By Lateef Ibrahim, Abuja
Without any doubt, the forthcoming governorship election in Edo state is a unique one. It is going to be intriguing and difficult. This is obvious and known to all concerned.
The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, knows this. The participating political parties and their candidates are aware of this. The traditional rulers, the electorate and all stakeholders are oblivious of same.
The last week’s all important meeting convened by the Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty, Ewuare II, with the two leading candidates in the Saturday, September 19, this year’s election- Governor Godwin Obaseki of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress, APC-, is a clear attestation/confirmation of this.
Why is the Edo State governorship election being tagged as unique? It is unique primarily because it is the first major election that would be conducted by INEC under the coronavirus pandemic, which has held the country and the world by its jugular. Aside the Nasarawa State House of Assembly election conducted by the Prof Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC on August 8, this year, no other election has been conducted by the electoral umpire since the advent of COVID-19.
Conducting an election under a normal condition is usually not always easy, considering the processes such usually entails. It now becomes more difficult to conduct an election during the coronavirus pandemic in view of the various protocols that must be observed in order not to spread to virus.
The coronavirus pandemic, available records show, has led to far-reaching disruptions in the electoral system and led to the postponement of elections in over 70 countries.
On the basis of this, the Commission assured that it will put high premium on public safety and mitigation of health risks from COVID-19.
The Chairman of INEC, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, who was in Benin, the Edo State capital, for three days about two weeks ago, where he and members his team held series of meetings with various stakeholders in the election, made it abundantly clear that under the
context of general protective measures, the Commission will collaborate with the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 and provide infrared thermometers in all the polling units, registration area collation centres, local government collation centres and the state collation centre in Edo State.
The Commission, he further disclosed
will provide facemasks, as well as alcohol-based hand sanitisers for all election officials.
In addition, methylated spirit and cotton wool will be provided for the disinfection of the Smart Card Readers after the fingerprint of each voter is read.
On the part of voters, the INEC Chairman declared that the use of facemasks or face covering is mandatory and must be worn at all election locations.
The rules of physical distancing, he stressed further, shall be enforced at all election activities, while all protocols issued by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), PTF on COVID-19 and other health authorities shall be observed and enforced.
Prof Yakubu revealed in Benin that INEC has made request to the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 to provide it with about 3,000 Infrared Thermometer for polling units and voting points in the state.
The INEC Chairman, while addressing the staff of the commission in Benin, the State capital during a sensitization tour of the commission offices in the state, said, “We have made compulsory the wearing of face mask and the use of hand sanitizers and we have made provision for that.
“So, we have made a request to the PTF to avail us with about 3,000 Infrared Thermometer for polling units and voting points.
“On our own, we have made provision for 192 ward collation centres and when PTF is able to avail us, we would extend it to the collation center in the 18 local government and the state collation centres.
“At the collation centres we have made provision for Infrared Thermometer and we are working to extend this to polling units”, he said.
The Commission equally harped on the pertinent need for all its staff taking part in the Edo governorship to be neutral and maintain professionalism in the election.
The INEC Chairman cautioned the staff against supporting any particular political party or the candidate during the election.
“We are not against any political party or the candidate either, our concern is the integrity and transparency of the process”, he declared.
The choice of who becomes the next governor of Edo state, the INEC boss said, is entirely in the hands of the people in the state, urging them to protect the process.
Alluding to the uniqueness of the guber poll and steps being taken to deal with the situation, Prof Yakubu said to the staff, “You are required to manage the polling unit in a manner that we have not been doing before as the cubicle would be demarcated in a manner that will give two-meter distance between voters since it is going to be accreditation and voting”.
Also speaking in the same vein, an INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Voters Education Committee , Barrister Festus Okoye explained that all the 14 political parties contesting the Edo election, filed and uploaded the list and personal particulars of their candidates through the Commission’s dedicated nomination portal, with the civil society groups involved in election observation also filing their applications in the same dedicated portal, while the media are currently doing the same thing.
The end of tenure governorship election in Edo, Okoye pointed out, will be the first major outing of the Commission in a pandemic, adding, “consequently, the Commission developed and designed its policy on conducting elections in the context of a pandemic”.
He added, We have also amended our regulations and guidelines to align them and respond concretely and practically to the challenges of conducting elections in a pandemic. So, we are ready for the election and our sensitive materials will be ready ahead of the September 19 election”.
In his determination to ensure that the election is devoid of violence and other untoward actions, the Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty Ewuare 11 invited the gubernatorial candidates of People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP), Governor Godwin Obaseki and Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), among others to his palace, during which he made it unambiguously clear to them that they must maintain peace before, during and after the election.
The Royal Majesty sternly warned the two leading candidates and their supporters to avoid anything that could turn Edo state into a theatre of war during the election.
Similarly, the National Peace Committee, NPC, under the chairmanship of former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, rtd, is expected to move to Edo state soon with a view to committing all the political parties and candidates for the September 19 governorship election in the state to sign a peace accord ahead of the poll.
The INEC Chairman, who disclosed this during his meeting the Inter Agency Consultative Committee on Elections Security (ICCES) in Benin, declared that the Commission is fully prepared and set for the governorship election.
Prof Yakubu, while maintaining that the environment must be safe for the commission to conduct elections, assured that necessary steps will be taken to ensure that the environment is conducive to conduct this elections.
The INEC Chairman maintained that the Office of the National Peace Committee has concluded plan to ensure that the candidates and political parties participating in the Edo State governorship election are committed to signing peace accord in Benin as the election draws closer.
In the words of the INEC Chairman, “We are also in touch with the Office of the National Peace Committee, chaired by the respected former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar and there is a plan to sign the peace accord in Benin, close to the election.
“The National Peace Committee engages political parties at the national level. But for the first time, given the significance of the election we are conducting in Edo State, the National Committee is coming down to Benin to ensure that all parties and all aspirants are committed to a peaceful process”, he said.
During the 2015 and 2019 presidential elections, the Abdulsalami Abubakar-led peace committee committed the Presidential candidate.
With all these efforts by INEC, it can, to a very large extent, be logically concluded that the Edo governorship election will be violence free, with the outcome of the poll acceptable to all parties and candidates.