INEC and Voters’ Education: Preparations for 2019 General Elections

March 7 Tuesday

Date/time

March 7, 2017

Loc.

Abuja, KAS office

With

Mr. Ezenwa Nwagu, chairman of Partners for Electoral Reforms,

Type

Discussion

The first roundtable discussion in 2017 for the Nigerian media and CSOs, which KAS has been running for some years now, was held at KAS office on March 07.

The theme of this roundtable is INEC and voters education, and what preparations should INEC make to have a successful outing in the 2019 general elections. Amongst the participants were journalists from print and audio media houses and civil society organizations. The participants were welcome by Mrs. Hildegard Behrendt-Kigozi, the country representative of KAS, who was convinced that 2017 will be a better year for Nigeria, and thanked the participants for making it to the roundtable. She also commented on the necessity for the early preparation by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as 2019 elections will be very tough considering the handwritings on the wall now. New political parties are springing up to challenge the established ones, many members of the established parties are very dissatisfied with their parties and are ready to jump boat when the opportunity presents itself. So the political landscape is quite volatile even as we have many months before the 2019 elections. The main paper was presented by Mr. Ezenwa Nwagu, who is the chairman of Partners for Electoral Reforms, an organization looking for better electoral process in Nigeria. In his paper Nwagu looked at the constitutional provisions section 2 (a) and (b) of the constitution as well as the electoral act saddling INEC with the responsibilities of conducting voters’ education in Nigeria. He however pointed out that the European Union Election Observation Mission, Nigeria, FINAL REPORT: GENERAL ELECTION APRIL 2011 suggested that:

"INEC should revise and strengthen its voter and civic education programme, INEC should develop an overall strategy that takes into account the focus of the educational campaign and the target groups, including specially designed programmes for first time voters and women, the strategy should also include the development of the messages, their testing and identification of appropriate delivery mechanism. In case INEC would not have adequate internal resources, it could partner with well-established CSOs which are experienced in conducting literary and awareness programmes" In Nwagu’s words, preparations for 2019 elections should have started in 2014 and not even now. He considers the preparations started now as already belated considering the huge tasks ahead of the electoral body. Although INEC was praised for improving on the voters’ education in 2015, he highlighted some interesting figures concerning the past elections, which will make the participants understand the task before INEC. In the run to the 2015 general elections, INEC spent just 1% of its total annual budget on voters education, which leaves much to be desired as seen at the end of the day when many voters were prevented from voting due to many minor issues like relocation from one city or state to another, registering in your work place and on election day, no movement to get to the polling booth where you registered and many others. He advocated for a serious review of the voters education in Nigeria especially towards 2015. For instance the spirit behind the concept of using celebrities as voters’ education ambassadors is good, but the implementation was not good enough as most of these ambassadors lack platforms to carry forward the messages INEC wished to pass around. He suggested established celebrities with platforms should be considered in future, as those without platforms see the engagement as a business venture, where they need to get paid. Related to this is the INEC Half Hour television programme, with the intention of educating Nigerians, but which has failed in this task, because the programme is used more to showcase the activities of the Chairman of the commission just like other agencies of government, placing too much emphasis on the courtesy calls received in the course of the week. He suggested INEC should concentrate on the real issues that will educate the voters, and leave courtesy calls for inter consumption as this will not make the voters wiser on electoral issues. Of course, if any issue that will educate the voters were discussed during the courtesy calls, this can be part of the television programme. According to him, INEC has been abandoned by other agencies of government and CSOs who supposed to join INEC in the voters’ education in Nigeria. Agencies like National Orientation Agency, Nigeria Television Authority and so on have abdicated their responsibilities, and as seen by all, INEC alone cannot educate the voters successfully. He charged the agencies of government to wake up to their responsibilities. In the task of getting the voters educated, Nwagu also explained the responsibilities of the media by saying the media houses need to give their staff proper training on election matters before sending them out to observe elections, as these journalists can jeopardize the outcome of elections due to their reports if they are not well trained in electoral matters. As part of the training for the journalists, he suggested getting copies of the electoral acts for them to go through before elections as this will guide them on the field. Dotting further on the electoral act and its necessity, Nwagu pointed out that when the citizens are not aware of what is stated in the act, they may not know when they are committing electoral crimes. There is a need to make the electoral act available to the people. With the gargantuan bio-data of Nigerians at the disposal of INEC, it seems the commission is not making maximum use of them. At least 79mio telephone numbers of individuals are on INEC server, which can be used in carrying voters’ education to the people by partnering with telephone giants like MTN, GLO, ETISALAT. Similarly, the social media is there for INEC to conduct voters’ education on and reach out to many young Nigerians. He finally sounded a note of warning that INEC is responsible for leadership recruitment process in Nigeria and as a result is too important to fail. In their reactions, Ms. Grace Ekpo (Lady G - Wazobia FM) reiterated the need for celebrities with platforms to carry voters’ education messages to the people, while Abdulrahman Abdulrauf wanyed more light to be thrown on the integrity of the electoral commission in the conduct of past and future elections. Comrade Tosin Adeyanju pointed out in his reaction the vacuum created by not appointing 33 INEC National Commissioners, who play a major role in the activities of INEC. He challenged the NGOs to carry out advocacy to compel the government to name these commissioners on time, before it is too late as 2019 is quite near. Mrs. Ngozi Ekeoba (National Orientation Agency) agreed that her agency is a major stakeholder in the voters’ education and highlighted some of the activities of the agency towards the 2015 elections, and assured the participants NOA will not fail come 2019. Prince Herbert (West African Network of Election Observers) was of the opinion that CSOs are not performing maximally in Nigeria as far as voters’ education is concerned because there are many pro-establishment NGOs, and those NGOs which are not pro-establishment are regarded as orphans with little funds to run voters’ education campaigns. While other participants wished to know how continuous voters registrations are done in other countries, Mr. Samson Adeniran, the programme manager KAS, pointed out that voting should not be seen as a right but rather as a duty and responsibility of every citizen, as this will reduce voters’ apathy in the electoral process in Nigeria. Finally, all participants agreed that this roundtable on voters’ education should not be a one-time event, it should be repeated in various locations and at different times, as this is the best time to start voters’ education towards 2019.

Participants
Participants
Cross Section

Contact person

Hildegard Behrendt-Kigozi

Head of the KAS office in Nigeria and temporary of the office in Ghana

Hildegard Behrendt-Kigozi
Phone +234 70 982 128 35