This, he said, would enhance credibility of the poll.
He canvassed inclusion of additional groups of professionals like engineers, doctors, journalists and others to join the members of the National Youth Service Corps ( NYSC ) in volunteerism.
Jega spoke at a public lecture organised by the University of Lagos Muslim Community (UMC) in honour of the immediate past Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Prof. Rahamon Bello at Julius Berger Hall, Akoka, Lagos.
The theme of the lecture is: “Prospects and Challenges of involving Volunteers in Nigeria’s Electoral Process”.
The ex-INEC chief said the need for an increase in the role of volunteers in the nation’s electoral process cannot be over-emphasized.
He said: “It is necessary and desirable and if appropriately deployed can add tremendous value to having elections with integrity, with positive spin-off effects on good democratic governance. Since Nigeria and Nigerians have chosen liberal democracy as the political and governance system, citizens’ active participation and constructive involvement are prerequisites for its entrenchment, stability and legitimacy.
“However, to maximally tap the benefits of volunteerism in the electoral process, urgent reforms are needed leading to 2019 general elections, to reposition the continuous role of members of the NYSC and academics; to open avenues for additional groups of professionals, such as engineers, doctors, journalists, etc., to join academics.”
He also called for database of all those who have participated in election duty before, so as to assist in future elections.
INEC, as the Election Management Bodies (EMB), he said, needs to pay even more attention to the identification and selection of credible individuals and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), as volunteers and partners for bringing about improved electoral integrity.
According to him, since 2015, there has been enthusiasm and passion for volunteerism in the electoral process for both individuals and civil society organisations.
He lamented that some unwholesome tendencies are beginning to creep in to obstruct the positive gains of the volunteerism.
A few examples would suffice:
According to him, youth corps members have been threatened, intimidated, assaulted, maimed and even killed in the course of doing voluntary election duties, adding “a few have thus far succumbed to threats and intimidation and perpetrated or condoned fraudulent activities and committed electoral offenses. Some of these who were caught have been prosecuted, but many may have escaped arrest and prosecution. The loss of lives of youth corps members due to electoral violence, especially the death nine in the post-2011 general election violence, not only threatened the NYSC policy, but also resulted in many parents discouraging their wards from volunteering for election duties.
“Corrupt politicians are beginning to find creative ways to compromise youth corps members and some students involved in election duties. They are even increasingly penetrating and compromising seemingly credible CSOs. Similarly, as the use of academic staff as collation and returning officers has become predictable, corrupt politicians are increasingly snooping around university campuses and INEC offices, especially over governorship elections, inducing lecturers with humongous amounts of money with the hope of compromising their role in result collation and tabulation. So far, there is no evidence that they have succeeded, but the tendency is increasing and is of great concern.
“These emerging challenges need to be carefully studied and urgently addressed with appropriate measures deployed in order to protect the gains recorded.
In his remark, UMC Chairman Prof. Lai Olurode said one of the areas of concern for INEC under Jega was how to deploy Nigeria’s immense and inexhaustible social capital in service of its electoral regime.
He noted that previous attempts by INEC to track campaign and election expenses had been challenging for reasons of a paucity of information and logistic issues.
According to him, it is the responsibility of the Muslim community in an academic environment to make the utmost of every social outing to interrogate pertinent public issues that could extend the frontiers of citizenship.
Responding, the honouree and former VC, Prof. Bello expressed delight at the gesture of the Muslim Community, saying that he was proud being a member of the institution’s Muslim community.
Bello said: “As Muslims, we have the obligation of doing all we have to do, according to the Islamic tenets and the will of Allah. We must be vanguards and good ambassadors of Islam at all times.”