EU counsels ECOWAS on dangers of delayed electoral reforms

Head of the European Union delegation to Nigeria and the Economic Community of West Africa States, Ambassador Ketil Karlsen

Head of the European Union (EU) Delegation to Nigeria and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Ketil Karlsen, has alerted the sub-region to the dangers of postponing political reforms.

He stressed that such changes were needed mostly after any general election like the recently concluded 2019 polls in Nigeria.

He, however, lamented that President Muhammadu Buhari did not sign the electoral bill that would have automated the entire process.

The president had cited nearness to the election for refusing to sign the piece of legislation, promising to assent to it after the general elections.

Karlsen spoke yesterday at a symposium on, “The Promotion of Inclusivity in The Electoral Process: Women, Youth and Persons With Disability” at the sixth ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commissions (ECONEC).

“It is important not to wait until it is too late. There is a dilemma in waiting for political reforms when they are most needed until after the election, as there is quite often no political will. When it becomes possible right immediately before the elections, then it is too late,” he stated.

The EU chief said for the continued stability and economic growth of the nations in the West African sub-region, inclusivity must be provided for in the electoral process, adding: “It is about the legitimacy and giving a voice to our people.”

He noted: “If that inclusivity is not provided, we risk undermining our democracy and the continued stability and economic growth of our countries and region. That is why we are looking at the participation of the youths, women, people with disability, marginalised poor people and internally displaced persons (IDPs).”

Karlsen argued that if the affected countries fail to seek full participation of these groups fundamentally at the end of today, they risk undermining the very political platforms that they have created.

Drawing some lessons from this year’s general elections, he said: “Looking at the recent election experience in Nigeria, I see a lot of hope moving forward.”

“There are some positive takeaways and there are some negative ones. On the positive side, we saw the passing of the ‘not-too-young-to-run’ bill that allows younger people to participate in the electoral process.

“We saw it in the passing of a bill for people with disabilities. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in particular championed new and innovative ways of having people with disabilities vote during the polls.”

He said they also saw serious shortcomings and challenges, stating: “As the deputy speaker mentioned before, there was low participation and election of women at the polls.”

Karlsen enjoined participants not to consider inclusivity as something for the international community and projects alone.

“Somebody said politics is too important to leave to politicians alone. Maybe, I am not the right person to say this, but I will say it nevertheless, inclusivity in the democratic processes is far too important to leave to the international community and projects alone.

“This is about your policies, your nations, it is about building real chains so that the change agenda takes to supporting exactly that,” he added.

The head of the delegation stressed that all hands should be on deck since a workable electoral system takes full participation and political will.

“That is why I was so reassured listening to representatives of the National Assembly committing themselves to these reforms, ” Karlsen submitted.

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