Samson Itodo, the Executive Director of YIAGA Africa, has described the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as being under threat, saying it is currently populated by politicians.
The Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth and Advancement (YIAGA) is a non-profit organisation seeking to promote democratic governance, human rights and civic engagement.
Itodo also said any improvement in the professionalism and independence of INEC is a threat to Nigeria’s political class.
Itodo made the submission while speaking on Tuesday at a programme organised by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) titled, ‘Nigeria 2023: The New Electoral Act and the Road Ahead”.
According to him, the more INEC improves on its technical expertise, the more the political class interferes with its affairs.
He said for the commission to record a high level of voter turnout, the independence of INEC must first be guaranteed so as to sustain the trust and confidence of the citizens in the electoral process.
Itodo further noted that the security of voters is at the heart of participation in the 2023 elections.
He stated, “INEC’s reforms, improvement, professionalism is a threat to the political class, the more INEC improves on its technical experience and its management of the elections, the higher the political interference with the electoral commission.
“As we think about 2023 elections, one of the greatest concerns is how do we protect the independence of the electoral commission because the law vests a lot of discretionary powers on INEC and we’ve seen times, INEC is populated with politicians and members of political parties. That’s giving a serious source of worry to the citizens and the public, if there’s any time the institution needs some protection, it’s actually now.”
“We’ve seen the commission take positions and try to draw the attention of political actors to provisions in the law as it relates to the regulatory powers of the commission.
“That’s a positive but I think as we move towards the elections, INEC’s independence is critical on how to protect the commission…” he said.
“Our expectation is if the new law confers integrity on the electoral process, then it will boost citizen confidence that they want to participate in the elections.
“If citizens still observe and grapple with access to polling stations or election logistics problems or even interference by state and security agencies, it will dampen their interest to participate in the election.
“If we recorded 35% in 2019, we may have an increase in the turnout of voters for the 2023 elections. There have been efforts by civil society to mobilise voters but if parties don’t throw up credible candidates and it appears that institutions have been captured by the state, you will observe a decline in voters in the 2023 elections.
“I agree with Festus (Okoye) 100% that we need to invest in voter mobilisation for the 2023 elections but prior to that, is to assure the Nigerian people that when they come out to vote, their security is guaranteed and it’s really at the heart of participation in the 2023 elections. I people don’t feel secure, then even INEC cannot deploy to certain areas.”