The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on Wednesday began a retreat in Lagos to review the recently held Ekiti and Osun States elections with a view to prepare for a better general election in 2023.
While Chairman of INEC Prof Mahmoud Yakubu in his opening remarks acknowledged the success of the two off-cycle elections, said that there is an enormous task ahead. “There is a huge public expectation to sustain this trend and raise the bar ever higher”, he stated.
Prof Yakubu comparing the two elections with the forthcoming general election said: “The Ekiti and Osun voter population constitutes just 3.27% of the total number of registered voters; 5.94% of the number of Local Government Areas, 5.77% of Registration Areas (or electoral Wards) and only 3.51% of PUs nationwide. Conducting a General Election will be an entirely different experience but the principles remain the same”. He however assured Nigerians that the commission is up to the task.
Below is Prof Yakubu’s address:
Let me join the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Lagos State, Mr. Olusegun Agbaje, to welcome you all to this retreat, the purpose of which is to review recent elections, particularly the Ekiti and Osun off-cycle Governorship elections and lessons learnt for improved performance in the 2023 General Election. For us in INEC, every election (be it bye-election, off-cycle election or General Election) is special and an opportunity to improve our service delivery to citizens. We believe that by doing so, vital lessons are learnt arising from which we review and improve our processes and procedures.
Some of you here may recall that in the aftermath of the 2019 General Election, we had a series of engagements with officials of the Commission and election observers, security agencies and all other stakeholders across the board. Arising from these engagements, and the individual observation reports submitted by accredited observers, the Commission published a review of the election and full report on the election which are still available on our website. In particular, the review report identified over 170 recommendations to improve elections in Nigeria. In the course of implementing the recommendations that only required administrative action by INEC, we introduced innovations beyond what was envisaged in the review report. Furthermore, we worked together with all stakeholders and the National Assembly to ensure that aspects of the report that required the review of the legal framework were given expeditious consideration. The result is the Electoral Act 2022 while some of the recommendations that require constitutional amendments are currently under consideration.
By organizing today’s retreat, the Commission has sustained the tradition of reviewing our elections to learn lessons for improvement of future elections. The truth is that in the last one decade or so, the conduct of elections in particular and the management of the electoral process in general have become more complex. Voting populations have become larger and more diverse in terms of their voting needs and expectations. The introduction of technology has made elections and the electoral process more transparent. Electoral Commissions are subjected to greater public scrutiny and under increasing pressure to adequately respond to the diversity and complexity of the needs of various electoral stakeholders to ensure seamless voter registration processes, expand voter access to polling units, ensure adequate and focused voter and civic education programmes, provide adequate and prompt information about electoral activities, make adequate arrangements for the prompt commencement of voting activities on Election Day, address issues of inclusivity for marginalized groups (women, youth, persons with disability and IDPs) and ensure greater transparency in result management and result collation processes.
Over the last two Electoral Cycles (2011-2015 and 2015-2019), the Commission made concerted efforts to respond to these diverse and complex needs. Significant improvements have been recorded in the conduct of elections. Overall, elections have become better organized and more transparent. Consequently, there is a huge public expectation to sustain this trend and raise the bar ever higher. The willingness of civil society organizations, election experts and development partners to work with the Commission to further improve on our processes is a great source of encouragement. We are fully aware of the reality that good elections have resulted in even greater expectations on the Commission to do better.
The recent Ekiti and Osun off-cycle Governorship elections provide the background to this retreat. In both elections, we were prompt and proactive in the level of implementation of our pre-election activities such as training, storage facilities, printing of the voters’ register, the receipt of non-sensitive materials, preparation of the Registration Area Centers (RACs), deployment and configuration of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), coordination with the security agencies and the management of electoral logistics. Similarly, the opening of Polling Units (PUs) and the commencement of polls was impressive, a fact also reported by many election observation groups.
However, while the Commission draws vital lessons from the conduct of the most recent off-cycle elections, managing the forthcoming General Election is huge. The voter population, number of polling units, election personnel, security considerations, logistics and so on are enormous. For instance, compared to the General Election, the Ekiti and Osun voter population constitutes just 3.27% of the total number of registered voters; 5.94% of the number of Local Government Areas, 5.77% of Registration Areas (or electoral Wards) and only 3.51% of PUs nationwide. Conducting a General Election will be an entirely different experience but the principles remain the same. Afterall, following the successful conduct of the Ekiti Governorship, some people wondered if the same could be repeated in Osun because of its much bigger size and population. As it turned out, Osun was an improvement on Ekiti. This gives us confidence that working on the same principles, the General Election will also be successfully delivered.
