• Releases timetable for elections June 1
By Adedayo Akinwale
Despite the coronavirus pandemic ravaging the country which has shown no sign of abating, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has again said that there is no going back on the conduct of both Edo and Ondo States gubernatorial elections in order to avert constitutional crisis.
The electoral body also revealed that the timetable and schedule of activities for the two elections would be released on June 1, 2020.
The INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Voter Education and Publicity, Mr. Festus Okoye, stated this while featuring on Good Morning Show on ARISE News Channel, a broadcast arm of THISDAY.
He stated categorically that it was not the electoral body that was insisting that the governorship elections in the two state be conducted but it is the constitution.
Okoye said that if INEC fails to conduct the two elections within the constitutional time frame, it means the electoral body has lost its rights to fix the date for elections and that responsibility would now fall on political authority under Sections 180 and 305 to fix date for elections.
He explained that INEC as a constitutional body derives its powers directly from the constitution, adding that Section 178 (1&2) of the constitution as well as Section 25(7&8) of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended empowers INEC to conduct elections at a specific period.
He said: “Section 178(1) says that it is the function of INEC to fix the date of elections, but Subsection 2 says that an election to the office of the governor shall be conducted not earlier than 150 days and not lesser than 30 days to the expiration of the tenure of the last holder of the office. The implication is that the governor of Edo was sworn in on November 11 and we must conduct the governorship election in Edo State on or before October 13th, 2020; while that of Ondo State must be conducted on or before January 25th, 2021.”
Okoye noted that the challenge is that the commission is operating within a constitutionally stipulated period, stressing that the constitution has not given the electoral body the leeway to move away from this constitutional window.
He noted that giving the present situation, the commission can decide to move the election by a week or by two weeks, as long as it does not move away from October 13th, 2020.
“The truth of the matter is that the country is faced with a situation of conflicting rights. The rights of the Nigerian people to elect their representative and also their rights to life, not to go to a polling units and die. So, what we are doing, if you look at the first day of June 2020, we are going to officially release the timetable and the schedule of activities for these two elections,” he said.
The National Commissioner said that political parties under Section 85&87 of the Electoral Act are to conduct their party primaries, stressing that the commission would organise virtual stakeholders’ meeting to deliberate with them and see what could be done to ensure that party primaries are seamless.
Okoye added: “So, we recognise there will problems, will recognise that there will be challenges, but we are on point and we are determined to deliver on our mandate. Because, if we fall off outside the constitutional window, the implication is that going forward, the commission does not now have rights and wherewithal to pick the date of election. It now falls to the political authority maybe under Section 180 of the constitution or under Section 305 of the constitution giving the situation that we are in. It is not as if that we are insisting, it is the constitution that is insisting that we must proceed with this particular election.
“The landscape of Nigeria has, the electoral landscape has changed, most of the things will be done virtually now. The implication is that it is not within the mandate, it is not within the contemplation of the constitution for the critical stakeholders to postpone the election, because this election has been constitutionally circumscribe. No individual can movie the date of this election, except with the mandate of the constitutionally circumscribed period.”
The National Commissioner explained further that INEC would resume consultation with the critical stakeholders within the week, by holding virtual meetings with civil society groups and organisations.
He said that the commission has started consulting with political parties and security agencies and it is already ramping up activities in Edo and Ondo States, while also resuming full activities in relation to booth elections.
Asked what measures are being put in place by the commission to ensure security during the election selections, especially considering the growing tension between the National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshimhole and Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, he said the commission has in place an Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) to appraise the security situation in the two states where we have governorship elections and to interface with the health authorities on how to proceed with the elections giving the current challenges.
The commission said it was not pretending that the two elections would be smooth, because it recognised that there would be problems, challenges, especially with the coronavirus pandemic which nobody has experience of working through it, but insisted that INEC was determined that it would deliver both elections.
Asked why INEC was not bent on conducting by-elections, the National Commissioner said that the vacancies occurred as a result of the death or vacancy, adding that: “Section 26 of the Electoral Act as amended gave the commission the power to postpone an election when there is an emergency or a situation that requires re-strategising, so those elections were postponed on the account of that. But the Edo and Ondo elections are what we called constitutional election that our hands have been tied constitutionally, there is nothing we can do about it.”
He equally said that the commission would not be able to carry out Continuous Voters Registration (CVR) to allow those that have turned 18 years of age take part in the election, but the commission would rather rely on the existing voter register.