Chuks Okocha in Abuja
Amidst calls for a shift in the dates for elections for the Edo and Ondo States’ governorship elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday insisted that to shift the two elections would be an open invitation to a constitutional crisis.
Rather, the commission said it would ensure strict observation of the COVID-19 guidelines and protocols as there would be no voting without face masks.
The commission said it would be using August 8, 2020, Nasarawa State House of Assembly election to perfect the conditions for the two governorship elections in Edo State and Ondo State scheduled for September 19 and October, respectively.
INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of Voter Education and Information, Mr. Festus Okoye, said in an interview with newsmen yesterday that any attempt to move the two governorship elections outside the stipulated dates would amount to inviting a constitutional crisis.
Okoye, who described the two states’ elections as “the Rock of Gibraltar,” said it would be legally difficult to shift the polls.
He said the two elections were guaranteed by sections 178 (2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), stating, that “the two elections must be conducted between 150 and 30 days to the end of the tenure of the sitting governors.
“The provisions of these two elections are cast in stones and are, therefore, unmovable. These elections will just have to go on as planned.”
According to him, constitutionally, there are only two instances that elections can be shifted, but both instances do not apply in the Edo and Ondo States.
For instance, he said elections can be moved forward if, in line with Section 180 of the 1999 Constitution, Nigeria is invaded or in a state of war.
He added that an election can be shifted 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.
He explained that as stated in Section 178(2) of the constitution “these days are unmovable and like the Rock of Gibraltar.”
Okoye said INEC was strictly following the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 guidelines and protocols, adding that in line with security guidelines for elections during the pandemic there shall be a strict observation of ‘no face mask no voting procedures.’
He said the commission had mapped out plans to test-run its preparedness for the two governorship elections with the Nasarawa State House of Assembly election on August 8.
“This is going to be a stimulus election to the Edo and Ondo States’ governorship elections.
“Everything 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 stated.
He said the commission would deploy 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.
“Basically, the NYSC would provide the bulk of the ad hoc staff,” he said, adding that there is already a data basis of the NYSC in both states.
On the voting processes and procedures during the elections, Okoye said there would be level of queues, consisting of the inner queue and the outer queue and that the voters must wear their face masks.
He reiterated that at the collation centres that usually witness a huge crowd, that there would be only an agent of political parties and expressed optimism that there would be full compliance.
For the Edo State governorship election, there will be 15 political parties on the ballot papers although only 14 political parties fielded candidates in line with the guidelines.
On Ondo State, Okoye said 17 political parties would participate in the governorship election.
Okoye said, all things being equal, the Anambra State governorship election in 2021 might be conducted electronically.
According to him, almost all processes of the Edo and Ondo States governorship elections were conducted electronically, starting from nominations of candidates, media accreditation and meetings with security and civil society groups.
He advised political parties to conduct issue-based campaigns, stressing that “election is not war.”