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A Report Of A Town Hall Meeting On Voter Education In Jigawa State Organized By Organization For Community Civic Engagement (OCCEN)

A Report Of A Town Hall Meeting On Voter Education In Jigawa State Organized By Organization For Community Civic Engagement (OCCEN)

to avoid being used as tools for violence and electoral malpractice. The town hall also literally seeks to WITH SUPPORT FROM NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR DEMOCRACY (NED) AT MANPOWER DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTE, DUTSE

INTRODUCTION

The town hall meeting was specifically designed with a view to educating citizens on the daring need to actively participate in the electoral process and bring together various stakeholders who are relevant to the pursuit of a free, fair, and credible elections to enable prospective voters to freely interact with them, ask questions and make valuable suggestions on how to ensure a successful electoral exercise. In addition, at the end of the town hall, participants are expected to become more sensitized on the whole concept of election including the fundamental rules and regulations guiding it.

OPENING REMARK

The opening remark was given by Comrade Abdulrazaq Alkali, the executive director, Organization for Community Civic Engagement (OCCEN). In the remark, Comrade Alkali acknowledged invited dignitaries and all other participants while thanking them for finding time to register their presence at the very important town hall meeting. He pointed that OCCEN with funding support from NED Washington DC were interested in engaging all relevant stakeholders, especially prospective voters, in a rich deliberative session that will be key to the success of the 2019 general elections citing that the voter is the most important element of a representative democracy. The coordinator further maintained that since the voter – especially young voters – are the most active demography in every electoral process, it is important that they are mobilized, educated, and engaged for an improved electoral outcome and hence the theme of the town hall meeting: “Getting The Young Voter Ready”.

However, Comrade Abdulrazaq Alkali also enumerated some of the challenges that if not properly tackled could compromise the credibility of the elections. Among them are the refusal of the federal government to assent to the 2018 Electoral Bill as amended, an action that is perceived by opposition political parties as a ploy by the ruling party to influence the upcoming elections. What more, the inefficient and sometimes nonexistent voter education by INEC itself and by public institutions like National Orientation Agency (NOA) who are traditionally responsible for sensitizing the citizenry on government programs which include electoral policies and guidelines. He stressed that inability of such government institutions to educate citizens on the need to fully participate in the electoral process, eschew vote buying, political thuggery, and other forms of electoral malpractices have contributed in the perpetuation of voter apathy and the dastardly act of political violence which have continued to define our electoral experiences. To address these problems, the OCCEN executive director maintained that that is why all stakeholders who are relevant to the 2019 elections were invited for an open discussion with various interest groups who represent the needs and demands of the larger society.

In addition, Comrade Alkali also spoke about the roles that political parties can play to ensure violent free and credible elections or its opposite through their actions. He noted that political parties must mobilize themselves to fight the various ailments that consistently afflict our elections. On the roles of CSOs in the successful conduct of the elections, Abdulrazaq Alkali reiterated that CSOs and CBOs have a huge role to play in ensuring hitch free elections by constantly engaging relevant stakeholders through advocacy and public sensitization on those things that constitute election malpractice and in mainstreaming the full participation of citizens in the electoral process.

UPDATE ON VOTER EDUCATION BY INEC

An update on voter education in Jigawa state was given by the state’s Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr Mahmood Isah . Dr Isah informed participants of the level of preparations of INEC in its quest to ensure the conduction of a free, fair and credible elections in 2019 assuring them that the elections will be free, fair and devoid of violence and intimidation. To begin with, Dr Mahmood Isah started his presentation by giving an elaborate overview of the term “Voter”. He stated that a voter under Nigerian laws is any sane person who is a citizen of Nigeria and who has attained the minimum age of 18 at the time of elections. He further educated participants on the different types of elections that INEC would be conducting in 2019 which include the presidential, gubernatorial, and national assembly elections as well as the state house of assembly election in Jigawa state.

On the role INEC Jigawa is playing in voter education, the resident electoral commissioner stressed that his office is currently working to educate citizens on election matters in the following key areas:

Rural sensitization

The Jigawa state branch of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has according to Dr Mahmood Isah embarked on an intensive sensitization tour in rural communities across the state educating the populace on the need to shun political thuggery, vote trading, ballot snatching etc. Specifically, the INEC REC maintained that a thoroughgoing awareness campaign is currently going on with a view to encouraging electorates to come out and collect their PVCs. To this end, he pleaded with CSOs like OCCEN to continue to consolidate INEC’s efforts in this regard.

SECURITY

In the area of providing adequate security during the elections, Dr Mahmod Isah said that INEC has partnered various security agencies in the state to ensure that no violence erupts anywhere in the state before, during, and after the elections.

