Abuja – International Observers on Wednesday called for early electoral reforms ahead of the 2023 general elections in Nigeria.
The observers made the call at an Electoral Reform Roundtable organinsed by the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room and the Kofi Annan Foundation in Abuja.
Mr Alan Doss, the President of the Kofi Annan Foundation, said the call became imperative in order to achieve a strong and sustainable democracy and that early preparations were the best ways to realise it.
According to him, democracy is more than an election held every four years.
“Transparent governance, independent institutions, popular participation and a free press are vital ingredients of a vibrant democracy which starts with elections,” he said.
He said that the electoral process should not only be free, fair and effective but also regarded as such, not just by a court of law but in the court of public opinion.
“From our own experience at the foundation working with countries around the world, we know that electoral reform is tough and is therefore best undertaken early in the electoral cycle.
“Electoral reform is not the exclusive responsibility of the electoral commission, even though it plays a central role; there are many stakeholders involved.
“Ultimately, electoral reform, like all reforms, requires political will; with so many urgent issues requiring attention, electoral reform can easily slip off the political agenda.
“Nevertheless, what could be more important than ensuring the legitimacy of the very system upon which government rests?’’
The president urged Nigeria to build momentum in favour of electoral reform, adding that the continued success of Nigeria’s democracy was, therefore, a strategic priority for all Africa.
He also urged the nation to work on the challenges of the 2019 elections, adding that every electoral cycle exposed problems and concerns that needed to be addressed to sustain public confidence in the system.
The Charge d’Affairs of the Embassy of Switzerland in Nigeria, Mrs Anne-Beatrice Bullinger, said that a strong democracy needed a continued, vibrant and multi-stakeholder engagement, and that was why the embassy supported the programme.
According to Bullinger, politics is too important to be left to politicians alone, hence the need to engage all to strengthen democracy.
She said that democracy allowed transfer of power to happen peacefully through institutional mechanisms rather than through violent conflict, adding that credible and legitimate elections were the cornerstone of a true democracy.
She said that Nigeria had come a long way and enjoyed a very vibrant political culture, yet many challenges remained.
According to her, politics had been trivialised and used to create exacerbated fault lines at the expense of serving the higher interests of the nation.
Bullinger said that while no elections were perfect, the exercise remained the key foundation of democratic legitimacy.
She said while the intensity of the recently concluded elections settled down, an inclusive and sustained dialogue should be engaged to address concerns and to constructively work toward necessary reforms.
Mr Mohammed Chambas, Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), said the 2019 elections deprived a lot of women participation.
Chambas said that this made Nigeria one of the countries with the lowest women participation in politics in spite of the dynamic number of women in the country.
He said that UNOWAS would continue to work with Nigeria toward increased number of women, youths and persons living with disabilities.
Mr Clement Nwankwo ,Convener, Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, said that the round-table was convened to know what happened with the elections and work toward improving the electoral process and not to portray Nigeria in bad light.
Nwankwo said that the aim of the exercise was also to share the knowledge garnered from observing the elections and take lessons from it to improve election and sanitise the electoral process for better elections.
He said that electoral reform should start immediately and urged President Buhari to continue from where the 8th Assembly stopped and sign the Electoral Act.
He commended the European Union and the Swiss Government for their support to Nigeria’s democracy. (NAN)