31st October, 2017.
By Nathaniel Gana
On-going preparations by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to ensure a successful 2019 general elections received a major boost recently, when the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) unveiled a package designed to help the Commission in its work.
Leading a five-man delegation on a pre-Needs Assessment visit to the Commission, the world body’s Resident Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr. Edward Kallon disclosed the good tidings and invited the Commission to take advantage of the package as quickly as possible.
Kallon, a Sierra-Leonean, who assumed duties on 15th December 2016 and has so far visited 16 states to have a “practical appreciation” of Nigeria’s six geo – political zones, also confessed that he embarked on a self-imposed marathon to enable him quickly understand the country’s geo-politics and developmental challenges.
With over 28 years experience within the UN system, Kallon described himself as “a brother from the (West African) region”, keen on supporting the democratic path of the Nigerian people and government.
“The purpose of my visit,” he began, “is to discuss three critical issues. One is the United Nations Needs Assessment Mission to Nigeria, its tentative timing and an expansion of the scope of the Nigerian Democratic Empowerment Project, which has been implemented since January 2017.”
On the other hand, Kallon averred that the INEC Chairman’s office was specifically of immense importance to the UN and its goals. His words: “Your Excellency, you are heading one of the most critical elements of the 2030 Global Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, and also the Africa Agenda 2063. The critical goals that relate to your important office here is Goal Number 16 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which focuses on governance, inclusion, participation, rights and security. If countries fail on Goal 16, any ambition to achieve the other goals will not be possible. So, you are right at the centre of the development trajectory of this country.”
He continued: “The SDG 16 is therefore an end in itself and a crucial part of delivering development that is sustainable in the country. Goal 16 rests on the assumption that the ultimate democracy dividend is the empowerment of citizens to determine their ultimate goals and make choices that are respected by the government and other stakeholders, in line with democratic rules and procedures. This is also the main theory of change for the UNDP Nigerian Empowerment Democratic Project.
“One of the key objectives is the Needs Assessment Mission. I just returned from the UN General Assembly and during that period, I was able to meet with the UN Electoral Assistance Division in New York, which indicated it could consider additional support to INEC and other electoral stakeholders in Nigeria, but this will be dependent on the Needs Assessment Mission. The UN Electoral Assistance is usually based on this Needs Assessment. The Report of the Assessment forms the basis for the decision by the Secretary General for UN support. Usually, this mission will visit the country and meet with the national institutions directly connected to the elections, other partners and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) for a proper appreciation of the issues, challenges and needs related to the elections.”
Kallon commended the INEC Chairman and National Commissioners “for the efforts you have made in consolidating electoral reforms in Nigeria.” He added: “I also want to congratulate you and your team over what you’re doing in ECOWAS in general and your recent role in Liberia. We have benefitted a lot from the support of your Commission and I am here today to see how we can strengthen that partnership.”
Responding, Prof Yakubu said the Commission valued its partnership with the UNDP which he also described as “one of our closest, most reliable partners.”
He said: “We understand and appreciate our role as elections managers and I have said this again and again that we are not only managing elections for good governance, we are also managing our democracy for stability. A good election makes all of us proud. A bad election has unhappy consequences, far beyond our nation’s boundaries and that is why we at the Commission are all excited to hear the rotating presidency of ECONEC (ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions).
“Sometimes, when we travel to other countries in the sub-region, we wish we were managing elections in those countries. When we went to Sierra Leone in July, the total number of voters was 3.8 million. In Liberia, it’s (voters’ population) 2.18 million, less than 2.2 million. In Cote d’Ivoire, it’s six million. But the total number of voters in Liberia is less than the total number of voters in Anambra state, where we are holding governorship elections on Nov 18.
“With over 70 million registered voters in the country, and it is rising, because we have also registered an additional three million in the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise, we have the largest database of citizens in Africa and obviously, one of the largest in the world. At this rate, we may end up with 80 million registered voters or more by 2019. There are constraints, of course, and the Commission cannot do everything by itself. We need partnerships that come from organizations such as yours”.
Prof Yakubu also assured: “Our determination is that 2019 (general elections) will be better than 2015. This is our commitment. And the good thing is, since our inauguration, we have been conducting one election after another. So far, we have conducted elections into 172 constituencies since 2015 and the number is rising. We have embarked on our planning processes. The Strategic Plan 2017 – 2021 has been completed and the draft of our Election Project Plan is ready. We have continued to consult with the stakeholders – the Media, Civil Society, Security Agencies and National Assembly. We want to be transparent about our processes.”