WOMEN

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Jigawa state chapter, has created a special office for women to make it easier for them to vote and to get involved in the electoral process. According to Haj. Zainab Saleh, gender officer at the Jigawa state INEC office, part of the responsibilities of her office was to sensitize women on the need to have an independent mindset regarding who they vote for. She further assured that INEC is making inroads into both rural and urban areas to popularize women on election matters and have them fully integrated into the political process. In addition, she also noted that in order to make voting easier for women, INEC has promised to give them special treatment on election day insisting that women will be considered earlier for accreditations and voting. Moreover, women are being properly and extensively sensitized to come out and collect their PVCs and they are complying in appreciable proportion.

EJECTION OF FOREIGNERS FROM VOTERS REGISTER

The Jigawa state REC also notified participants of the fact that in its effort to make sure that only eligible voters participate in the elections, INEC has carried out a comprehensive pre-election accreditation exercise of all registered voters where many ineligible voters, mostly foreign nationals, were evicted from the list. According to the state’s INEC commissioner, Dr Mahmood Isah, from the pre-election accreditation exercise that the commission conducted, the state has 2111394 (Two million one hundred and eleven thousand three hundred and ninety four) total number of accredited voters. What more, to ensure that polling units are properly manned by well trained staff, the commission has hired 18793 ad-hoc staff who are to be spread across 4555 polling units across the state.

UPDATE ON PUBLIC SENSITIZATION FOR PEACEFUL AND CREDIBLE ELECTIONS BY NOA

In his address, the director general of National Orientation Agency (NOA) Jigawa state chapter, Alh Sani Abba says the agency has started a series of public sensitization for peaceful and credible elections in Jigawa state come 2019. Public sensitization is carried out in the following key areas:

Political Thuggery

NOA is carrying out an intensive public sensitization campaigns in order to roll back the dangerous spate of political thuggry which leads to political violence and compromises the process of an election. The campaigns are carried out across all the LGAs of the state and are mostly conducted in public spaces like markets, mosques, places of public gatherings etc. etc.

Drugs Abuse

According to the Jigawa state NOA director, Alh Sani Abba, NOA has engaged all relevant stakeholders in order to fight the scourge of drugs abuse. Drugs abuse according to him is the ultimate precursor to political thuggery since youth who engage in the act are usually drug addicts. So to deal with the problem of political thuggery, NOA realizes that it has to first of all deal with its root cause – drugs abuse.

MEDIA

For an effective dissemination of information, NOA is engaging the media, especially voice and social media to sensitize the people on how to peacefully conduct themselves before, during, and after the elections while also reminding them of the punishment that awaits election offenders to serve as a deterrent to them. According to the NOA director, the media is used by the institution to mainstream citizen’s participation in electoral politics.

ENGAGEMENT WITH INEC

The Jigawa state chapter of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) has partnered INEC in the area of voter education and the partnership has succeeded in educating a very large swathe of the state’s population.

SECURITY

The National Orientation Agency (NOA) is also engaging various security outfits anytime they are holding any form of public sensitization.

SENSITIZATION OF PARENTS/GUARDIANS

Parents/guardians are also engaged and sensitized on the need to instill moral discipline in their children and talked them out of potentially allowing themselves to be used as agents of political disturbance.

COLLECTION OF PVCs: NOA is also carrying out a special campaign across all the local government areas of the state to mobilize people to come out and collect their voter’s cards and the campaign is yielding enormous results according to the state’s director, Dr Mahmood Isah.

PRINTING OF POLITICAL PARTIES LOGO

As part of its voter education efforts, NOA has printed the logos of all political parties that will be participating in the upcoming elections in the form of a poster and shared across the local government areas to help prospective voters identify the parties of their choice before elections begin. Through this effort, it is hoped that the problem of damaged votes will be greatly minimized.

CSOs EFFORTS TOWARDS ENSURING A FREE, FAIR, AND CREDIBLE ELECTIONS

In his remark, the chairman of Jigawa state Civil Society Forum, Comrade Muhammad Musbahu Basirka expressed CSOs dogged commitment to free, fair, and peaceful elections in Jigawa state. He said that civil society groups in the state have merged together to form what they call Jigawa state Citizen’s Charter of Demand, a charter that is currently collating citizens opinion on what they want from the leaders they would elect. In effect, according to Comrade Basirka, the idea was to give the electorates a chance to make direct demands to political office aspirants, secure their promises with which they could hold them accountable once they got elected and assume office. Furthermore, Comrade Musbahu Basirka also noted that the state civil society groups have been engaging the media in disseminating relevant information about the election to the general public through a continued local radio programs.

Moreover, the chairman of the civil society forum also acknowledged that his forum is partnering with YIAGA Africa’s Watching the Vote Initiative to set up local election observers across the state. This according to him will help ensure the conduct of a credible elections. Finally, the civil society forum pleaded with the Jigawa state resident electoral commissioner and security agencies to cooperate with the local government areas Watching the Vote supervisors so that a peaceful, free, fair, and credible elections can be ensured.

