From Tony Osauzo, Benin

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) held a meeting on Thursday with members of various Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Persons Living with Disabilities (PWDs) in preparation for the upcoming Edo governorship election scheduled for September 2024.

The state’s Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), Dr Anugbum Onuoha, urged the CSOs to actively participate in the election process and explained that the purpose of the meeting was to familiarise himself with all the CSOs and PWDs in the state, as he had recently assumed the role of REC in Edo.

Dr Onuoha emphasized INEC’s commitment to inclusivity, stating that the commission would ensure that all critical stakeholders were carried along in the electoral process and in the upcoming governorship election. He highlighted the role of CSOs as a bridge between the people and the government, underscoring their contribution to strengthening public confidence in the electoral process.

“The important role you play in our electoral process such as voter education cannot be over-emphasised. So, I am happy that you are here today for us to strengthen our collaborations,” Dr Onuoha expressed, urging the CSOs to actively engage in all INEC activities leading up to the governorship election in September.

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He emphasised the need for their involvement throughout the process, from party primaries to the conduct of the election, rather than solely focusing on the election itself. Dr. Onuoha also raised concerns about the CSOs’ lack of engagement during the earlier campaign period when some political parties began campaigning before the designated time according to INEC guidelines. He encouraged the CSOs to actively observe and provide feedback on the entire electoral process.

Dr Onuoha provided an overview of INEC’s preparedness for the forthcoming governorship election, highlighting the monitoring of party primaries, publication of form EC9C in all local government areas, and the completion of necessary training. He also mentioned that the next item on the timetable was the commencement of the campaign on April 24, emphasising that INEC was fully prepared to monitor and regulate the campaigns.

Furthermore, he appealed to the CSOs to focus on their mandate as watchdogs and to educate the public on the importance of obtaining a voter’s card. “This meeting is to familiarise with the CSOs and PWDs groups in the state and to charge you all to be actively involved in the process leading to the election,” Dr Onuoha stated.

Mrs Louisa Elkhomun-Agbonkhese, the Founder of the Echoes of Women in Africa Initiative, expressed gratitude to INEC for the robust engagement and assured the commission of the CSOs’ readiness to collaborate for an improved quality election. She commended INEC for initiating the election activities on time and urged the commission to take appropriate action against any political party that violates the election guidelines. Elkhomun-Agbonkhese emphasised that the CSOs had been diligently carrying out their duties of educating the public about their civic responsibilities.

As the September governorship election in Edo State approaches, the collaboration between INEC and the CSOs is expected to contribute to a more inclusive and transparent electoral process, fostering public trust and participation.