The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has raised the alarm over some politicians allegedly taking advantage of vulnerable persons in the North, especially women, to buy their permanent voter cards (PVCs).
The NEF’s Director of Publicity and Advocacy, Dr. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, made a live appearance on Channels Television’s Politics Today on Friday, where he gave more insight into the Forum’s recent findings on the alleged proliferation of vote suppression in the region.
“It appears that the targeting is real. They target the most vulnerable, which is women. In the North, more women vote than men. More women have an interest in election activities, and on voting days, a lot more women come out to vote. But the economy makes them more vulnerable.
“So, it’s a targeted, conscious and deliberate effort to reduce each other’s support. People look at areas where they are strong and where the opposition is strong. And what they do is go into places where particularly the opposition is strong and they buy off PVCs.
“I have to say, it’s not just taking place in the North but a huge part of it is captialising on the poverty, particularly of women, and people are being separated from their voter cards,” he said.
Baba-Ahmed however stated that the investigation by the Forum did not indict anyone in particular.
“We were not able to establish a specific partisan bent on this. There are huge numbers of people involved in this,” he said.
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The NEF spokesman denounced the selling of PVCs for a pittance, saying the nation is in need of leadership that can rescue its citizens from the economic and security circumstances.
“In the North, which is where we did a lot of this investigation, huge numbers of women, especially, are being made to part with their PVCs, some for a little bit of money, N1,000, N2,000, others for some money and a promise that they would be processed for some kind of welfare scheme, and it’s going on on a very large scale, worrying enough for us to say we need to speak up.
“We understand that some people would rather part with their cards and get N2,000 because there’s a lot of apathy, anger, and frustration, and people have very low faith that the democratic process will turn around and make their lives more secure, more comfortable economically, give their children hope.
“In the North, in particular, we have paid a huge price in the last seven years under this administration. We’re very worried about it because if it is not arrested, potentially a huge number of people clearly, particularly from the North, which is where we did our investigation, are going to be disenfranchised.
“People would have gone through the rigours of voting, overcome scepticism, hostility. We knew what we went through convincing northerners to go and register this time so we succeeded.
“The North has the majority of voters and we’re looking forward to 2023 when every Nigerian would vote, hopefully for a major change and shift in the political situation of the country. And to have people just sitting at home because somebody had bought their cards, they can’t use, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
“The person who has sold the card can’t use it either. It’s called voter suppression. We’ve seen it somewhere else; we know it’s practised in many other countries using different tactics and strategies but it’s a very worrying phenomenon,” he said.
Arrest, Prosecute Culprits
Speaking on punitive action against perpetrators of voter suppression, Baba-Ahmed called on security agencies to uphold the democratic process by arresting and prosecuting those accused.
“INEC is helpless. INEC cannot, on its own, arrest people involved in this practice. So, security agencies need intelligence. If people know this thing is going on, they should tell the police and SSS. And they do have a role.
“If we know this, and we’re just ordinary civilians – if we know this and people are telling us this, showing us evidence, showing us women who have had to part with their cards, young people and adults, the obviously security agencies can find out what’s going on and, for goodness’ sake, prosecute people.
“Let us see people being prosecuted. These are crimes; under the Electoral Act, it’s a crime to interfere in the electoral process. Voter suppression and vote-buying are the same thing.
“You take away somebody’s card and give him money or you go to the polling point and you give somebody money and you tell him, ‘Vote this person,’ right there in front of everybody, those are crimes. People should be arrested,” he said.