Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has said that as part of its determination to deepen the use of technology in electoral process, it has created a dedicated portal to accredit election observers onine.
The Commission’s chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, who made the disclosure in his remarks during the virtual meeting with Civil Society Organisations on Tuesday, regretted that there is little international best practice to guide election managers in the conduct of elections under the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As you are aware, there are several elections to be conducted in the next few months. The Edo and Ondo Governorship elections have been scheduled for 19th September 2020 and 10th October 2020 respectively. The first of the 14 activities itemised in the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the Edo election has been carried out. The Notice for the Election was published yesterday in our Edo Office and simultaneously on our website and social media platforms for the first time.
“The second activity, which is the commencement of party primaries for the nomination of candidates by political parties, begins today and ends on June 27, 2020. A number of political parties have already notified the Commission of the dates for their primaries. This marks the formal commencement of the process for the September 19 governorship election in Edo State.
“In addition to the two governorship elections, a number of bye-elections are pending in five Senatorial Districts and five State Constituencies. The Commission is preparing for all the elections. However, we believe that the frequency of bye-elections in Nigeria requires a rethink. The Commission will engage with the National Assembly and all stakeholders, including civil society, on the way forward.
“As usual, civil society organisations will be accredited to observe the elections. However, in the spirit of deepening the use of technology in our electoral process and also in line with the new reality of conducting electoral activities under the COVID-19 pandemic, accreditation of observers will be done online.
“A dedicated portal has been created by the Commission for this purpose and you will be briefed at this meeting on the new procedure,” he noted.
“This virtual meeting is one more example of how technology facilitates the consultative meetings necessary for the consolidation of our electoral process in particular and democracy in general. Engagement with civil society remains at the core of our electoral process. I wish to reassure you that the Commission will continue to deepen such engagement.
“No doubt the world is passing through an extra-ordinary period. The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the normal ways of doing things, particularly public engagement. For us as an Election Management Body (EMB), we take the threat to life posed by the pandemic seriously. Clearly, conducting election under the current global health emergency is novel.
“Apart from the general policy directions provided by some international organisations that support democracy around the world, only a few countries have conducted elections under the COVID-19 pandemic. There is therefore little international best practice to guide election managers in this regard.
“However, since health authorities have issued guidelines on how public institutions in Nigeria can protect their workforce and safely serve the public interest, we consider it imperative to proceed with electoral activities in Nigeria. Our democracy and electoral cannot be truncated due to the pandemic.
“Drawing from the guidelines issued by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) anchored on the advisory from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and global health authorities such as the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Commission has released a policy document on how electoral activities can proceed while mitigating the risk to all involved in the process.
“I urge civil society to consider this policy as a living document hence the decision to engage with you on how we can strengthen it in a manner that will further engender public confidence, encourage greater citizens’ participation in the electoral process and, most importantly, guarantee the safety and security of voters in the process of exercising their democratic rights to vote,” he noted.