With the 2023 general elections on the horizon, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says there are neither considerations of nor plans for postponement.
The INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said this on Tuesday afternoon, while delivering a lecture at Chatham House on the topic ‘Nigeria’s 2023 Elections: Preparations and Priorities for Electoral Integrity and Inclusion’.
“We believe that by forthrightly sharing our experiences and discussing the challenges openly, we can surmount the challenges and ensure that our elections in Nigeria continue to get better.
“May I, on this note, once again reiterate our position that the commission is not contemplating, let alone planning, to postpone the 2023 general election. We are going ahead to conduct the election as scheduled,” he said at the London-based policy institute.
Speaking on the spate of attacks on INEC facilities across the country, Yakubu decried that 50 cases had been recorded since 2019.
“The implication of the attacks is that we have to rebuild facilities and replace materials. The Commission and the security agencies have increased their presence in some of these locations,” the INEC boss said.
“The last attacks actually happened on Sunday last week but because of the cooperation between the military and the electoral commission, we’re able to respond and the damage was limited to just a section of the building in a local government office.”
The Commission has repeatedly called for concerted efforts to control and check these attacks, he added.
“In December last year, the National Assembly held a public hearing on these attacks and we hope that authorities have these attacks under control and the response by the security agencies is more coordinated.
“But in spite of these attacks, we’ll rebuild facilities. We’ll replace damaged or lost items. The election will continue,” he said.
Yakubu also disclosed that the electoral body has concluded a policy on diaspora voting.
The Federal Government, in 2017, put the number of Nigerians in the diaspora at 17 million. However, many more citizens have since left for foreign countries in a wave commonly referred to as japa.
Addressing the recurrent issues around legalising diaspora voting, the INEC Chairman expressed hope that the legal obstacles preventing foreign-based Nigerians from voting will be cleared eventually.
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“We have actually completed the policy as far as the commission is concerned and we identified two categories of Nigerians living outside the country,” he said.
“We have the OCV (out-of-country voting), mainly by service personnel and other Nigerians engaged in, say, foreign service, and those who are engaged in technical manpower.
“There is assistance organised by the Nigerian government for other countries, particularly in our sub-region. For now, they don’t vote. But the other leg of it is for Nigerians permanently resident outside Nigeria, that is, the diaspora voting.”
Yakubu restated that the Commission is “fully committed” to making elections inclusive. According to him, inclusive elections constitute an essential part of democracy.
“That’s the reason why in our commission we regularly speak of our commitment to free, fair, credible, transparent, verifiable and inclusive elections.
“Over the years, we have worked with various stakeholders to increase the participation of young people and women. Participatiion in the process may not necessarily be participating in elective offices. Under our constitution, no one can contest election unless and until he or she is sponsored by a political party.
“We have been engaging with the political parties to see what we can do together in that respect,” he said.
The INEC boss highlighted the work of the Not Too Young To Run Movement in reducing the age requirement for contesting some electoral positions, which he said underscores the Commission’s youth policy.
INEC has a gender policy introduced in 2012 to guide or provide a fairer working environment for women in the Commission and in the electoral process, the Chief Electoral Officer said, adding that it will remain committed to these policies.
“But in addition to that, we’ve been engaging with the disability community nationwide. Only last week, we met with Inclusive Friends and The Albino Foundation, and we’re going to be providing a lot of assistive devices, both as a requirement of the law and as a practice,” he said.
According to him, the albinos requested intervention enabling them to see the logos of the political parties on the ballot papers better, leading to the introduction of magnifying glasses.
“For the blind that could read braille, we introduced braille jacket, and then for the deaf, they said they could see and they didn’t need those assistive devices,” he said.
“They asked, what could we give them? And in discussion with them, we came to the conclusion that we should provide posters for them that will also help them and we’ll continue to do more in that respect.
“In fact, we’re working together to launch a data dashboard that captures all registered voters with disabilities in all polling units nationwide disaggregated by type of disability.”
“We have promised Nigerians and friends of Nigeria that the 2023 elections will be free, fair, credible and inclusive, and we have left no stone unturned in preparing for it, despite several challenges.
“But all elections, especially those involving the type of extensive national deployment like we do in Nigeria will naturally come with challenges,” he said.
According to Yakubu, INEC has worked closely with stakeholders and development partners to confront these challenges, and “we are satisfied with our preparations so far.”
For him, the commission does not take the pledge that it has repeatedly made to Nigerians lightly.
“We are leaving no stone unturned in our preparations and our commitment remains only to Nigerians and not to any political party or any candidate. Our commitment and loyalty is to Nigeria and the Nigerian people.
“Only the votes they cast will determine who becomes what. It’s not in our hands; it’s in the hands of citizens. This is what the law requires of us. We cherish our institutional independence and the integrity of the commission.
“And with the enthusiasm of Nigerians, the goodwill of stakeholders and partners, and the commitment of the commission, we believe that the 2023 general elections will be among the best conducted in Nigeria,” he said.
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