13th September 2020
LET me start by thanking the PTF (Presidential Task Force on COVID-19) for the invitation, not just to brief the PTF, but to brief the nation on the preparations for the forthcoming elections, in particular the Edo governorship election holding next week. The election is on Saturday next week.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted virtually every facet of life worldwide including elections. Electoral Commissions are now required to organize free, fair, credible and in the context of COVID-19, safe elections.
Conduct of elections under COVID-19 is an unchartered territory. That is no history of such election in Nigeria and no global best practice that any election management body can rely on.
Similarly, as a multi-stakeholder activity, how do you conduct an election and at the same time ensure the safety of voters, INEC officials, security personnel, accredited domestic and international observers, journalists, the candidates, polling agents and service providers such as transporters? Millions of people are involved in elections in close proximity, in the course of party primaries, electioneering campaigns, voting on Election Daym, coalition of results and declaration of winners.
How do you ensure that the health, not physical security of all those involved is protected? Fortunately, the Presidential Task Force, working with the health authorities, provided a guide, the national policy. Anchored on those guidelines, INEC developed a policy specific to our mandate, covering not only the conduct of elections but also electoral activities in general, involving voter registration, political party and election observation and securing the electoral process.
In order to protect voters, officials and other stakeholders, the Commission identified eight protective measures drawing from the national policy, ranging from the mandatory use of face masks, hand sanitizers, use of methylated spirit and cotton wool to clean the Smart Card Readers after the fingerprint of each voter is read;the rules of physical distancing, the use of infrared thermometers and procedures for handling voters and election officials showing COVID-19 symptoms.
This is the policy developed by the Commission. We have shared it widely, but we have also come with sufficient copies for all members of the PTF and all persons present in this hall, so there will be a take away at the end of this briefing.
Drawing from the broad policies, the commission developed a 10-point Voters’ Code of Conduct, targeted specifically at the voter, giving details of the dos and don’ts at polling units on Election Day.
For instance, it is mandatory for every voter to wear the face mask or face covering without which the voter will not be allowed to vote. We need to emphasize that we are not asking for surgical face masks, but face covering will be sufficient for the voter to be accredited and to vote.
Also, voters are required to maintain physical distancing. The Commission introduced two queues: one outside the polling area and the other inside the polling area. Within the inner queue, voters must maintain the mandatory two metres or six feet distance from each other. And we clearly marked this in one of the bye-elections we conducted last month. I will come to that shortly.
Furthermore, voters must avoid touching surfaces or leaning on walls at polling units. Furthermore, we also have clear protocols for dealing with voters who show symptoms such as high temperature, cough, sneezing,etc. In this case, they must obey all directions by officials to stop other voters from getting infected. Then, there is also the procedure for evacuation in the event of emergency. In doing so, we shall collaborate with health officials.
In Edo State for instance, we are working with the state response team. We were in Edo a couple of weeks ago, we had a meeting with the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, who has made contact details of their officials in Benin City and in all the local government areas available to us and we can immediately contact them on Election Day for emergency response and they have all been put on alert.
For the purpose of voter education, we have produced a 10-point Voters’ Code of Conduct. And this has been produced by way of a poster for voter education, which has already been mass produced with support from development partners and delivered to the states where we have elections – Edo, Ondo and other states. We also have bye-elections in 11 states across 15 constituencies on October 31st. So, in the next one week or so, we’ll have the Edo election, three weeks later we’ll go to Ondo and three weeks later will deploy to 11 states of the federation for elections in 15 constituencies.
We have also produced a handbill based on the Voter Code of Conduct, not only for voter education but also for the training of our officials on Election Duty. It’s the same poster, but it comes in a very handy form.
For inclusivity, we have produced our policy in Braille for visually impaired voters. The pages appear blank, but the visually impaired can read the Braille guide. The international policy for conducting elections in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic is also being produced in Braille for the benefit of voters who can’t see and therefore can’t read our flyers and our posters. We have also translated the 10-point Voters’ Code of Conduct into Braille.
INEC is working with the security agencies under the auspices of the Inter-agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES). The Commission has produced and revised the Code of Conduct and Rules of Engagement for Security Personnel on Election Duty, and that also includes COVID-19 guidelines. It is signed by the INEC chairman and the National Security Adviser as co-chairman of ICCES. It is also signed by the Inspector General of Police as head of the lead agency for election security and this document is available on the INEC website. It is also available on the Police website, the website of the Office of the National Security Adviser and the Department of State Services.
However, all these steps are in the realm of planning. We have planned well. The true test of the plan is the actual implementation. We are aware that we have two major elections in Edo and Ondo for the election of Governors as well as several by-elections. To ensure proper implementation of the policy, the Commission decided to do a test run in a bye-election in the Nasarawa Central State Constituency in Nasarawa State on the 8th of August 2020. This is a small constituency made up of 44 polling units and 36 voting points, making a total of 80 polling points.
All the protocols enumerated in our policy were practically implemented and the overall result is very encouraging. We are going into Edo next week assured that we have test run our preparations for voting under the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before I conclude, let me express the Commission’s appreciation to the PTF. On our request, on the request of the Commission, the PTF appointed an Incident Manager, Dr Hassan, to work with the commission. He was part of our team that visited Nasarawa for the Stakeholders Meeting ahead of the election that we conducted on August 8, and also gave us very useful tips on what more we should do ahead of that election. He was with us in Edo a couple of weeks ago, and by God’s grace, he will be on our team on Saturday when we go back to Edo for stakeholders meeting ahead of the election.
But in addition, the PTF has recommended the deployment of infrared thermometers at polling units on Election Day. But as a result of budgetary constraints, INEC doesn’t have all the resources. The Commission only made provision for the deployment of thermometers at Collation Centers, which are fewer than the numerous polling units.
We have, in Edo State, 192 Ward Collation Centers, 18 Local Government Collation Centres and one Collation Centre. But the polling units are more; we have almost 3,000 voting locations in Edo state. We simply don’t have the resources to buy the hand-held thermometers and deploy them at polling units.
Happily, PTF has supplied, initially, 100 units of the thermometers which we deployed to Nasarawa. I’m also glad to say that they have made available 3,000 thermometers to deploy to the polling units in Edo State.
I want to assure the PTF that we will prudently use these thermometers in Edo and we’ll move the same thermometers three weeks later to Ondo for the governorship election on 10th of October 2020.
Finally, the Chairman PTF, I would like to appeal to all parties and candidates and all those involved in the election, whether in Edo, Ondo or the by-elections, to eschew violence. In the context of COVID-19, violence will not only disrupt the elections, it will also complicate the nation’s response to the health emergency.
I wish to reassure the people of Edo and Ondo states of our determination to conduct free, fair and transparent elections. Let us all work together to also ensure that the process is peaceful.
Being the full text of the presentation of the Hon. Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu at the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-10 press briefing, held on Thursday 10th September 2020 in Abuja.