The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on Thursday urged religious leaders to sensitise their followers to shun any form of violence as the governorship elections draw close in Edo.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Mr John Alalibo, made the call during a one-day stakeholders’ sensitisation meeting in Benin.
He noted that the commission’s efforts at ensuring free and credible elections on Sept.19, might suffer a setback if religious leaders failed to douse the rising tension.
According to him, threats of violence coupled with COVID-19 pandemic in the state can lead to voter apathy in the forthcoming elections should religious leaders fail to take responsibility as relevant stakeholders before, during and after the election.
“It is on this light that I am appealing to you the religious leaders to help allay the fears of the voters.
“The commission has put in place seamless processes that will enable the voter to vote without contracting COVID-19 if they follow the preventive measures and guidelines properly.
“The commission is aware that some of you are role models and opinion leaders. Therefore, talking to you translates to talking to thousands of prospective voters in the forthcoming elections,” he said.
According to Alalibo, 14 political parties are contesting the elections, stressing that the use of face mask is mandatory for all registered voters.
The REC assured the religious leaders that the commission would provide a level playing ground for all political parties fielding candidates in the elections, saying that it had no unholy alliance with any political party to rig the polls.
“They should concern themselves with canvassing for votes because INEC will not award vote to any political party or candidate.
“It is the number of vote scored that will be awarded them,” he added.
However, Alhaji Suleiman Ojo, during question and answer session stressed the need for the commission to remain committed to delivering on its mandate of conducting free, fair, credible and transparent poll.
Ojo, former Deputy Chairman, Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Edo chapter, recalled that the role of the commission in the previous elections was not entirely commendable.
He said that the conduct of some Electoral Officers in the previous elections left much to be desired.
Responding, the INEC, Administrative Secretary, Mr Etim Umoh, dismissed such allegations against the EOs, saying that politicians were in the habit of making unfounded allegations if the EOs declined to play ball.
Umoh said, “ if you find any EO wanting in any way, please come with evidence. I can assure you that strict actions will be taken against that person.
“The commission has its own internal mechanism for dealing with such issues,” he said.
The participants urged INEC to ensure that polling materials were deployed to their various locations on time and the voting also done in time.