26th June, 2018
Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has called on the country’s business community to use the influence of its prominent members to advocate for peaceful elections and assist the commission in areas of voter education and electoral logistics.
Speaking at the maiden INEC, Private Sector Forum jointly organised by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) and the Commission in Lagos on 26th June, Prof Yakubu reasoned that since a good election is good for business, the private sector automatically has a stake in Nigeria’s democracy “of which the conduct of free, fair and credible election is an integral part.”
He told the business leaders: “You are a major influencer of public opinion. You can imagine the impact of prominent businessmen and women actively advocating for peaceful elections. The impact on voter turnout will also be considerable.”
On Voter Education, Prof Yakubu said those in advertising, telecommunications, transport, the media, hospitality and entertainment industries among others, can play prominent roles through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
His words: “We can work together to develop messages and the dissemination of same. Support for newspaper advertisement, radio and television jingles, bill boards for outdoor advertising, bulk Short Messaging Service (SMS) messages by telecommunication operators can be powerful tools for the dissemination of messages for peaceful elections.”
The INEC Chairman also expressed the Commission’s desire to leverage of the business community’s expertise to organise electoral logistics. He said: “Many of you have seamlessly delivered goods and services to customers. You have, over time, perfected the capacity to deliver products to the remotest locations nationwide. The Commission can leverage on such expertise to organise electoral logistics such that staff and materials arrive at polling units at the appointed time without citizens having to wait long hours to be served on election day.”
Prof Yakubu drew attention to what he described as a general tendency by business to detach itself from elections as mutually exclusive preoccupations. While he conceded that the country’s history of “acrimonious and flawed elections” had informed the private sector’s attitude of aloofness, he however insisted: “there is need for a change in attitude.”
Although, he observed that the business community had been the biggest beneficiary of stable political and economic environment resulting from the conduct of peaceful and credible elections, he however affirmed that it was also often a victim of political instability and unpredictable economic environment, arising from flawed elections.
He said: “Acts of violence often target businesses in a profoundly damaging manner. Uncertainty generally, and one arising from the conduct of elections in particular, is not good for business. It makes the task of safeguarding existing investment and attracting new investors even more difficult. Businesses thrive best in an atmosphere of peace and certainty. Flawed elections result in the flight of capital and expertise. Like capital, skilled manpower is unavailable in an atmosphere of rancour; and Campaign promises by elected officials become difficult to actualise when businesses are dislocated. The fewer the job opportunities available, the more social problems become intractable, thereby inevitably affecting national cohesion, stability and progress.”
Prof Yakubu also gave some statistics about the 2019 elections. He said the polls will be held in 119,973 polling units while results will be collated in 8,809 wards (Registration Centres). He said there were 68 political parties at the moment, but quickly added that the number was set to rise with about 138 applications by associations seeking registration as political parties already at various level of processing.
He announced that since April 2017 when the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise began, some 9,700,999 new voters have been registered. If this figure is added to the existing 69,720,350 existing voters, he stated, “we will have a register of over 80 million voters in 2019.”
His continued: “Elections are no longer seen as an event, but processes which begin much earlier than the election day. Numerous activities must begin well in advance leading to election day and beyond. Proper planning means that preparation for the next general election begins from the conclusion of the current election.
“Realising this fact, the Commission began to prepare for the 2019 general elections with a review, formulation and validation of the Strategic Plan (SP), Strategic Programme of Action (SPA) and the Election Project Plan (EPP) covering the post-2015 five-year electoral cycle 2017-2021. This was done with the full participation of all stakeholders (political parties, civil society organisations, the media and security agencies). By doing so, election is no longer approached as a matter of guess work. With the current plan, the Commission is able to identify activities and implement them in a knowledge-driven, strategic manner.
“In an effort to promote certainty in our electoral process, the Commission broke with tradition by establishing the principle that going forward national elections in Nigeria should hold on the third Saturday of the month of February of the election year (Presidential and National Assembly), followed two weeks later by state elections (Governorship and State Assembly). It was on this principle that the Commission took the decision that the 2019 general elections will hold on the dates referred to earlier. Accordingly, and for the first time in our history, the Commission released the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2019 general elections on 9th January 2018, over a year in advance. Just like elections proper, election dates in Nigeria are also no longer a matter of guess work.
“The large number of off-season elections conducted since the 2015 general elections has enabled us to fine-tune many of our plans. With such elections conducted into 180 constituencies and counting, it is becoming clear to us that our elections are getting better, both in terms of preparations and outcome. Although, a lot of work needs to be done, the Commission has improved on the deployment of personnel for elections, addressed some of the intractable challenges to the functionality of new technological innovations for elections and able to collate, transmit and declare results of elections more accurately and speedily.
“There is now fewer litigation challenging the outcome of elections than we experienced in the past. So far, only four out of the 180 elections conducted have been successfully challenged in Court. Even so, the Election Petition Appeal Tribunals did not order the Commission to entirely re-run any of the elections. The courts only ordered that Certificates of Return be issued to petitioners instead of those declared winners by the Commission, while in the other two cases, the tribunals ordered the Commission to conduct elections in a few polling units.”
President of the LCCI, Mr Paul Ruwase said the meeting was organised with the dual purpose of sensitising the business community about the electoral process, especially the 2019 general elections, and also to enhance collaboration with INEC to ensure a free, fair and credible electoral process in 2019.
He agreed with the INEC Chairman’s assertion that many private sector players have a negative perception of politics. “But the truth is that the political environment has a profound impact on the investment environment and business performance,” he said, adding, “as business people, we cannot operate outside the political space.”
Continuing, Ruwase averred, “the quality of political governance has significant implications for the sustainability and prosperity of our businesses. It is the politicians that determine the quality of economic policies. It is the politicians that determine the quality of institutions. It is the politicians that determine the quality of investment policies. It is the politicians that appropriate the resources of the state. Invariably, our destiny is in the hands of the political class. This is why we should get involved.
“Better private sector participation in the democratic and electoral processes will surely impact positively on the quality of the political actors. We should register and get our PVCs (Permanent Voter’s Card). We should mobilise people in our various constituencies to register and get their PVCs. We should stand for elections at all levels, offer our services as volunteers to INEC and we should be vigilant during elections to ensure the credibility and integrity of the process.”