By Angela Atabo
Abuja -Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room on Monday called on the National Assembly to expedite the passage of the Electoral Offences Commission bill to curb vote buying in elections.
Mr Clement Nwankwo, Convener of the coalition of civil society organisations, made the call at a news conference on the just-concluded Edo governorship election.
Nwankwo said that the call became imperative to check the menace of vote trading, which include buying and selling, in Nigeria’s elections.
“Politicians are increasingly investing monies to buy votes, with voters appearing to be willing to sell their votes.
“In Edo election, this practice was widespread with all the major political parties engaging in this infringement.
“The incidence of vote buying during this election was high, Situation Room calls for a more effective enforcement of election laws that prohibit vote buying and other election offences.
“Situation Room calls on National Assembly to move quickly and urgently proceed with legislative action to ensure the passage of the Electoral Offences Commission Bill that creates a body to enforce respect for election laws.’
Nwankwo said the group also called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to deepen and expand the use of its Electoral Result Viewing portal in order to increase the transparency of Nigeria’s elections.
He said that the group commended INEC for conducting a much improved governorship election in Edo.
The convener said that the group also urged the commission to ensure that the progress made with improvements in its conduct of the election were deepened and sustained during the Ondo governorship election.
Nwankwo said that overall, the Edo governorship election was violence-free to the relief of stakeholders who had feared that the violence-laden rhetoric of the election participants could pose a threat to peaceful elections.
“It is noteworthy that efforts at mediating peace and reducing political tension mounted by INEC, the police, the National Peace Committee, the Benin monarch and civil society groups paid off.
“These peace efforts commend themselves to future elections.
“Situation Room also commends INEC for introducing the COVID-19 protocols to address the public health concerns caused by the crisis of COVID-19 and urges a greater effort at enforcing the protocols ahead of future elections. ‘’he said
Nwankwo said that the administration of Edo election appeared to have been a marked improvement on previous elections, as INEC’s process appeared to operate smoothly.
He said that logistic issues of distribution of materials, deployment of staff and challenges in the voter’s register were significantly reduced, adding that security personnel acted professionally.
Nwankwo said that the issues of logistics and challenges of overbearing security presence was less of an issue in the Edo election.
He noted that the election showed that Nigeria could learn from previous setbacks in its electoral process and take steps toward achieving credible elections.
Nwankwo said that there was an improved use of smart card readers in the election, as they were widely deployed and utilised across the state.
He said that the voter turnout was low compared to number of collected voter cards registered for the election.
This, he said, may have been caused by the rhetoric of violence perpetrated by candidates.
He said that there might also have been a reduction in voter turnout due to the prevailing public health concern of COVID-19.
Nwankwo said that this was the first major election conducted in Nigeria since the outbreak of the pandemic, and the Situation Room acknowledged the safety tools provided.
He, however, said that the compliance with their use and general COVID-19 protocols were unsatisfactory as safety measures were haphazardly implemented in some areas and ignored in some, especially as it related to social distancing.
Nwankwo said the group wanted INEC and the Nigerian election stakeholders to ensure improved compliance with health protocols as provided by the electoral body and relevant health authorities, especially ahead of the Ondo election.