REMARKS BY THE CHAIRMAN, INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION (INEC), PROFESSOR MAHMOOD YAKUBU, AT THE 67TH WORLD CONGRESS OF THE INTERNATIONAL PRESS INSTITUTUTE (IPI) HELD AT THE CONGRESS HALL, NICON HILTON HOTEL, ABUJA, FRIDAY 22ND JUNE 2018
The Chair of IPI
Other officials (National and International)
Ladies and Gentlemen
Let me begin by expressing my appreciation to IPI for the opportunity to speak on the media and elections. This is especially significant coming less than a year to the next general elections in Nigeria which, as usual, will be the focus of intense media attention nationally and internationally. I am grateful to IPI for the opportunity to address an international audience on our preparations for the election which will be different from all previous elections in many respects.
i. The 2019 general elections will involve the largest number of registered voters our history. We are currently inching closer to 80 million voters although the nationwide voter registration exercise is ongoing. The figure will certainly rise above 80 million registered voters.
ii. The largest number of political parties of political parties will field candidates in the election. There are 68 political parties at present. However, with 138 applications from associations seeking registration as political parties, the number is set to rise higher. The political parties will contest in elections into 1,558 National, State as well as Local Constituencies in the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja).
iii. From the statistics of new voter registration nationwide, youths will play a far greater role in the election and processes thereof in 2019 than in previous elections.
iv. There is also increasing determination by marginalised groups such as women, youths and Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) for greater participation than ever before and we are working with these groups to facilitate their full participation in the electoral process.
Therefore, how is the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) planning for the elections?
Clearly, the 2019 general election is the most deliberately well-planned election in Nigeria so far. We have formulated, validated and published the Strategic Plan (2016-2021), the Strategic Programme of Action and the Election Project Plan with the full participation of all stakeholders and support from the development partners.
Similarly, election dates are no longer matters of conjecture. On 9th January 2018, we published the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2019 general elections over a year in advance. We did so to engender certainty in our electoral calendar and allow for proper planning by the Electoral Commission, political parties, civil society organisations (CSOs), the media, security agencies and the business community (hoteliers, transporters etc.).
Going forward, we have established the principle that our elections will be held on the third Saturday of the month of February of the election year, beginning with national elections (Presidential and National Assembly), followed two weeks later by state elections (Governorship and State Assembly). Based on this principle, in 2019 the national elections will hold on Saturday 16th February while state elections will hold on Saturday 2nd March. We have already started the countdown to the elections. It is exactly 238 days to the opening of polling units at 8am on Saturday 16th February 2019.
As we are planning, we are also test running our plans. We have been fortunate to have conducted more off-season elections than any Commission in the history of our democracy: re-run elections (by court order following successful litigations), bye-elections and end-of-tenure elections. So far, we have conducted elections into 180 constituencies, the last one about three weeks ago (Ibarapa East State Constituency in Oyo State) and the next one in three weeks (Ekiti Governorship election scheduled for 14th July 2019). Each of the elections we have conducted so far is a remarkable improvement on the previous one in terms of preparations and outcome, ranging from the deployment of personnel, functionality of technology and the speedy collation, transmission and declaration of results. There is also a remarkable reduction in pre- and post-election litigations challenging the outcome of the elections. Most remarkably, elections are won and lost irrespective of incumbency at State level. I want to assure this Congress that the will of the Nigerian voter will continue to prevail. Nothing but the votes cast by citizens will determine the outcome of elections.
Turning to the use of technology in elections, we shall continue to deepen its deployment until such a time when we can fully automate the entire process. There will be no electronic balloting in 2019 but technology is already being used in many aspects of the processes. Electronic voting should be the ultimate step in a chain involving five processes: electronic voter register, accreditation, balloting, collation and transmission of result. At present, the Commission has a more robust voter register than at any time in our history. Accreditation of voters (and storage of accreditation data) is also electronic while we are piloting the electronic collation and transmission of results. What remains is to bring these processes into a voting machine to complete the chain. I am confident that full automation of our electoral processes is only a matter of a short period of time.
To enhance our transparency, we have been working very closely with stakeholders, including the media. At the moment, INEC has accredited correspondents from 85 media organisations to cover our activities all-year round. The number is growing and our doors remain open to all. We hold regular quarterly meetings with the media and other stakeholders.
I have no doubt that the 2019 general elections will be the most widely covered event in Nigeria. The Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON) has regularly conducted election debates involving candidates at national level. A number of media organisations have given similar opportunities to candidates at State level, including off-season Governorship elections, on their own initiatives. This is most commendable. We have also been approached by a number of television stations in Nigeria requesting for partnership in setting up facilities for live coverage of our activities from the INEC Headquarters in the run-up to the 2019 general elections. At least one international broadcast organisation has also recently approached us with a similar proposal. We welcome this development and for this reason, we are refurbishing our media centre, including two editorial suites for the convenience of the media.
I want to assure this World Congress that INEC is committed to credible elections. On this note, I wish to extend our early invitation to especially the international media that require longer time and logistics to prepare that you are welcome to cover our 2019 general elections. We believe the forthcoming elections will further underscore the maturity of our electoral democracy after the globally acknowledged success of the 2015 general elections.
The rule of law cannot thrive without free speech. There cannot be free speech without free press. There cannot be free press without democracy. There cannot be genuine democracy without credible elections. The relationship between an Election Management Body such as INEC and the IPI is therefore organic.
May God bless IPI and thank you for the opportunity to speak.