•Directs parties to submit membership registers, delegate lists for primaries
Chuks Okocha in Abuja
As part of preparations for the Edo and Ondo States’ governorship elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday directed political parties fielding candidates for polls in the two states to submit their aspirants’ nomination forms electronically.
It cautioned political parties against disobedience to the online submissions of forms just as it demanded from them the submission of party registers and delegate lists as a precondition for conducting primaries to pick parties’ governorship candidates.
At the first virtual teleconference meeting with the 18 registered political parties, the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, read out the new guidelines for the elections, which include the electronic submission of the governorship nomination forms.
He said: “This time around, the submission of nomination forms will be done online for which a dedicated portal has been set up. Let me, therefore, warn political parties that intend to field candidates for the election to strictly adhere to these dates as well as the new online procedure for filing of nominations.”
He also warned that any party that operates outside the dates set by the commission will only have itself to blame, stressing that the portal will automatically shut down on the scheduled date and at the fixed hour of the deadline.
Besides, he warned against thuggery and banditry during the primary election.
“Based on experience, it is also important to draw your attention to the necessity for rancour-free primaries. Party primaries form the foundation for the secondary election conducted by the commission. You must, therefore, avoid acts of thuggery, brigandage, vote-buying, and other sundry violations of the Electoral Act.
“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,” he stated.
On the mode of governorship primary election, Yakubu urged political parties to submit their party membership register to ensure ease of monitoring by the commission.
“I wish to appeal to political parties that opt for direct primaries to avail us with the register of members to be used for the election from ward to local government and state levels for the effective discharge of our monitoring responsibilities under the law.
“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,” the INEC chief said.
In addition to the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States, he said the commission was making preparations to conduct nine by-elections whose details had already been made public.
The commission, Yakubu said, had released the policy for conducting elections under the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to him, INEC will welcome the input of party leaders to the new policy, particularly in the areas of implementation such as the management of party primaries and nomination of candidates, submission of the names of polling agents, the security of the electoral process, polling unit management and the collation of results.
“We will also discuss the consequential amendments to our regulations and guidelines in the light of the new policy necessitated by the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
He explained that the commission had been informed of the death of a member of the Zamfara State House of Assembly, representing Bakura Constituency.
He said INEC would await the declaration of vacancy by the speaker of the state House of Assembly, adding that the development will increase the number of by-elections.
Yakubu added that there is a need for a national conversation around the frequency of by-elections in Nigeria, explaining that in May alone, five members of state Houses of Assembly passed on while since December 2019, 12 members of the national and state legislatures have passed on.
This, he said, was in addition to the resignation of two senators from Bayelsa State, who had since been sworn in as governor and deputy governor of the state.
According to the INEC chairman, the cost of conducting these by-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.
He explained that with the frequency of by-elections in the country, there is no election season in Nigeria any longer as the commission is busy conducting elections all-year-round between one general election and another.
He said the development had diverted attention away from reform, innovation, peer learning, and planning for the consolidation of the electoral process.
However, he stated that the commission would open talks with stakeholders and the National Assembly for reforms towards more cost-effective and democratic options.
Responding on behalf of the political parties, the Interim National Chairman (IPAC) and the National Chairman, African Action Congress (AAC), Dr. Leonard Nzenwa, commended INEC for its efforts to deepen and sustain democracy during the coronavirus pandemic.
He called on INEC to be ready to review some aspects of the policy document that relates to concerned misgivings by stakeholders who feel that some of its provisions might not be feasible for implementation.
The parties, he said, were also excited that the commission had decided to deepen the use of technology in the electoral process with its planned introduction of electronic voting machine in 2021 polls on a pilot scheme.