Civil advocacy and integrity of 2019 elections
The place of advocacy by the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) has been thrown into the front burner of discourse again as Nigeria prepares for the general elections in February and March, this year. The importance of advocacy by civil society organisations in such events is hardly disputable as the participation of the citizens in elections is a civic responsibility.
Nigeria is now in the midst of electioneering campaign for various elective offices. It is no longer news to the politically conscious Nigerians that the country’s electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has scheduled the Presidential and National Assembly elections for February 16, 2019, while the Governorship and State House of Assembly elections will hold on March 2, 2019. INEC’s preparations for the election have entered a crucial stage with a few weeks before the electorates will go to the polls to elect national leaders.
One definition considers civil society as a community of citizens linked by common interest and collective activity. Another definition describes it as the aggregate of non-governmental and non-profit organisations that manifest the interests and will of the citizens. In a nutshell, civil society is about a group or community of people who champion a set of shared objectives, ideas or interests on behalf of the larger society and channel same to government for the purpose of policy formulation.
Advocacy occupies a central place in the functions and activities of Civil Society Organisations. It is a method by which the organisations present and lobby for the inclusion of ideas or goals into the policies of government agencies or institutions. With regard this modus operandi, the main concern is the advocacy space or the extent to which Civil Society Organisations can operate in certain settings. Often times, their operations are dependent on the level of cooperation they are able to receive from government. However, I submit that Civil Society Organisations have been able to operate effectively in Nigeria with minor encumbrances because of the growing awareness about their activities by the relevant sectors in the democratic space.
The Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria are involved in various areas of interest or have co-operated with government agencies in specific activities in the larger interest of the society. The Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room is the umbrella body of more than 70 Civil Society Organisations currently operating in Nigeria. It elucidated that it was “set-up in 2010, ahead of 2011 general elections in response to the need to enhance civil society coordination and ensure constructive and proactive engagement of the election process. The situation room has emerged to maximise the various resources of civil society groups for information sharing, anticipating problems during elections and responding rapidly when they occur.
“Since then, the Situation Room has continued to contribute to the improvement of the electoral process in Nigeria and has also garnered an important convening power providing a forum for interaction amongst stakeholders, officials of government and the civil society.”
Towards the conduct of free, fair and successful elections this year, I strongly believe that the Civil Society Organisations have lived up to expectation. They have provided a veritable interface with INEC, the security agencies and the populace. They effectively monitored the voters’ registration exercise at various stages including some periods when the exercise was extended in order to give more room for the people to register and exercise their franchise. They also monitored the display of the voters’ register for claims and objections between 6th and 12th November 2018 and subsequent clean up of the register by INEC using the Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS). Undoubtedly, this kind of close up and monitoring of the electoral umpire by the Civil Society Organisations has enhanced the integrity of the preparations for the elections.
More importantly, INEC has kept faith with its time table for the conduct of elections. On 7th January 2019, during its Quarterly Consultative Meeting with political parties, INEC presented the official voters’ register to be used for the forthcoming general elections. According to the INEC chairman, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, the total number of registered voters as contained in the document is 84 million. The breakdown of the figure as per the geopolitical zones in the country showed that North Central has 13.3 million voters representing 15.91 per cent; the North West has 20.1 million representing 24 per cent while the North East has 11.2 million representing 13.4 per cent. The breakdown also indicated that the South-South has 12.8 million voters with a percentage of 15.29; the South East has 10.05 million voters representing 11.97 per cent; and the South-West has 16.2 million voters representing 19.39 per cent.
After what may be regarded as a successful voters’ registration exercise, what appears to be lacking is the effective enlightenment of the voters for the collection of their Permanent Voters’ Cards (PVCs). It is nauseating that a large chunk of the of registered voters are yet to collect the PVCS. In some states, up to 40 per cent of the registered numbers are yet to collect voters’ cards. There are fears that if urgent action is not taken to address the issue before the elections, an unimaginable proportion of the voters will be systematically disenfranchised.
The onus therefore is on INEC and its civil society partners as well as other key stakeholders in the electoral process to raise the bar of their public enlightenment programmes in order to ensure effective and fair participation of the citizenry in the forthcoming elections. As part of the strategy, they could embark on House-to-House enlightenment campaign both in rural areas and urban centres thereby enhancing large voters’ turnout and the credibility of the elections.
As Nigerians look forward to the conduct of the elections, there should be proper coordination between the Civil Society Organisations and the security agencies in order to prevent misunderstanding and hiccup in the process. They should draw up rules of engagement and Memorandum of Understanding, and ensure that the rules are adhered to, for efficient management of the electoral process. Effective and unhindered monitoring of the elections by both local and international observers will no doubt enhance the integrity of the elections.
• Elegbede is an Abeokuta-based journalist.
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