From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
With over 3.63 million new voters captured in the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise, registration of 27 new political parties which increased the tally of registered parties to 67 and the conclusive conduct of major and minor elections, year 2017 was undoubtedly an eventful one for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Some of the highlights of events that shaped the Commission’s 2017 calendar include but not limited to the proactive engagement of critical stakeholders on election matters, prompt release of timetable for the 2019 general elections, conduct of “relatively free, fair and credible elections,” few bye-election litigations, and Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State’s double registration saga among others.
Timely release of 2019 election timetable
The Commission had launched the 2017 annual electoral activities with the release of the 2019 general elections timetable in the first quarter of the year.
The timetable, coming exactly two years ahead of the elections, revealed that while the presidential and National Assembly elections would hold on February 16, 2019, the governorship and state assembly polls will take place on March 2 same year.
Hinging its decision on the desire to standardise the nation’s electoral process and ensure certainty in the dates for elections, the commission had argued that it would give room for it and other election stakeholders to plan proper.
INEC chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, had at the end of the year noted that: “the planning process of the 2019 general elections started much earlier, with various consultations that culminated into the development, validation and approval of the Strategic Plan of Action and the Election Project Plan that contains the entire plans of the Commission up to 2021. The implementation of the 2019 Election Project Plan begins in earnest from January 2018.”
To underscore its commitment towards the timetable and constantly remind Nigerians that the schedules are very sacrosanct, the commission had launched a countdown on its website.
Commencement of CVR
The Commission had followed up the timetable with the commencement of a nationwide Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) exercise in April 2017 in all the Local Government Area (LGA) offices and other locations within the LGAs designated by the Commission.
In line with the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) which mandates the Commission to carry out CVR nationwide and make same available to every political party within 60 days, the Commission had sadly never deemed it fit to carry out the exercise. But for the first time in its history, it carried out the exercise in 2017.
Giving update on the exercise, Prof Yakubu disclosed that: “INEC made tremendous progress in deepening, sustaining and defending the integrity of electoral process. So far, some 3,630,529 new voters in addition to the 70 million registered voters for the 2015 general elections will vote in 2019. The CVR will continue until 60 days to the 2019 general elections, as provided by the Electoral act. Our projection is that the voter register will probably be over 80 million by 2019.
“This is an important development in our efforts to ensure that electoral services offered to Nigerians are better, more frequent and easier to access than ever before. For the first time in the history of the commission, citizens who have attained the voting age of 18 years and those who could not register during the previous CVR exercises now have the opportunity to do so,” he noted.
Yakubu, however, lamented that about the eight million Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) were yet to be collected by their owners, admitting: “We haven’t made much progress in the last two years but we have made elaborate arrangements with the states to ensure that the cards are collected.”
Conduct of elections
The Election Management Body (EMB) surely graduated from the inconclusive polls that characterised the elections it previously conducted to a conclusive one. It did not only attract commendations for conducting free, fair and credible elections in 2017 but also recorded unprecedented landmark which impressed the defeated candidates to jettison instituting legal actions.
With the conduct of two major elections in 2017- the Osun West senatorial bye-election and the November 18 Anambra state governorship poll, the Commission, under the watch of the current chairman, successfully organised elections into 175 constituencies nationwide, comprising 79 Court-ordered re-run elections, 73 end of tenure elections and 23 bye-elections.
According to Yakubu; “In the last two years since our inauguration on November 9 2015, the Commission has made tremendous progress in deepening, sustaining, and defending the integrity of the electoral process.
“It is an honour to have conducted the largest number of off-season/off-cycle elections ever in the history of the Commission, which serve to continually improve our operational processes and procedures.
“Beginning with the Kogi governorship election of November 21, 2015, through to the latest Anambra governorship election, the Commission has demonstrated the capacity to fine-tune its operations, sustain stakeholder engagements and rapidly respond to field challenges in our continuing effort to maintain the integrity of electoral process,” he assured.
Prof. Yakubu further said: “In all the elections conducted so far, only two have been overturned by the Election Petition Tribunals. Even so, the Tribunals did not order the Commission to conduct fresh elections, but to issue Certificates of Return to candidates other than those earlier declared winners.
“Interestingly, in the most recent major elections conducted by the Commission, the outcomes were not challenged in Court. This is a clear testimony to the Commission’s continued improvement of our operations and the credibility of electoral outcomes.”
Registration of new political parties
For the electoral Commission, 2017 would go into the books as the year with the highest number of registered political parties in Nigeria’s political history.
From the over 150 political associations seeking registration as political party, INEC cleared a total number of 27 political associations after meeting all the registration requirements, bringing the total number of registered parties to 67.
After a stakeholders’ meeting held in Kaduna State in June, the election management body had registered five new political parties comprising Young Progressives Party (YPP), Advanced Peoples Democratic Alliance (APDA), New Generation Party of Nigeria (NGP), All Democratic Peoples Movement (ADPM) and Action Democratic Party (ADP).
In August, INEC, following a court order, had also announced the registration of another new political party, the African People’s Party (APP), after three years of scrutinising its application.