By Gift Olivia Samuel, The Sight News
ABUJA: Following reported cases of underage voting in the last February 23, 2019 elections, Connected Development (CODE), has kicked against the act, emphasizing that it is a violation of the Nigerian constitution.
This is just as it called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), to curb the issue which it said, ‘serves as an indictment’ on the credibility of election process.
Making the disclosure on Thursday in Abuja while presenting the Final Report on the Nigerian 2019 Presidential Election that held 23 February 2019, the Head of Mission, CODE Election Observation team, Hamzat Lawal, stated that underage voting is a threat to democracy.
“Underage voting is a violation of the Nigerian constitution and it is prevalent in some regions of the country. INEC must work to curb this issue as it serves as an indictment on the credibility of election process and ultimately a threat to our democracy”, he said.
Lawal, noted that the aim of the report is to recount findings by the tech election observation platform ‘Uzabe’ mapping tool, to national stakeholders, highlight recommendations which CODE believes can impact on the improvement of a more credible electoral process in Nigeria in the future.
According to him, “Uzabe received over 3,887 reports from on-the-ground observers and online social sentiment analysts. From these reports, Uzabe established about 453 election incidents across 34 States of the Federation and the FCT.
“Uzabe recorded issues of electoral violence, voter suppression, security personnel and party agents influencing ballots of voters, vote-buying, underage voting and destruction of voting materials in Lagos, Bayelsa, Rivers, Kogi, Taraba, Bauchi, Kebbi, Borno and Yobe, leading to death of civilians”, he said.
On the security issues, he noted that security remains a prevalent challenge confronting the nation’s growth;adding that electorates should not have to die or lose loved ones at the cost of participating in the electoral process.
“CODE strongly condemns election-based violence which resulted in the burning of thumb-printed ballot papers in Isolo local government area in Lagos, killing of a young voter at a polling unit in Dekina Local Government, Kogi State; death of two persons in Nembe, Bayelsa, death of 16 persons in Rivers and injuries of citizens”, he remarked.
Speaking on the cancellation of over one million votes at the just concluded elections, he called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and political parties to do better in educating voters on the voting process.
On his part, CODE Situation Room Assistant, Mukhtar Halilu, noted that cases of underage voting were noticed in Takum local government in Taraba and Tarauni local government in Kano state.
He further stressed that INEC was aware of the situation and cannot claim ignorance.
“Under age voting comes from Takum local government polling unit 16, so what we did was to verify. INEC would say they are not aware of it, but we are in partnership with the police, military and the INEC and everything we were doing on the platform reflects on their platform too, so they are aware of it.
“We recorded three cases from Kano in Tarauni local government, polling unit 13, Tarauni Primary school. So, what really happened, we did the report and got a feedback that some of the children were helping their mum but after verification, it was noticed that a child was holding a ballot paper which led to us reporting the issue”, he said.
CODE further recommended that INEC’s complete autonomy must be strengthened to ensure it provides more effective and objective electoral process, adding that they seek to see an INEC that is decentralised to avoid logistics and operational issues.
The group, also called on appropriate authorities to investigate all allegations of violence and cases of violent acts, as well as vandalism and destruction of election materials and electorates’ properties, in accordance with the rule of law, and perpetrators held legally responsible.
Furthermore, CODE called on opposition parties and other stakeholders to act responsibly, to pursue peaceful and legal resolution of their grievances and to uphold the integrity of the political and electoral process.