Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has read riot act to the candidates and political parties involved in both the Edo and Ondo States governorship elections.
The Commission warned the gladiators not to test its resolve to enforce the rules and regulations and apply appropriate sanctions against those that choose to break them.
Rising from its regular meeting at the Commission’s national headquarters in Abuja on Thursday, INEC, in a statement signed by National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voters Education Committee, Festus Okoye, expressed concern over the escalation of violence and incendiary statements ahead of the two polls.
The Commission further noted that it will work and collaborate with security agencies to contain all incidents or threats of violence before and during the elections, urging the regulatory agencies with roles in the elections, especially those dealing with insecurity, hate speech and abuse of mass media, to step up their activities and ensure that all those that break the law are held to account.
“The INEC met today and deliberated on a number of issues including preparations for the Edo and Ondo governorship elections.
“The Commission has observed with deep concern the escalating levels of violent actions and incendiary statements by political parties, candidates and their supporters in the run up to the Edo and Ondo Governorship Elections.
“These actions include destruction of opponents’ campaign materials such billboards, violent campaigns and use of offensive language. It is important for political parties, candidates and their supporters to keep in mind that there are extant laws and regulations that they must adhere to during campaigns. The Commission will not shirk its responsibility to enforce the rules of the game.
“Consequently, parties and candidates must on no account underestimate the resolve of the Commission to enforce the rules and regulations and apply appropriate sanctions against those who choose to break them.
“The Commission remains determined to conduct peaceful elections in the two States and in the outstanding National and State Assembly bye-elections,” the Commission assured in the statement.
Warning further, INEC urged: “political parties must realize that Edo and Ondo governorship elections are taking place at a time of a global pandemic and the Commission is working assiduously to observe and comply with all health and safety protocols issued by the Commission and health authorities.
“With the pandemic taking its toll on the citizenry, the people of Edo and Ondo States must be saved from the added burden of violent and raucous elections. Political parties must remember that Edo and Ondo governorship elections have strict constitutional and statutory timelines and threats of violence or actual violence can disrupt those timelines and create a constitutional crisis.
“The Commission will continue to engage stakeholders in the two States on the need for free, fair, safe and peaceful elections, given that it has committed enormous public resources in preparing for the elections. Therefore, the Commission will view gravely any disruptive actions by political parties.
“Going forward, the Commission will work with and collaborate with the security agencies to contain all incidents or threats of violence before and during the elections. Regulatory agencies with roles in the elections, especially those dealing with insecurity, hate speech and abuse of mass media, must step up their activities and ensure that all those that break the law are held to account.
“The Commission wishes to reassure the people of Edo and Ondo States of its determination to conduct credible and safe elections in the two states. The Commission shall not hesitate to discontinue the process should the actions of political actors lead to cogent and verifiable threat and/or breakdown of law and order before or during the elections,” the statement read.