By Chuks Okocha
Amidst calls for a shift in the dates of elections for the Edo and Ondo States governorship elections due to spike in the coronavirus pandemic, the independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Wednesday said that to shift the two elections was an open invitation to constitutional crisis.
Rather, the commission said that it had resolved to ensure strict observation of the Covid-19 guidelines and protocols, where there would be no voting without face masks by the voters.
It also said that it will be using the August 8 Nasarawa State House of Assembly poll as a test run to perfect the processes for the two governorship elections in Edo state and Ondo state coming up in September and October respectively.
INEC Commissioner and Chairman of INEC Voter Education and Information, Festus Okoye, disclosed in an interview Wednesday that any attempt to move the two governorship elections outside the stipulated dates would amount to inviting constitutional crisis in the country.
Okoye who described the two states’ elections as “the Rock of Gibraltar”, said that the Edo and Ondo States election cannot be moved.
He said that the two elections are guaranteed by sections 178 (2) of the 1999 constitution as amended, stating, “the two elections must be conducted between 150 days to the end of the tenure of the sitting governors and 30 days.
“The provisions of these two elections are cast in stones and are therefore unmoveable. These elections will just have to go on as planned.”, Okoye said with a point of emphasises.
He said constitutionally, there are only two instances that elections can be shifted, but said that both instances does not apply in the Edo and Ondo States’ elections.
For instances, he said that elections can be moved forward if it was in line with section 180 of the 1999 constitution whereby Nigeria is invaded or in a state of war, or as stated in section 305 of the same constitution, where there is a state of emergency, stating that in both cases, they are out of control of the commission.
The INEC commissioner explained that as stated in section 178(2) of the constitution that anything done is contrary to the letter and spirit of the constitution, saying “these days are unmovable and like the rock of Gibraltar”.
Okoye who said that although, INEC was strictly following the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Presidential Task Force guidelines and Protocols, said that in line with security guidelines for elections during the pandemic “there shall be a strict observation of no face mask no voting procedures.”
The INEC commissioner said that the commissioner had mapped plans to test run it preparedness for the two governorship elections with the Nasarawa State House of Assembly election coming up on August 8 2020, saying, “this is going to be a stimulus election to the Edo and Ondo States governorship elections
“Every thing about the election, from media accreditation, security, voters and all that concern the election would be a trial, test run for what we will do in the two governorship elections.”
He announced that the commission will as in the past make use of members of the National Youth Service (NYSC) as ad-hoc staff for the two elections, while the assistant presiding officers 1, 2 and 3 would also come from students of tertiary institutions.
The INEC commissioner said “basically, the NYSC would provide the bulk of the ad-hoc staff”, stating that there is already a data basis of the NYSC in both states.
For the Edo state governorship elections, he said there would be 15 political parties on the ballot papers, as 15 political parties indicated interest to participate but in actual sense only 14 political parties fielded candidates in line with the guidelines.
On Ondo state, Okoye said that 17 political parties will participate in the governorship election
The INEC national commissioner said that, all things being equal, the Anambra state governorship election in 2021 would be electronically conducted.
According to him, almost all processes of the Edo and Ondo States governorship election were electronically conducted starting from nominations of candidates, media accreditation and meetings with security and civil society .
He advised political parties to conduct issue-based campaign adding that election is not war.