Heads of International Poll Observation Missions met in Abuja on Friday to compare notes, synergize and address emerging issues ahead of Nigeria’s crucial presidential and parliamentary elections on Saturday, which have generated huge global interest.
Essentially, the Chiefs of Missions expressed their optimism for a peaceful, free, fair and transparent electoral process and the need for the political parties to respect the Peace Accords they signed up to committing to non-violence and to accept the outcome of the elections or seek constitutional/legal means for redress in case of any dispute.
The ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Society, Gen. Francis Behanzin welcomed the attendees to the meeting, which was convened and chaired by the Head of ECOWAS’ 200-member Election Observation Mission, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the immediate-past President of Liberia.
The gathering, which was also briefed by a representative of civil society group YIAGA Africa, was considered as an initiative of goodwill and support to Nigeria with the world’s attention focused on Africa’s most populous nation and its citizens on a crucial election, whose outcome could have regional if not global implications.
Chiefs of Missions at the meeting included Mr Hailemariam Desalegn, former Prime Minister of Ethiopia (African Union), Mr Jakya Kikwete, former Tanzanian President (Commonwealth), Maria Arena (European Union), and Mr Rupiah Banda, former President of Zambia for EISA – the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa.
Also in attendance were Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Office in West Africa and the Sahel, Ambassador Ketil Karlsen, Head of the EU Delegation to Nigeria, U.S Ambassador to Nigeria Stuart Symington, British High Commissioner Catriona Laing and a representative of the American National Democratic Institute (NDI).
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), have accredited about 36 international and 119 national election observer groups for the 2019 Nigerian polls.
Some 84 million registered voters, out of the country’s estimated population of 180 million, will go to the polls on Saturday to elect members of the National Assembly and a president from among 73 candidates, including six women that emerged from the 91 registered political parties.
Incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), who is seeking a constitutionally allowed second term of four years, and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), are the front-runners in the presidential race. The voters return to the polls on 2nd of March to elect 29 governors and members of the State Houses of Assembly, whose seats have fallen vacant.
Nigeria, which gained independence from Britain in 1960 has had a chequered political history with long spell of military rule that ended with the return to democracy in 1999.
After 16 years in power, the PDP was defeated by the APC in the 2015 elections, resulting in the country’s first-ever peaceful democratic transfer of power from one government to another.