The Independent National Electoral Commission, amid rising COVID-19 cases in the country, on Sunday set criteria that must be met by political parties before holding public rallies for the Edo and Ondo state governorship polls.

The commission’s National Commissioner and Chairman (Information and Voter Education Committee), Festus Okoye, in an interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja, said before holding any rally, political parties must give INEC a seven-day notice.

The criteria, it was gathered, were aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 at the rallies.

While condemning a concert held by a hip-hop artiste, Azeez Fashola, alias Naira Marley at the Jabi Lake Mall, Abuja on June 13, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on June 15 warned Nigerians to avoid rallies of any category.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control Director-General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said such gatherings could lead to a further spike in COVID-19 cases.

Okoye told The Reporter that INEC had informed political parties that their guidelines for campaigns must conform with the NCDC protocols, including social distancing and use of face masks.

Warning against crowded rallies, the INEC commissioner 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 recalled that the INEC Chairman, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, had on June 9 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.

Okoye stated, “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.”

According to Okoye, campaigns by parties shall be based on their published manifestos and shall comply with the provisions of regulations issued by the commission.

He added that the campaigns should not violate the National Broadcasting Commission and public health regulations.

The INEC commissioner stated, “All the registered political parties are aware of the global pandemic and how it has affected the way we live and organize 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.”

Adopt conventional, social media for campaigns, INEC tells parties

“We, therefore, expect candidates and political parties to utilize the conventional media, 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 handwashing 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.

Okoye stated, “The nominated officer will sit in an advisory capacity and advise the agency on health-related matters.”

Meanwhile, as the submission of names of candidates for the Edo State governorship election ends on Monday (today), INEC has advised political parties participating in the September 19 poll not to wait till the last minute before submitting the list of their candidates.

Okoye, who stated this in an interview with The Reporter on Saturday night, advised parties to strictly comply with conditions for the nomination of candidates. He said INEC would not screen candidates for political parties.

He said, “By our timetable and schedule of activities, all political parties must submit the list of candidates that emerged from validly conducted primaries before 6 pm on or before June 29, 2020. The nomination portal will be shut down at 6 pm on June 29, 2020.

“All political parties that conducted valid primaries must apply for an access code to the nomination portal. The application must be signed by the national chairmen and secretary of political parties. The access code will be delivered by secure means to the national chairman of the party.”