By Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi
4th February 2018
The desire for strong, effective and legitimate democratic institutions in Nigeria is the basis for the European Union’s enduring interest in the country, the bloc’s Ambassador, Mr. Ketil Karlsen has said.
Speaking at the European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) project launch held in Abuja on 1st February, Karlsen said all objectives of the new initiative were anchored on the federal government’s priorities, while also building on the recommendations of the EU Election Observation Mission which visited the country in 2015, followed by another visit led by Mr. Santiago Fisas, a member of the European Parliament last October.
Karlsen’s revelation came just as the Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu also disclosed that for 2019, elections would be conducted into one presidential constituency, 29 governorship constituencies, 360 federal constituencies, 109 senatorial districts, 360 federal constituencies and 991 state constituencies, totaling 1,558 across the country. Besides, he said since the tenure of the Federal Capital Territory’s (FCT) Area Councils would also expire in 2019, elections into its 68 constituencies would be combined with the general elections.
Prof. Yakubu also stated: “These elections will be conducted in 120,000 Polling Units and 8, 809 electoral wards. We have 74 million registered voters as at today (February 1), but we are already inching close to the million mark for new registrants, registered in the last three weeks and we are going to continue with the registration as provided by the Electoral Act until close to the election.”
The EU Ambassador averred that since the country’s return to civilian rule in 1999, the EU had consistently identified with and supported democratic institutions, key stakeholders and had so far committed more than 100 Euros to supporting various institutions in the country.
He said: “At the EU, we have a long term commitment to democracy. We need to continue to give our utmost attention to nourishing democracy. We have, since returning to democracy in 1999 consistently supported institution building and engagement of all the key stakeholders, to the extent that as of today, we have provided 26.5 million Euros. We have altogether, since 1999, provided Nigeria with more than 100 million Euros and that translates to around N44 billion at the current rate.”
He explained further: “So today, we support the improved quality of the electoral administration. We support the National Assembly and their work on legislation. We support the critical roles of the political parties in the country and internal party democracy should and must be part of that support. We support the fair and ethical coverage of electoral processes by the media. And last, but not the least, we support the roles of youth, women and some marginalized citizens. And I had a wonderful message this morning from the Albino Foundation that they are finding support for their participation in the electoral processes in Africa for the first time through this programme.
“We understand by the design of this programme that the chain is never stronger than its weakest link and it is vital to have the participation of all the different stakeholders, not operating in silos, but reaching out to each other so that we would see a re-doubled impact on democracy and consolidation in the country.”
Ketil said the secret behind the EU’s various successful interventions in Nigeria was that they had been building on national ownership and leadership. He commended INEC for conducting more than 170 elections since the 2015 general elections, acknowledging that such a huge task could not have been an easy one. “I am sure,” he observed, “that there are Election Commissions from many European countries that will shiver if not crumble with such enormous challenges ahead of them. So, we see consistent progress in terms of Nigerians being able to manage these processes and to the extent that it is our hope that they would provide not only the leadership within the Nigerian borders, but as increasingly been the case, beyond the Nigerian borders, on the African continent and on the world stage.”
He pledged that the EU would continue to support the robust training of stakeholders, a strong collation and transmission system, internal party democracy, promotion of women participation, securing an apolitical role for the security forces with the main political actors giving their commitment to minimum guarantees ahead of the elections and more transparency in the funding of the political parties and political campaigns.
The INEC Chairman said there were a total of 68 political parties in the country at the moment, with another 100 applications from various associations seeking registration as political parties already at different stages of documentation.
His words: “And there is a proposal from the National Assembly for independent candidacy. Once that happens, you can imagine the size of the ballot paper. And then, of course, we have challenges with the terrain, logistics, security and the management of elections generally. We will continue to do our best, but we can’t succeed without your (EU) support. We are not conducting elections for ourselves. INEC is not a political party. We are conducting elections on behalf of all and on behalf of democracy. So, your support is very, very critical.
“The second dimension of our work is to support other Electoral Commissions within the sub-region to also conduct credible elections. As the Vice President of ECES (European Centre for Electoral Support) said, I am also holding the Presidency of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC). The 2015 general election in Nigerian is really a turning point, not just for Nigeria, but also for Africa. And we have been receiving a number of delegations from so many countries in Africa, asking to come and study or understudy Nigeria’s INEC. The Cameroonians came not too long ago. What they wanted from us is how to conduct a biometric voter registration. We have supported the Sierra-Leoneans of late. The Liberians, in the last general election, it was the work of INEC Technical Team that actually cleaned up their Voter Register, leading to the successful conclusion of the second round of their presidential election.
“Also, the Somalis are coming. They haven’t conducted elections since the 1960s. But there is a brave woman, one of the bravest women on the continent, she lost her husband to the struggle in Somalia but returned to the country to accept to serve as the chairperson of the Electoral Commission. They want to come, not only to understudy INEC in terms of the technical processes, but also to participate in some of our Commission meetings.
“We also received a request from the Sudanese to come and understudy the processes of party registration because they are also trying to open up the democratic space in Sudan. And it is in this context that the statement made by the Vice President of ECES comes in handy. ECES is supporting INEC and ECONEC to organize a major continental discussion. It’s going to hold in Abuja in April, involving all the electoral commissions in the West and Southern African sub-regions. I hope ECES will also offer a helping hand to bring in the Somalis and the Sudanese, so that they too can benefit from the interactions.”
The INEC Chairman assured Nigerians: “I want to seize this opportunity to assure all present here and all Nigerians that the 2015 election was a watershed in the history of our elections, but our commitment is that the 2019 general election is going to be better than the 2015 general election.”
The EU-SDG is made up of five components, which include: support to INEC, the National Assembly, political parties, media and civil society organisations. Each component is tied to specific objectives aimed at sustaining democracy and ensuring the conduct of free, fair and credible elections.