Nigerians on Tuesday highlighted critical issues pertaining to the 2023 elections at the inaugural edition of the Citizens Election Dialogue series organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Yiaga Africa, and Channels Television.

Speakers also called for free and fair elections in 2023 during the forum which held in Abuja and was themed ‘What makes a Good election for Nigeria’.

The dialogue series is designed to provide a public platform for citizens to conduct political debates and focused conversations to promote electoral awareness of the upcoming 2023 polls.

In attendance at Tuesday’s edition as panelists were PDP presidential spokesperson, Dino Melaye, Labour party chieftain, Oseloka Obaze, APC chieftain, Adams Oshiomhole, NNPP spokesperson, Abdulmumin Jibrin, and former lawmaker Nnenna Ukeje among others.

INEC RECs

Melaye accused President Muhammadu Buhari of nominating members of the APC as Resident Electoral Commissioners.

President Buhari had written to the Senate on July 26, asking the upper chamber to confirm 19 RECs for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

“As a party, we made some complaints that some names mentioned as Resident Electoral Commissioners as nominated by Mr President are card-carrying members of the APC,” Melaye said.

“Some of them even participated in open APC activities as nominees for the REC for some states. That is the complaint of my party. If that is rectified, then we must quickly appoint RECs because it will boost the confidence of the electorates and show the seriousness of the entire system for the 2023 general elections.”

Noting that election is a process, the PDP chieftain charged INEC to wake up to its responsibilities ahead of next year’s polls.

He stated that Nigerians are worried that of the 36 states, RECs have not been assigned to 19 states despite how crucial their duties can be during elections.

The ex-lawmaker also knocked the current administration for the delay in assigning the nominees to their respective domains.

Commenting on the matter, Labour party chieftain Obaze said INEC must be beyond reproach in making appointments if the elections are to be credible.

‘Not do-or-die’

Responding to Melaye, Oshiomhole said concerns about election manipulation by the ruling party have no basis in reality.

“I don’t want to sit down here and defend who is sympathetic to who but the Senate should do their job and I am happy that it has both APC and PDP members who are active, vibrant, and knowledgeable,” he said. “They know who is who and it is their business to scrutinise those who have been nominated.

“But congratulate President Buhari for being able to tell the world that this election is not a do-or-die for him or his party. I am proud of that. You may not be proud of it because you are in history as having had a president who said because he is leaving, he must be succeeded by the PDP otherwise it is a do-or-die affair. We have moved past that.”

Oshiomhole, while buttressing his point, said Buhari has never used the Armed Forces to get electoral value, noting that even the President’s worst critics agree with that.

“I think even the worst critic of President Buhari will admit that he has not tried to misuse the Armed Forces or the police in order to have an electoral advantage for people running an election on his platform or even his own election,” he added.

“At every stage, he has insisted he wants to leave a legacy of a free and fair election.”

‘All inclusive election’

A disability rights activist Jerry Grace said she expects persons living with disabilities to make INEC’s list of REC nominees.

“Beyond questioning the integrity of those who have been nominated, we have a challenge where it is all exclusive of the most marginalised group,” Grace said.

“Now, we are promoting an all-inclusive election, we are promoting an all-inclusive society but where there is a huge gap – and these marginalised groups are relegated to the background.

“And sometimes when you look at it, it looks like it is an intentional approach to provide a platform for this marginalised group and that is where we have the challenge.”

She added: “We still say there is a huge gap. That gap needs to be addressed. While we are waiting for the new nominees to come up, we also expect that persons with disabilities, youths, and even women will make that list so that we can say we have an all-inclusive INEC that works for all.”

‘Not a favour’

Speaking for the NNPP, Jibrin said President Muhammadu Buhari is duty-bound to conduct free and fair elections in 2023.

He claimed that the ruling APC was against taking Nigerians for granted in the quest for good governance.

“It is important for us not to take Nigerians for granted. Yes, President Muhammadu Buhari made that comment internationally that he will bequeath a free and fair election,” he said.

“It is not a favour to Nigerians, it is a responsibility. So, we should not wrongly interpret that.”

He also spoke about the 19 Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) nominees recently forwarded to the National Assembly.

The ex-lawmaker said his party – NNPP – is worried, the same way Nigerians are concerned over the perceived partisan nature of some of the nominees.

According to him, the President had last year appointed one of his aides, Lauretta Onochie, as National Commissioner for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Time for youth

In her comments, ex-lawmaker Ukeje said next year’s election is an opportunity for young people to make a difference.

“For the very first time, with everything that is going on in Nigeria, you have seen an upsurge of people show a keen interest in the electoral process of this country,” Ukeje said.

“We have seen over 10.3 million people come out to register and the people are between the ages of 18-35 – 70 per cent of those people. Their hope is on the line. And the reason they are coming out is because they are hoping that this is their one chance to make a difference from all the challenges that they see.”

The PDP chieftain also called on the electoral body and the Federal Government to conduct a free exercise in 2023, warning that if the process is not transparent, the consequences may be devastating.

“Now, if anything goes awry, the effect of the disenchantment of these people, who have put their hopes in the future of this country through the ballot, is going to be difficult to contain,” she added.

“So, when we start to speak about the integrity of the people who want to be the umpires of this election and we start to see that there is less than transparent engagement with the National Assembly and the Nigerian people, then it means that the outcome of the elections is going to leave a lot to be desired.

“So, I think it is of the utmost importance that the APC government realises that the onus is on them to come out there and give us the elections that they promised us.”

Source: Channels TV

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