Some politicians attempt to influence voting ahead of the 2023 general elections in many ways. They include asking voters to submit their Permanent Voters’ Cards, bank accounts, bank verification numbers, and even photographs. Against this background, the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka, under its Justice, Development and Peace Commission, recently kick-started sensitisation programmes to check such tendencies, and to build voting consciousness in electorate. Ben Aroh takes a look at the impacts of such.
Between December 3, 2022 and February 4th, 2023, the Catholic Diocese of Nsukka would have toured the seven local government areas in Enugu North senatorial zone to sensitise the electorate on dangers of selling their votes, and to fully participate in the 2023 general elections. Contestants are to appear at selected venues on different days to interact with electorate. The local government areas are Udenu, Isi-Uzo, Uzo-Uwani, Nsukka, Igboeze South, Igboeze North and Igbo-Etiti. The venues of the interactive sessions are designated Catholic churches. Candidates involved are those of state House of Assembly, House of Representatives, Senate and governorship.
Justification of the Initiative
The head of the public enlightenment unit of Justice, Development and Peace Commission, Catholic Diocese of Nsukka, Rev Fr Dr Emeka Ngwoke, said the initiative is to fight vote-buying, and to increase the voting consciousness of the electorate. In his words, “The power lies in the Permanent Voters’ Cards. When you sell your PVCs or give out the codes, you are simply saying that your interest can be ignored. It will certainly be ignored. Your most treasured possession in a democracy is the right to vote. Politicians are afraid of the votes. When votes are cast against them, they are in danger.
“It means a politician will do anything to get access to votes. Any group of people that do not want to be sidelined actively must be politically active. The opportunities come once in four years to make a stake that you have an input in public decisions. Political enlightenment in the diocese is a big business. A populace that is ignorant about how a society functions is dangerous. Some of us wear the barge of political apathy as honour. We should have time for politics.”
Our correspodent reports that JDPC is a structural response to the Second Vatican Council appealing for the church’s involvement in the affairs and development of the society. It is geared toward a positive change in the human condition, such as poverty, religious bigotry, election malpractices, diseases and injustice.
Position of Political Parties/Contestants
Barr Hyginus Ugwu, the House of Representatives candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance for Udenu/Igboeze North Federal Constituency in the 2023 general elections, commended the initiative, adding however that the sincerity of the interactions will determine the objectivity of the church in delving into politics.
According to him, “The outcome will determine the credibility of the meetings. If all the candidates are given a level playing field, the initiative is excellent. The failure of the Christian Association of Nigeria to do the right thing towards credible elections is what Catholic Diocese of Nsukka has come to fill the void. One would suspect insincerity when opinions of the electorate are being aggregated for ulterior motives.
“But I want the church to focus more on sensitising the electorate to resist vote-buying and manipulations. If church can talk to their members and let them know that vote-buying is not good, it is okay. Not only the Catholic Church, other faith-based organisations and groups can emulate it. The requests for NINs, BVNs, PVCs, account numbers and so on are an emerging e-vote-buying peculiar to Nigeria.”
Labour Party’s public relations officer, Enugu State, Ibuchukwu Ezike, said, “I thank the Catholic Church of Nsukka Diocese. It is a brilliant programme. But candidates should also submit their written manifestoes for references in future. Most politicians can talk, but immediately they win, it becomes a case of a monkey given water with a cup.
“We hardly ever have access to them after the elections until another four years. The church should also organise post-election town-hall meetings for the successful ones to assess their performances. Talking is absolutely different from action.”
For the APC state public relations officer, Mr Charles Solo-Ako, “It is a laudable initiative, and will help in ensuring credible elections in 2023.”
Position of the Law
Barr Ken Ikeh is a constitutional lawyer. In his view, “The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria forbids organizations that are not registered as political parties from behaving as if they are one. They include canvassing for votes, or behaving in a manner as if they have capacities to collect group votes for an individual.
“If they say they are sensitizing voters to ensure that there is no PVC transaction, that one will exonerate them. But behaving as if they are political parties to aggregate voters in the interest of a candidate is against the rule. Yes they invite candidates to interface with the electorate. Such invitations are optional. Everybody is not Catholic. What the diocese is doing has a limited impact. They are free to do what they are doing, but if someone feels otherwise, the person can go to court to seek injunction for its stoppage.”
The Position of INEC
The spokesman of INEC in Enugu State, Mr Pius Eze, told THE WHISTLER that the electoral body is not aware of such sensitization. According to him, “We are not aware of that. They are doing it out of their own volition to sensitise electorate. It might be a way they think they can contribute to the success of the forthcoming elections.”
A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress in Enugu, Chief Albert Okpe, said the church is doing a good job by sensitizing the electorate. Quoting him, “What you call vote-buying is simply a strategy of committing the electorate. Nobody is buying their votes. What we do is to lobby them. In the past, you give electorate food items and physical cash, among others, on the day of the elections. But the new Electoral Law forbids such. Presently, it is going digital.
“We collect phone numbers of the electorate and PVC data to be sure that such persons actually registered. Around the elections, they could easily be reached out to, and if the discussion goes on well, their accounts could be credited. It cuts across parties, and nothing is wrong with that.”
Views of Security Expert, Sociologist
Mr Cajetan Nnaji, a criminologist, said the measure is to beat security operatives who might oppose open-vote canvassing on the election day. What politicians are adopting is e-lobbying. They will transfer funds to electorate, believing that they would vote for them. What is glaring is that most political parties do that. So, it will become who does more, and who appeals to electorate’s consciences the more. I doubt if INEC envisaged this level of vote influencing. And because security operatives at election venues wouldn’t demand banking transactions of electorate, the strategy may do the magic.”
A sociologist, Mr Ifeanyi Ugwuoke, said, “It shows that politicians are desperate, and this is victory for democracy. We need more sensitization, which the Catholic Church has started. The electorate’s consciences will play a role because they may vote for highest bidders. Some can also collect such money and choose to vote otherwise, which amounts to moral burden. Let government agencies, pressure groups, religious organizations step up voter education. The truth is that politicians have used poverty as a political weapon. The electorate are vulnerable. What the church is doing is civic. Henceforth, let election matters be included in our primary and secondary school curriculums.”
An electorate at Ogrute in Igboeze North LGA of the state, James Apeh, said, “Many voters are yet to decide who to vote for. The political party on the lips of many is Labour, but anything can happen in the last minute. That is why other political parties now adopt this e-voting transaction.”
For Ifeoma Ozioko, “I will collect the money, but I know who to vote for. That one is personal. Nobody asked me of my BVN, it is only my bank account details, which I gave them. Nothing is wrong with that. The money they will share is what they looted from us.”
This investigative publication is supported by Civic Media Lab