Nigeria’s President H.E. Muhammadu Buhari has lauded the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) for promoting credible elections and the “best electoral standards and practices in West Africa.”
“ECONEC being a platform for mutual assistance in the promotion of credible elections through experience sharing, peer learning and capacity building brings out the best electoral standards and practices in the ECOWAS region,” the President said in an address to the opening ceremony of the ECONEC Symposium on Political Inclusivity and 6th Biennial General Assembly in Abuja, on Monday 5th August 2019.
The President, who was represented by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation Mr Boss Mustapha described as “very encouraging sign the steady progress in ensuring that all segments of society have a voice in the management of public affairs, especially through the democratic process.”
He mentioned efforts by the Nigerian government to promote political inclusivity including the signing into law on 31st May, 2018 of the “Not-too-young-to run” bill, adding that government was determined to ensure that “not only youth, but other categories of citizens such as persons living with disabilities and those internally displaced for various reasons are integrated into the electoral process.”
The president, however, urged governments in the region to do more on political inclusivity through legislation.
He encouraged Election Management Bodies (EMBs) to take the lead in this regard, noting that through ECONEC’s advocacy under the leadership of Prof Mahmood Yakubu, Chair of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Nigeria has provided logistics and technical support to ECONEC members such as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau.
In his goodwill message, the President of Nigeria’s Senate, represented by Senator Kabiru Gaya, warned against the danger of not allowing marginalised groups – women, youth, persons with disability (PWDs) and internally displaced persons (IDPs) – to actively contribute their full potential to the nation building process, suggesting legislative action as a solution.
Deputy Speaker Ahmed Idris Wase, who represented the Speaker of Nigeria’s House of Representatives, reiterated the commitment of the country’s legislature to credible elections and political inclusivity. He cited as an example the House Speaker’s recent appointment of a physically-challenged man as Special Assistant on Special Needs/Equal Opportunities, the first in the history of the House.
The President of the ECOWAS Commission Dr Jean-Claude Kassi Brou charged the participants to provide a “scalable blueprint to ensure that elections in West Africa become more inclusive and reflect the aspirations of all strata of our populations.”
Represented by the Director of Political Affairs, Dr Remi Ajibewa, the president listed some achievements by ECONEC, stating that “with the support of ECONEC, we have witnessed a significant improvement in the way elections are organized and conducted in our region.”
In his opening remarks, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, ECONEC President and INEC Chair paid tribute to ECONEC’s founding fathers and outlined the achievements by the Network in the past two years, including Needs Assessment, Post-election Follow-up, Solidarity and Peer Support and Learning missions to eight of ECONEC’s 15 members.
He noted that the intervention activities, including the study on cost of elections, International workshops on the use of technology in elections and on professional reporting of elections, have been carefully documented by ECONEC’s Programme Officer (Communications and Advocacy).
Prof Yakubu acknowledged the support by the Nigerian government to ECONEC members and thanked his colleagues on the Steering Committee for their sacrifice towards the realization of the gains chalked by the Network in the past two years. He expressed the hope that the incoming Steering committee would build on the gains.
In the keynote address, the Deputy President of the ECOWAS Commission Madam Finda Koroma described the symposium as another achievement by ECONEC, noting that “ECOWAS member States are yet to sufficiently mobilise women, youth and persons with disability (PWDs) for inclusive participation in the electoral process and for equal opportunity.”
While suggesting possible solutions, she, however, noted that women “should sum up courage to lead and should not be afraid of losing an election.”
Reiterating the Commission’s support, the vice president noted that “ECONEC through this symposium would have contributed to creating awareness and building knowledge and understanding for increased (political) participation and representation of women, youth and persons living with disability.”
In his goodwill message, Dr Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Secretary General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), reminded electoral institutions about the need to conform to some basic universal principles and practices of governance and human rights including the rights of women and persons of disability enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations.
Dr Chambas, fondly called “Mr ECONEC” was president of the ECOWAS Commission when the Network was formed in 2008. He congratulated ECONEC for “great strides,” recorded and reaffirmed UNOWAS’ support.
Other goodwill messages were from the Head of the European Union’s Delegation to Nigeria and ECOWAS Mr Ketil Karlson, the President of the European Centre for Electoral Support (ECES) Monica Frassoni, Head of Programme of the German Agency for International Cooperation, GIZ, Mr Christian Voelkel and rtd. Chief Justice Hamid Mahamoud Hamid, Chair of the Electoral Commission, Zanzibar and Head of the Electoral Commissions Forum of Southern African Development Community (SADC).
The opening ceremony of the twin events organised by ECONEC in collaboration with INEC and ECES, with funding from the European Union also featured the presentation of two ECONEC publications – Report of the Cost of Elections Study and ECONEC Activities in Support of Credible Elections.
The symposium is expected to recommend concrete steps towards enhancing political inclusivity, while on the agenda of the ECONEC General Assembly, which opens on Tuesday is the election of a new Steering Committee to replace the out-going team headed by Prof Yakubu.