gratification of any sort in exchange for votes was a loan or debt that must be paid one way or the other.
“The trend of voting-buying is escalating to a desperate level in Nigeria. This trend portends grave danger to our democracy and development as it undermines the rights of citizens to freely choose their leaders.”
Miliki noted that vote-buying would only set the nation back and erode the gains made in the country’s electoral processes.
He said that the phenomenon also posed a threat to the emergence of women as elected representatives with the increasing cost of electoral politics.
In a remark, Mrs. Gift Owonipa, ActionAid Programme Manager and Executive Director (PIBCID), said the issue at hand called for the concern of all stakeholders.
“This is because we are looking forward to an electoral process with our democracy becoming more credible and the issue of vote-buying and vote-selling has suddenly crept in, in very subtle manner.
“It has also been made to look so legal that people no longer see any issue in it.
“People need to know that if you buy or sell votes, you don’t need to ask for good governance; you don’t need to ask for good roads.
“You don’t need to ask for better infrastructure because you have collected all of that at the point of voting,” she said.
Civil society organizations, INEC, youth groups and associations from various local government areas across the state were present at the meeting.