As part of preparations for the forthcoming governorship elections in Edo and Ondo states, the Independent National Electoral Commission says it will recruit and deploy 38,887 officials for the two elections.
The commission noted that the ad hoc staff would respectively serve as Returning Officers, Local Government Area Collation Officers, Registration Area Collation Officers, Supervisory Presiding Officers, Presiding Officers, Assistant Presiding Officers (1, 2 and 3), Assistant Presiding Officers (Voting Points), Constituency Supervisors, LGA Supervisors, Governorship Constituency Supervisors and Reserves.
INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, who disclosed these to one of our correspondents in an interview on Thursday, also noted that due to the raging coronavirus disease, the commission would use electronic and non-contact means in the recruitment exercise.
INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, at a briefing at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja on February 5, said the commission had fixed September 19 for the governorship election in Edo State and October 10 for the election in Ondo State.
He also released the schedule of activities for the elections, including dates for primaries and commencement of campaigns.
Meanwhile, in the interview, Okoye said as part of its preparations, the commission was also redesigning the polling units in response to COVID-19, which had infected 8,915 persons in Nigeria, out of which 259 had died while 2,592 persons had been discharged.
Okoye noted that the formal recruitment of ad hoc staff for the election would commence as soon as the modalities for their recruitment were worked out.
He said, “Edo State has a total of 2,627 Polling Units, 4,519 Voting Points and 192 Registration Areas. Edo has 18 local government areas with a registered voting population of 2,210,535.
“Ondo State, on the other hand, has a total of 3,009 Polling Units, 3933 Voting Points and 203 Registration Areas. Ondo has 18 local government areas and a total registered voting population of 1,822,346.
“The commission will require 20,974 election officials in Edo State and 17,913 in Ondo State, made up of Returning Officers, Local Government Area Collation Officers, Registration Area Collation Officers, Supervisory Presiding Officers, Presiding Officers, Assistant Presiding Officers (1, 2 and 3), Assistant Presiding Officers (Voting Points), Constituency Supervisors, LGA Supervisors, Governorship Constituency Supervisors and Reserves.”
The National Commissioner noted that the commission was presently engaging its Edo and Ondo state offices and the leadership of the National Youth Service Corps on the modalities for the recruitment of the ad hoc staff.
He added, “The commission recruits majority of ad hoc staff that serve as Presiding Officers and Assistant Presiding Officers from the NYSC and from federal tertiary institutions. Shortfalls are sometimes sourced from state tertiary institutions or federal tertiary institutions from contiguous states.”
But, due to the closure of all schools across the country and the fact that corps members had been directed to stay or work from home on account of the raging COVID-19, Okoye explained that the commission would work with its offices in the states where the governorship elections and other senatorial and state Assembly bye-elections would hold to work out modalities for the recruitment.
He added, “In the Edo and Ondo governorship elections and the outstanding senatorial and state Assembly bye-elections, the commission will use electronic and non-contact means in the recruitment of ad hoc staff and will deploy its INEC press portal for this purpose.
“Presently, the commission has a robust database of past ad hoc staff members and all the databases containing such will be harmonised and made available to the state offices conducting elections. The commission will also notify all ad hoc staff members of invitations and postings electronically and as much as possible limit physical contact and large gatherings that are inimical to the fight against COVID-19.
“The commission is presently engaging Resident Electoral Commissioners, political parties, civil society groups and organisations and the media. It is also engaged in the review of its regulations, guidelines and manuals as well as the Voter Code of Conduct.
“The formal recruitment of ad hoc staff will commence as soon as the commission works out the modalities for their recruitment.”
Speaking on the procurement of election materials, he stated that different departments of the commission oversaw different aspects of the electoral process.
Okoye said, “Presently, the commission is carrying out assessment of its local government and Registration Area Collation Centres as well as Registration Area Centres to get them ready for the elections. The commission is redesigning the Polling Units against the background of the COVID – 19 pandemic.
“The personal protective equipment, alcohol-based hand sanitisers, face masks and hand-washing accompaniments are things that are available within jurisdiction and the two elections are state-specific elections, so the commission will not encounter challenges in procuring them.
“The commission will not have challenges in printing of ballot papers and result sheets based on one state election. The commission will maximise its non-sensitive materials and also draw from the contiguous states.”
Also, on the amount to be spent on the elections, Okoye said the COVID-19 pandemic had altered all earlier budgetary provisions made in relation to the two governorship elections. He, however, noted that the commission’s Finance Department was on top of the situation.
“The application for the funds is an issue handled by the Finance Department of the commission under the guidance and direction of the chairman of the commission and they are on top of the situation,” he added.
Okoye said the INEC chairman endorsed the release of the commission’s policy on conducting elections in the context of COVID-19 pandemic on May 21 and that the policy was to prepare the commission to respond to the effects of COVID-19 on the electoral process and the twin challenge of looming cuts in government spending and communicating same to stakeholders.
“Hence, all the operational and logistics arms of the commission are responding to this twin challenge and reviewing previous projections and imputing new issues and expenditures not previously envisaged and cutting down on some budgetary provisions,” he added.
He said candidates and political parties were expected to display exemplary conduct through the electioneering, the voting process and after the election.
When asked whether the commission was worried about the rising tension ahead of the primaries of some major political parties, especially the All Progressives Congress in Edo and Ondo states, Okoye called on political parties in states where elections would be held not to engage in acts or actions that could create fear and anxiety in the minds of the electorate.
He added, “Presently, there are 18 registered political parties in Nigeria and the commission expects all the parties intending to field candidates to strictly abide by their own constitution, guidelines for the conduct of party primaries and section 87 of the Electoral Act.
“All the political parties are aware of the current health challenges in the country and their implications. We expect the political parties and their leaders to display exemplary conduct at this critical period.
“The political parties must not engage in acts or actions that can create fear and anxiety in the minds of the people of the two states and the other states where bye-elections would hold. All the stakeholders must assure and reassure the people that they can exercise their democratic mandate and remain safe and healthy.”