By Nathaniel Gana
Monday 1st June 2020
With a little over 100 days to the Edo Governorship election scheduled for 19th September 2020, Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu has implored aspiring political parties to ensure rancour-free primaries.
He also called for a national conversation over the frequency of bye-elections in the country, owing to certain factors which altogether are sending the cost of elections through the roof.
Speaking during the first virtual meeting with leaders of the 18 registered political parties in Nigeria held on 1st June, Prof. Yakubu reminded the audience that party primaries form the foundation for the secondary election conducted by INEC. He underscored the need for them to avoid acts of thuggery, brigandage, vote buying and other sundry violations of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended).
He said, “as we monitor the conduct of party primaries, we will pay particular attention to your compliance with the law and to consider sanctions so that the unruly behaviour of some party supporters is not carried forward to the main election.”
For parties planning to adopt the direct primaries method, the INEC Chairman said they should provide the Commission with the register of their members to be used for the election, from Ward to Local Government and State levels. He added: “Those that opt for indirect primaries should similarly make available to the Commission the list of delegates for the election. Doing otherwise will amount to going into an election without the voters’ register. The Commission makes available to each political party the complete Register of Voters before every major election. We expect political parties to reciprocate for their primaries.”
Prof Yakubu reminded his audience that the Commission released the timetable and schedule of activities for Edo and Ondo Governorship elections on 6th February 2020 in which 14 activities were listed. For the Edo election, the first activity is the official publication of Notice as enshrined in Section 30 of the Electoral Act.
He said: “The date for this activity for the Edo Governorship election is today Monday 1st June 2020. I am glad to say that this activity has been carried out. The Notice for the Election (Form EC60A) has been pasted in our Edo State office. In addition, and for the first time, the Commission has also published the same notice on our website and social media platforms. With this development, the process leading to the Edo Governorship election on 19th September 2020 has commenced in earnest. Party primaries for the nomination of candidates for the Edo Governorship election begin tomorrow. Already, some political parties have invited the Commission to monitor their primaries which must be conducted from 2nd to 27th June 2020.”
The INEC Chairman informed the party leaders that the submission of nomination forms will be done online into a dedicated portal that had already been set up. He warned political parties that intend to field candidates in the election to adhere strictly to the deadlines and the new online procedures for filling nominations. His words: “Any party that operates outside these dates will only have itself to blame. The portal will automatically shut down on the scheduled date and at the fixed hour.”
Prof Yakubu acknowledged the global effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on all activities in the country. He however said the Commission party relied on the guidelines issued by the Presidential Task Force to design its own policy on how electoral activities can proceed while mitigating risks to all involved in the process.
Apart from the Edo and Ondo Governorship elections, Prof Yakubu said the Commission is also preparing to conduct nine bye-elections. He revealed that hours before the meeting, the Commission’s office in Zamfara informed the headquarters that a Member of the State House of Assembly for Bakura Constituency died on 31st May.
He said: “There is need for a national conversation around the frequency of bye-elections in Nigeria. In the month of May 2020 alone, five members of State Houses of Assembly passed on. Since December 2019, a period of six months, twelve members of the National and State Houses of Assembly have similarly passed on. This is in addition to the resignation of two Senators from Bayelsa who have since been sworn-in as Governor and Deputy Governor of the State.
“The cost of conducting these bye-elections to the Commission, the security agencies, political parties and candidates, election observers, the media, litigations (both pre-election and post-election) and disruption of activities as a result of the restriction of movement on Election Day is enormous. There is no election season in Nigeria any longer. The Commission is busy conducting elections all-year round between one General Election and another. This often diverts our attention away from reform, innovation, peer learning and planning for the consolidation of our electoral process. The Commission is going to open a discussion with stakeholders and the National Assembly for necessary reforms towards more cost-effective and democratic options.”
Responding, the Interim Chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) and Chairman, African Action Congress (AAC), Leonard Nzenwa, commended INEC for developing the new guidelines for conducting elections in the COVID-19 pandemic era. He said: “the political parties would want to commend INEC for the bold step it has taken to come up early with a well-heeledpolicy.
“Indeed, the measures outlined to tame the scourge in the document is realistic, exhaustive, health-sensitive, safety-induced and in tune with reality of the times. Our checks so far show that globally,the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC is the first National Election Organising Body to have done this, not even USA, India, Pakistan has codified effort to respond maximally, politics-wise to the pandemic in an enclosed one-all document as it did.
“It is also gratifying to note that the document received wide commendation across board and is now being referenced. And last week, we commended the Commission via a plethora of media for its effort.”
He however urged the Commission to address some grey areas observed by the parties and called for more stakeholder engagement in order to ensure all citizens were educated and enlightened on their roles with regards to organising elections in a pandemic situation.