With the incessant assault on voters right which has led to diminishing voter confidence in the electoral process and have affected turnout in the elections, it becomes imperative to mobilize public debate on voter suppression and its implications on our electoral process in Nigeria. In this vein, Yiaga Africa on Tuesday hosted key election stakeholders to a roundtable discussion on tackling voter suppression in Nigeria’s election.

Samson Itodo addressing journalists at the conversation on tackling voter suppression in Nigeria’s electionAccording to Executive Director of Yiaga Africa, Samson Itodo, the roundtable was convened to get stakeholders together to talk about voter suppression because it is becoming a recurring decimal in our elections where citizens are deprived of casting their votes in elections. Itodo said the current electoral legal framework lack definition of what voter suppression is all about and the implications, said the new amendment into the electoral act should capture it.

Itodo also  said the roundtable is to push the envelope in the discussions around voter suppression, and that the electoral reform provides an opportunity and to strengthen the legal framework that would prevent institution of voter suppression, as there are cases where state institutions whether the electoral commission or the security agencies intentionally deprive people of casting their votes.

Yiaga africa Director of Programs Cynthia Mbamalu expressing a view at the round table on voter suppression

According to him, “we are most confident that whatever recommendations come out of this roundtable will be adopted by these institutions believing that they are also committed and to improving our electoral process. We have seen demonstrable actions from different stakeholders mostly on the election. We have seen the proposed amendments, some of them, they will help to protect our laws, the engagements will continue, but citizens really need to speak out and demand reforms to our electoral system.”

He also expressed optimism that with the body language of stakeholders in the electoral process there is hope for the electoral process saying this will strengthen our democratic institutions to deliver on their constitutional mandates, safeguard the rights of voters. This roundtable is about the rights of voters, he said

Key stakeholders at the roundtable discussion on voter suppression

The conversation which had representatives of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Civil Society Organisations, Academics and international partners, the National Commissioner unearth series of issues that leads to voter suppression. Expressing concern over continued voter suppression and apathy in various elections, Itodo, said it has become imperative to address the disturbing situation, which has impeded the electoral process and emergence of political leaders of their choice.

“We saw this manifested in the 2019 as well in Kogi and Bayelsa elections where voters were denied their rights to cast their votes and we were witnesses to the fact that in recent elections, thugs have targeted specific local governments or polling units and destroying election materials thereby preventing people from casting their votes just in a bid to dilute the voting power of a particular geographical space or a particular group,” Itodo said.

Also speaking during the event, INEC National Commissioner on Registration and Election Review Committee, Professor Antonia Simbine called on all stakeholders  to join the fight against voter suppression saying  suppression ranges from inability to register, collect voter card, locate polling unit, violence in communities, insecurity, militarization of election and vote cancellation. The INEC National Commissioner said anything that will make one not to vote or for the vote not to be counted whether intentional or unintentional amount to voter suppression.

Prof Simbine speaking at the round table on voter suppression

According to Simbine previous elections has shown that the commission, more than ever before, must increase efforts towards improving the electoral process. She also said that “the people INEC is serving will just wait when there is improvement in the electoral process, they circumvent it,”.

“If the legal framework has gap where we can fill to ensure that vote is not suppress, this is a good time for this discussion so that it can be included in the Electoral Act Amendment,” Simbine said adding that INEC will do everything to ensure that Nigerians are satisfy with the process.

Lead Discussant at the conversation Professor Charles Ukeje also opined that voter suppression is continually supported by the convoluted judicial system in Nigeria saying voter education must be considered a priority if the country will get it right. Ukeje also raised the issue of security and their roles during elections saying the police answer to their principals in the state during elections rather than the electoral commission.

He said, If the police institution can understand that their job during the elections is constitutional, they would have been taking order from INEC than their boss who may have been influenced by the party in charge.

Lead discussant Prof Ukeje speaking during the conversation on voter suppression

He also urged judiciary should also investigate issues of voter suppression quizzing if judicial decision can void the voice of the people. “We have seen evidences of impunity in the justice system and the security agencies”, he said.

Mr Paul James, Programme Manager, Elections, YIAGA Africa said this while presenting Watching The Vote data on vote cancellation during the 2019 Presidential Elections also revealed that votes cancellation was four times higher than that of 2015 election.

He said, for the 2019 general elections, YIAGA Africa data revealed possible incidents of vote suppression citing  the percentage of cancelled ballots in some states with 60,000 or more cancelled ballots in Rivers, Nasarawa, Akwa-Ibom, Cross River, Plateau, Kogi, Benue and Kaduna States.