Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, says though managing the 2023 general elections is a huge challenge, the commission will stand for electoral justice.
Yakubu made this remark in Lagos at the opening ceremony of INEC Retreat to review recent Ekiti and Osun off-cycle governorship elections and lessons learnt for improved performance in the 2023 general elections.
The retreat had in attendance INEC National Commissioners, Resident Electoral Commissioners, Civil Society Organisations, Election Experts, and development partners among others.
Yakubu said there had been huge public expectations from INEC to sustain successes recorded in recent off cycle elections and raise the bar ever higher.
“The commission draws vital lessons from the conduct of the most recent off-cycle elections, managing the forthcoming general elections is huge.
“The voter population, number of polling units, election personnel, security considerations, logistics and so on are enormous.
“The willingness of civil society organisations, 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 INEC boss said.
According to him, following the successful conduct of the Ekiti governorship election, some people wondered if the same can be repeated in Osun because of its much bigger size and population but Osun election was an improvement on Ekiti election.
“This gives us confidence that working on the same principles, the general elections will also be successfully delivered.
“I want to assure and reassure Nigerians that the commission will stand for electoral justice.
“Only the votes cast by Nigerians will determine who wins and this is our commitment to the nation,” Yakubu said.
On cleaning of voters register, Yakubu assured Nigerians that no ineligible person would participate in the forthcoming general elections.
Describing elections as a multi -stakeholders’ responsibilities, he said that as far as INEC roles and responsibilities were concerned, the commission had made a lot of progress in terms of preparations.
On the challenge of vote buying in elections, Yakubu said that INEC would continue to do whatever it could through voter education to discourage the menace as well as working with security and anti-graft agencies to checkmate the trend.
“It is our collective responsibility as citizens to end vote buying. Our election is only as good as the kind of cooperation that the commission receives to ensure that we stem this ugly trend.
“The ultimate safeguard against this kind of attitude is the establishment of an Electoral Offices Commission and Tribunal through which all violators of electoral law will be prosecuted,” he added.
Yakubu said that every election, whether bye-election, off-cycle election or general election, was special and provided INEC an opportunity to improve service delivery to citizens.
He recalled that in the aftermath of the 2019 general elections, INEC had 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,” Yakubu explained.
He said that INEC 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 INEC boss said that such birthed the Electoral Act 2022 while some of the recommendations that required constitutional amendments were currently under consideration.
According to him, the introduction of technology has made election and the electoral process more transparent.
Yakubu said: “By organising 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.”
He said that over the last two Electoral Cycles (2011-2015 and 2015-2019), INEC had made concerted efforts to respond to these diverse and complex needs and significant improvements had been recorded in the conduct of elections.
Yakubu said that retreat should engender actionable recommendations for the continuous improvement of our electoral process.
In his welcome remarks, Mr Olusegun Agbaje, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in Lagos State said the retreat was “crucial” and had become imperative to ensure an improved performance in the conduct of a free, fair, credible and inclusive general election in 2023.
“It is gladdening to note that the new Electoral Act 2022 has given legal backing to INEC to deploy technology to enhance the credibility of the electoral process which has given birth to the deployment of INEC Voter Enrollment Device (IVED), Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal.
“The BVAS and |ReV portal have continued to perform optimally and added the much-needed value to the process as witnessed in the recent governorship elections in Ekiti and Osun,” he said.
Agbaje, however, noted that the commission needed to begin early and rigorous training for both permanent and ad-hoc personnel on the handling of these new equipment in order to have seamless operations in the forthcoming general elections in 2023.