The Independent National Electoral Commission on Thursday raised the alarm that the ongoing strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities would affect its preparations for the 2019 elections.
ASUU, had on November 5, 2018 begun an indefinite strike over the failure of the Federal Government to implement three areas in the Memorandum of Action it signed with the union on September 14, 2017.
The lecturers’ grouse with the Federal Government included its failure to carry out the Forensic Audit of the earned academic allowances of the lecturers since 2017 and the payment of N20bn out of an agreed N220bn annually and underfunding of the public universities.
Briefing journalists before ASUU started the ongoing strike on November 5, its National President, Prof. Biodun Ogunyemi, said all entreaties made to the Federal Government to honour the agreement with the union fell on deaf ears and they had no alternative but to begin the strike.
Ogunyemi alleged that the government was not interested in public universities as the children of the top politicians and rich men in the society patronise private universities at the detriment of public institutions.
Both sides have met four times without resolving the crisis, thus forcing students of public universities, who constitute the majority of INEC ad hoc staff during elections, to stay at home.
On Thursday, a National Commissioner for INEC and Chairman of its Information and other Education Committee, Festus Okoye, expressed concerns about the effect of the ASUU strike on the 2019 elections during the opening of a one-day seminar on media gender sensitive reporting.
The event, which was organised by INEC, was supported by the United Nations Women and the Canadian Government.
The commission said that it would deploy over one million ad hoc staff made up of lecturers in federal tertiary institutions, members of the National Youth Service Corps and students of federal tertiary institutions in the elections.
The categories of ad hoc staff to be used during next year’s elections would serve as Returning Officers, Collation Officers, Supervisory Presiding Officers, and Assistant Presiding Officers.
But Okoye expressed fear that the elections could be impacted negatively if the strike was not urgently called off.
He said, “It is next to impossibility for members of the NYSC to provide all the ad hoc staff needs and requirements of the commission, and over 70 per cent of the ad hoc staff requirement in some states of the federation are drawn from students of federal tertiary institutions.
“Hence, the lingering strike by ASUU will no doubt have serious impact on the preparations for the conduct of the 2019 elections. We therefore call on ASUU and the Federal Government of Nigeria to quickly and genuinely resolve the lingering impasse that has led to uncertainty in the education sector.
“The national interest, the interest of our democracy and the reputation of Nigeria demand the immediate resolution of the issues that led to the strike and we so urge.
“It is important that students in federal tertiary institutions should and must be in school at least a month before the February 16 Presidential and National Assembly elections. They are a critical resource and their absence will have adverse effects on the ad hoc requirements of INEC.”
According to him, INEC believes in the doctrine of not leaving any segment of the Nigerian society behind.
Okoye said the workshop was part of the deliberate policies of the commission aimed at encouraging and underpinning the equitable participation of all segments of the society in elections and providing a level playing field for all stakeholders in all stages of the electoral process.
“Therefore, any form of misrepresentation, mistake or mischief in reporting electoral matters may lead to uncertainty, constitutional crisis, and de-marketing of INEC,”he stressed.
The Chairman, Outreach and Partnership Committee in INEC, Dr. Adekunle Ogunmola, said the seminar was organised to brainstorm on new ways to use the media to promote gender equality in the electoral process.
He said INEC understood the indisputable role of the media in setting and resetting the mindset of electorate to make the 2019 elections more gender sensitive.
Ogunmola said that beyond the freedom to vote and adherence to electoral laws, a free and fair election was also about a participatory process where voters were well informed to make right choices.
He added that the media would serve this role through objective and impartial reporting of political events which help to shape public opinion and deepen democracy.
Ogunmola urged the media to plan content that would support gender in their reportage of the electoral process to ensure inclusiveness.
The representative of UN Women, Lansana Wonneh, said when politics was inclusive and allowed women participation, the results would be better.