Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), has decried the rising cost of organising elections in the region, suggesting that there is the need to harmonise election across the zone.
President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, made the lamentation at the 6th ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) Biennial General Assembly in Abuja on Monday.
“Despite these notable achievements, however, there are still challenges that subsist. One of such is the rising cost of organising elections in our member states that in most cases are low-income countries with huge infrastructure deficits, failing healthcare and educational systems and widespread youth unemployment.
“There is also the need to harmonise the manner in which elections are conducted in our region, drawing from the best practice and taking into account the specificities of individual member states. I would hope that going forward, ECONEC will assist us in exploring ways of achieving the desired political convergence in West Africa,” he said.
Declaring the event open, President Muhammadu Buhari pledged the commitment of his administration to supporting democratic consolidation in the sub-region.
Represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, President Buhari said: “We should continue to ensure that not only the youth but other categories of citizens such as Persons Living with Disabilities (PLWD) and those internally displaced for a variety of reasons are integrated into the electoral process in Nigeria in particular and other countries in our sub-region in general.
“In doing so, we will continue to support democratic consolidation in the sub-region. One way of doing so is for the Election Management Bodies (EMBs) to take the lead through peer support. I have followed with keen interest, the efforts of ECONEC in this regard. In the last two years, ECONEC, under the leadership of the Nigerian electoral body chairman, has been a strong advocate for Nigeria’s bilateral electoral assistance to countries in the sub-region based on need.
“Within the limits of available resources, Nigeria has responded by providing material and technical support to ECONET. The more recent examples include logistics support to Sierra Leone, deployment of experts from INEC on the request of ECOWAS and the United Nations to assist in cleaning up the voters’ register in Liberia ahead of the presidential run-off election in 2017.
“I want to assure you of Nigeria’s continued assistance because credible election in our sub-region is not only good for democracy and periodic elections, it is also good for overall sub-regional stability. We cannot allow the failure of the political process to destabilise our countries to the extent that regional military intervention becomes inevitable as is unfortunately still the case in the sub-region,” he noted.
In his goodwill message, President of the Senate, Ahmed Lawan, represented by Senator Kabiru Gaya, made a case for the involvement of women, youths, PLWD and IDPs in elective positions.
“Women, youth, PWDs, IDPS and other marginalised group are critical stakeholders in nation building. The inability of these segments of our society to actively contribute their full potential to national building process has far-reaching implications for political stability and socio-economic development.
“Measures should, therefore, be taken to enhance their popular participation and engagement with the political process, not only as voters, but also as candidates for elections and holders of leadership positions in political parties,” he noted.
Delivering his address, INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, simply chronicled the achievements of ECONEC under his leadership.
“Attaining these modest goals in a sub-region characterised by infrastructure and security challenges can only be realised over time. However, since the election of the current steering committee at the 5th General Assembly in Cotonou, Benin Republic, in March 2017, ECONEC now has a permanent secretariat here in Abuja which makes coordination with the ECOWAS Commission easier, more so because the ECONEC Permanent Secretary is also Head of the Electoral Assistance Division of ECOWAS. On peer support, ECONEC undertook needs assessment, solidarity and mid-term review missions to eight of the 15 members States,” he said.