U.S. envoy’s admonition on vote-buying

The report credited to the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Stuart Symington, to the effect that Nigerians should reject vote-buying and exercise their franchise during the forthcoming general elections and ensure that their votes count is not only timely but also germane.

The admonition is an ample demonstration of the goodwill of Nigeria’s development partners at ensuring that the forthcoming general elections in the country meet the benchmark of the comity of nations – free, fair, and credible. Symington, in a broadcast published on the official Twitter handle of the U.S. on Tuesday, insisted that the elections must be free, fair, and credible. While urging a level playing field for candidates of political parties, he said Nigerians must know their rights and make an impact by voting.

He appealed to Nigerians not to allow themselves to be influenced by anyone during the elections. Symington said the elections are a remarkable opportunity for all Nigerians to come together and for every citizen to express their will. Symington expressed the hope that the 2019 elections would be better than the 2015 elections.

“What the United States hopes to see in your elections this year 2019 are elections that are free, fair, credible and, above all, transparent. In this process, I know one thing: it is absolutely important for the citizens of Nigeria to personally take part, beginning right now by knowing what your rights are. On election day, you won’t have an effect unless you vote.

It’s important that you work together to make sure that your votes are counted. “As we get ready for your elections, one of the most important things is that there is a level playing field, meaning that no officials, no security forces, no electoral officials, no politicians seek to influence you in a way that is not consistent with the Nigerian law.

 “Elections are only one part of the democratic process. The words and the actions that happen in these final days and all the work of government afterwards, are as important to democracy as the elections themselves. “So, in a nutshell, know your rights.

Two, vote and exercise them. Three, if you work for the government or for a party, make sure you remember that it is your individual responsibility to act consistent with the laws. “And remember that elections are only one part of democracy.

And on this level playing field, it is incredibly important that there has to be a path for the future for every Nigerian. Whatever your faith or language or where you come from, finding your path forward together is the heart of democracy; it’s the heart of freedom.

 It’s the hope for free enterprise and free people. And it’s Nigeria’s future.” Symington’s remarks are coming on the heels of similar entreaties by the Head of the European Union and the Economic Community of West African States’ delegation to Nigeria on elections, Ketil Karlsen. Karlsen had said vote-buying is a criminal act that is undermining democracy and should be taken seriously.

 “Having a kind of ‘who is the highest bidder’ approach to politics will not bring Nigeria any good. It will not lead to a stronger reflection of the will of the people and it will not lead to better solutions for a vast majority of Nigerians because they would not enjoy the right dividends of democracy. Now, we really encourage everyone to look at how that can be avoided. And something has to be done quickly about it (vote buying).

 “But also, we all know it’s a matter of building the right political culture amongst the politicians themselves and also among the electorate. It’s about participating in free and fair elections starting with a reflection of your own role as a voter.

If you sell your vote and let other people buy your vote, you sell a piece of yourself. You sell your own integrity; you sell your own independence and influence, and really, that should not be up for sale”, the envoy said.

There is no doubt that vote-buying constitutes one of the major impediments to the conduct of a free, fair, credible, and acceptable election in Nigeria. Stemming from this reality, many stakeholders in the Nigeria project have advocated strategies to curb the dangerous phenomenon.

 These strategies include creating polling centres in public places such as schools where will be classrooms used for voting, the restriction on mobile telephones, voter education and enlightenment, among others.

Although the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has put in place certain mechanism, including the training of electoral personnel and some regulatory frameworks, to guide against vote-buying in the forthcoming elections, it is expedient to advise the electoral umpire not to leave anything to chance in confronting the monster of votebuying.

This is inevitable if the February 16 Presidential and National Assembly and March 2 Governorship and State Assembly elections are to be devoid of the vote-buying menace.

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