Following rising cases of COVID-19 infections in the country, Independent National Electoral Commission, on Sunday, set stringent conditions for political parties in Edo and Ondo states to hold campaign rallies in the run-up to the forthcoming governorship elections in the two states.
INEC said that the political parties in the two states must meet the set criteria before they can be allowed to hold public rallies for their governorship polls.
INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman (Information and Voter Education Committee), Festus Okoye, who spoke in Abuja, said it is now mandatory for the political parties in both Edo and Ondo states to give the commission a seven-day notice before holding any rally.
First News learnt that the set rules were aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 at the rallies in the states.
Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 had warned Nigerians to avoid gatherings of any category following a concert held by musician, Naira Marley at the Jabi Lake Mall in Abuja early this month.
Director-General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, said such gatherings could result in a further spike in COVID-19 cases.
Okoye, however,said INEC had already informed political parties that their guidelines for campaigns must conform to NCDC protocols, including social distancing and use of face masks.
The INEC commissioner, who also warned against crowded rallies, said, “Political parties are encouraged to develop appropriate guidelines for the conduct of rallies and campaigns taking into consideration all the guidelines and protocols developed by health authorities at the national and state levels.
“Where there are conflicts between political parties’ guidelines on the conduct of rallies and campaigns and those issued by the commission, the commission shall draw the attention of the political parties to the discrepancies.”
He stated that INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, had earlier issued supplementary regulations and guidelines for rallies and campaigns by parties, aspirants, candidates and their supporters in line with the commission’s policy on conducting elections in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is mandatory for political parties intending to hold rallies and campaigns to notify the commission, through the electoral officer at the local government level or the resident electoral commissioner at the state level. The notification shall be by a notice, transmitted electronically and in hard copies giving details of the public rallies, meetings, processions or public gathering not later than seven days to the date of the event,” Okoye said.
He stressed that campaigns by parties shall be based on their published manifestos and shall comply with the provisions of regulations issued by the commission, adding that the campaigns should not violate the National Broadcasting Commission and public health regulations.
He said, “All the registered political parties are aware of the global pandemic and how it has affected the way we live and organise and we expect political parties to factor the health and safety of Nigerians into their guidelines for campaigns and rallies.
“We expect political parties to be creative, innovative and dynamic in their rallies and campaigns. It is the responsibility of political parties to design campaign strategies in line with the regulations and protocols issued by health authorities.”
He also urged political parties to adopt conventional and social media for their campaigns.
Okoye said, “We therefore expect candidates and political parties to utilise the conventional media, the social media and other creative means of information dissemination in their campaigns and rallies.
“Political parties should, therefore, find a balance between the orthodox means of rallies and campaigns and the new realities of face masks, social and physical distancing and hand washing and hand sanitizers.”
He disclosed that the PTF had nominated one of its senior officials, who would be part of the inter-agency consultative committee on election security chaired by the INEC chairman and the National Security Adviser.
“The nominated officer will sit in advisory capacity and advise the agency on heath related matters,” Okoye said.