Chuks Okocha in Abuja
President Mohammadu Buhari has advocated the need for political parties and agencies of governments in West Africa through legislation to encourage youth and physically challenged persons to seek elective offices.
The president who was represented yesterday by the Secretary to the Government of Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha at the biennial meeting of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) in Abuja, described the participation of younger persons and persons living with disabilities as a welcome development.
According to President Buhari, “this is a very encouraging sign of our steady progress in ensuring that all segments of our society have a voice in the management of public affairs, especially through the democratic process.
“It is also an indication that in spite of the progress achieved so far, more needs to be done by governments through legislation, by political parties through affirmative action in the nomination of candidates for election and by all stakeholders through unrelenting advocacy for greater inclusion of all segments of society in the democratic and electoral processes”.
He said that it was significant to note that the 6th Biennial General Assembly of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC) opened with a symposium on inclusivity, adding that he is glad to note that among the speakers at the symposium are some of the youngest female members of parliament from different countries in the sub-region.
He also noted that it is equally noteworthy that persons with disabilities, among them a member of parliament, are also actively participating as speakers.
According to the president, “it is for this reason that before the last general election in Nigeria, I assented to a constitutional amendment bill that reduced the age required of a candidate to contest for some elective offices. This followed the strong but peaceful advocacy by young men and women around the slogan of “Not-too-young-to-run” as the bill passed by the National Assembly was popularly called.
“On the historic occasion of signing the bill into law on May 31, 2018, I hosted young persons from all the States of the Federation. It is gratifying to see some of them here today and even more gratifying to note that many young men were elected to our National and State Houses of Assembly in Nigeria as a direct result of this proactive campaign.
“I want to assure you that this is just the beginning. We should continue to ensure that not only the youth but other categories of citizens such as persons living with disabilities and those internally displaced for a variety of reasons are integrated into the electoral process in Nigeria in particular and other countries in our sub-region in general”.
President Buhari also used the occasion to pledge support democratic consolidation in the sub-region.
According to the President, “One way of doing so is for the Election Management Bodies (EMBs) to take the lead through peer support. I have followed with keen interest, the efforts of ECONEC in this regard.
“In the last two years, ECONEC, under the leadership of the Nigerian Electoral Body Chairman, has been a strong advocate for Nigeria’s bilateral electoral assistance to countries in the sub-region based on need.
“Within the limits of available resources, Nigeria has responded by providing material and technical support to ECONET. The more recent examples include logistics support to Sierra Leone, deployment of experts from INEC on the request of ECOWAS and the United Nations to assist in cleaning up the voters’ register in Liberia ahead of the Presidential run-off election in 2017 and the provision of voter registration equipment to Guinea Bissau which facilitated the conduct of parliamentary election in March this year.
He said that with the successful conduct of parliamentary elections in Guinea Bissau in March this year, “the next big step is the Presidential election. I urge ECONEC to continue to work with ECOWAS by engaging with all stakeholders in the country for a successful Presidential election scheduled for 24th November, 2019 that will restore stability and eventually facilitate the withdrawal of troops”.
Earlier, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu lamented the lack of funds in managing the ECONEC.
“ A critical issue for the future of ECONEC is funding. While we appreciate the support of ECOWAS and the development partners, we agreed last year that each member country shall pay the sum of $5,000 per annum to support the activities of the network,” he explained.