2019: Sierra Leone electoral commissioner advises Nigeria

Ballot boxes used to illustrate the story.
Ballot boxes used to illustrate the story.

Ahead of the 2019 general elections, the head of Sierra Leone’s National Electoral Commission (NEC), Miatta French, has urged Nigerians to vote their preferred candidates despite money and other gifts some candidates may offer them.

The commissioner said this during a #WatchingTheVote discussion on lessons from Sierra Leone election in Abuja. The event was organised by a civic organisation, YIAGA, on Wednesday.

According to her, Sierra Leoneans voted for their conscience in the just concluded election after drinking, partying and collecting money from different political parties in the country.

“If the APC ruling party had been told they will lose the election despite the money they spent, they will never believe it. This depicts that Africans are embracing democracy and they know what they want,” she said.

She said politicians need to be aware that Africans are getting to the point where rigging of elections will be impossible because citizens are vigilant.

She said information must be well managed in order to avoid misinformation on the social media especially during election while noting that social media could be dangerous if it not managed properly.

According to her, there is need to sensitise security personnel on the electoral process if they will be involved in the elections.

“The police in Sierra Leone were too visible and at some point became overzealous. They were arresting electoral officers at some point,” Mrs Miatta said.

She said there are lots of issues with biometric verification in elections.

“We did not use technology for biometric verification. We gave each party names of candidates that registered in a particular polling unit, in which they call the names out. This promotes transparency and there was no issue of missing names or (data),” Mrs Miatta said.

Similarly, Raouf Salami, program officer at the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions, said one of the challenges of the Sierra Leone election is low civic education, which could be avoided.

Mr Salami, who was an observer at the election, said there was no issue at the registration point and there was no complain of missing data.

Meanwhile, Samson Itodo, the executive director, YIAGA, said the extent in which we deploy technology must guarantee transparency and trust of the citizens in the forthcoming election.

According to him, any technology that is not subscribed to the principles of transparency, openess and accountability will be challenged.

The program manager of the civil society organisation, YIAGA, Cynthia Mbamalum, said one of the things Nigerians need to learn from the Sierra Leone election is the level of communication with the people.

According to her, Nigerians need to be sensitised that their vote is powerful and hence, the need for them to come out and vote.

“Sierra Leone had 84 per cent turn out in the first election and 81 per cent in the second round and we were struggling with 22 to 24 per cent turn out in Anambra election,” Ms Mbamalum said.

She said there is a need for intensive voter education especially for people in rural areas.

She urged Nigerians to report cases of over registration, under-age registration or voting, in order to achieve a credible registration and voting process.

“We are bigger than Sierra Leone and in terms of democracy, we should be setting the pace in Africa,” she said.

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