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ADDRESS BY INEC CHAIRMAN, PROFESSOR MAHMOOD YAKUBU, AT A MEETING WITH THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY ON PREPARATION FOR THE 2019 GENERAL ELECTIONS

The president of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI)

Members of the LCCI

National and Resident Electoral Commissioners of INEC

Esteemed invited guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

 

I want to thank the president and members of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LLCI) for this meeting which is the first of its kind between the independent national electoral commission (INEC) and the business community in Nigeria. We consider this meeting long overdue. In planning for elections, the business community is indeed a critical stakeholder and partner. I am glad that despite competing demands on your understandably busy schedules, you honored us by your presence. We consider this meeting for a number of reasons:

  • The business community is one of the biggest beneficiaries of stable political and economic environment resulting from the conduct of peaceful and credible elections. It is also often a victim of political instability and unpredictable economic environment arising from flawed elections. Acts of violence often target businesses in a profoundly damaging manner.
  • Uncertainty generally, and one arising from the conduct of elections in particular, is not good for business. It makes the task of safeguarding existing investment and attracting new investors even more difficult. Businesses thrive best in an atmosphere of peace and certainly.
  • Flawed elections result in the capital and expertise. Like capital, skilled manpower is unavailable in an atmosphere of rancour; and
  • Campaign promises by elected official become difficult to actualize when businesses are dislocated. The fewer the job opportunities available, the more social problems becomes intractable, thereby inevitably affecting national cohesion, stability and progress.

Although there is a general tendency by business to detach itself from elections as mutually exclusive preoccupations and never the twain shall meet, there is need for a change of approach. Quite understandably, our history of acrimonious and flawed elections must have reinforce the attitude of aloofness of business from politics, after about twenty (20) unbroken years of democratic governance in Nigeria, the time has come for business to engage with the electoral process.

What does INEC hope to achieve by engaging with the business community? Before I answer this question, it is pertinent to briefly comment on what the commission has been doing so far as we prepare for the 2019 general elections.

The first point to make is that we have deliberately planned the 2019 general elections. It may interest this meeting to know some of the basic facts about the 2019 general elections as follows:

  • 119,973 polling units;
  • 8,809 Wards (Registration Areas);
  • 68 political parties, the largest number in our electoral history. This figure is set to rise as the commission processes more applications (138 as at last week) from associations seeking registration as political patties.
  • Since April 2017 when the ongoing Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise started, some 9,700,999 new voters have been registered as at 14th June 2018. If we add this to the current register of 69,720,350 voters, we will have a register of over 80 million voters in 2019. Since the CVR is ongoing, clearly the number will rise above 80 million.
  • Elections will be held in 1,558 constituencies in 2019, made up of one presidential constituency, 109 senatorial districts, 360 federal constituencies (House of Representatives), 991 State Constituencies (House of Assembly) and 68 area councils in the FCT (6 chairmen and 62 councilors). It should be noted that the FCT is the only part of the country where INEC is constitutionally empowered to conduct local government elections. The end of tenure of the council chairmen and councilors coincides with the 2019 general election.
  • Elections will be conducted in two phases: the national elections (presidential and national assembly) to be held on Saturday 16th February 2019 while state elections (Governorship and State Assembly) and FCT Area Council elections to be held two weeks later on Saturday 2nd March 2019.

One of the major innovations of the commission since the 2011 general election is the institutionalization of the culture of planning. Elections are no longer seen as an event, but processes which begin much earlier than the Election Day. Numerous activities must begin well in advance leading to Election Day and beyond. Proper planning means that preparation for the next general election begins from the conclusion of the current election. While this is true for all elections, it is especially so for large, culturally and territorially diverse country like Nigeria where infrastructure in most parts of the country is at best basic.

Realizing this fact, the commission began to prepare for the 2019 elections with a review, formulation and validation of the Strategic Plan (SP), Strategic programme of action (SPA) and the Election Project Plan (EPP) covering the post-2015 five-year electoral cycle 2017-2021. This was done with the full participation of all stakeholders (political parties, civil society organizations, the media and security agencies). By doing so, election is no longer approached as a matter of guess work. With the current plan, the commission is able to identify activities and implement them in a knowledge-driven, strategic manner.

In an effort to promote certainly in our electoral process the commission broke with tradition by establishing the principle that going forward national elections in Nigeria should hold on the third Saturday of the month of February of the election year (Presidential and National Assembly), followed two weeks later by state election (Governorship and State Assembly). It was on this principle that the commission took the decision that the 2019 general elections will hold on the dates referred to earlier. Accordingly, and for the first time in our history, the commission released the timetable and schedule of activities for the 2019 general election on 9th January 2018, over a year in advance. Just like elections proper, election dates in Nigeria are also no longer a matter of guess work. We believe that doing so will engender certainty and give sufficient time to political parties, civil society organizations, the media, security agencies and the business community to plan. The Commission has already started the countdown to the elections in earnest. It is now exactly 234 days from today to the opening units at 8am on Saturday 16th February 2019.

