On Tuesday 8th April 2014, Women Fund attended the ‘Preparations towards the 2015 General Election: Enhancing citizen participation through Civil Society Organisations’ meeting, held in Abuja, Nigeria.

It is hoped that this will be the first of many open forums, for Civil Society Organisations (CSO’s) to actively engage with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) enroute to a fairer 2015 election process.

Discussions centred around four key topics:

1. The Role of Civil Society Organisations in Voter Education
INEC empowered CSO’s with the duty of targeting and reaching out to the general public – especially the marginalised – to inform them of the election process. This process encompasses their civic duties before (awareness of their right to choose their representative and education on the redress mechanisms available), during (logistics and supporting an anti-violence campaign) and after (drafting reports and helping to create and shape the narrative in order to set the agenda for adequate election management in future) elections.

2. The Role of Civil Society Organisations in Election monitoring and observation
It was agreed that as a result of past mishaps, a clear breakdown of trust exists between the citizens, the government and independent agencies. Thus, it was expressed that CSO’s should step in to fill the gap, in order to hold the relevant body accountable through proper observation before, during and after elections. The result of which should be properly collated and published in a report that can now, as a result of the Anambra elections, be filed in court as an affidavit of an accurate record of events.

3. The optimisation of the voter register: permanent voters’ card and continuous voter registration

INEC detailed the flaws of the old system, and the reasons behind the adoption of the new electronic system, that has been adopted for the 2015 elections. The new card, with an in-built chip, was showcased and samples shown of the data captured on the card. INEC explained the possible challenges and their solutions and promised a smoother process in 2015, with less room for identity fraud.

4. Preparation for the 2015 Elections ‘Updates and Guidelines for the National Roll-Out for the Continuous Voter Register’

INEC have introduced an easily accessible means of continuous voter registration via email and SMS, and called on the help of CSO’s to educate the voters on its use.

Although, we feel further time should have been allocated to properly discuss key gender issues, overall, the event was a success. Information was discussed in a free and open forum and attendants were enlightened about issues regarding the marginalised (such as albino statistics which were disseminated) that we were otherwise, ignorant to. Nigerian Women Trust Fund were glad to have been in attendance, and welcome more forums such as this in the lead up to the 2015 elections.

Written by Onyeka Onyekwelu