INEC to Test Elections During COVID-19 in Nine States

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Mahmood Yakubu
Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

•Studying situations in other countries like Mali, S’Korea
•Says Edo, Ondo governorship poll will hold regardless
•PDP flashes joker, shifts submission date for nomination forms to accommodate Obaseki
•NCDC records highest daily cases of 553, tally rises to 9,855, discharges 2,856, deaths 273

Chuks Okocha in Abuja

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday said it had concluded plans to hold bye-elections across the country ahead of the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states. INEC said the polls would test its capacity to conduct elections amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

INEC National Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, stated this during a virtual meeting of the commission. Yakubu said the INEC leadership was studying situation reports from countries like Mali and South Korea, which had held elections amid the pandemic. He said regardless of the coronavirus, the Edo and Ondo elections, scheduled for September 19 and October 10, respectively, would go on as planned.
He listed other elections that would take place within the period of the pandemic.

The INEC boss stated thus: “In addition to the two governorship elections, the commission is also making preparations to conduct nine legislative bye-elections,” he stated, adding, “Already, vacancies have been declared by the Senate President in respect of four Senatorial Districts (Bayelsa Central, Bayelsa West, Imo North and Plateau South). Similarly, the Speaker of the Nasarawa State House of Assembly has declared the seat for Nasarawa Central Constituency vacant.

“Information reaching the commission also indicates the existence of vacancies for the Cross River North Senatorial District, Nganzai and Bayo constituencies of Borno State, and Bakori constituency of Katsina State.”
Meanwhile, NCDC yesterday reported its highest daily cases of infection since the disease was first reported in the country with 553 new cases taking the tally to 9,855, discharges 2,856 and deaths 273. Lagos reported its highest number of cases with 378, followed, FCT-52, Delta-23, Edo-22, Rivers-14, Ogun-13, Kaduna-12, Kano-9, Borno-7, Katsina-6, Jigawa-5, Oyo-5, Yobe-3, Plateau-3, Osun-1.

Also, the leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), at the weekend, threw up some last minute joker. It shifted the submission date of governorship nomination forms to June 3, in the alleged belief that the incumbent governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, might cross over and seek re-election on its platform.
Obaseki has been locked in a supremacy battle with National Chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC), Adams Oshiomhole, an indigene of Edo State. The situation has degenerated and many people feel it can affect Obaseki’s chances of clinching the APC ticket for a second term.

Speaking on INEC’s preparations for the elections, in spite of the global health challenge, Yakubu said the commission was determined to hold some of the bye-elections ahead of the two major governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states to enable it fine-tune its processes. He said the commission had directed the Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs) in the nine states, where the bye-elections would hold, to begin preparations in earnest.

According to the INEC chairman, “At the same time, we are also studying reports of recent elections conducted under the COVID-19 pandemic, especially, in places such as Mali and South Korea, for any lessons that will strengthen our processes and protect all those involved.

“At this meeting, we will receive the input of our 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, the conduct of party primaries and nomination of candidates, the submission of the names of polling agents by political parties, the accreditation of observers and the media, the security of the electoral process, polling unit management and the collation and declaration of results.”

At the meeting, which was its first virtual engagement with the RECs, Yakubu explained, “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.”

Yakubu told the RECs that some of the registered political parties had notified the commission of the dates for their party primaries leading to the nomination of their candidates for the two elections.
Yakubu said the Edo and Ondo governorship elections as well as the five senatorial and four Assembly bye-elections were spread across nine states of the federation. They involve 62 local government areas, 687 registration areas, 9,149 polling units, and 6,454,950 registered voters, he disclosed.

“Put in the context of our sub-region, the number of registered voters for these off-season elections is equivalent to holding general election in Liberia, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde put together. Full delimitation details for the elections have been uploaded on our website and social media platforms,” he stated.

With yesterday’s virtual meeting, Yakubu told his staff that the deployment of communication technology would increasingly become the dominant means of information dissemination within the commission, in particular, and in the management of the electoral process, in general, including future engagements with stakeholders.

Yakubu also spoke on INEC’s support to government in the fight against COVID-19.
He said, “Our country’s national effort to combat the pandemic is coordinated by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on whose request the commission has made available a number of vehicles from our fleet to support the emergency response.

