Some communities in Bayelsa state have declared that rather than selling their votes to highest bidding politicians during the 2019 general elections, they would use the votes wisely to attract developments to their areas.
The declaration was made at a gender based civic and voters education forum organised recently in Southern Ijaw local government Council, Oruma in Ogbia and Yenagoa, all in Bayelsa state by Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, CEHRD with support from the Dutch Embassy in Nigeria. The community members comprising mainly of women from different communities in the three senatorial districts of the state said they have learnt their lessons from experience when they exchanged their votes with money but got nothing else from the politicians later in different political offices.
A woman who simply introduced herself as Madam Peace lamented that there was no government presence in her community, saying that the only time political leaders remembered them is at election period when they would come begging for votes.
Commending the organisation for the enlightenment programme, the women noted that people sell their votes as a result of ignorance caused by lack of voters and civic education. They wondered why the electoral umpire, INEC, does not incorporate voters’ education into their programme of activities to prepare the voting public on how to exercise their franchise reasonably.
However, David Vareba, Queen Agba and Marsha Nwanne, CEHRD’s project officers who facilitated the capacity-building forum explained that the training was undertaken to fill the gap created by the failure of the government to carry out voters’ education even before organizing elections. They noted that civic and voters’ education is very important for any democracy to thrive.
“The aim of this capacity building forum is to educate citizens such that they are actively involved in political governance. This involvement by the citizenry must be based on information, critical reasoning and the understanding and acceptance of their rights and responsibilities”, explained David Vareba. He added that how voters vote has significant impact on political outcomes, and can help determine matters of peace and war, life and death, prosperity and poverty. It was noted that wrong choices during elections have resulted to bad governance, conflicts, deprivation, hardship and underdevelopment among other vices.
During the trainings which took place at Oruma, Southern Ijaw and Yenagoa, community members were trained on how to become active citizens through active participation in governance, participation in elections, and performance of civic duties and defence of human rights among others.
At the end of the trainings, participants expressed gratitude to CEHRD and her partners for what they described as an eye opening educative and informative training. They promised to mobilise other community members towards effective participation in the 2019 election processes. They cautioned politicians to desist from trying to entice voters with money as that tactics would not help them during the 2019 elections. “we will vote for only those who would work for us”, they resolved.
Observers however wondered how the voters knew that votes were for money since nobody educated them. Elections have also been going on since 1999 with political parties mounting vigorous campaigns and National Orientation Agency (NOA) always appealing to voters to vote their consciences not tribe, religion or for money. Most community people have been voting in their community elections, town elections and chuch elections without doing so for money. A commentator said; ‘Voting for cash is a choice, not a result of ignorance’.