Catholic Bishops under the auspices of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) have called on the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) to live above board as an independent and impartial umpire and ensure that their conduct in the electoral process is beyond reproach in the 2023 election.
The Catholic bishops’s call comes amidst calls for the removal of the resident electoral commissioner in Lagos State for declaring in an interview on national television that he would not give permanent voter cards to Lagos residents of South East origin, in apparent show of partiality in the presidentilal electoral process.
The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Most Rev. Lucius Iwejuru Ugorji, who made this call yesterday at the opening session of the 2023 First Plenary Assembly of the CBCN, with the theme: “Citizens Participation in Good Governance,” urged INEC officers to be punctual on election days and ensure that all the sensitive electoral materials are in place in time.
He also told them to ensure that the collation and transmission of the electoral results are done transparently and honestly.
“We applaud INEC for introducing the Bi-Modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) in our electoral process. We hope INEC will ensure that the BVAS machines are functional on election days in all the polling units across the country, even in the remotest wards, following the repeated assurances of its chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, in this regard.
“Let the fears in some quarters not be confirmed that the BVAS machines might be manipulated or pre-programmed to be functional in some polling units and dysfunctional in others. Any infraction by INEC staff on the use of the BVAS during the general elections should be reported to the appropriate quarters,” he said.
While speaking on the state of the nation, he said that insecurity has continued to haunt Nigeria and that the Boko Haram militia, Fulani herdsmen, bandits, and unknown gunmen have continued to unleash terror in different parts of the country.
“Nowhere seems safe: highways, homes, and even the sacred precincts of worshipping centers. Some of our Church personnel have been victims of abduction and arson. Our people have continued to live in a gloomy atmosphere of fear and groan with anguished hearts.
“Our collapsing national economy worsens the ugly situation. While the value of the Naira continues to decline, the cost of basic commodities, including food items, continues to soar, with serious effects on the lives and livelihoods of our people. The disastrous implementation of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) cash swap policy, which resulted in a cash crunch, has added to the ordeal, anger, and frustration of the masses,” he said.
The bishops said that the government seems overwhelmed by the situation, despite its claim that it is on top of the matter, but that all hope is not lost.
“The elections, if well conducted, can be a turning point in our political and economic history. We, therefore, urge all to play their roles maturely and creditably during the period of the general elections. Candidates vying for political offices should prove themselves to be decent, respectable, peaceful, and honest Nigerians.
“Rather than engage in mud-slinging, acrimony, arson, buying and selling of votes, threats, intimidation, and violence, they should focus on marketing their manifestoes as they campaign for votes. Political contests should never be perceived as battlefield encounters or “do or die” affairs.”
According to the bishops, any candidate prepared to shed blood or to spend huge sums of money to buy votes or to comprise INEC shows that he or she is seeking political office for pure self-aggrandizement.
“It stands to reason that no one, who wishes to render selfless service to the public for the common good, will spend huge sums of money to induce those he intends to serve unselfishly,” he said.
On its part, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Archbishop Daniel Okoh, disclosed that CAN intended to hold whoever emerges as the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria accountable for the promises made during the electioneering campaign period.