“The majority of these assets were deployed to Lagos, Kano and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), which have so far recorded the highest number of reported cases in the country.”
He, however, lamented that the pandemic had affected the work of the commission.
“For instance, further engagement with the National Assembly and stakeholders on electoral reform as well as the conduct of some off-season elections had to be suspended, because of the global health emergency,” Yakubu said.

From the INEC data released, there are 2210534 registered voters across the 18 local governments of Edo State and 20974 staff to be deployed during the election. Also, the commission said, there are 192 registration areas and 2627 polling units
In Ondo, the commission said there were 1822346 registered voters with 17913 staff to be deployed across the 18 local governments of the state. It said there were 203 registration areas and 3009 pulling units.

Although the last date for the submission of governorship nomination forms in Edo State was May 29, PDP extended the date to June 3. However, as at the May 29 deadline, only three governorship aspirants had paid the N21 million cost of the governorship and expression of interest forms.
Those who picked the forms were Ihama Ogbeide, the member representing Oredo Federal Constituency, Mr. Ken Immasuagbon, popularly known as the Rice Man on account of his philanthropic gestures, and a businessman, Gideon Ikhien.

National Publicity Secretary of PDP, Kola Ologbondiyan, announced the date extension for submission of forms. “All leaders, governorship aspirants, critical stakeholders, and members of our great party in Edo State should be guided accordingly,” Ologbondiyan said.

But a party source said the extension was to woo Obaseki and try to convince him to move over to the PDP, since APC seemed to have shut the door against him with last week’s endorsement of Ize-Iyamu as preferred candidate by a faction of the party loyal to Oshiomhole.

Though sources said Obaseki’s precarious situation might have been worsened by the decision of APC to schedule the screening of aspirants in the second week of June. This decision, apparently, puts Obaseki in a difficult position in terms of leaving APC before the screening in two weeks.
A PDP source said the party’s NWC might grant Obaseki a comprehensive waiver if he considered the option of dumping APC for PDP.

But sources within Obaseki’s camp foreclosed the option of moving to PDP or any other party. They vowed to remain in APC to slug it out with those opposed to the governor’s second term bid.

Nevertheless, some sources said the governor was waiting to see what the APC governors would do to salvage the situation and secure his second term bid. The thinking in many quarters is that if Obaseki is left to be disgraced out of office like the former Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, there could be danger for the party’s first term governors in the hands of powerful godfathers. The fear is that if Obaseki is successfully shoved aside, the same fate may await Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State.

Speaking on the possibility of Obaseki’s defection to PDP, the chairman of the Edo State chapter of the party, Dr. Anthony Aziegbemi, said during an interview on Channels Television, “We maintain the fact that our doors are open. Governor Obaseki is our governor in the state and if he wants to join the PDP, he is free to do so. Will he get an automatic ticket, the answer is an emphatic no.”

He said Obaseki “will have to go through the process and he will have to go through the NWC, where he will be considered for a waiver or not and then he will still get to the delegates and that process is open to every Nigerian. So, our doors are not closed at all.

“We maintain the fact that our doors are open. Governor Obaseki is our governor in the state and if he wants to join the PDP, he is free to do so.”
The belief in APC is that Obaseki’s chances became imperilled after the death of former Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mallam Abba Kyari. Kyari, it was learnt, had at a meeting in March with the two opposing sides in the Edo APC crisis brokered an understanding that would have handed Obaseki the party’s ticket and at the same time sustained Oshiomhole’s position as national chairman.
But with Kyari’s death, the pro-Oshiomhole forces were said to have moved in and changed the equation, leaving Obaseki’s chances in the balance.

PTF Considers Scaling Down Daily Briefing

In another development, the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 is considering a review of her daily briefings on the situation reports across the country to either two or three days ago, saving time and cost.
Two prominent sources within the committee confirmed this development to THISDAY and said, apart from the fact that the daily briefings were becoming monotonous; it is a matter of time before they become a repetition of the facts and cases as with previous briefings.

It is against this backdrop that members of the committee agreed to a review of the briefings, whilst its leadership is said to be working out the new modalities for the briefings on Covid-19 without leaving anything unaccounted for with the new approach.