INEC keys into COVID-19 protocol, creates e-platforms for submission of nomination forms

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Monday keyed into the COVID-19 by  creating e-platforms for election and party monitoring among other activities..

To this end, the commission said such platforms would cover activities like accreditation of observer groups and deployment of their field observers.

In its policy document on elections in the context of COVID-19 released in Abuja, the commission also stated that submission of nomination forms by political parties for candidates of their choice would be through the e-platforms.

Other activities to be covered through the e-platforms according to INEC, include tracking and reporting of campaigns and campaign finance by/for candidates and political parties, submission of party agents’ lists by political parties, engagement with stakeholders (consultative meeting with political party leaders and briefing of observers).

The commission also stated that request for accreditation and deployment of election observers shall exclusively be online.

The policy document further stipulated that the commission would reduce the number of accredited observer groups based on past performance and compliance with its guidelines for election observation. 

This, INEC said, was  to reduce crowding and consequent health risks at election venues, reduce the number of field observers, stressing that approved number of field observers may be proportionally  allotted to accredited observer groups.

In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the commission encouraged political parties to develop appropriate guidelines and regulations for conduct of party primaries that take into account the COVID-19 prevention protocols.

I “Where the Guidelines and Regulations are in conflict with the Constitutions of Political Parties and the Commissions’ Regulations and Guidelines for the Conduct of Political Party Primaries, 2018, the Commission shall draw the attention of the political party to the discrepancy,” the document stated.

On the submission of nomination forms and list of polling agents, the agency said it would provide access codes to be issued to national chairmen and national secretaries of political parties for the submission of names and particulars of their candidates for various elections.

It further said particulars of candidates would  be pasted in hard copies at the commission’s state offices and also published online.

The policy further said: “The commission, through electoral officers, shall use appropriate technology to receive the particulars of polling agents from political parties.”

On briefing and debriefing of election observers,  the commission said it “shall, as appropriate, combine physical and online briefings for observers,” adding,  “whenever the former is adopted, all the protocols for COVID-19 prevention shall be strictly followed.” 

The document also said  the commission’s engagements with political parties shall, as appropriate, combine physical and online engagements with political parties and their officials. 

“However, whenever the former is adopted all the protocols for COVID-19 prevention shall be strictly followed. 

“The Commission shall develop a framework for these engagements in the context of COVID-19. engagement with political parties shall be regular and commence immediately,” INEC said.

“The Commission will engage with the legislature and other stakeholders to explore ways of responding to the rising cost of conducting frequent bye-elections, especially in consideration of the Supreme Court position that votes belong primarily to political parties, as well as the Commission’s records, which show that only in 10% of all bye-elections since 2015 did the party that won originally lose the election,” the agency explained.

 “The Commission will engage relevant authorities, including the legislature, to designate election as an essential service to enable the Commission function effectively in times of national emergency.

 “All protocols issued by the NCDC, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, State Committees on COVID-19 and other relevant health authorities shall be observed by election officials and all stakeholders.

“The Commission shall work with the PTF and health authorities to have in place a system of voluntary COVID-19 testing for INEC staff before and after deploying for elections,” it said.

On voters and election officials showing symptoms of COVID – 19, it said  “the Commission shall work with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and health authorities in the States having elections to develop a protocol for dealing with persons who show symptoms of COVID-19 at election venues.

“Where an election official, a voter or any other person present at an election venue shows symptoms of COVID-19: the prevailing protocol shall be observed; the person must be isolated from other persons at the venue; the attention of the security personnel should be drawn; the dedicated number for COVID-19 emergencies shall be called; and if the affected person is an election official, the Commission must be notified through the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC).”

Other areas covered by the policy document included electoral operations, such as pre-election activities.

Among others, the document stated that “the Commission shall immediately embark on a review o f  regulations , guidelines and manuals for elections in the light of changes to the electoral process that are imminent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, develop a voter code of conduct (VCC) document detailing how voters are expected to act and conduct themselves at the polling units in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic, review all election information kits to include COVID-19 information.”

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