Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman Prof. Mahmud Yakubu yesterday assured the nation that the commission was already preparing for 2019 polls, saying the mistakes of the past elections would not be repeated.
Yakubu, who acknowledged election as a collective enterprise involving the cooperation of stakeholders, said the electoral duties that fall within the agency’s purview would be discharged with “utmost responsibility”.
He warned against electoral malpractices, reminding unscrupulous agency officials and other citizens that culprits would be brought to book.
He said 120 electoral offences have been prosecuted and 61 offenders have been convicted.
Reflecting on the controversial legislative rerun in Rivers State, Yakubu said the commission had ordered an “administrative review” of the exercise in a bid to prevent its reoccurrence.
He said plans were underway to conduct a credible governorship election in Anambra State later in the year, stressing that past pitfalls would be avoided.
The INEC boss spoke at the opening ceremony of the commission’s ‘Strategic Retreat’ in Lagos. It was attended by electoral officers from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
The retreat was organisaed in collaboration with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).
Yakubu was accompanied by INEC National Commissioners, including Prince Deji Soyebi, Dr. Adekunle Ogunmola, Air Vice Marshall Ahmed Tijani Muazu, Mallam Mohammed Haruna and Hajia Amina Zakari.
Experts, who shared their experience with the electoral officers, included Prof. Bolade Eyinla, Technical Adviser to Yakubu, Prof. M.J. Kuna, Prof. Sam Egwu, Prof. Adele Jinadu, Dr. Lawal Ismaila and Prof. Abubakar Momoh.
Yakubu reflected on past elections, saying that Nigerians expected a better performance in 2019.
He said future elections conducted by the agency must past the test of transparency, integrity, credibility and impartiality.
He added: “Our task is to conduct elections that will be acceptable to Nigerians. Before the election, people expect the commission to plan ahead for a hitch-free exercise, in terms of voter’s card availability, proximity of polling units to voters and building of confidence that the votes will count.
“On the election day, people expect the polling officers and materials to arrive early. People want peaceful poll and functional equipment. Polling units must open at 8a.m. Materials and personnel must be available. There are other areas beyond the INEC; security and peaceful environment. A successful election does not come by fluke. It is a product of planning.”'
Eyinla, who explained the retreat objectives and expectations, described elections as “the indispensable root of democracy”.
He added: “For elections to have integrity, it must be conducted by the Election Management Board (EMB) with full independence of action in a professional, non-partisan and transparent manner. This requires professional EMB composed of persons whose credibility, neutrality and fairness are generally accepted.”
IFES Country Director Shalva Kipshidze hailed the INEC for planning ahead of 2019 polls, stressing that planning would provide a sense of direction and highlight measurable goals.
Noting that Nigeria has taken a great leap in its democratic process with the 2015 elections and successful governorship polls in Edo and Ondo states, he said there was a greater expectation on the 2019 elections from the citizens and the international community.
Kipshidze added: “The review of the 2012-2016 strategic plan is pivotal as it will provide the right platform for INEC to consolidate the gains made and further continue to improve on the democratic process through critical, concise, constructive analysis and assessment to assist in strengthening subsequent strategic plan.”