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Stakeholders, INEC Compare Notes at EU Roundtable on Electoral Reforms

Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu (5th left), Team Leader, European Union Electoral Follow-up Mission to Nigeria, Mr Santiago Fisas (4th left), Ambassador of the European Union Delegation to Nigeria and West Africa, Mr Ketil Karlsen (3rd left), Mrs Margarida Alves and Mr Alexander Gray at the Roundtable held in Abuja on 20th October, 2017.

L-R: National Commissioners Baba Shettima Arfo, Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu, Mrs. May Agbamuche-Mbu, Prince Adedeji Soyebi, Mallam Mohammed Haruna, Engineer Abubakar Nahuche, Air Vice Marshal (retd) Ahmad Mu’azu, Dr Mustafa Lecky and Secretary to the Commission, Mrs Augusta Ogakwu at the meeting.

 21st October 2017

It was an appraisal of sorts for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on 20th October, when the European Union Electoral Follow-up Mission to Nigeria, Civil Society Organizations and other stakeholders compared notes with the Commission at a well attended roundtable organized by the European Union Delegation to Nigeria and West Africa.

Top on the agenda were some 30 recommendations handed to INEC by the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU-EOM) after the 2015 general elections, for which the EU had dispatched its Electoral Follow-Up Mission to Nigeria, led by Mr. Santiago Fisas to ascertain what had happened since then.

Mr. Fisas and his team had visited the Commission on 17th October, where the Commission’s Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu informed him that only eight out of the 30 recommendations contained in the EU-EOM Report were within the Commission’s jurisdiction, while the remaining 22 fell within the powers and responsibilities of other agencies and arms of government, especially the National Assembly.

Giving a summary of the Commission’s preparations towards the 2019 general elections, Prof. Yakubu said: “The most important thing for us as we plan towards 2019, is the effectiveness of our plan. We have a Strategic Plan 2017 – 2021 and we have along with that, a Strategic Programme of Action. We have just completed the draft Election Project Plan for 2019. Hopefully next week, we will come up with a figure of what it will cost this nation to conduct the 2019 general elections.

“We have benefitted from the numerous elections that we have conducted. As at today, we have conducted elections into 172 constituencies since the 2015 general elections. The last election was three weeks ago in Gombe, the next election is in eight days in Sokoto, followed by the Anambra governorship elections. We have issued the timetable for Ekiti and Osun (governorship elections).”

On simultaneous accreditation and voting, he said, “in Bayelsa in January 2016, we combined accreditation and voting and it was well received. Now, you can only vote at the Polling Unit where you are registered. You cannot vote elsewhere. It’s been going on very well.”

Prof Yakubu also spoke on the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise. He said: “The credibility of elections depends on the credibility of the Voter Register. We are now doing it continuously. We have seen some challenges and we are responding to them. We started in April and as at last week, and we have registered 3.2 million (Nigerians) on top of the 70 million registered voters for the 2015 general elections that we had before. Our projection is that the Voter Register will probably be over 80 million by 2019.”

On the Anambra governorship election coming up on 18th November, he said: “We are combining the governorship election with the Idemili North state constituency election. There will be two ballot boxes and voters will receive two ballot papers. All the other arrangements – logistics, staff training, and security are in place. We are killing two birds with one stone. And for the first time in the history of elections in Nigeria, 37 political parties are contesting in the Anambra election. Out of the 14 activities lined up, we have executed nine. We are so determined as a Commission to make the 2019 general elections better than 2015.”

On fears being expressed by some stakeholders that the security agencies could postpone the election at the last minute, the INEC Chairman observed that although, the responsibility of securing the environment before, during and after elections was not within the Commission’s jurisdiction, the electoral umpire however maintains a close relationship with all security agencies through the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES).

He said: “That is why we have also decided as a Commission to issue the timetable and schedule of activities well ahead of all elections. In Anambra, we issued the timetable in February for an election that will take place in November. We have done the same for Ekiti and Osun. We have taken care, in both cases, to avoid party politics, national festivals and students’ examinations. The last (governorship) election in Ekiti took place on June 14th. But June next year is likely to coincide with the fasting period and Salah, and since the law says that we should conduct the election at least 30 days to the end of the tenure (of the incumbent), we shifted it to July when there is no festival or examination. The same for Osun – instead of 4th August, we’ll conduct the election in September. Interestingly in Osun’s case, we have given a one-year notice and we have always made copies of the timetable and schedule of activities available to the security agencies. But we’ll continue to talk to the security agencies.”

On the low level of women’s participation in politics, he explained that the Commission has in recent time, intensified engagements with political parties on the need for them to accommodate women more. But the caveat, he added, “is the constitutional provision which says that individuals aspiring for political offices must be sponsored by a political party. But we have a gender policy in place.”

On party primaries, Prof. Yakubu alluded to the Electoral Act, which provides that once the national headquarters of a political party recommends a candidate to the Commission for election, the Commission cannot reject such candidate. He continued: “I think it was an amendment to the Electoral Act, borne out of our previous experience where the Commission with the security agencies were disqualifying candidates. The power was taken from the Commission and given back to the political parties. The parties have a role to play in strengthening our political processes, but yesterday’s solution has apparently become today’s problem because the political parties are now abusing the process. So, we look forward to whatever we can do to engage with stakeholders and the National Assembly, not with the intention to have the power brought back to the Commission, but in such a manner that we can address some of the issues and challenges we have seen.”

On the disclosure of party finances, the INEC Chairman distinguished between campaign and party finance. He said the Commission did not mince words during its recent meeting with political parties, where it was revealed that out of 46 registered political parties, only five have so rendered accounts to the Commission. He admitted that tracking party finances could be challenging, “but where a political party comes out openly to raise funds beyond the limits provided for in the Constitution, the Commission will apply sanctions.”

Prof. Yakubu also revealed that about eight million Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) were yet to be collected by their respective owners. His words: “We haven’t made much progress in the last two years (but) we have made elaborate arrangements with the states to ensure that the cards are collected.”