Humphrey Fellowship Alumni seminar: Violence, fraud may mar 2023 elections -Experts

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Adeze Ojukwu

Nigerians, in great numbers, as well as the international community are seriously worried about the forthcoming presidential elections.

The increasing spate of violence, vote-buying and the controversial listing of ineligible voters in official voters’ registers in several states across the country, constitute major concerns about the credibility of the entire political process.

These challenges came to the fore, recently, during an annual seminar, organized by members of the prestigious Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Alumni Association (HHHFAA).

The group is an assemblage of distinguished scholars and professionals, who are beneficiaries of the United States(US) prestigious Fulbright program.

This year’s edition, which held at Abuja, had as its theme: “Promoting electoral integrity in Nigeria – prospects and challenges.”

Speakers included National Commissioner, Independent National Electoral Commission, Festus Okoye; ex- Commissioner of Police, FCT, Barrister Lawrence Alobi; Executive Director, YIAGA, Africa, Samson Itodo and Chairman, Editorial Board, ThisDay Newspapers, Olusegun Adeniyi.

The speakers discussed various perspectives and requirements in election integrity.

In her welcome remarks HHHFAA President, Mrs Abosede Oyeleye said “HHH is a global Fulbright exchange scholarship programme, sponsored by the US to foster world peace, understanding and co-operation.”

Oyeleye said “the time has come for the voters to choose their leaders, without inducements or fear of violence.”

“I therefore call on INEC, security agencies and governments to ensure that the election is free and fair. Every obstacle, aimed at undermining the will of voters should be eliminated. There should be zero tolerance to electoral fraud and violence,” she stressed.

In his keynote address, US embassy political counsellor, Rolf Olson said the Humphrey Fellowship is “one of the U.S. government’s initiatives I have the most pride in, as it is designed to bring together some of the most capable and creative professionals from all around the world to the United States to engage with some of our own most capable individuals.

“The Humphrey Fellowship is a fitting tribute to a remarkable individual, centered on a program founded in honor of former Vice President, Senator, and Mayor of the City of Minneapolis, Hubert H. Humphrey.

“The conduct of a credible, transparent, free, and fair elections depends hundreds of thousands of people in a country, the size of Nigeria, working incredibly hard for an extended period of time, with limited resources, a fixed and compressed schedule, countless legal requirements, constant demands from many sources. The pressure of knowing their work contributes directly to the success or failure of the country’s democracy.

He warned that “individuals seeking to undermine the democratic process, including through violence, may be found ineligible for visas to the United States. We have imposed visa restrictions in the past against those responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process, and remain fully willing to do so again in the context of the upcoming elections.

“It is essential that candidates and their parties, as well as all of their supporters seeking to help them win election, refrain from brash assertions of victory that suggest defeat is only possible if there is fraud.

“We look to all Nigerians to reject the use of violence and inflammatory rhetoric before, during, and after election day. When we say “all” Nigerians we mean all: politicians, candidates, students, leaders of religious, traditional, community, youth, and business organizations and entities . Everyone has a role to play in this effort.”

National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus, Okoye, noted that 176, 846 Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) would be deployed to all polling units in the country.

According to him the commission would make available at least two BVAS devices, as back-up to each of the 8,809 registration areas, even as he assured that INEC’s data recovery centres would be upgraded.

“The Commission is firm and fixed on its resolve to conduct free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections. The Commission will continue to be open and transparent in its technological innovations because election business is public business and the public has a right to know what the Commission is doing.

“INEC will continue to gradually infuse technology in the electoral process to enhance transparency and verifiability in voter authentication and result management. The level of technological development in the country and the state of infrastructure will invariably impact on the technology the Commission can deploy.

“In this regard, the Commission will continue to make haste slowly as accuracy in result management is more important than the speed at which technology is introduced. We are confident that the BVAS and IReV will form an important pillar and component in the march towards an electoral process driven by technology to obviate malicious human interference in the electoral process.”

Retired Commissioner of Police and a lawyer, Lawrence Alobi noted that “when the citizens believe in the neutrality and impartiality of security agencies, it will engender public trust in security agencies.”

“This will make the citizens to vote freely. The election will be free, fair and a true reflection of their choices. The Police and other security agencies should consolidate on the gains recorded during the Anambra, Ekiti, Osun and Ondo elections where it was generally acknowledged that security agencies performed very well in these elections.

“Therefore it is imperative for security agencies to build the capacity of their officers and men on the principles and practice of democratic policing, in order to enhance the neutrality of security agencies in elections.”

Speaking on “Issues in voter registration and managing voters’ role,’’ Executive Director, Yiaga Africa, Mr Samson Itodo, advised voters to be vigilant and ensure that the 2023 general elections were not undermined.

Chairman, Editorial Board, ThisDay Newspapers, Mr Olusegun Adeniyi, expressed confidence in the capacity of INEC to conduct credible elections in 2023, while speaking on, The anatomy of public distrust in election management.’’

He called on citizens to defend their votes by playing active roles in the forthcoming elections.

•Ojukwu a journalist and author, is the Public Relations Officer of HHHFAA. Kindly send feedback to adeze.ojukwu@gmail.com