The Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, yesterday took on critics of the 2019 general election, saying no poll is ever perfect.
Yakubu, speaking against the backdrop of the reports of the European Union Election Observation Mission to Nigeria and the joint election observation mission of the National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute to Nigeria, which highlighted some of the flaws of the elections, described democracy as work-in-progress.
The reports had decried low voter turnout and the systemic challenges that hobbled INEC from having a good outing.
However, Yakubu called on the 774 Electoral Officers (EOs) of the commission to feel free to criticise the outcome of the last general election and advise the commission when necessary.
He said: “I have consistently said that friends will criticise you, but your enemies will condemn you. But criticism is the basis to make any system work. No democracy, no electoral process is perfect. Every democracy is work-in-progress.
“So, feel free to suggest, advise on all issues relating to conduct of elections – the whole gamut. And you have the protection of the chairman that whatever you say will not be held against you.”
Yakubu, who spoke on the roles of EOs during the review of the 2019 general election in Abuja, described the electoral officials as the engine room of all elections as they are directly responsible for the execution of all policy decisions from the INEC headquarters.
As EOs, Yakubu said, they are responsible for all logistics need of any elections at the local government level, including movement of staff, vehicles, polling materials and election day management of men and materials.
According to him, the EOs are also in charge of registration of voters and handling of all sensitive election materials as well as monitoring of political party’s primaries at the ward levels, including the polling duties during elections.
The commission commenced the review of the 2019 general election with 774 EOs across the country with the aim of broadly evaluating the conduct and what vital lessons it has learnt.
INEC National Commissioner, Monitoring and Strategy, Alhaji Mohammed Lucky, told the EOs from the 19 Northern states in attendance that the review was aimed at evaluating the conduct of the 2019 general election and learn vital lessons.
He added that the programme also afforded the commission the opportunity to review its policies and programmes during the last general election, which would serve as a roadmap to the 2023 general election.
He explained: “This process is essentially a sort of SWOT analysis involving identification of our strengths, performance, weaknesses or lapses, opportunities missed or taken, as well as impediments, bottlenecks and/or threats uncovered across all the processes before, during and the fallouts since the conduct of the 2019 general election.
“The commission is aiming to be comprehensive in its attempts to review all the issues connected to the general election; from preparation through execution and its aftermath, hence the review timetable and schedule of activities has provided for consultations at multi-levels.
“The commission over the past two weeks undertook state level reviews in each and every state of the federation. All the Electoral Officers (EOs) present at this meeting were part of their respective state’s review exercise.’’
According to him, because of the critical roles that EOs play in the elections, it is deemed fit to have a more focused discussion with them, with a slightly modified template to dig deeper with regards to certain issues.
He said: ‘’In addition, we feel there’s value to be added by pairing EOs across states for them to share experiences and make more robust recommendations arising from this cross-fertilization of experiences and ideas.”
He said the meeting was one of a two-stage meeting with the EOs, adding that a total of 387 EOs from 19 states are part of the first stage.
He said over the next two days, INEC authorities would meet with the remaining batch of another 387 EOs.
Lucky said the template for discussion covered about seven thematic areas, ranging from RAC preparation and Election Day activities; logistics; voter registration; recruitment, trainings and remuneration of all categories of election officials; publicity and stakeholders’ engagement; election results management; and management of electoral processes at the local government level, for which the EOs are directly responsible.
He also said the Planning, Monitoring and Strategy Committee (PMSC) has the mandate of the commission to superintend the review in collaboration with relevant departments, including the states in taking the entire process of the exercise forward.
He added that similar series of review meetings for both internal and external stakeholders would take place in Abuja and Lagos.
He said that thereafter that the commission would engage civil society groups and political parties as part of the review.