LAGOS / ABUJA – As the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the country, there is confusion at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) over the fate of the governorship primaries in Edo and Ondo states as well as the elections, Daily Independent has gathered.
While the governorship elections have been fixed for September 19 in Edo and October 10 in Ondo state, INEC has scheduled June 2 to June 27 for primary elections and nomination of candidates in Edo, while July 2 to July 25 for Ondo.
INEC’s chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, at a meeting with resident electoral commissioners, in Abuja, at the weekend had said the commission will rigorously monitor the primaries and apply sanctions if needed.
He also said given recent experience with some governorship elections, political parties needed to do more to avoid the conduct of acrimonious primaries or failure to observe due diligence in the screening of their candidates, resulting in protracted litigations and eventual determination of the outcome of elections by orders of court.
“I wish to draw the attention of political parties to two critical dates in the timetable released by the commission a few weeks ago. Party primaries for the democratic election and nomination of candidates for the governorship election in Edo State must be held from 2nd to 27th June 2020.
“The date for Ondo State is 2nd to 25th July 2020. The commission will not extend the dates. We will also rigorously monitor the primaries and where necessary, apply sanctions as provided by law.
“At the same time, the personal particulars of all the candidates nominated by political parties for the Edo and Ondo governorship elections, including their academic qualifications, will be displayed in our offices in the two states as required by law. This will enable citizens to scrutinise them and take legal action against any candidate who provides false information to the commission.
“The personal particulars of candidates will be displayed on 6th July, 2020 in Edo State and on 4th August 2020 in Ondo State. I wish to appeal to citizens to note the dates and to seize the opportunity to scrutinise the information provided on oath by the candidates in the interest of our democracy and good governance,” he said.
However, speaking with our correspondent on Monday, a credible source in the commission said though the commission has said the dates for the primaries and election remain unchanged, the electoral body is already having a rethink owing to the coronavirus pandemic in the country.
“Some people are saying the election is in September so it is still far but INEC is already thinking ahead. The INEC chairman and other senior members of the commission are currently in a dilemma because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The question INEC staff are asking is: ‘What impact will coronavirus have on the forthcoming elections in Edo and Ondo? What if it lingers till then? Except the pandemic is urgently curtailed, there is no way the Edo and Ondo elections will not be jeopardised.
Currently, most organisations are closing down due to the social distancing policy and if the situation continues, INEC being a large organisation that it is may follow suit.
“Also, another issue of concern is the governorship primary, which will begin in June. Don’t forget, there is no mode of primary adopted that will not attract gathering of people.
“Now that gatherings are being outlawed, how will primaries be conducted? INEC will also need to monitor the primaries so the concern is, how will primaries be conducted without jeopardising the lives of the electorate and INEC officials?
“Also worthy of note is the election campaign, stakeholders and sensitisation meeting by INEC and voting on election day. These are issues that are giving INEC a serious concern now, but the coming days will determine how it will go,” he said.
Speaking on the issue, Yinka Odumakin, National Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, said INEC might be forced to adjust its timetable if the coronavirus pandemic lingers till then.
“We pray that coronavirus subsides and goes out completely before then. But if it does not, which we don’t pray, INEC will have no choice but to adjust their timetable.
“They cannot say they want to hold primaries in the midst of all these. When things like this happen, a responsible organisation will have to look at what is on ground and what to do,” he said.
Also on Monday, INEC said it is winding down its regular and non-essential activities at its Abuja headquarters and across the states due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Recall that governments at federal and state levels have issued preventive and containment measures put in place to curtail spread of the virus in line with the advisory on social distancing from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
The commission, which had before now cancelled all arrangements for senatorial bye-elections in Imo and Bayelsa states, said it is taking the additional measures to protect its staff, visitors and the general public from the pandemic.
Festus Okoye, a lawyer and INEC National Commissioner who doubles as the Chairman, Information and Voter Education, issued a statement announcing the lull in activities for an initial period of two weeks.
He said effective from Tuesday 24th March 2020, all regular and non-essential activities will be suspended in its headquarters and offices nationwide for 14 days in the first instance.
The regular quarterly meetings with stakeholders, namely: political parties, civil society organisations, the media, security agencies and all other meetings, have been suspended until such a time when normalcy returns.
In addition, the commission will no longer monitor the conventions, congresses, conferences or meetings of political parties until further notice.
The commission, however, emphasised its “commitment to openness, consultation and continued communication with its stakeholders and expects all to understand the emergency situation that informed the suspension of contact engagements stressing that the “health and wellbeing of all our staff, officials and the general public are of paramount importance to us”.