Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has promised to give financial and every other form of support to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 2019 general elections.
ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Gen. Francis Behanzin, who led a delegation of the sub-regional body on a courtesy visit to INEC Chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, also expressed satisfaction over his contributions to the improvement of the electoral process and sustenance of democracy across the West African sub-region.
Behanzin noted that the purpose of the visit was to, among other things, find out INEC’s preparation for the 2019 general elections and the challenges confronting it in view of Nigeria’s large voter population of over 80 million.
He described Nigeria as “a very big country”, pledging financial support for the conduct of the elections.
A statement signed by Rotimi Lawrence Oyekanmi, the Chief Press Secretary to INEC chairman, further noted that the regional body also informed the INEC boss that it would send 200 observers for next year’s general election.
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Responding, according to the statement, Yakubu thanked Behanzin for his kind words and seized the opportunity to explain the Commission’s preparations for the 2019 polls.
He said the Commission had developed, validated and was already implementing its 2017 – 2021 Strategic Plan, the Election Project Plan, adding that it had also released the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the 2019 General Elections since January 9, this year.
He said the Commission also carried out the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise that allowed citizens who just turned 18 years and other Nigerians who had never registered the opportunity to do so.
He informed the delegation that over 14.5 million voters were registered during the exercise between April 2017 and August 2018, stressing that the new figure will be added to the almost 70 million citizens already in the national Voter Register after due processes.
He said the country might have about 83 million voters after the register had been cleaned up,
quipping that conducting general election in Nigeria could be likened to conducting an election for the whole of ECOWAS.
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He informed the delegation that Nigeria currently has 91 registered political parties out of which 89 will field candidates for various positions in the next year general elections.
Yakubu further said that the Commission works with security agencies under the aegis of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) to secure the electoral environment.
“Since the general elections will take place simultaneously in all states, the security meeting would be cascaded to the states,” he revealed.
On the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC), the INEC Chairman said Nigeria has fulfilled its promises to the body since his election as its President in Cotonu, the Republic of Benin in March 2017.
“These include: Location of the ECONEC Secretariat in Nigeria and the organization’s visit to many member countries. By the end of March next year when my tenure would end, more countries would have been visited.
“The Electoral Commission in Guinea Conakry recently asked INEC for help to clean up the country’s voter register, which it has done. Nigeria also observed the elections in Mali. INEC supported other Electoral Commissions in the ECOWAS Sub-region especially in the area of voter registration. Burkina Faso and Ghana, were also provided with ballot boxes.”
He further identified finance as the major challenge facing ECONEC, noting that each member country is expected to pay $5,000 per annum, just as he opined that ECONEC would still require some support from ECOWAS.
The INEC Chairman said he leant that ECOWAS had promised to support ECONEC with $1 million dollars and expressed the hope that with the General’s visit, the account of ECONEC would be credited within a short time.