The Independent National Electoral Commission has stated that its current partnership with the Universities must be sustained because it was pivotal for the conduct of free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria.
The commission said it was under obligation to thank the Vice Chancellors who served as State Collation Officers during the 2019 Presidential Election and Returning Officers for the governorship elections for their immense services to the nation.
The chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, according to a statement issued on Tuesday night by his Chief Press Secretary, Rotimi Oyekanmi, stated these during the 2019 general election review and retreat with Collation and Returning Officers in Lagos.
He said, Only those who are involved will appreciate what it means to conduct elections in Nigeria. Anything that anybody has told you before is just a story. It is those who are really involved in the conduct of elections that know what it means.
“The commission deeply appreciates your service and sacrifice, resulting in some cases, to violent confrontations. We saw the way you handled the violent confrontations by partisan actors on election day. We have also seen the social media assault and regrettably, in some cases, even physical assault.
“We remember the sleepless nights, the media exposure, the criticisms, the condemnations, the commendations and in some cases, recognition earned after the elections.
“If not for the Vice Chancellors, where else can we have the pool of serious minded and credible Nigerians for such an onerous responsibility? Election in Nigeria is heavily dependent on the Universities. Your products in the National Youth Service Corps who are serving nationwide are the bulk of election duty staff at the polling unit level. I believe that the partnership with the Universities is critical, but like every human endeavour, there is room for improvement.”
Yakubu told the Vice Chancellors to speak up about their experiences on the successes and challenges encountered in the just concluded general elections to enable the Commission device ways of improving the electoral system.
Also speaking, INEC National Commissioner and chairman, Planning Monitoring and Strategy Committee, Dr Mustafa Lecky, said that the commission’s aim for organizing the meeting was to comprehensively evaluate the conduct of the polls in order to learn vital lessons that would facilitate a review of policies and programmes implemented during the polls, to create inputs for a roadmap for future elections.
He said, “INEC is undertaking these series of exercises and review meetings as part of its comprehensive SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis.”
The President of the European Centre for Electoral Support, Ms. Monica Frassoni, who described the role of collation and returning officers as crucial, also observed that it was important for ECES which supports INEC in various capacities to hear from them about what happened during the polls and how the situation could be improved.
She said, “As a former member of the European Parliament, I understand very well the crucial role the collation and returning officers play in the electoral process and the responsibilities that go with it. The interest of so many stakeholders rest on your skills, experience, integrity and bravery. Through your support to the democratic process, there is also a very clear mark of your commitment to your country.
“It was a matter of very big regret and perhaps a little surprise that some of you and your colleagues found yourselves under certain pressure and attacks in several parts of the country, with the attendant consequences. We are working in several countries of the world and we do understand and see that the situation in Nigeria is particularly challenging.”
The Lagos State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr. Sam Olumekun, stated that the state recruited 60, 560 adhoc staff in various capacities to deliver the 2019 general elections.
According to him, INEC organised the review meeting, in addition to similar meetings in the last several weeks, to receive feedback from operators and stakeholders to enable it to re-engineer its services.