– By ‘SANMI FALOBI-
Against the backdrop of the old adage that, ‘he who fails to plan, plans to fail’, stakeholders have tasked the Buhari administration to show more commitments in consolidating the gains of the 2015 elections by ensuring that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is properly constituted and given the enabling operational requisites to be able to conduct credible elections, especially ahead the 2019 general elections.
According to the stakeholders, beyond the present administration’s overt commitment to fighting corruption, the administration should also be equally committed to ensuring that the democratic processes are transparent and credible, in order to entrench the gains on the credibility and transparency demonstrated by INEC in the 2015 elections.
Sharing perspectives as panelists in a national town hall meeting in Abuja, civil society stakeholders, opinion leaders and other key electoral stakeholders were of the opinion that more needs to be done if INEC is to be able to deliver credible elections come 2019.
In her opening remarks, Ojobo Atuluku, the Country Director of Actionaid, organizers of the event, said the town hall meeting which was also used to publicly present the outcome of a 2015 post election survey report conducted by Actionaid under its Strengthening Citizens Engagement in Electoral Processes (SCEEP) project, was to create an opportunity to connect the people, citizen groups and policy makers to dissect issues to deepen the gains of the 2015 elections as well as on steps to conducting more credible elections in the future.
Speaking on the central theme, ‘Making the electoral process citizens-centred: Deepening the gains of the 2015 elections’, former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, Chidi Odinkalu, said that elections may not hold in 2019 as there may be crisis and death if there are no adequate preparations to ensure that the elections are credible.
“Today, the executive has gone into lax mode; judiciary has become lawless; National Assembly is lacking in credibility; INEC is troubled; politicians have gone unruly. Government says it has no money to run the economy. Every element that made 2015 is currently missing,” he said.
According to him, it was worrisome that key portfolios of personnel and designations in INEC have been left vacant. “There is absolutely no reason why the executive should allow the number of vacancies we have in INEC to be.”
“INEC is having a challenge. By next month, INEC will be having 28 vacancies among its RECs (Resident Electoral Commissioners) and seven commissioners. The Executive is carrying on as if this normal. It isn’t”, he added.
According to him, “continuing the way we are going, we will not be able to have elections in 2019. If it happens, there would be too many broken heads and dead people.”
In a related contribution, Clement Nwankwo, Executive Director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Center (PLAC) and Convener, Civil Society Situation room noted that all hands must be on deck to build on the gains of the successes of the 2015 elections. According to him, the civil society must continue to do the work they can to ensure that the democratic governance is deepened, adding that the country is presently in a national emergency as the electoral body does not have the full complement of electoral commissioners needed for the general elections.
“Nigeria is in an emergency situation. In less than two and half years to the 2019 elections, INEC does not have the full complement of electoral commissioners. The question then is why is the delay? … If we continue this way, we shall lose our democracy. So we must act. If those in government do not act with urgency, we will lose this democracy“, he declared.
Similarly, other perspectives were given by stakeholders which included representatives of other civil society groups, namely; Ekaette Umoh, National President, Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities (JONAPWD) Abiodun Ajijola of Election Monitor, Ezenwa Nwangwu of Partners for Electoral Reform and Samson Itodo, Head Research Policy and Advocacy, YIAGA, who spoke as an advocate of the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign.
While calling for collaboration of all stakeholders, Amina Zakari, INEC National Commissioner in charge of election operations, noted that the attaining credible elections involves all.
“In 2015, for the first time, Nigerians believed they could effect a change in our political system. There was also dedication in the part of INEC, Security agencies and civil societies who spoke in one voice”, she said.
“Democracy and elections is for all and by all; everyone, not just INEC or politicians”, she added.
In the same light, the Chair, Senate Committee on INEC, Abubakar Kyari who agreed that democracy was about the people told the gathering that the Senate was working to ensure that the electoral laws are amended to ensure credible elections.
“We have sought for suggestions from the general public in order to fashion out an amendment in the electoral system. Our plan is to get our electoral reforms ready before December and have the president sign it into law”, he said.