The large number of off-season election conducted since the 2015 general election has enabled us to fine-tune many of our plans. With such elections conducted into 180 constituencies and counting, it is becoming clear to us that our elections are getting better, both in terms of preparations and outcome. Although a lot of work needs to be done, the commission has improved on the deployment of personnel for elections, addressed some of the intractable challenges to the functionality of new technological innovations for elections and able to collate, transmit and declare results of elections more accurately and speedily. There is now fewer litigation challenging the outcome of elections than we experienced in the past. So far, only four (4) out of the 180 elections conducted have been successfully challenged in court. Even so, the election petitions appeal tribunal did not order the commission to entirely re-run any of the elections. The Courts only ordered that Certificates of Return be issued to petitioners instead of those declared winners by the commission while in the other two (2) cases, the Tribunals ordered the Commission to conduct elections in a few polling units

The commission shall continue to deepen the use of technology in the conduct and management of elections. Although within the time available to the 2019 general elections, the commission is not fully automating its entire electoral process, the use of technology will be deepened. Our current electronic register of voters is the most robust so far. The electronic accreditation of voters using the machine-readable and chip-based and chip-based Permanent Voters Card (PVC) complimented by the Smart Card Reader (SCR) was introduced in 2015 while the commission has been pioneering the election collation and transmission of results. Once these quadruple processes have been satisfactorily deployed, the commission will ultimately introduce electronic balloting which shall happen in a short period of time.

On logistics, we need to continue to improve our system of deployment of personnel and materials for election. The management of forward and reverse logistic has been a major challenge to the commission. We currently engage private transportations for the deployment of personnel and materials to land and riverine locations from our state to local government offices. From there, we deploy to the registration areas (wards) and ultimately the polling units. We are in discussion with the chartered institute of logistics and transport (CILT). We are also holding a major discussion with experts in transportation and logistics here in Lagos on Thursday as affirmation of our determination to address this challenge. We welcome suggestions from the business community on how we can improve on the movement of personnel and materials so that polling units open on time, thereby giving the voters a pleasant experience on Election Day. In fact, it is with this in mind that we changed from the old system of completing the accreditation of voters before commencing actual voting to the new system of simultaneously accreditation and voting. This has improved the turn-around time at polling units as voters no longer spend a long time before voting.

Security remains an issue. We are determined that no Nigerian is disenfranchised on account of displacement. In 2015 the commission dealt with insecurity mainly in a section of the country arising from insurgency. Notwithstanding the difficulty, the commission was able to provide some electoral service to qualified Nigerians in the internally displaced person (IDP) camps, thereby enabling them to register and vote in the general elections. The nation is currently facing new security challenges that require more imaginative response by the commission. Drawing from the experience of the 2015 general elections, we tasked our resident electoral commissioners (RECs) nationwide to identify areas of population’s dislocation, particularly IDP camps, so that there will be appropriate response. Ultimately, it is a matter for the security agencies to handle. Fortunately, the commission has a mechanism for discussing election security through the inter-agency consultative committee on election security (ICCES) involving all the security agencies in the country. We will continue to work under the auspices of ICCES to ensure that the environment for elections is secure for voters, electoral officials, observers, the media and all those with legitimate reasons to be involved in Election Day activities.

What, therefore, are the commission’s expectations from the business community?

First and foremost, the businesses community has a stake in our democracy of which the conduct of free, fair credible and peaceful elections is an integral part. You are a major influencer of public opinion. Since a good election is good for business, our first appeal to you is to use your influence in doing advocacy for peaceful elections. You can imagine the impact of prominent businessman and woman actively advocating for peaceful elections. The impact on voter turnout will also be considerable. In 2016 the commission conducted two by-elections here in Lagos which recorded very low voter’s turnout. In two by-elections, the ifako-ijaye federal constituency held in December 2016 and Eti-Osa state constituency in September 2017, the voter turnout was 2.9% and 3.4% respectively.

Secondly, the business community can assist in the area of voter education through corporate social responsibility. Those in advertising, telecommunications, transport, the media, hospitality, entertainment etc. can play important roles. We can work together to develop messages and the dissemination of same. Support for newspaper advertisement, radio and television jingles, billboards for outdoor advertising, bulk short message service (SMS) messages by telecommunication operators (after discussion with the Nigeria communications commission, NCC) can be powerful tools for the dissemination of messages for peaceful elections.

Thirdly, many of you have seamlessly delivered goods and services to customers. You have, over time, perfected the capacity to deliver products to the remotest locations nationwide. The commissions can leverage on such expertise to organize electoral logistics such that staff and materials arrive at polling units at the appointed time without citizens having to wait long hours to be served on Election Day.

The above prospective areas of support are only indicative of what the business community can contribute to peaceful elections. As we approach the 2019 general elections, all national institutions and assets, as well as men and women of goodwill, must play a part in ensuring a peaceful and credible outcome. Doing so will be a further affirmation of the maturity of our electoral process in particular and our democracy in general.

I wish to conclude by assuring you that INEC is committed to credible elections. However, this task cannot be accomplished by the commission alone. We hope that this first-ever meeting will provide the catalyst for more sustained engagement with the business community and we must thank the leadership of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry for this opportunity.

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