INEC has revealed its concern about the 2023 general election, The Nation report.
Insecurity and neutrality of security agencies are key factors that will shape next year’s general election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said yesterday.
The election umpire is concerned that millions, especially Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), may be disenfranchised unless threats are neutralised.
Terrorism and banditry have displaced many people in the Northeast, Northwest and Northcentral.
Many people are living in IDP camps and others have fled their homes and communities.
The United State Ambassador to Nigeria, Mary Beth Leonard, said the attention of the world will be on Nigeria ahead of and during the polls.
The European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria, which visited PDP chairman Dr. Iyorchia Ayu at the party secretariat in Abuja, said it would take steps to ensure that concerns raised by the main opposition party are addressed.
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye and Leonard spoke at a town hall meeting hosted by the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE).
It was organised with support from U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, with the theme: “Agenda setting for sustainable democratic culture.”
Okoye believes that despite the new Electoral Act, next year’s elections will be faced with challenges.
On how insecurity will affect the polls, he said: “So many of the IDPs are in the houses of friends and relatives and have lost their Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs).
“It is next to an impossibility to recreate their constituencies and polling units.
“Growing insecurity in several parts of the country and the increasing number of IDPs will pose challenges.
“This is because Section 47(1) of the Electoral Act provides that a person intending to vote in an election shall present himself with his voter card to a presiding officer for accreditation at the polling unit in the constituency in which his name is registered.
“Some of these persons are no longer in their constituencies and can no longer access their polling units and so many of them have lost their PVCs.
“While it is easy to recreate constituencies and polling units in clustered IDP camp, it is next to an impossibility to do so for persons staying in scattered locations.”
He said INEC would surmount the challenge by printing new PVCs for IDPs and recreating their polling units in their camps to enable them to vote, depending on proximity to their state and federal constituencies.
This, he said, is in accord with Section 24(1) of the Electoral Act, which provides: “In the event of an emergency affecting an election, the Commission shall, as far as practicable, ensure that persons displaced as a result of the emergency are not disenfranchised.”
Okoye said Commission was at the terminal phase of its Continuous Voters Registration (CVR), adding that insecurity was a factor in getting more Nigerians to register.
“There are so many communities that are still inaccessible to our registration officers.
“In the next few weeks, the Commission will roll out modalities for the further devolution and rotation of the CVR to our registration areas and the security of our personnel and the registrants are fundamental to the success of the exercise.
“We are determined to register all eligible registrants but will not expose our staff to unnecessary danger. We will roll out and roll back depending on the security situation in different parts of the country,” he said.
Okoye believes that successful general elections will depend on how quickly security agencies “degrade if not neutralise the security threats and challenges in different parts of the country”.
“Voting and the exercise of democratic mandate may not be the priority of persons enveloped in a climate and atmosphere of fear and anxiety,” the INEC commissioner said.
Okoye urged the media to continue to highlight the possible solutions to the security challenges and to hold the government accountable.
He was of the view that the media has a critical role in safeguarding the electoral process.
Our concerns, by PDP
Dr Ayu said PDP had misgivings about the neutrality of the security agencies, going by their actions in previous elections.
Addressing the EU delegation, he accused the All Progressives Congress (APC) government of weakening the democratic process and institutions and manipulating agencies that ought to be neutral.
Ayu said: “We have consistently worked hard as a broad-based political party, mobilised people, not just to canvass for votes, but to ensure that we defend the votes against any anti-democratic tendencies.
“In spite of willingly handing over to the current ruling party in 2015, we have seen a decline in those values which we promoted as a political party, including the establishment and creation of certain institutions that were meant to strengthen democracy in this country.
“Therefore, we are very worried that instead of strengthening the democratic process to serve the people of this country, we are seeing a sustained decline in those democratic processes in the conduct of elections and use of security services to attack judges and other citizens, instead of protecting them and preserving the electoral process.
“You have the 2019 election report, which you have read. It showed clearly some of those problems that we are complaining about and which we will keep complaining about as long as these practices are sustained.
“We believe that justice was not done in the 2019 election.
“Now that we are moving towards another election in 2023, it’s very important that we stress the need for the electoral umpire to be genuinely independent.”
Ayu urged the EU election observer team to take special interest in the upcoming governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun states.
Head of the EU delegation, Ms. Maria Arena, said the team made 30 recommendations in its 2019 general election report.
According to her, the visit to the PDP leadership was part of a follow-up process to assess how the recommendations have been taken on board by different authorities in Nigeria.
Arena said the delegation would meet with as many stakeholders as possible, including the civil society, the media, the government and other parties.
‘All eyes on Nigeria’
Leonard said the eyes of the world will be on Nigeria this year and early next year as the country prepares to choose new leaders.
She said the NGE had the responsibility of promoting democracy.
“Your leaders have been consistent in calling for the respect of presidential term limits, for example, and they have been quick to condemn military coups in West Africa and the rest of the continent,” she added.
The Ambassador said beyond public pledges supporting freedom and democracy, the editors and members of the civil society groups must delve deeper into underlying factors that erode faith in democracy.
She explained that patronage politics, corruption, inequality, and the failure of many democratic governments to deliver for their citizens fuel public and media doubts about the democratic model, causing them to lose hope and cynically accept the status quo as inevitable and normal.
Leonard said: “One way to restore public confidence in democracy is through free and fair elections.
“The eyes of the world will, therefore, be on Nigeria this year and early next year as you prepare to choose a new president and transition to a new government.
“We were pleased that last week President Muhammadu Buhari signed Nigeria’s long-awaited Electoral Act Amendment Bill into law, ensuring adoption of a number of long-sought-after reforms to the electoral process, including the electronic transmission of election results from polling places.
NGE President, Mustapha Isah, underscored the constitutional role of the media in Section 22, noting that “all aspects of good governance are facilitated by a strong and independent media”.