Prof. Attahiru Jega, former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says electoral volunteering require reformation to maximise its benefit ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Jega said this at a public lecture organised by the University of Lagos Muslim Community in honour of the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Prof. Rahamon Bello, on Thursday in Lagos.
The theme of the lecture is: “Prospects and Challenges of involving Volunteers in Nigeria’s Electoral Process”.
According to him, such reform will reposition the continuous role of members of the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC) and academics in the election processes.
He noted that this would open avenues for additional groups of professionals like engineers, doctors, journalists and others to join in volunteering.
“In doing this slowly and steadily, it will set up measures to move in the direction of recruitment of volunteers, using a database of all those who have done election duty before.
“Even when they have moved out of the NYSC or universities as students.
“INEC, as an electoral body, needs to pay more attention to the identification and selection of credible individuals and Chief Security Officers as volunteers and partners for bringing about electoral integrity,’’ Jega said.
According to him, the case for an increased role of volunteers in the Nigerian electoral process cannot be over-emphasized.
He said volunteering was desirable, and if appropriately deployed, could add values to the integrity of elections.
The don observed that since 2015, there has been enthusiasm and passion for volunteerism in the electoral process for both individuals and civil society organisations.
“In 2011, the Transition Monitoring Group, a network of the CSO and professional groups working on elections, has mobilised and deployed thousands of volunteers for election observation and gathering data for parallel results tabulation.
“However, it is worrisome that some corrupt politicians are beginning to find creative ways to compromise youth corps members and some students involved in election duties.’’
He added that these politicians were also increasingly penetrating and compromising seemingly credible CSOs.
“Similarly, as the use of academic staff as collation and returning officers has become predictable, corrupt politicians are increasingly snooping around university campuses and INEC offices, especially over governorship elections.
“They are also inducing lecturers with money, in the hope of compromising their role in result collation and tabulation.
“So far, there is no evidence that they have succeeded, but the tendency is increasing and it is of great concern,’’ he said.
From the experiences garnered in the 2011 and 2015 general, governorship, bye and rerun elections, Jega said that the current role of volunteers, as necessary and desirable as it was, “leaves much to be desired’’.
He added that many challenges have arisen and needed to be appropriately addressed, in order to confer greater credibility and integrity to subsequent elections.
“One key reform measures introduced by INEC beginning with the 2011 general elections and improved upon subsequently, was the removal of civil servants and permanent INEC staff from core election day duties.
“These were replaced volunteers drawn from the NYSC as presiding officers and assistant presiding officers, students of federal tertiary institutions and university academic staff.
“But these core members have been threatened, intimidated assaulted, maimed and even killed in the course of their voluntary election duties.
“These emerging challenges need to be carefully studied and urgently addressed with appropriate measures deployed in order to protect the gains recorded.
In his remark, the chairman of the Unilag Muslim Community, Prof. Lai Olurode said one of the areas of concern for INEC under Jega was how to deploy Nigeria’s immense and inexhaustible social capital in service of its electoral regime.
He noted that previous attempts by INEC to track campaign and election expenses had been challenging for reasons of a paucity of information and logistic issues.
According to him, it is the responsibility of the Muslim community in an academic environment to make the utmost of every social outing to interrogate pertinent public issues that could extend the frontiers of citizenship.
Responding, the honouree and former VC, Prof. Bello expressed delight at the gesture of the Muslim Community, saying that he was proud being a member of the institution’s Muslim community.
“As Muslims, we have the obligation of doing all we have to do, according to the Islamic tenets and the will of Allah.
“We must be vanguards and good ambassadors of Islam at all times,” Bello, whose tenure ad the 11th VC of the university ended on Nov. 11, 2017, said.
Earlier, the Vice-Chancellor of the university, Prof. Oluwatoyin Ogundipe, described the occasion as apt, given the current state of the country.