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2023: UK is watching Nigeria closely, British High Commissioner tells politicians

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Adamu Abuh, Sodiq Omolaoye and Matthew Ogune (Abuja)
24 November 2022   |   4:16 am
With 92 days to the first round of 2023 general elections, the international community is stepping up its observatory role of the exercise. Days after the United States threatened visa ban on election riggers...

British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Cateriona Lang.

• Threatens Visa sanctions against promoters of violence
• INEC: We’re tracking campaign finances, illicit financial flow
• Reiterates use of BVAS, IReV for 2023 elections
• APC expresses reservation over BVAS, electronic transmission of results 

With 92 days to the first round of 2023 general elections, the international community is stepping up its observatory role of the exercise. Days after the United States threatened visa ban on election riggers, the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Cateriona Lang, yesterday, said the United Kingdom (UK) will be watching the elections in Nigeria very closely.

According to her, this is because of the important position occupied by the country in Africa and the rest of the world. Lang said this during a meeting with the National Working Committee (NWC) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the party’s National Secretariat in Abuja.

She said: “This election is very important to Africa and parts of the world, so the spotlight will be on Nigeria and UK will be watching closely.”

Lang added that UK is engaging with key stakeholders in the elections in so many ways. “We have spoken with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and civil societies. We don’t support any political party, it is for the people of Nigeria to decide who will lead them at the Federal level and state levels. In that spirit, we are meeting all the main political parties.

“I met with the Chairman in February, this is our second meeting and I will be meeting all the other chairs of the main political parties,” she added.

On key issues of concerns in the elections, Lang said: “The few things that are on my mind, just to make sure that the elections go very well, number one is security, and we have been really concerned about the recent events, 52 election violence-related issues in 22 states, including an attack on the PDP convoy in Maiduguri. That is a real concern.

“When people feel intimidated, they can’t get out to vote, the election itself will not be credible, that is why the violence is of great concern,” she stressed.

On the issue of electoral violence, Lang said: “We do have sanctions in the form of our Visa programme. We will also be watching closely any individual who acts violently or incites people through the social media. We do have the possibility of using our Visas as sanction by removing peoples rights to visit UK.

“We will be watching closely. These apply to all the political parties, not just the parties alone, but security officials and anybody who might be in that position.

“The really important thing is to get the votes out, whatever political party you are, the election will be credible, if the votes are high. It was low last time, around 35 per cent turnout.

“There is also the issue of registration of young voters. That is a real positive and we hope that they would turn out to vote on the day of election, because it will make the election much more credible.” Speaking on behalf of PDP, the National Secretary, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, said the party has an unwavering faith in democracy and the democratic process.

He said: “PDP is the party that was able to fling the military out of power and is the first political party that started democracy in Nigeria.

“That is why it is embedded in every nook and cranny of this country. PDP has structures in every unit in Nigeria. Everybody knows what happened in 2015 was an aberration, we won that election and it was stolen.

“In 2019, we won again and it was stolen, but we believe in 2023, by February 25, PDP will come back to power, because we have put every structure on ground.

“We believe that in 2019 there was voter apathy, but this time around in 2023, a lot of the younger generation want to be involved, they want to change leadership, because it has affected them.

“We believe that with the BVAS, which INEC is able to introduce it is not going to be business as usual and that is why we keep praying for INEC to maintain what they have promised to Nigerians.”

MEANWHILE, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said the Commission is tracking campaign finances and illicit financial flow ahead of the elections.

Yakubu disclosed this at the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room National Stakeholders Forum on Elections supported by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), yesterday, in Abuja. He said that with basically three months to the election, based on the 14 activities listed in the timetable and schedule of activities released by the Commission on February 26, 2022, nine has so far been implemented.

“The Commission is determined to tackle the matter of campaign finance frontally and areas of violation include party and candidates expenditure beyond what is provided by law and the diabolical practice of vote buying at polling units on election day.

