The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday lamented its lack of constitutional power to deregister any of the existing 91 political parties in the country.
The electoral umpire has also promised to identify members of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) who performed creditably during the 2019 general election and reward them with automatic employment in the commission.
Declaring open a post-election review meeting on the last general election in Lokoja yesterday, the INEC’s Federal Commissioner in charge of Nasarawa, Kogi and Kwara States, Malam Muhammed Haruna, said the clamour by Nigerians for a reduction in the number of registered parties could only be done through an amendment of the constitution.
He agreed that the provisions in the 1999 Constitution that state that parties must be national in outlook and have headquarters in Abuja had led to unexpected problems but explained that INEC was helpless.
The commissioner advocated a consensus among stakeholders to resolve the issue, explaining that constitutional amendment was the only way out.
Haruna identified logistics as the major challenge the INEC encountered in the conduct of the last general elections, saying that steps would be taken to prevent a re-occurrence.
On the just-released European Union Observers’ report on the last general elections, the commissioner said all the issues raised in the report were outside the purview of the INEC.
He said that the review meeting was organised to identify success factors in the elections with a view to consolidating and sustaining them and to share knowledge among staff and key stakeholders.
Also speaking, the Resident Electoral Commissioner in Kogi State, Prof. James Apam, admitted to security lapse during the last elections in the state.
He said efforts would be made to correct this and other identified areas of failure before the November 16 governorship election in the state.
In a related development, INEC has promised to identify members of the NYSC who performed creditably during the 2019 general election and reward them with automatic employment in the commission.
The commission also said that the gesture would also be extended to the corps members that will participate in the Bayelsa and Kogi states’ governorship elections scheduled for November this year.
The Chairman of the commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, made this known yesterday in Abuja during the presentation of laptops and phones donated by the European Election Observation Mission to 75 corps members who were carefully selected by a panel of NYSC and EU delegation.
Yakubu said: “There cannot be any election in Nigeria without the NYSC; it is simply impossible. I said this before, I will say it again and I cannot be tired of saying it, that the youth corps members are the most dedicated, the most educated, the most patriotic, the most willing, the most able, readily available, the most numerous and the most committed election duty observers in Nigeria.
“And it is not just about the election, it is what we called the electoral process. You are available for voter education, you are available for voter registration, available when we display the voter register and available on election day as presiding officers.
‘’You count the votes, you record them and you take the votes to the collation centres. You travelled to various locations by land and by sea. Let me repeat, there cannot be election in Nigeria without the NYSC.
“You go through challenging experiences, I recall that in 2015, when we conducted the governorship election in Bayelsa State, and something happened when I saw the boat carrying election duty staff and materials to Okproma in Southern Ijaw, and to Ekeremo and Brass, I saw the way the youth corps members were transported, I doff my hat doubly for the NYSC
“And then in Ondo State, when we conducted the governorship election in 2017, I will never forget this experience for the rest of my life, youth corps members bringing back result from Ilaje had a boat accident at night, one of the boats capsized, thankfully there was the Navy in the background and the Navy came to their rescue.’’
The INEC boss added that the commission did not lose a single life on that occasion, but on other occasions it was not so lucky, saying for the rest of his life, he will continue to remember the memory of Okonta Samuel, one of the corps member who was killed after he submitted the results from his polling unit and he was killed on his way home in Port Harcourt, Rivers state.
Yakubu further stated that any day election is conducted; none of his commission’s staff sleeps until they account for every election day staff particularly the NYSC.
According to him, “let me say this, in addition to what the EU is going to do today, by presenting you this equipment, the commission has embarked on the review of the 2019 elections. There are many of you here, there are many of you not in this hall, who did very well in the elections, we will identify you and we will reward those who have done excellently in the elections with automatic employment in INEC.
“By doing so, we hope that those of you who have done very well will form the core of conscientious of election duty staff going into the next general election. Now, we will extend this beyond the general election to the two major elections we are going to conduct in November, the Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections, and all those who are going to man all the polling units. Those who do very well in the elections will also be rewarded with automatic employment by INEC,” Yakubu assured.
Earlier, the Head of EU Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS, Ambassador Ketil Karlsen, said considering the fact that 292,000 corps members participated in the elections, he noted that elections wouldn’t have been possible without their participation, describing them as the backbone of democracy.
He added that while the 2019 elections were not perfect, there is room for improvement provided the youth participate actively in electoral process.
Karlsen stated: “We wanted to make the process leading to the election a process about engaging youth, more than 60 per cent of the population in Nigeria are youths, the vast majority of the voters are youth. So, we wanted to optimise to the extent possible engaging youths in the elections and we did that by reaching out in the six geo-political zones having participation of wonderful artists and influencers, with that convening power that we cannot pretend to have.
“Whether Europe, whether Africa and certainly in Nigeria, you should not take democracy for granted. Did we have perfect elections, of course not; and is there room for improvement, of course there is. But for that to happen we need above all the participation of youths and that is what today’s event is all about also,” he said.
Karlsen noted that he and his team were able to convince the European Parliament to handover the equipment that was used during the observation mission to 75 youth corps members.
On his part, the Director General of NYSC, Brig-Gen. Shuaib Ibrahim, said that corps members with their intellectual capacity, resilience and malleability, have become veritable agents of promotion of national unity, cohesion and economic transformation