Five days to commencement of Nigeria’s general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission has been challenged to display openness in all its activities.
The call was part of outcome of a sensitization road walk by a youth group under the aegis of Development and Integrity Intervention Goal Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State on Friday.
The sensitization rally, under the “Vote, Not Fight Campaign” of the Foundation, took the youths through the major streets in Abakaliki, distributing handbills and making amplified announcements against electoral violence and thuggery.
Presenting a document on the youth’s position to INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioner, Prof. Godswill Obioma, at the INEC headquarters in Abakaliki, the Coordinator of the group, Oliver Aja Chima, urged the Commission to endeavour to exhibit patriotism by ensuring the sanctity of the ballot box
Chima emphasized the need for all INEC staff, permanent and ad-hoc, to be professional and neutral in the discharge of their responsibilities and called on the Commission to ensure adequate and timely distribution of sensitive and non-sensitive materials to reduce tension.
He further harped on the need for INEC to work closely with the Nigeria Police and other security agencies to ensure rapid response to distress calls by voters, electoral officials and observers, adding that any wrong move would affect all and sundry.
Chima, who is also the Executive Director of the DIG, explained that the “Vote, not Fight” was a youth-focused, non-partisan voter education campaign aimed at promoting constructive youth participation in Nigeria’s political and electoral processes.
According to him, the campaign seeks to increase youth voter turnout and mobilization against hate speech, electoral violence and vote buying.
He expressed regret that the youths, constituting over 60 per cent of Nigeria’s population and 51.1 per cent of voters in the coming election, were often marginalised and underrepresented in national decision making, a development he maintained deserved to be changed.
Chima concluded: “Today, we have come to say no to electoral violence.
“We hereby state our firm resolve to shun violence in the February 16 and March 2, 2019 general elections.
“We have come to ask that the Independent National Electoral Commission function independently, free from external control and influence.”
Receiving the campaigners, Obioma, represented by the desk officer in charge of Publicity, Ali Cornelius, re-emphasized the readiness of INEC in the State to conduct free, fair and credible elections.
He called on all Nigerians to eschew violence in all forms, adding: “Elections are only for the living.”
At the State Police Command headquarters, Abakaliki, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Yekini Ayoku, who received the youths on behalf of the Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, stressed that the Nigeria Police would not spare anyone found attempting to disrupt the election
Ayoku noted that the Force was under strict mandate from the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, to ensure free, fair elections and expressed optimism that the candidates and other stakeholders would cooperate with them.
Ayoku said: “And I want to use this opportunity to sound a note of warning that nobody, no matter how highly placed, should test the will and capacity of the Nigeria Police Force to deal with perpetrators of violence.
“We will be unsparing in dealing with anyone who wants to disrupt this election.”
Appreciating the youths and the DIG foundation, Ayoku described the non-violence campaign road walk as a “patriotic act” and encouraged the group to take the sensitization to all nooks and crannies of the country.
Other partners with the DIG in the campaign were United States Agency for International Development, United Kingdom Department for International Development, National Democratic Institute, 2BABA Foundation and Youngstars.