“Beyond that, we are mobilising every national institution with the responsibility for tracking and combating the illicit flow of funds as well as the broadcast and print media regulatory agencies to confront the problem head-on. 

“Similarly, we have made tremendous progress in the production and delivery of critical sensitive and non-sensitive election materials to our State offices, recruitment and training of ad hoc staff for the election are ongoing. 

“On electoral logistics, particularly, the arrangements for the movement of personnel and materials to various locations during elections, the Commission met again with the service providers and reviewed the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the road transport unions.”

Yakubu said arising from experience in previous elections, the Commission has expanded the scope of collaboration to include the marine union for riverine areas.

He, however, reiterated the Commission’s concern over perennial insecurity in the country as an existing challenge being compounded by unfortunate incidents of attacks on campaigns, rallies and processions across political parties.
 
He said the Electoral Act 2022 required the Commission to deploy technology on election day for voter accreditation and the upload of polling unit results to the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal.
 
“The processes would be achieved through the use of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS). We want to reassure Nigerians that BVAS has come to stay as the only means of voter accreditation.
 
“For the last two years, beginning from August 2020, the Commission has published results direct from polling units in 105 off-cycles governorship and bye-elections in real-time and the results can still be viewed on the IReV portal. The 2023 general elections will not be different. There is no truth in any insinuation to the contrary.”

The Convener, Situation Room, Ene Obi, said the Situation Room represented Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) at the fore of working to strengthen democracy in Nigeria.

Obi said the interventions of the Situation Room as a platform and those of its partners have contributed tremendously to the improvement of the electoral process, holding stakeholders accountable and enlightening citizens.

Obi said although the coalition was pleased to see several improvements in the off-cycle governorship elections that have been held since the last general elections in 2019, there were still several challenges of utmost concern.

Ms Elizebeth Drew, Head, Governance and Stability, FCDO, British High Commission, Abuja, said the contribution of civil society to electoral reform processes was laudable.

“UK stands ready to continue to support INEC and all relevant actors in efforts to effectively execute the polls within this context.

“As the largest democracy in Africa, Nigeria’s leadership on electoral reform and practice is important for the continent and beyond, other countries look to Nigeria on democracy issues.”

The Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali-Baba, who was represented by ACP Onaghise Osayande, said the force was working to guarantee an enabling environment for the conduct of the elections.

HOWEVER, Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Abdullahi Adamu, has expressed reservation over the usage of BVAS. Speaking during the visit by the Commonwealth delegation to the party secretariat at the national secretariat of the party in Abuja, he expressed doubt if transmission of election results in real time would be feasible as promised by INEC.

Adamu refered to the challenge of network in remote parts of the country as basis for his skepticism. He said: “Our concern is how ready are we to deploy some of these technologies as regards transmission in real time. To transmit results, I’m not sure network covers every part of the country. I know that even in parts of Abuja, there is no network and we have from now till February when in substantial parts of the country there is no electricity.

“INEC must assure us 100 per cent that as at when due in transmitting results they are ready because they spoke about recharging batteries but we had in previous elections when it said it can’t recharge.”

The Commonwealth delegation paid a visit to Adamu, to advocate for free, fair and credible process for the general elections. Leader of the delegation and political adviser, Commonwealth Secretariat, Lindiwe Maleleka, said: “We are here on a pre-election assessment mission, a chance to meet with all major stakeholders involved in the election. We have interacted with civil society organizations, political parties, senior government officials and media representatives as well. It is an opportunity to understand the preparation for the election irrespective of what status.

“Based on these perspectives we will submit a report to the Commonwealth secretary general who will then decide to deploy observers for the election on behalf of the Commonwealth secretariat. This is why we are here to interact with you, tap your perspective and the preparation for the election.

“We note the reforms that have been introduced in the lead up to this election: the electoral act, 2022, the new technologies which were introduced and I believe was tested in the Osun and Ekiti elections. We want to get your views about the new reforms in the build up to the next general elections because we are aware it will be rolled out for the election in February.”