INEC Seeks to Redeem Its Image

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Convinced that its present ‎communication strategy isn’t producing the desired results, the Independent National Electoral Commission has embarked on a comprehensive review of its communication policy to enable it efficiently mobilise the electorate for the 2019 polls, writes Onyebuchi Ezigbo

The present leadership of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has always promised that “2019 elections will be better than that of 2015”. This presupposes that the commission under Prof. Mohmood Yakubu is promising to surpass the achievements recorded by his predecessor and to ensure free, fair and credible electoral contest.

Speaking at two- workshop for the review of its communication policy, Yakubu said that the commission sought to identify areas of weakness and lapses with a view to correcting them in order to prepare itself adequately for the 2019 elections. He said that though the current communication policy had served the commission, it is obvious that a review was necessary as the next general election drew near.

“Such periodic reviews of policies in the light of new developments are normal for any organization. In the case of this policy, such a review is significant in order to achieve four objectives. First, is a comprehensive review of the policy to determine what worked and what needs to be fine-tuned in the light of the experience we have gathered in implementing the current policy since inception in 2015. Secondly, and more specifically, is the need to examine the extent to which the policy has enabled the commission to effectively communicate with the public. Thirdly, determine the extent to which the policy has facilitated a more robust internal communication within the commission.” Finally, he said the workshop was meant to appraise the effectiveness of a sustained stakeholder engagement between INEC and all relevant stakeholders.

However, one may wonder why the commission needed to review its policy on communication at this stage. The chief press secretary to the former INEC chairman, Kayode Idowu gave a very critical assessment of the situation when he said that the commission did not respond timely and aptly to incidents that required to be put in proper perspective in order to douse tension or unnecessary suspicion. He gave instances of such situations to include when INEC first declared inconclusive election and recently when a serving state governor was accused of double registration. Idowu said in all these situations, the commission’s information managers failed to satisfactorily explain things to members of the public thereby creating confusion.

INEC chairman said that since the 2015 general elections, significant changes had taken place in the political and electoral processes that should be taken into consideration in planning for the next general election.

He listed such developments that required consideration under a reviewed communication policy to include, the ongoing review of the electoral legal framework, the ever changing structure and nature of political competition, prospective expansion in the number of political parties, growth in the use of social media and its possibilities. He also pointed at the ongoing activities such as the nationwide, all-year round Continuous Voter Registration exercise, the development of the Strategic Plan of Action, adding that these required the review of the communication policy in order to rise to the emerging challenges ahead of the 2019 general election.

While one will accept that this comprehensive review is critical, of equal importance is how the policy can assist the commission to communicate better. On this count, INEC said that it had a crop of diligent officers doing an enormous amount of good work across the country in the areas of innovations in its operational activities, new initiatives such as result collation and transmission, security of electoral materials, stakeholder engagements as well as its internal administrative processes to ensure better delivery of electoral services to the public.

What remains a challenge is how the commission can share these achievements and plans with the public more effectively, efficiently, promptly and succinctly.

Yakubu said “If we cannot effectively communicate the commission to the public, no one else can do it for us”.

According to him, the more effectively this is done, the more the public appreciates the work of the commission, its constraints, challenges and giant strides.

The chairman also noted that in addition to external communication, the commission also considered internal communication vital to its activities. He said that for the goal of effective communication to be achieved, the entire staff of INEC from the headquarters to the local councils must be aware of all major decisions, policies and activities so that they would be in a better position to provide clarification and defend the commission at all times.

While emphasizing the importance of realtime information dissemination by the election management body, the representative of the United Nations Development

Programme (UNDP), who is also the Team Leader, Governance and Peacebuilding UNDP Nigeria, Dr. Kehinde A Bolaji, said that a good and well-focused communication policy will help in ensuring peaceful and transparent electoral process. “Conversely, poor communication, occasioned by weak planning, coordination and dissemination, is a major causal factor of election-related violence, as it breeds citizen’s lethargy, speculations, and distortion of information and facts”.

Resident Electoral Commissioner for Kaduna, Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu Kuagama, said the event was aimed at ensuring the achievement of the strategic abjectives of the commission

According to him, the the communication strategy will outline processes and strategies by which INEC could achieve effective communication with its diverse stakeholders, meeting their specific but varied needs and objectives, through different channels and with expected feedback.

INEC National Commissioner in-charge of Publicity and Voter Education Department, Solomon Soyebi said the commission sought to align with current dynamics in the conduct of elections in Nigeria.

In a bid to avoid a repeat of the wave of hate speeches and incitement that characterized the 2015 general elections, INEC also resolved at the workshop to take measures to checkmate the act. To this end, the commission said it would partner with relevant agencies as well as professional bodies in order to guard against any reoccurrence, in the build up to the 2019 general elections.

In a communiqué issued at the end of the communique, participants “emphasized that the delivery of messages should take into account the socio-cultural, religious and linguistic diversity, as well as the population mix and peculiarities of our political environment and electoral system.”

INEC said it would also partner with other regulatory agencies and professional bodies to ensure compliance with agreed code of conduct and statutes, especially with regard to incidences of incitement and hate speech”.

The communiqué reads: “Taking into cognizance all extant statutes and provisions, the revised policy should develop, manage and sustain innovative and proactive communication capacity to promote internal cohesion, public trust common vision and values.

“Arising from evolving operational environment and current internal and external developments, the revised policy should be based on effective, efficient, precise, honest and prompt dissemination and flow of information on the decisions, policies, activities, constraints and challenges of the commission.”

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INEC chairman said that since the 2015 general elections, significant changes had taken place in the political and electoral processes that should be taken into consideration in planning for the next general election.