AN ADDRESS BY HON. CHAIRMAN, INDEPENDENT NATIONAL ELECTORAL COMMISSION (INEC), PROF. ATTAHIRU M. JEGA, OFR, AT A KNOWLEDGE SHARING CONFERENCE WITH STATE INDEPENDENT ELECTORAL COMMISSIONS (SIECs) ON THE VOTER REGISTER, CONTINUOUS VOTER REGISTRATION AND PERMANENT VOTER CARDS AT THE ROCKVIEW HOTEL ROYALE, ABUJA, ON OCTOBER 7, 2013
Elections, as we all know, remain the best way to deepen democracy and promote good governance. This is because credible elections make leaders accountable and responsive to the needs and yearnings of the people from whom they derive their mandate to govern. Good democratic governance helps to address the fundamental aspirations of citizens. Liberal democratic systems, which are products of free and fair elections, offer citizens the opportunity to elect their representatives in the Legislative and Executive arms of governments at all levels. Elections, therefore, promote citizens’ participation in governance through the exercise of their right to choose leaders – a right that ordinarily should ensure responsive and responsible (what is known as “good”) governance.
Today’s meeting is unique because it brings together election managers at the national and local levels of Nigeria’s political system in a knowledge sharing experience. This falls in line with INEC’s resolve to hold regular engagements with critical stakeholders as we prepare for the conduct of the 2015 general elections. Credible local government elections must constitute the foundation of any credible democracy in this country. We in INEC fully recognize that whatever efforts we make to improve the quality of elections at the national level would have little effect unless the quality of elections at the local government level equally improves.
Following a comprehensive review of the 2011 general elections, enhanced stakeholder engagement was identified as one key area where the Commission needs to invest more energy and resources. This important recommendation is already being implemented in the form of regular engagement with critical stakeholders. Such meetings afford us the opportunity to share our progress towards repositioning the Commission for sustained conduct of free, fair and credible elections.
From the 2011 general elections, this Commission has vigorously pursued a set of reforms to improve and consolidate on the credibility of our elections. The reforms include the creation of a new biometric Register of Voters; use of the Re-Modified Open Ballot System (REMOBS); new security measures for protecting ballot papers and ballot boxes such as colour coding and serial numbering; new result collation and transition systems; development of a revised framework for the collation and return of results as well as a revised procedures for recruitment, training, re-training and deployment of regular and Ad-hoc staff.
In addition, the Commission established closer collaboration and partnerships with a range of critical stakeholders (political parties, security agencies, civil society organizations, media professionals, and so on); expanded and improved voter education and citizen enlightenment programmes; established the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) to ensure coordinated engagement of all the security agencies during election periods; developed a 5-year Strategic Plan and Strategic Programme of Action; commenced the programme of action for delimiting constituencies; and established a Citizen Contact Centre (ICCC) responsible for direct, real-time contact between citizens and the Commission on issues regarding the Commissions work (Contact lines: 07098115257; 07098117563 & 07098110916; Web Address: www.inecnigeria.org; Facebook: www.facebook.com/inecnigeria; and Twitter: @inecnigeria). At present, the Commission is developing an Election Management Infrastructure that will provide a basic planning framework for the conduct of some of the most critical election-day activities such as tasks, timelines, resources and responsibilities; as well as the Election Project Plan.
The purpose of this workshop, in particular, is to brief SIECs, provide information about, and create an environment for robust discussions on two important aspects of our activities, namely Voter Register Optimization and Permanent Voters Cards (PVC). I am sure we are all very much aware that a credible register of voters is a necessary requirement for credible elections. Given the poor state of the register inherited by the present Commission when it came on board on June 30, 2011, compiling a new register of voters became absolutely imperative. This informed the decision to invest significant expenditure of time, energy and resources in a new register of voters as we prepared for the April 2011 general elections.
In approximately three weeks, between January 16 and February 8, 2011, in spite of formidable challenges, a total of 73.5 million eligible voters were registered. The Commission has now been able to establish a huge national asset of databases in each state of the federation and the FCT, as well as at the national level, with equally secure Disaster Recovery Centres.
Before the April 2011 elections, the compiled voters’ list was consolidated and underwent two levels of de-duplication – at the Polling Unit (PU) and the Local Government Area (LGA) – under the first phase of the data clean-up process. This exercise, through which the data was subjected to screening using the Automated Fingerprint Identification Software (AFIS), resulted in the discovery and elimination of a total of 870,000 multiple registration cases ahead of the general election.
Ever since, the consolidated register of voters has also undergone the second stage of AFIS de-duplication at the national level. The purpose of this is to optimise the register, to make it even more credible given the discovery and elimination of more cases of multiple registrations. This latter stage is virtually completed now, and the resulting optimized register is currently being used to produce the Permanent Voters Cards (PVC) in preparation for the 2015 general elections. The production of the permanent voter cards is in progress and is expected to be completed not too long from now.
Section 10 (1) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) empowers the Commission to carry out regular updates of the register of voters through the continuous voter registration exercise – a legal mandate that was essentially exercised in the breach by past Commissions. In the exercise of this power, and in departure from past Commissions, the present Commission successfully carried out the CVR exercise ahead of the series of governorship elections conducted after April 2011 in Kogi, Adamawa, Bayelsa, Sokoto and Cross Rivers States. The CVR was suspended in Edo owing to mistrust and bitter contention among politicians in the build-up to the governorship election there, and it was suspended in Ondo for similar reasons. But the CVR was conducted in Anambra State between August 19 and 25, 2013 in readiness for the November 16 governorship election. The Commission is also finalising plans to roll out the CVR nationwide before the end of 2013 to give all eligible voters who have either turned 18 years since 2011, or who did not for one reason or the other register in the last exercise, the opportunity to register and participate in future elections.
I am confident that this forum will afford everyone present a deeper insight on these issues, and on the road map to enhance the credibility of our elections. As election management bodies at the local level, INEC expects that the knowledge shared at this workshop will positively impact your work and the credibility of elections at that level. It is also expected that the insight will be shared with voters and the general public at large; thereby engendering public confidence in, and support for the democratic process.
Let me at this juncture, on behalf of INEC, sincerely thank the UNDP and other partner-agencies of the Democracy and Good Governance (DGD) Project II for their immense support towards organising this workshop.
Our invited development partners and other distinguished invited guests, let me once again welcome you all to this workshop and wish you a rewarding time.