Election observation: We’ll report what we see, CSOs vow

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…As UK insists on visa ban for perpetrators of election violence

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Over 70 civil society organizations (CSOs), under the auspices of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, on Wednesday, vowed to ensure transparent and true reports of happenings in the forthcoming general elections.

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The Situation Room, which is one of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)’s accredited observers for this year’s polls, vowed to speak what they see.

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The Convener of the group, Mr Clement Nwankwo, gave the assurance, on Wednesday, at a press briefing to unveil the Election Situation Room of the coalition for Feb. 16 and March 2 in Abuja.

He said the group would keep an eye on the INEC’s collation process “which are often the subject of controversy.”

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According to him, there are over 800, 000 wards across the country and our target is to cover each of these wards to provide fair knowledge of what has happened with the collation process at that stage.

”We know that part of the weakness of Nigerian election process is the collation, so being able to keep an eye on a collation process becomes a very important objective for us.

”So we will keep an eye on that process and we will work with other groups who are represented here in the Situation Room to ensure a positive civil society observation of this election.

”I know that there is apprehension everywhere but I do know that we have a determination to observe this election to be fair in what we report.

”And I keep making the point that we will speak what we see; we will speak the truth. We will speak it as honestly as we should.

”And that is why gathering evidence to inform what we speak becomes very important for us,” he said.

Nwankwo noted that though this was an era of fake news, he assured that the group would not report what it had not verified.

”We will not be on any political party’s side. We will be on the side of Nigerian people.

”If Nigerian people are unable to vote, unable to see their votes count or be counted, we will say so,” he remarked.

He expressed concern that despite INEC’s spirited effort to ensure that the Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) produced get to all registered voters, many were unable to get the cards.

”This means that some people will be disenfranchised as a result of their inability to collect their PVCs,” he said.

He called for a system to ensure easy distribution of PVCs in future.

”Beyond that as well is the concern about what is happening to the uncollected PVCs. We have seen report of fire incidents in some INEC’s offices, eg in Plateau State.

”In Anambra State yesterday, the entire 5, 000 PVCs for the state was burnt. It is a major concern.

”What is going on? Who is targeting the PVCs and what are they going to do with this?

‘’And as we go into the election, it will be an important issue for us looking at what happens with the PVCs,” he said.

He also called for the security of the observers and other stakeholders before, during and after the election.

The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Ms Catriona Laing, reemphasised that politicians who incite or execute violence during the elections would have their visas banned and assets seized .

She reminded political parties that apart from their assets being seized in the UK, they could experience a worst case scenario of prosecution.

“We will apply this absolutely across board not directed to any particular party. So we are monitoring and looking out for hate speech.

“We are concerned with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s rally which has hate speech and we will like to call that kind of thing out.

“Then another worry is fake news , that is why we rely on CSOs and we will work with them to get information.’’ she said.

According to Laing, democracy is a journey; though elections are not perfect in all the countries of the word because they all have challenges but what matters is if a country is making progress.

She said that the Nigeria 2015 was historic and the world celebrated with Nigeria and the African continent so in the 2019 elections Nigerians should be even more.

Laing said that this mattered to the world especially to investors and it would send an incredibly strong signal to them.

UN Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel, Mr Mohammed Ibn Chambas, thanked the CSOs for the launch of the situation room adding that it was a good work towards the elections

Chambas urged stakeholders to do what is right especially INEC and called on security agencies to play their roles in manners that would not compromise the process.

Head of the EU Delegation to Nigeria, Ambassador Ketil Karlsen, said that the work of CSOs over the last years gave hope that continued clamour for consolidation of democracy internally could happen.

Mr Jude Illoh, Country Director of Open Society for West Africa (OSIWA), said that though there a lot of apprehension about the election, Nigeria would overcome the challenge.

On his part, Mr Festus Okoye, INEC’s National Commissioner, assured that the electoral umpire would be open and transparent throughout the exercise.

”Whereever we have challenges we are going to be honest with the Nigerian people relating to our challenges,” he said.

According to Okoye, INEC is good to go in relation to this particular elections.

He restated that the commission would not postpone the elections in any part of the country on grounds of some of the challenges.

He said the election would be conducted in over 120, 000 polling units in over 60, 000 voting points.

He said the commission had concluded to use two collation officers at a registration area instead of one collation officer and two collation officers for the 774 local governments.

He assured that election would also be conducted in all the internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps.

Okoye, who expressed INEC’s support, welcomed the unveiling of the Election Situation Room by the CSOs.

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