Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, said on Friday that Nigeria believes in the fundamental principles of free elections as the only way to ensure peace and stability in society.
Osinbajo stated this when he received the Steering Committee of the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions, ECONEC, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
He said Nigeria had supported several countries of the West African sub-region in the past and intends to continue to give them support to deepen their democracy “because we believe in the fundamental principles of free elections.”
He said: “We believe that the only way to ensure stability in society is to ensure that people have a right to elect their leadership but just a right on paper but a right in practice. And the only way by which that right can be manifested in practice is by free and fair elections.”
Osinbajo described the ECONEC as a wonderful initiative that has leveraged on the sub-regional body to create opportunities for member states to interact and synergize in such a way to benefit its members.
He said: “I think this is an incredibly great initiative. This is the right thing to do and I’m so glad to hear of the successes of all of the electoral commissions and the fact that a needs assessment is being done as part of the practical steps to see how it is that the ECONEC can work with individual countries to improve electoral processes and to improve electoral outcomes also.”
The President of the ECONEC, who is also the Chairman of Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Professor Mahmoud Yakubu, said the network was working to ensure that elections in West Africa do not lead to conflicts.
“It well known fact that a well conducted election can be a panacea for peace and badly conducted election can lead to conflict, Professor Yakubu said, adding that it was realization of this “that the ECOWAS Commission in September in 2008 decided to invite all the chairmen of electoral commissions in the sub-region to a meeting in Guinea Conakry to establish the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions.”
According to him, the purpose of ECONEC was to bring electoral bodies in the sub-region together and to assist one another in the areas of experience sharing, peer review and any other support that could be rendered in ensuring credible elections in West Africa.
Professor Yakubu noted that, for the first time in the history of the sub-region, all 15 countries in ECOWAS were democracies.
He said: “Gone are the days in some countries you had one government in the capital another in the bush. All the governments are the capital now. So, this is a great moment for us.”
He said the ECONEC has, in the last one year and half, assisted its member states to hold violence free and successful elections in Niger Republic, Benin Republic, the Gambia, Ghana and Cape Verde as well as successful constitutional referendum in Senegal.
He said the steering committee of the network met in Abuja on Thursday and decided to undertake needs assessment visits to the Republic of Sierra Leone, holding its election in March next year and the Republic of Liberia, which is holding its general election on the 10th of October this year.
“Our belief is that it is better to deploy ECONEC than to come back to you later to deploy ECOMOG. So, this weekend, we will leave for Sierra Leone and Liberia,” Professor Yakubu stated, adding that the outcome of the mission would be communicated to the ECOWAS Commission.
Yakubu informed Acting President Osinbajo that the ECONEC has decided to locate its secretariat permanently in Abuja to bring it closer to the ECOWAS Secretariat, which is also in the Nigerian capital.