The Forum of Elders and Leaders in Nigeria has said that a number of unresolved issues in the country may pose serious challenges to the conduct of a free, fair and credible general elections in February 2019. In a statement issued yesterday and signed on behalf of the forum by Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Afenifere; Prof. Ango Abdulahi, Northern Elders’ Forum (NEF); Chief John Nnia Nwodo, Ohanaeze; Dr. Pogu Bitrus, Middle Belt Forum; and Chief E.K Clark, PANDEF, the elders and leaders said issues of funding, amendment of electoral act, reconvening of the National Assembly and vote-buying must be tackled before the general elections. On the funding of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the elections, the forum observed that approval and release of funds to INEC to organise the elections are tied up in disputes and bickering between the executive and legislative arms over levels and sources of funding.
“These disputes may be resolved at a period that will represent a major challenge for preparations by INEC. There are also issues related to funding the participation of security agencies in the elections that are yet to be addressed. “The Forum appeals to President Muhammadu Buhari and the leadership of the National Assembly to resolve all matters related to the funding of INEC without further rancour, in the national interest.”
The forum also said arguments over the final version of the amendment of the Electoral Act are wasteful and damaging to the prospects for the conduct of credible elections. “The Forum is aware that all matters related to the amendments have been resolved and is worried over exchanges that question the commitment of leaders to the national interest. “The Forum appeals to our leaders to demonstrate the highest levels of maturity and responsibility in concluding all matters related to the amendment of the Electoral Act.
The President should not withhold further assent now that the National Assembly is reported to have addressed his concerns.” The leaders also expressed concern on the argument over the closure of the National Assembly, saying, “The Forum is concerned that unhealthy partisan interests may threaten an orderly and responsible operation of the National Assembly when it reconvenes after its current recess. “Critical legislative activities, such as approval of the funding requirement of INEC and the Electoral Act are, therefore, at threat of smooth and orderly. “The Forum notes that the above mentioned legislative activities require very high levels of discipline and commitment to the nation’s interest for their proper and timely conclusion.”
It, therefore, appealed to all leaders on both arms of government to resist the temptation to put their partisan consideration above national interests in matters related to the orderly and responsible conduct of the National Assembly, especially at this critical time. “Nigerians are closely following these trends and will not tolerate untoward act by any politician who puts the forthcoming election in jeopardy in the name of partisan or personal advantages.” On vote buying, the Forum notes that the recent alarming and fast spread of vote buying at polling centres represents a very unfortunate and audacious assault on the electoral process.
“If this alarming practice is not dealt with decisively and comprehensively, there will be no hope that the 2019 elections will reflect the will of the people. “While we commend the decision by INEC that voters will no longer be allowed to use smartphones from the moment they collect their ballot papers and drop them in the boxes, we believe dealing with this matter at the voter’s level is not enough to curb this crime. We should go further to treat this serious infraction with all the sanctions it requires,” the leaders stated. The Forum appealed to all concerned, principally Mr. President, the National Assembly, INEC, security agencies, civil society organisations and the international community to collaborate and find immediate and effective solutions to this audacious threat.
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