By Nathaniel Gana
A United Nations (UN) Needs Assessment Team, led by a Representative of the UN Secretary General, Mr. Serge Kubwiana was at the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC’s) headquarters in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory on 22nd January, to gather information on areas where the world body could be of assistance as the Commission prepares for the 2019 General Elections.
Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu who welcomed the development, outlined capacity building for the Commission’s staff and political parties, voter education and sensitization, inclusiveness – particularly for women, youths and persons living with disabilities – and electoral conflict mitigation as areas where the Commission would need support.
He described the Needs Assessment Mission as timely, coming on the heels of the release of the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the 2019 General Elections and the Election Project Plan (EPP).
He noted that the UN had, over the years, been providing critical support to the Commission in its effort to introduce and sustain reforms of the electoral system, through agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
While pointing out that the Commission was mindful of the enormous task of conducting elections in a country with the largest database in Africa, Prof. Yakubu also revealed some of the steps already taken by the Commission to consolidate democratic gains.
He said: “the Commission has continued to maintain and expand sustained engagements with stakeholders in the electoral process, through regular meetings with political parties, civil society organizations, security agencies, the media, marginalized groups such as women, youths and persons with special needs, as well as development partners”.
He continued: “over the last two electoral cycles (2010 -2015 and 2015-2019), the Commission has deliberately and purposefully embarked upon far-reaching reforms of the electoral system, in terms of changes in voting procedures and enhancing the security features of ballot papers, ballot boxes and result sheets.”
Additional measures undertaken include “the reorganization of the commission’s administrative structure; staff capacity building and professionalization; institutionalization of long-term planning processes; introduction of technology such as biometric registration and authentication processes (Permanent Voter Cards and Smart Card Readers), collation and results management as well as the tracking and monitoring of electoral activities”.
The INEC Chairman told the team to interact freely with the Commission’s staff and other stakeholders, such as the National Assembly and security agencies. He reiterated INEC’s commitment towards deepening democracy in Nigeria, through collaboration with development partners such as the United Nations.
Prof. Yakubu, who is also President of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC), the umbrella body of Election Management Bodies in the West Africa, used the opportunity to appreciate the global body’s support for democracy in the region.
In his remarks, Kubwiana, said the team was in Nigeria to share ideas and work with the Commission to identify areas of mutual cooperation for the benefit of democracy in the country.
According to him, the UN was interested in increased participation of citizens, especially women, youths and People Living with Disabilities (PLWDs) in the electoral process.
He affirmed that the team would meet with other stakeholders in order to have a robust understanding of the challenges and expectations, as the country prepares for the 2019 general elections.