By Jeremiah Urowayino
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has warned voters in Edo and Ondo against wearing face masks with the logo of their political parties, to polling units ahead of the governorship elections scheduled to hold on Sept. 19 and Oct. 10. this year.
Prof. Okechukwu Ibeanu, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Electoral Operations and Logistics Committee (EOLC), gave the warning on Wednesday in Abuja, during the commission’s first virtual consultative meeting with media organisations.
“Wearing of face masks to polling units will be compulsory, but any voter with branded face masks will be turned back from the polling unit,” he said.
He, however, said that INEC would not provide or share face masks to voters during polls.
Ibeanu, in his presentation at the meeting, presided over by the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, said that the commission could not afford the cost of providing face masks to registered voters in the states.
According to him, it will cost not less than N640 million to provide face masks to all registered voters for the elections.
“INEC cannot provide these face masks. If we were to provide these masks for the registered voters, we are talking about 6.4 million voters.
“Even if you handed out masks costing N100, that is about N640 million already.
“So, should INEC be spending N640 million handing out masks that voluntary organisations and government agencies can give to people if we had a national campaign for this purpose?” Ibeanu asked.
He, however, urged the media to sensitise people on the need for individuals and organisations to donate and distribute face masks to the people, not just during elections but at all times.
“It is not just about the election. It is just that it will help in the circumstances of the pandemic.
“I don’t think anybody in Nigeria should not have access to face masks now. But the more important thing is that people can also improvise and they need to understand that they can do so,” he added.
The national commissioner also said that the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) and the distribution of Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), before the Edo and Ondo governorship elections, as well other by-elections would not be feasible.
Ibeanu said that there was no need for the distribution of the PVCs before the elections as the nation just came out of general elections last year.
“Since the 2019 general elections, there has not been a new CVR. If the collection of the PVCs is allowed for Edo and Ondo polls, the same demand will be made for bye-elections, causing other challenges.
“So, after much consideration, we decided not to allow the collection of PVCs before the elections,” he said.
He disclosed that with the new policy document on conducting elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, voting would commence at 8.30 am and close by 2.30 pm as against the usual 8 am to 2 pm.
Another National Commissioner, Mohammed Haruna, also said that the commission did not envisage the postponement of any election because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye, said that INEC was determined to be part and, indeed, lead the process of innovation and creativity in the electoral process.
He said that the commission would not throw in the towel and postpone all elections to an indeterminate period.
“Throwing in the towel in our constitutional circumstances may do violence to the constitution and wittingly or unwittingly throw the country into an avoidable constitutional crisis.
“The commission is therefore determined to proceed with the two governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States and the 10 Senatorial and State Assembly elections.
”These exercises will be done with caution, bearing in mind that the health and safety of the people will be crucial determinants of the success or otherwise of the elections,” Okoye said.