Abuja, Nigeria. November 7th, 2017 – The Independent National Electoral Commission has started the countdown to the 2019 general elections. The INEC chairman, Professor Yakubu Mahmood, made this announcement while meeting with members of the Commission and all Resident Electoral Commissioners (REC), at the INEC Headquarters’ Conference Hall, Abuja. According to him, the Presidential and National Assembly elections have been fixed for Saturday, 16th February 2019. Although democracy in Nigeria is perceived to be maturing, there is need for citizens to be certain about the timetables for elections as it is in other countries such as in the United States (where general elections always hold on the second Tuesday of November in the election year) and in Ghana (7th of December of the election year).
In Nigeria, the constitution stipulates that elections should be held not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days to the end of the incumbent’s tenure. Thus, in order to ensure certainty in election dates and to aid proper planning for political parties, security agencies, candidates and all other stakeholders, INEC led by Professor Yakubu Mahmood, decided to fix the date for National Elections every third Saturday in February of an election year and State elections two weeks afterward. As a result, the 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections will hold on Saturday, 16th February 2019, while the Governorship/State Assembly/Federal Capital Territory Area Council Elections will hold on Saturday 2nd March 2019.
In view of the timetables and countdown to the 2019 elections, the impact of election preparedness on the success of the elections cannot be overemphasised. The preceding months before the set dates should be maximised by all stakeholders including citizens to ensure timely and efficient voters registration considering that it is one of the most costly, time-consuming and complex aspects of the electoral process. The continuous voter’s registration (CVR) is still on-going and so far INEC has been able to register about 2,786,405 Nigerians, nevertheless, there is a need for continuous sensitisation to enhance overall voters participation; such that willingness would translate into actual participation especially in the 2019 elections. For instance, a past NOI’s election poll revealed a high level of participation willingness prior to the 2015 elections (as shown in the chart below), however, figures from INEC on the actual participation revealed a gap in the number of registered (67,422,005) and accredited voters (31,746,490) as well as the number of votes cast (29,432,083) during the 2015 presidential elections.
Furthermore, inclusion in the electoral process needs to be given priority ahead of the 2019 elections to ensure the active engagement of all eligible citizens. In view of this, strategic steps need to be taken to remove barriers and ensure equal access for the disadvantaged, vulnerable and minority groups in the society; such as people living with disabilities, internally displaced persons and aged persons etc, in order to increase participation of these groups. Similarly, the activities of insurgency in the North-East may pose a challenge in the participation of its residents in electoral processes; this is evidenced in the chart above which revealed that the zone recorded the lowest proportion of respondents who claimed to have registered ahead of the 2015 elections. Thus, INEC needs to ensure that proper voters education and all other election sensitizations are carried out in the region and other vital areas to ensure an all-inclusive 2019 elections.
Finally, as the countdown to the 2019 general election has begun, it is advised that Nigerians who do not have voter’s card and those who just turned 18 years make good use of the on-going registration to get their permanent voter’s card to avoid the 11th hour rush. In terms of technology, INEC should consolidate the successes recorded in the 2015 general elections with the introduction of new innovations such as the Electronic Voter Register (EVR), Electronic Voter Authentication (EVA) and Electronic Transmission of Results (ETR). The 2019 general elections will be the sixth since 1999, when Nigeria returned to civilian rule. If well administered in terms of fulfilling the most basic democratic requirements of elections, the election will strengthen Nigeria’s prospects for democratic rule and national development. The Independent National Electoral Commission can also encourage increased political participation by improving on its use of the election technology of Smart Card Readers to minimize the delays that were witnessed during the 2015 general elections due to technical hitches. Finally, INEC should in conjunction with the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the Media, Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and Community Associations improve on voter education with particular focus on vote casting to reduce the number of rejected ballots that may occur.
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