The Independent National Electoral Commission INEC, has reassured Nigerians and the international community of its commitment to conduct free, fair and credible elections in the forthcoming 2019 general elections.
Chairman of the Commission, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, gave the assurance yesterday when he received delegations of the Observation Missions of European Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) at meetings, in Abuja.
The INEC Chairman said “as the elections approach, there will be accusations and counter accusations, we want to assure you as observers and assure the nation that we will not be distracted. We will focus on the goal of delivering credible elections to Nigerians”.
“I wish to assure you that our preparation for the 2019 General Election is on course. We have had a series of very assuring meetings with the security agencies in order to ensure that processes are protected, the right of voters to vote freely safeguarded, access for observers and the media guaranteed, the election transparent and the outcome a true reflection of the will of the Nigerian people”.
The INEC Chairman commended the Observer groups for their contributions towards deepening democracy through their observation reports of previous elections and called for more recommendations that would assist the Commission improve its processes and procedures in future elections.
He said: “we will be very happy to receive the reports of your observations because the reports of your observations are critical in helping us to strengthen our processes and procedures. ECOWAS just as the EU the Common Wealth and the African Union recommended last year that we should ensure that we produce and distribute the Permanent Voter Cards well ahead of the elections, even though we registered over a period of 16 months some 14 million new voters, the Commission has been able to print and deliver the PVCs to the states for collection by citizens”.
He added: “the second recommendation among many you made was that the Commission should introduce a system of simultaneous accreditation and voting instead of citizens accrediting and then after accrediting they come back and vote. We have also implemented that recommendation beginning with the Bayelsa Governorship election on the 9th of January, 2016 through to elections into 194 constituencies”.
“There is no doubt that our electoral processes are getting better and votes count. We will continue to progressively improve our elections and protect the sanctity of the vote. This calls for the support of all citizens and all stakeholders. In our determination to do so, we have taken bold steps to address the disturbing trend of vote-buying by some political actors”.
Professor Yakubu outlined the steps taken to stem the menace of vote buying thus: “wehave modified the administration of our polling units in order to make it difficult for voters to expose their marked ballot papers on election day. We have also introduced the partial ban on the use of mobile phones and other electronic devices by voters while in the voting cubicles”.
He continued: “we are also introducing the rolling and flattening of ballot papers by voters on election day. We are training our election duty staff, in addition to voter education and sensitization, on this new innovation. We will leave no stone unturned in ensuring the sanctity of the ballot”.
Professor Yakubu raised a concern over new tricks of vote buying being deployed by dubious to undermine the electoral process and warned that the Commission was aware and assured that necessary steps will be taken to address it.
“Following recent consultations with stakeholders across the six geo-political zones in Nigeria, the attention of the Commission was drawn to a new plan by some political actors to use food vendors around polling units with large voter populations as collection points for cash-for-votes as well as other forms of material inducement to voters on election day. We are aware of this trick. It will not work,” the INEC Chairman said.
The Leader of the EU delegation, Maria Hariena, appreciated the work of INEC and its contribution to entrenching democracy. She said “without democracy there is no development, no economy and no freedom for us. And for you, we will work together for this democracy”.
Hariena noted that the EU had since year 2000 had 6 observer mission with lots of long-term observers and a lot of experts working in Nigeria and explained their plans to take part in the 2019 general elections.
She said “we have had about 40 long term observation mission deployed today from countries to all the states and we will have parliamentary observation mission who will come for the election days. We will work together during this time. We will issue two preliminary report after the election days”.
“We will work with all the stakeholders of this country with the national observers also because they are very important. We will also work with international observation mission from this country, AU, ECOWAS, and all the people willing to work the observation mission,” she said.
On her part, the Leader of the ECOWAS observation team, Mrs. Charlotte Osei, said “we are here to let INEC the electoral management body know that ECOWAS is deploying a long-term observer mission and we will be deploying a short-term mission to come and observe the elections in February 16th and March 2 2019”.
She explained that: ‘’we have four areas for our assignment; legal, operations, media and gender-disability. We think those areas are really critical for successful elections. And, it will be helpful during an engagement with INEC to know the extent of preparation and what are the challenges are in such areas. And any other information which will be useful for the team to ensure that we prepare adequately”.
Mrs Osei assured the ECOWAS community’s commitment towards a successful, peaceful and flawless electoral process in Nigeria.