A planned campaign by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) against vote buying in next year’s elections may be hampered by the continued delay in approving the commission’s budget for the polls by the National Assembly.
The commission wants N143 billion for the conduct of the elections with voter education listed as a critical component of the preparation for the polls.
The National Assembly is currently on recess and it is not yet clear when it may resume to take a final decision on the budget.
However, INEC sources said yesterday that the commission’s planned voter education/enlightenment programme, especially the aspect on sensitising the populace against vote-buying, may be hampered by the delay in releasing funds.
The country’s next general elections are scheduled for February-March 2019, with the presidential and National Assembly elections slated for February 16.
According to INEC’s official working document, “2019 Election Project Plan Volume II,” thirty-four items are listed for execution under the voter education and enlightenment, with some already running since 2017.
While interface with traditional leaders, faith-based groups and other targeted groups ahead of the 2019 election has been planned for between October 1 and November 30, 2018, other activities expected to be carried out before the February 16, 2019 polls, include education of targeted groups such as civil servants, labour unions, professional associations, students, academic communities, media, political parties and so on.
There are also workshops for inter-agency committees on voter education providers, workshops for radio/TV station on voter education for 2019 elections , series of capacity building workshops and the production of jingles and print materials for voter education, amongst others.
Specific activities which ought to have begun on September 1 this year, include sensitisation of voters against vote-buying across various wards, local governments and states, and with the involvement of numerous mass groups and mass media in all the six geopolitical zones.
When contacted by The Nation on Saturday, INEC’s Director of Voter Education and Publicity, Oluwole Osaze-Uzi, tried to downplay anxieties.
He said: ”They have assured us of some progress; we are hopeful that everything will be resolved between the Presidency and the National Assembly very soon, so as to reverse the potential of adversely affecting preparations.
“Delaying passage (of INEC appropriations) will be delay in preparations but for the planning that does not require money, we have gone ahead to make arrangements.
“We cannot engage contractors now but due processes including advertising (for tenders) and things like that can go on; but we cannot formally engage them unless and until funds are released,” Oluwole Osaze-Uzi explained.
Speaking on the importance of voter education, the Chief Press Secretary to the Chairman of the Commission, Rotimi Oyekanmi, described it as one of the critical aspects of the democratic process.
He pointed out that it is one aspect the commission intends to leverage on in tackling the rising phenomenon of vote-buying.
He said, “Voter Education is one of the critical aspects of the democratic process; among other things, it is one of the tools the commission uses to enlighten the voters on how they can effectively participate in the electoral process.
“It is also used to educate the electorate on various electoral offences ; the Commission intends to leverage more on it to tackle the rising phenomenon of vote buying.”
He also added that the commission will continue to give voter education the needed priority.
The INEC chairman’s Chief Press Secretary (CPS) said the commission is determined to curb the menace, warning that in subsequent elections, perpetrators would be dealt with accordingly.
He added: ”In any case, vote-buying is not really new; we saw it in the First Republic and in subsequent electoral cycles.
“It comes in various shades and colours , but all are designed to achieve the same goal. The phenomenon is rising now because politicians have realized that it has become impossible to rig elections due to our strong processes; that is why they have resorted to buying votes.
“Vote-buying is an offence under Section 124 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) and the penalty is a maximum fine of N500, 000 or twelve months’ imprisonment or both.
“The Commission is deeply concerned about it and we have already taken some steps to address it; the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has been meeting with security chiefs to discuss steps to be taken to deal with the situation.”