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Covid-19 Pandemic Cannot Truncate Our Democracy, Says INEC Boss

Cross section of Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) at a previous meeting. PHOTO: BASIL NWAGUGU

By Chinwe Ogbuka, Assistant Director, Publicity

Saturday 30th May 2020

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has once again reiterated its resolve not to allow the Covid – 19 Pandemic to truncate the counrty’s democracy and electoral process, even as it continues to prepare for the conduct of Edo and Ondo Governorship elections.

Chairman of the Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu made this known on 30th May at the opening of the Commission’s first Virtual Meeting with Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs).

The Chairman  stated that the Commission is convinced that electoral activities can resume but in full compliance with the advisory issued by health authorities.

Prof. Yakubu disclosed that processes for the conduct of the end of tenure governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States scheduled for 19th September and 10th October 2020 respectively will proceed as planned.

He said that already, some of the registered political parties have notified the Commission of the dates for their party primaries leading to the nomination of their candidates for the two elections.

He said: “While the Commission takes the COVID-19 pandemic seriously, our democracy and electoral process cannot be truncated for this reason, particularly because health authorities have advised on measures to protect the public from the virus, including all those involved in elections.”

He informed the meeting that in addition to the two Governorship elections, the Commission is also making preparations to conduct nine legislative bye-elections adding:“Already, vacancies have been declared by the Senate President in respect of four Senatorial Districts (Bayelsa Central, Bayelsa East, Imo North and Plateau South).

“Similarly, the Speaker of the Nasarawa State House of Assembly has declared the seat of Nasarawa Central State Constituency vacant. Information reaching the Commission also indicates the existence of vacancies for the Cross River North Senatorial District, Nganzai and Bayo State constituencies of Borno State and Bakori State constituency of Katsina State.

Prof Yakubu said that the Commission is determined to hold some of the bye-elections ahead of the two major Governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States to enable “us test run and fine-tune our modified processes in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

He disclosed that the Commission had already directed the RECs for the nine States where the bye-elections will hold to begin preparations in earnest, adding that the Commission is also studying reports of recent elections conducted under the COVID-19 pandemic, especially in places like Mali and South Korea, for any lessons that will strengthen INEC’s processes and protect all those involved.

The INEC Chairman disclosed that the Edo and Ondo Governorship elections as well as the five Senatorial and four  State Assembly bye-elections are spread across nine States of the Federation, involving a cumulative number of 62 Local Government Areas (LGAs), 687  Registration Areas (RAs), 9,149 Polling Units (PUs) and 6,454,950 registered voters. He observed that the off-season elections are equivalent to holding General Elections in Liberia, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde put together.

Prof. Yakubu stated that full delimitation details for the elections have been uploaded on the Commission’s website and social media platforms.

The INEC boss regretted that COVID-19 pandemic ignited a global health emergency which disrupted the Commission’s activities like every national institution in Nigeria,forcing it to suspend engagements with the National Assembly, other stakeholders on electoral reform, as well as defer conduct of some off-season elections.

He however, noted that the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 has issued Guidelines on protective measures for the gradual restoration of normalcy nationwide. “On that basis,” he said, “the Commission recently released its own policy on conducting elections in the context of COVID-19 pandemic.”

The virtual meeting, according to the Chairman, would provide an opportunity for the Commission to receive the inputs from RECs to the new policy with particular reference to its implementation in the areas of recruitment and training of ad hoc staff, logistics for the deployment of personnel and materials, and the conduct of party primaries and  nomination of candidates as well as the submission of the names of polling agents by political parties.

The meeting will also considered modalities for the accreditation of observers and the media, security of the electoral process, polling unit management and the collation and declaration of results.

Prof. Yakubu said that with the successful hosting of the virtual meeting with the RECs, “the deployment of communication technology will increasingly become the dominant means of information dissemination within the Commission in particular and the management of electoral processes in general with stakeholders.”