Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, Chairman Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), stunned his audience in Lagos today when he revealed that voter turnout for the two bye-elections held in the state in the last 15 months only recorded about three per cent turnout.
He said in the first election to the House of Representatives in Ifako-Ijaiye constituency in December 2016, about 2.93 per cent of the registered voters showed up to vote. The winning candidate got 7640 votes out of the 339, 864 registered voters. Only 10,051 voters showed up for accreditation.
He said when the commission had some engagements with some NGOs on how to solve the problem, it was suggested that INEC should stop banning human and vehicular movement on election day.
According to him, when INEC took the suggestion on board and did not restrict movement in the bye-election to Eti-Osa House of Assembly election that followed in September 2017, Mahmood said mockingly, INEC recorded an improvement with 3.42 per cent of the voters turning up to vote.
The winner of the election got 4,204 votes. There were 183,551 people on the register. But only 6,280 came out for accreditation, while 6015 valid votes were cast.
Mahmood spoke as a guest speaker at the 69th General Assembly of the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria, BON.
His revelations came in the wake of the failed referendum to recall a Nigerian senator in Kogi state last weekend. Turnout of voters for the signature verification was around 5 per cent.
Mahmood seized on the BON platform to canvass for support by the electronic media in voter and civic education and organisation of debates as the 2019 general elections approach.
Mahmood’s paper was entitled “The Role of the Media in the Nigerian Electoral Process”. The event held at the Oriental Hotel in Lekki.
The INEC chairman described the media as the cornerstone and pillar of democracy that plays an indispensable role in the proper functioning of any democratic system.
“The vital role of the media as watchdog of democratic process and in influencing political discourse, especially during elections, is essential to democratic consolidation.
“The role of the media in information dissemination and public enlightenment through the provision of platforms for electoral campaigns, public debates and voter education is a pre-condition for free and fair elections.
“Without the media, safeguarding the credibility and transparency of elections will be a very Herculean task for election managers.
“While a free and objective media can foster transparency by disseminating important electoral information, a stifled or compromised media is capable of undermining the electoral process, ultimately weakening democracy,” he said.
The INEC chief urged the media to provide information in a manner devoid of inflammatory language, to prevent elections-related violence.
“Elections are not just about the right to vote; knowledge of the voting process, information about political parties, candidates and their programmes are critical,” Mahmood told the participants.
According to him, in facilitating the full participation of citizenry in democratic elections, the media need to educate voters on their democratic rights, to make informed choices.
He said that a well-conducted election is not only a recipe for order and good governance but also makes a difference between war and peace, as a badly conducted election could bring disaster to any nation.
The INEC boss also urged the media to subject the electoral process to scrutiny, as well as the activities of the elections management body and other stakeholders, to hold all accountable.
Mahmood said that INEC is determined to make 2019 elections the best elections ever conducted in Nigeria, free, fair, credible and peaceful, stressing that the commission needed the cooperation of all and sundry.
According to him, the media and politics have close ties because the media set agenda for political discourse and directives for political debate.
The INEC chairman said the electoral body had concluded plans for the elections, and the commission was already in election mode, with the 2019 Presidential Election exactly 289 days away.
He said that INEC would conduct elections into 1558 constituencies comprising one federal, 29 gubernatorial, 109 senatorial, 360 federal, and 991 state constituencies, as well as 68 chairmanship and councillorship constituencies of FCT.
Mahmood said that the commission was projecting 80 million registered voters for the elections as the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) was ongoing.
The INEC chairman appealed to the media to give equal access to all political parties and candidates, and stressed the need for them to organise debates for candidates seeking political offices.
He said that debates were necessary to deepen democracy and promote public discourse, as well as provide candidates with platforms to articulate position on public issues.
The INEC chairman said that PVCs of newly registered voters in the ongoing CVR would be made available by the end of the week.
“All the four millions cards of those that registered in 2017 will be delivered to each state of the federation.
“For those who registered in the first quarter of 2018, and those currently registering in the second quarter, I want to assure that everyone would get his or her card well ahead of the 2019 general elections,” he said.
According to him, the cards for those who registered in both 2017 and 2018 in Ekiti and Osun where elections will hold in July and September respectively, will be made available before their elections.
The chairman, who said that the commission was worried about low voters turn-out in elections, urged the media to assist the commission to overcome the challenge of apathy.
Declaring the event open, Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode, who was represented by his deputy, Dr Idiat Adebule said the media had become so influential and could not be ignored.
“No government working for the people can afford to ignore the partnership with the media. The media is one of the strong channels through which we engage the populace,” Ambode said.
Ambode advised the media to operate according to the ethics of the profession.
According to him, the media must act as mediator between the government and the citizens, and cannot afford to fail Nigerians.
On the huge uncollected PVCs across the country, Ambode urged media to sensitise the people to participate in the electoral process.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the event had in attendance several prominent persons such as Dr Christopher Kolade, who also delivered a speech extempore on Hate Speech and the Broadcast Media.