Jega wants cred­i­ble vol­un­teers for elec­tion du­ties

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - POLITICS - By Ke­hinde Olatunji

IM­ME­DI­ATE past Chair­man of the In­de­pen­dent Na­tional Elec­toral Com­mis­sion (INEC), Prof. At­tahiru Jega has said ex­cesses and reck­less­ness of crooked politi­cians and their in­im­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties to Nige­ria’s elec­toral process must be sub­stan­tially ad­dressed ahead of the 2019 gen­eral elec­tion.

To this end, the for­mer chair­man of the elec­toral um­pire ad­vo­cated the ur­gent need to re­forms the Nige­ria elec­toral pro­cesses to fa­cil­i­tate cred­i­bil­ity fu­ture elec­tions.

He main­tained that such re­forms should en­cour­age vol­un­teerism, which in turn would cre­ate av­enue for ad­di­tional groups of pro­fes­sion­als such as engi­neers, doc­tors and jour­nal­ists to be part of the elec­toral pro­cesses.

Speak­ing at a pro­gramme or­ga­nized by the Univer­sity of Lagos (UNILAG) Mus­lim Com­mu­nity in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Mus­lim Ummah of South­west­ern Nige­ria last week, Jega in a lec­ture ti­tled: ‘Vol­un­teers in the Nige­rian Elec­toral Process: Chal­lenges and Prospects,’ said if his ad­vice was heeded, the ex­cesses and reck­less­ness of crooked politi­cians would be cur­tailed.

Ex­pa­ti­at­ing on the sig­nif­i­cance of vol­un­teer groups to cred­i­ble elec­tion process, Jega posited that glob­ally, cit­i­zens’ en­gage­ment in the elec­toral pro­cesses as vol­un­teers range from vol­un­teer work in po­lit­i­cal party and can­di­date cam­paigns to en­gage­ment in sen­si­ti­za­tion, en­light­en­ment, voter, civic and po­lit­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, elec­tion ob­ser­va­tion and even more sig­nif­i­cantly, vol­un­teer­ing for elec­tion/polling day ac­tiv­i­ties.

He said in lib­eral democ­racy, vol­un­teerism is sup­posed to be a civic duty ex­pected of all cit­i­zens, en­cap­su­lated in the civic cul­ture; which en­cour­ages par­tic­i­pa­tion, ci­vil­ity, pa­tri­o­tism and self­less ser­vice with in­tegrity to the com­mu­nity and the coun­try.

He urged Nige­ri­ans, most im­por­tantly as the 2019 gen­eral elec­tion is fast ap­proach­ing, to start think­ing of what they can do for the coun­try to have cred­i­ble elec­tion rather than per­sonal or self­ish in­ter­est that could be de­rived from the process.

Ac­cord­ing to him, “Vol­un­teer work is per­ceived as a high call to duty, in the ser­vice of com­mu­nity, coun­try and hu­man­ity.”

He pointed to the fact that the Nige­rian elec­toral process used to be one of the worst in the world in terms of in­tegrity com­pared to other climes, when mea­sured with in­ter­na­tional stan­dards and ex­pec­ta­tions of free, fair, peace­ful and cred­i­ble elec­tions. Jega hinged his claim on the 2007 elec­tion which was widely ac­claimed as the worst in the Nige­ria’s elec­toral his­tory as a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple,.

Ac­cord­ing to him, “No elec­toral com­mis­sion in the world has enough poll work­ers in its em­ploy­ment to con­duct elec­tions. Vol­un­teers help to en­lighten, mo­bi­lize and mo­ti­vate vot­ers and sup­port the con­duct of cred­i­ble elec­tions. There­fore, the case for in­creased role of vol­un­teers in the Nige­rian elec­toral process can­not be overem­pha­sised.

“It is nec­es­sary and de­sir­able and if ap­pro­pri­ately de­ployed can add tremen­dous value to hav­ing elec­tions with in­tegrity, with pos­i­tive spin-off ef­fects on good demo­cratic gov­er­nance.

“Since Nige­ria has cho­sen lib­eral democ­racy as the po­lit­i­cal and gov­er­nance sys­tem, cit­i­zens’ ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion and con­struc­tive in­volve­ment are pre­req­ui­sites for its en­trench­ment, sta­bil­ity and le­git­i­macy.” Cit­ing ex­am­ples, Jega said dur­ing Ger­many’s 2017 gen­eral elec­tions, with 88,000 polling sta­tions, us­ing be­tween 5-9 per­sons (an av­er­age of seven per­sons per polling sta­tion, about 650,000 vol­un­teers were de­ployed, each were paid 35 Eu­ros, equiv­a­lent of N16, 245.00.

Re­call­ing also the 2015 gen­eral elec­tions in the United King­dom with ap­prox­i­mate 120,000 polling of­fi­cials, Jega said polling clerks were de­ployed on elec­tion day and each of them were paid be­tween 100-190 pounds, which was about N40, 000 to N76, 000 for a 15-hour work.

Com­ing to the sit­u­a­tion in Nige­ria where he said strong pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions, with pro­fes­sional, and es­sen­tially neu­tral civil ser­vants, are lack­ing, the for­mer INEC boss said such devel­op­ment usu­ally left the hand­ing of elec­tions to civil ser­vants, which in most cases jeop­ar­dized the cred­i­bil­ity and in­tegrity of elec­tions.

Said he, “The role of such vol­un­teers (civil ser­vant) be­comes highly politi­cised to the ad­van­tage of in­cum­bents. In such a con­text, the role of cit­i­zen vol­un­teers in­stead of civil ser­vants, as­sumes pri­macy.”

To but­tress his ar­gu­ment, Jega stated that un­til the 2010 Anam­bra State gov­er­nor­ship elec­tions and 2011 gen­eral elec­tions, civil ser­vants and INEC per­ma­nent staff per­formed on elec­tion day from open­ing of polls, to man­age­ment of polling units, count­ing of votes and dec­la­ra­tion of re­sults.

Ac­cord­ing to him, “Given the weak­nesses of pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions, threats to job se­cu­rity of civil ser­vants by in­cum­bent gover­nors and lack of neu­tral­ity or non­par­ti­san­ship of pub­lic of­fi­cials, and cor­rup­tion, the in­tegrity of elec­tions were sys­tem­at­i­cally un­der­mined at the polling unit level by mul­ti­di­men­sional fraud­u­lent ac­tiv­i­ties. The an­ti­cli­max of all of these reached its zenith in the 2007 gen­eral elec­tions.

“One of the key re­form mea­sures in­tro­duced by INEC be­gin­ning with the 2011 gen­eral elec­tions, and im­proved upon sub­se­quently, was the re­moval of civil ser­vants and per­ma­nent INEC staff from core elec­tion day du­ties, es­pe­cially man­age­ment of the polling sta­tions/units, count­ing and dec­la­ra­tion of re­sults.

Jega

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