By Omeiza Ajayi
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has again stressed its commitment to sustaining its partnership with University Vice Chancellors and other Academics in the country, saying their inclusion in the electoral process is vital to the sustenance of democracy in the country.
Chief Press Secretary to the INEC Chairman, Mr Rotimi Oyekanmi, in a statement Tuesday night in Abuja said the commission’s Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, made the commitment at the Post 2019 General Election Review Retreat with Collation and Returning Officers in Lagos.
According to the chairman, “the current partnership between INEC and the Universities must be sustained because it is vital for the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.”
Yakubu observed that the Commission was under obligation to thank the Vice Chancellors that served as State Collation Officers for the Presidential Election and Returning Officers for the Governorship elections for their immense services to the nation.
He said: “Only those who are involved will appreciate what it means to conduct elections in Nigeria. Anything that anybody has told you before is just a story. It is those who are really involved in the conduct of elections that know what it means. The Commission deeply appreciates your service and sacrifice, resulting in some cases, to violent confrontations. We saw the way you handled the violent confrontations by partisan actors on election day. We have also seen social media assault and regrettably, in some cases, even physical assault.
“We remember the sleepless nights, the media exposure, the criticisms, the condemnations, the commendations and in some cases, a recognition earned after the elections.”
Prof Yakubu said the Commission was convinced that their roles were unique. His words: “If not for the Vice Chancellors, where else can we have the pool of serious-minded and credible Nigerians for such an onerous responsibility?
“Election in Nigeria is heavily dependent on the Universities. Your products in the National Youth Service Corps NYSC who are serving nationwide are the bulk of election duty staff at the polling unit level. I believe that the partnership with the Universities is critical, but like every human endeavor, there is room for improvement.”
The INEC Chairman urged the Vice Chancellors to speak up about their experiences on the successes and challenges encountered in the just concluded general elections to enable the Commission device ways of improving the electoral system.
National Commissioner and Chairman, Planning Monitoring and Strategy Committee PMSC, Dr Mustafa Lecky noted that the Commission’s aim for organizing the meeting was to comprehensively evaluate the conduct of the polls in order to learn vital lessons that would facilitate a review of policies and programmes implemented during the polls, to create inputs for a roadmap for future elections.
He said: “INEC is undertaking these series of exercises and review meetings as part of its comprehensive SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis.”
President of the European Centre for Electoral Support ECES, Ms. Monica Frassoni, who described the role of collation and returning officers as “crucial,” also observed that it was important for ECES which supports INEC in various capacities to hear from them about what happened during the polls and how the situation could be improved.
She said: “As a former member of the European Parliament, I understand very well the crucial role the collation and returning officers play in the electoral process and the responsibilities that go with it. The interest of so many stakeholders rest on your skills, experience, integrity, and bravery. Through your support of the democratic process, there is also a very clear mark of your commitment to your country.
“It was a matter of very big regret and perhaps a little surprise that some of you and your colleagues found yourselves under certain pressure and attacks in several parts of the country, with the attendant consequences. We are working in several countries of the world and we do understand and see that the situation in Nigeria is particularly challenging.”
On his part, Lagos State Resident Electoral Commissioner REC, Mr. Sam Olumekun revealed that the state recruited 60, 560 ad-hoc staff in various capacities to deliver the 2019 general elections. He said the Commission organized the review meeting, in addition to similar meetings in the last several weeks, in order to receive feedback from operators and stakeholders to enable it to re-engineer its services.
Also speaking, Special Adviser to INEC Chairman, Prof Mohammad Kuna gave a breakdown of the four themes listed for discussion. They included Field experiences with collation processes; Logistic issues in the collation process, Issues and challenges in the collation process and other general matters.