Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room: North Central Zonal Strategy Meeting

The Fourth Zonal Strategy Meeting of the Nigeria Civil Society Situation Room, organised with support from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) focused on the North Central Zone. The event, which was held in Lokoja, the capital of Kogi State, on Thursday, 10 September 2015, saw a lot of participants from civil society organisations actively working for credible elections in Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger and Plateau states. Organisations such as WANGONeT and CLEEN Foundation, from Lagos and Abuja respectively, were also present at the strategy meeting.

The Executive Director of Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) and convener of the strategy meeting, Clement Nwankwo, gave the opening remarks, highlighting the geo-political importance of the North Central Zone. He pointed out that historical patterns would suggest that the stability of Nigeria turned on the credibility of elections. He therefore commended the civil society organisations at the meeting for their relentless effort towards ensuring that Nigeria preserved itself for peace and prosperity in her fourth republic by demanding and facilitating the conduct of free and fair elections.
 
Nwankwo also observed that the upcoming Kogi State Elections would be the first test, since the 2015 general elections, of how much improvement civil society organisations have gained in their capacity to intervene effectively in the electoral processes as well as being the first test of how much the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has expanded its capacity to effectively conduct free and fair elections.

The strategy meeting prominently addressed the political environment in the North Central Region. Representatives of civil society organisations in Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger and Plateau states all agreed that the level of consciousness and the quality of participation of the electorate in the region has risen appreciably. Most notable in this regard, participants agreed, is the level of participation of women in voting. However, the challenges of women participation in terms of running for office and being voted for were discussed at length.

Another important issue that was addressed seriously in the discussions is the potential for violence especially given the ethnic polarisations and the contemporary dynamics of communal clashes across the states of the region. Deep youth unemployment, a contributing factor to electoral violence, was also discussed. One of the initiatives to stop violence against women in elections was announced.

In the second session of the strategy meeting, all the central issues of INEC’s performance and its civil society relations, voter education, the participation of women and the issue of violence were readdressed within the context of preparations for the Kogi State Elections, scheduled for 21 November. The just concluded Continuous Voter Registration exercise in the state was reviewed. The community-based efforts for peace building and conflict resolution were assessed, and the Executive Director of Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution (CHRCR), Idris Miliki Abdul, emphasised that the lack of prosecution of violent offenders of electoral laws and the proliferation of small arms within the Kogi State was emboldening perpetrators of electoral violence and did not bode well for violence-free elections in November.

A strategy for coordinated civil society action in Kogi State for the November elections was presented and discussed in the final session of the strategy meeting. The strategy addressed such matters as the institution of consistent meetings, advocacy and consultations with INEC and security agencies by civil society organisations. Other components of the strategy include: making mutual respect between voters and INEC officials and voter patience on election day key messages of a statewide voter education campaign; pre-election trend tracking, reporting and analysis for early warning; election day observation. The possibility for partnership in organising a debate between governorship election candidates was explored before the strategy meeting was declared closed.