Rights activist, Okoye cautions monarchs, others over support for presidential candidates

CONSTITUTIONAL lawyer and human rights activist, Mr. Festus Okoye, has cautioned traditional rulers, religious clerics and other community leaders to refrain from giving open and tacit support to any of the presidential candidates vying for the presidency in the general elections, saying that doing so may promote violence and political crisis.

   Okoye, who was also a member of the defunct Justice Mohammed Uwais Electoral Panel spoke yesterday at a press conference organised by Human Rights Monitor (HRM) in collaboration with other civil society groups, saying that, “traditional rulers and other community leaders should be careful about their utterances and positions when political parties and their candidates pay courtesy calls on them.”

   Disturbed by the apparent endorsement of presidential candidates by some of the prominent royal fathers, Okoye argued that, “they must realize that they have responsibility to all members of their communities irrespective of political affiliation.”

   He explained that, “identifying with and campaigning for a political party erodes their authority and compromises their mediatory role in cases of dispute and other electoral challenges.”

   Besides, the civil rights activist, who is also the Executive Director, HRM remarked that, “Political parties and their candidates must strictly observe and comply with the provisions of section 99(3) of the Electoral Act, 2010 (as amended) which prohibits the use of places designated for religious worship, police station, and public offices for purposes of political campaigns, rallies and processions; or to promote, propagate or attack political parties, candidates or their programmes or ideologies.”

   According to him, “Religious leaders must also cease the present unacceptable behaviour of donating their platforms to political parties and or making futuristic predictions on the party that may likely win the presidential elections. Dabbling into the arena of partisan politics erodes the moral authority of religious leaders and is a potential threat to violence-free elections.”

   Rather, he explained that, “faith-based organisations, groups and their leaders should empower their members with information relating to the voting process,” adding that, “they should encourage their members to register for elections, collect their cards, and vote during the elections.”

   Speaking on the Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) and the card readers INEC proposes to deploy during the general elections, Okoye noted that, “as you are already aware, the distribution of the Permanent Voters Cards is generating controversy across the country,” stressing that, “with less than a month to the first set of elections, there is a possibility that many voters may not succeed in collecting their PVCs.”

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