The ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Gen. Francis Behanzin has called for reduction of the cost of elections to make democracy affordable, more participatory and inclusive. As a first step towards achieving this goal, he called for support for the setting up of a regional depot for electoral materials which would be accessible by election management bodies (EMBs) in the ECOWAS space.
Exchanging views with visiting members of the Peer Support and Learning Mission of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) in his Abuja office on 13th February, the Commissioner noted that the high cost of elections could impede the strengthening of democracy in the region.
To this end, he urged EMBs to redouble their efforts adding that the regional depot for electoral materials being contemplated by ECOWAS, could facilitate the pooling of resources, eliminate duplication of costs and ultimately make elections less expensive.
Already, ECONEC, with the support of the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), has conducted and validated a study on the cost of elections in West Africa due for publication, with the findings expected to address the spiralling electoral expenses in the ECOWAS region. For instance, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation with some 84 million registered voters is spending about US$6.5 per voter, for the February/March 2019 general elections, which translates to a huge budget.
Commissioner Behanzin also briefed the ECONEC Mission led by the chair of Sierra Leone’s Electoral Commission Mohamed N’fah-Alie Conteh on ECOWAS’ support to member states organising elections, including through the deployment of Long- and Short-term observation missions.
He explained that with the support of partners such as the European Union and the German Agency for International cooperation, GIZ, the ECOWAS Commission was deploying 200 observers to Nigeria and 80 to Senegal for their elections in February and March this year.
In commending the pre-election Peace Accords signed by Nigerian political parties and presidential candidates, Gen. Behanzin encouraged EMBs in the region to put in place a similar mechanism to ensure peaceful and credible elections across the region.
In his response, Chief Electoral Commissioner Conteh, agreed on the need for the reduction of electoral expenses and peaceful conduct of polls in the region, adding that the Peer Support and Learning Mission to Nigeria, was the first by ECONEC as a way of deepening knowledge and experience of members on best electoral practices.
“Nigeria is a big country, and whatever happens here affects the rest of Africa and West Africa in particular,” he said.
Both Commissioners expressed the hope that the Nigerian elections on 16th February and 2nd March would be peaceful and with integrity, to strengthen democracy and good governance in the country and the ECOWAS region at large.
The ECONEC Peer Support and Learning Mission to Nigeria, which also met with the ECOWAS Observation Core Team at the Situation Room in Niger House, is supported by the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES) and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA).
The Mission will hold consultations with Nigerian political stakeholders as part of the experience sharing and learning to strengthen best practices in the conduct of credible and peaceful elections in the region.