Our task at this retreat is to review the Ekiti and Osun elections as we prepare for a bigger and more complex General Election. Staff of the Commission, representatives of civil society organizations, election experts and development partners will deliberate on a variety of issues. We should be free to identify challenges and proffer actionable recommendations on how the Commission can build on the success of recent elections in the forthcoming General Election.
Over the next few weeks, we will also intensify our consultations and engagement across the country. For instance, the Commission will be meeting with the National Peace Committee under the leadership of our respected former Head of State General Abdulsalami next week ahead of the commencement of campaign by political parties on 28th September 2022. Similarly, in the first week of October 2022, the Commission will organize a major discussion on electoral logistics involving logisticians, security agencies, labor unions and other critical stakeholders.
Once again, I welcome you all to this retreat. We remain appreciative of the support of our development partners and all stakeholders for accepting your kind invitation to participate. As always, I am confident that you will speak freely, frankly and constructively in order to provide the Commission with actionable recommendations for the continuous improvement of our electoral process.
The Chief Technical Adviser to the Chairman, Prof Bolade Eyinla reiterating the Chairman’s address said that the purpose of the retreat is to “acknowledge the successes achieved, identify the challenges encountered and learn vital lessons in preparation and implementation of activities for the 2023 General Election”.
He said: “The acclaimed outcome of the Ekiti and Osun Governorship election was not a fluke. It was as a result of the amount of time, energy, hard work, resources and dedication that the commission and its officials expended in conducting the elections. These includes release of the calendar and schedule of activities more than a year to the elections, rigorous planning and procurement processes, early release of adequate funds, direct deployment of sensitive election materials without recourse to usual channels involving the Central Bank of Nigeria, extensive consultations with all stakeholders, especially traditional rulers and religious leaders, effective recruitment and training of election duty officials, decongestion of overcrowded Polling Units, field testing of electoral technologies, especially the BVAS, extension of the period for PVC collection and innovative methods to improve collection as well as deployment of National and Resident Electoral Commissioners to support the Resident Electoral Commissioners. These efforts were led by the Chairman who visited the two State twice, first to undertake a readiness assessment and meet with critical stakeholders and thereafter to undertake the usual joint INEC/NPF engagement with stakeholders;
The main objective of this retreat is to evaluate the conduct of the Ekiti and Osun Governorship elections from the initial state of preparedness to its execution. While it is unusual to undertake such review outside of the context of a General Election, the significance of the two Governorship elections cannot be underestimated within the context of the new electoral legal framework and the number of new measures and innovations that were introduced by the Commission in the conduct of the elections. In doing so, it is important to undertake a comprehensive review and analysis of the application of the new and progressive provisions in the Electoral Act 2022, the new measures and innovations in the INEC Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Elections, 2022 and the Training Manual for Electoral Officials and the effectiveness of the optimisation of the BVAS functionality for quick and seamless voter accreditation process;
Therefore, in the course of the retreat, it is necessary to acknowledge the successes achieved, identify the challenges encountered and learn vital lessons in preparation and implementation of activities for the 2023 General Election. It is for this reason and we in this room the Commission and its officials, including some of the Supporting Resident Electoral Commissions that were responsible for the planning and conduct of the election. We also have with us leaders of Civil Society Organizations that not only directly witnessed the election but also gained useful insight from the report of the array of observers deployed to the field by the Organizations during the election. So also, are our Development Partners whose support will be required in addressing some of the identified challenges. We look forward to hearing their critical assessment of the election;
The expectation is that at the end of this retreat, based on a proper understanding and analyses of the issues and incidents associated with the two elections, we should be able to develop a concrete and comprehensive roadmap for improving the quality of elections and the electoral process. Novel ideas will be required to deal with various latent and emergent issues including impact of insecurity on elections, rising costs occasioned by inflation, fluctuations in exchange rate and increased prices of petroleum products, equitable voter distribution to Polling Units, vote buying, sourcing of ad-hoc staff, improved PVC collection strategy, hate speech, misinformation and disinformation, judicial interventions as well as the conduct and behavior of the political class;
Based on the honest discussions and critical appraisals of the elections, it is expected that we will be able to build upon and reinforce the successes achieved, identify and address the encountered challenges and make concerted efforts to apply the lessons learnt in strengthening our administrative, operational and logistical arrangements for successful conduct and delivery of the 2023 General Election which is just 164 days away”.
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