2019 elections: Don’t intimidate judiciary, US tells FG

AHEAD of next month’s general elections, a delegation of the European Union on Wednesday visited the national headquarter of the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC) to seek for the update on the forthcoming exercise from the electoral umpire.

Leading the delegation was the EU Ambassador in Nigeria, Mr. Ketil Karlsen. Other members of the delegation were Charge D Affairs United States of America Embassy in Nigeria, David Young; British Commissioner in Nigeria, Catriona Laing and Germany Head of Mission in Nigeria, Regine Hess.

The United States Ambassador pleaded for the autonomy of all arms of government in Nigeria as he noted that Nigeria runs three tiers of government. In an apparent reference to the growing fear of emasculation of the judiciary, Ambassador Karlsen stated in clear terms that it ” is critically important that the executive does not interfere in the role of the judges and the judiciary. ”

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He also called for non-interference of the security services in the electoral process other than the provision of adequate security to guarantee the safety of staff of the electoral body and the voters on polling days.

He said: “US is committed to providing support to INEC for the Nigeria general elections. We are looking forward to working together in providing more support. I would want to especially address all the concerns we have and that is the neutrality of the security services.

“For us, it is very important that the security services provide security for the elections that will guarantee the voting process, the security of the voters, but should not interfere with the people getting to the polls, or poll watchers, election monitors from having access and be able to vote freely.

“This is something we feel very strongly about and the neutrality of the security services is one of the very important issues for the credibility of the elections. I also want to say that we appreciate very much the important role the judiciary plays in Nigeria. As a country with the perfect three tiers of government with executive, legislative and the judiciary branches, it is critically important that the executive does not interfere in the role of the judges and the judiciary. And it important that judiciary is safeguarded and respected.

“As regards the police, we know that a new Inspector General of Police was just appointed, the US Embassy looks forward to working closely with him. They will appreciate the leadership he will provide as IGP. We are looking forward to working with Nigeria as friends and partners.”

His United Kingdom counterpart, Catriona Laing, appealed to INEC to ensure that the general elections were free and fair as he noted that the United Kingdom was aware that INEC was under intense pressure, regularly from entrenched interest.

She said: “UK has been a strong supporter of INEC in practical ways, we have been providing significant technical skills to INEC for many years. The reason why we do that is because such support is fundamental in delivering free, fair and credible election not only in Nigeria but the international community.

“It is imperative that INEC performs its role as required by the constitution completely free from any political interference, and we are not naive to recognize that there is always political pressures on INEC from time to time, from actors from different areas. And we see it as part of our role to provide INEC with that support that enables INEC withstand such political pressures and encouraging INEC to continue to exercise its independence. We see as really fundamental for INEC to continue to service the people of Nigeria and ensure that the election is credible.”

In his opening remarks, the EU ambassador, Mr. Karlsen had earlier declared that the European Union had no favoured candidate or entrenched interest in Nigeria democratic process but to ensure that genuine democracy thrives.

“We seek the opportunity of this visit to ask to be briefed by you on the development of preparation. As you know we from the EU, we already have longtime observers in the country. We are blessed with the arrival of our chief observer in the next few days.

” Our chief mission here today is for Nigeria to succeed in having a free, fair, credible, transparent and peaceful election. We have reiterated at every occasion and we have to stress it here before the media present that evidently, the international community generally and certainly all the missions you see here before you, we are not here to support any candidate, or any particular party or any ideology.

“What we are here to do as true partners of Nigeria, is to support your efforts in seeing a continuation and consolidation of the growth. Nigeria showed to the global population in 2015 that the outcome of credible elections can prevail. That was a powerful message in terms of unity, opportunity and general economic development of the people of Nigeria. We want to also see this reinforced in 2019 and whoever is the successful candidate will also be a partner of our various countries. It is in this spirit we have been supporting INEC, political parties, media and other stakeholders in Nigeria. ”

In his remarks, the INEC chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu who received the delegation informed his guests on the preparations so far made in the area of logistics ahead of the election, just as he restated his determination to surpass the feat achieved in 2015 general elections by his immediate predecessor in the Commission, Professor Attahiru Jega.

“It is really an honour to welcome you today exactly 30 days to the next general election. We are at the moment basically putting finishing touches to the preparation for the elections. All the heavy items for the elections have already been procured, additional ballot boxes, voting cubicles, replacement of Card Reader, the Permanent Voters Cards have all been delivered for collections by the citizens. Collections have been devolved to ward levels from today, January 16 to 21, the last day for collection at ward levels, and thereafter collection will continue till February 8 at various Local Government Areas.

“We have concluded and published the guidelines for the 2019 general elections and we have finalised the manual for the elections which will be used for training for the various categories of staff to be used for the elections. We are recruiting and will soon start training the ad hoc staff for the elections. We are good to go for the 2019 general elections.

“We are aware that the election is going to be an intense media event not only that the international community will intensely watch processes as they have always done, I want to assure you that we will not fail the international community and the nation. We are aware that the long term EU Observation Mission is already in the country and I hosted the long time ECOWAS Observation Mission. The international community are already in Nigeria for the elections.

The 2019 general elections will be credible, we will jealously guard the process and ensure that the processes led to what the whole Nigerians expect. It will be nothing but free, fair and credible and only that will be good enough for the country.

“I will like to reassure Nigerians and the international community through you the Commissioners that vote will count in the 2019 general elections. We are committed to free, fair, credible and transparent process such that will consolidate the position of Nigeria in the international community as a nation that conducted a credible election. The 2015 general elections was not a fluke, it was a product of deliberate planning and the 2019 general election is going to be the same.”

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