THE ROLE OF POLITICAL PARTIES IN SENSITIZING ELECTORATES ON PEACEFUL ELECTIONS

In his address, the chairman of Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC) Jigawa state chapter, Alh Habu Sani also reiterated political parties’ readiness to partner with all relevant stakeholders to sensitize prospective voters on election matters before the commencement of the elections. He says that all political parties that will be participating in the upcoming elections have since started grassroots voter sensitization of their supporters in all the LGs of the state. Alh Habu Sani also called on INEC and security agencies to put all necessary mechanisms in place that will ensure free and fair elections while at the same time charging civil society groups to keep a watchful eye so that justice can be served on all political parties at the polls.

SECURITY

The Nigeria Police Force which is represented by SP Alh. Sadiq assured participants that adequate security will be put in place during the elections. In addition to that, the police force is also working tirelessly to roll back the spate of vote buying and other related electoral malpractices. Furthermore, he stressed that the Nigeria police force is already creating an awareness among citizens on the need to be law abiding while in the same vein collaborating with traditional rulers and religious institutions to ensure violent free elections.

DISCUSSIONS

At the end of the paper presentations by the various stakeholders, a session for general discussions was opened up to allow participants to ask questions and make commentaries on the issues discussed by the speakers. The comments made and questions answered are categorized into the following sections:

INEC: One of the participants from the civil society, comrade Muhammad Dodo after having thanked OCCEN for the wonderful program went ahead to ask the following questions:

  1. Will the 90 political parties that will be participating at the polls be listed in a single sheet?
  2. Since INEC has made it very clear that accreditation of prospective voters and voting will run simultaneously during the upcoming polls, what has INEC put in place to avoid the perpetual problem of late arrival of election materials on polling day?
  3. What plan has INEC made to engage gender based NGOs to help keep women aware of the special treatment that INEC has promised to give them?
  4. Will non formal security outfits like local vigilante also participate in maintaining law and order during the polls?

In response to those questions, the state resident electoral commissioner, Dr Mahmood Isah says that all political parties will be listed in a single sheet of paper and that INEC is already very prepared to ensure that all election materials are deployed to polling units on time while promising that late arrival of election materials that was experienced during previous elections will not be allowed to recur again. He also made it clear that all recognized security outfits in the state will be coopted to ensure that the elections are conducted peacefully.

Moreover, while responding to the question on gender issue, the state INEC gender officer, Mrs Zainab Saleh said her office has held a meeting with the state’s gender based CSOs with the aim of mainstreaming the full participation of women in the electoral process in addition to sensitization programs in local radio stations. She also added that her office is also planning to hold town hall meetings for women and people with disabilities in order to popularize them on election matters. Another participant from the civil society comrade Muhammad Usman called on INEC to give better consideration for women so as to motivate them and also increase the number of polling units in the state to make voting much easier for citizens. While comrade Ishaq Shehu Muhammad pleaded with INEC to distribute PVCs to rural communities so as to make it easier for rural voters to be able to collect them instead of making them go to their local government headquarters to collect them. He also demanded to know if the people whose names were omitted from the INEC register could get a new registration. In response, the INEC boss affirmed that plans has already been perfected to support women during the polls and that polling units have been increased already. On the issue of omission of names, Dr Mahmood Isah said those whose names were omitted could go and recheck their names but the time for new registration has already elapsed. Finally, the state INEC commissioner used the opportunity to thank the Jigawa state emirate council for consolidating the commission’s efforts toward public sensitization for peaceful elections.

POLITICAL PARTIES

A participant from the ruling All progressives Congress (APC) Mal. Murtala Garba thanked OCCEN for organizing the informative town hall meeting and also extolled INEC’s commitment to conducting free and fair elections and in fighting the scourge of vote buying. What more, he also mentioned his party’s commitment to public enlightenment through all media tools available so as to help ensure a successful elections. While Mal. Atiku Umar of Social Democratic Party (SDP) also thanked OCCEN for the program stressing that the town hall has given them hope for credible elections. However, Mal. Sule Ya’u of the major opposition party, the People Democratic Party (PDP) expressed dissatisfaction with the level of preparedness of INEC to conduct an election that can be passed off as credible but pleaded with them to explore all means necessary to be fair to all the participating political parties. On the part of his party, he said PDP was already sensitizing their supporters on the need to carry out healthy electioneering and to abide by every rule sets out by the electoral umpire.

CONCLUSION

At the end of the town hall meeting, the senior programs advisor of OCCEN Muhammad Shuaibu further explained the core objectives of Organization for Community Civic Engagement (OCCEN) and its commitment towards ensuring the sustainability of democracy and a free and credible elections. He further reiterated the organization’s willingness to partner any stakeholder in ensuring the success of the 2019 polls.

 

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