Exactly one month to the commencement of campaigns for the presidential and National Assembly elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission has warned political parties and candidates against the use of masqueraders, public facilities and religious centres for campaigns.
The commission asked political parties to align strictly with the provisions of the Electoral Act to avoid sanctions as stipulated by the Act. INEC had fixed September 28 for the commencement of campaigns for the presidential and National Assembly, while the elections would hold on February 25, 2023.
Relying on Section 92 of the Electoral Act, 2022, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of its Committee on Information and Voter Education, Mr Festus Okoye, in a recent interview with our correspondent explained that the law expected political campaigns to be civil and devoid of abuse.
In previous electioneering, some political parties and their candidates were wont to engage in all kinds of theatrics, including the use of masqueraders, to entertain the crowd and add colour to their rallies. Some also covertly campaigned in public offices and worship centres, especially churches and mosques, to woo civil servants and worshippers, respectively.
In previous campaigns, some political parties engaged thugs to ensure orderliness as well as prevent political enemies from disrupting their rallies.
In reference to Section 6 of the Act, however, Okoye added, “A political party, aspirant or candidate shall not keep or use armed private security organisation, vanguard or any other group or individual by whatever name called for the purpose of providing security, assisting or aiding the political party or candidate in whatever manner during campaigns, rallies, processions or elections.”
Imprisonment awaits offenders
Speaking on the need for compliance, the INEC national commissioner pointed out that the Act already provided for sanctions for violators and that adherence to the law should be prioritised by all the parties and candidates.
In tandem with subsections 7(a)(b) and 8, Okoye stated, “A political party, aspirant or candidate who contravenes any of the provisions of Section 92 of the Act commits an offence and is liable on conviction in the case of an aspirant or candidate, to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months; and in the case of a political party, to a fine of N2,000,000 in the first instance, and N1,000,000 for any subsequent offence.
“A person or group of persons who aids or abets a political party, an aspirant or a candidate in organising or equipping any person or group for the purpose of enabling them to be employed for the use or display of physical force commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000 or imprisonment for a term of three years or both.”
On those who coerce others to support their candidates or refrain from supporting a particular candidate during campaigns, he added, “Section 93 of the Act prohibits a party, candidate, aspirant or person or group of persons from directly or indirectly threatening any person with the use of force or violence during any political campaign in order to compel that person or any other person to support or refrain from supporting a political party or candidate.
“A political party, candidate, aspirant, person or group of persons that contravenes the provisions of Section 93(1) of the Act commits an offence and is liable on conviction in the case of a candidate, aspirant, or person or group of persons, to a maximum fine of N1,000,000 or imprisonment for a term of 12 months; and in the case of a political party, to a fine of N2,000,000 in the first instance, and N500,000 for any subsequent offence.”
Electoral materials procurement
Meanwhile, about 181 days to the general elections, starting with presidential and National Assembly polls scheduled to hold on February 25, INEC said tender had begun for the procurement of sensitive materials for the elections, save for those that needed to be procured close to the polls.
The timetable released by the commission also indicated that governorship and state Houses of Assembly elections would be held on March 11, 2023.
When asked if the commission had commenced the procurement of sensitive and non-sensitive materials, Okoye said, “Our zonal stores have started receiving the non-sensitive materials required for the conduct of the 2023 general elections.
“We have determined the reusable materials and are making up for the shortfalls. Major and minor renovations are going on in our local government offices. Tenders are on for the procurement of sensitive materials. There are sensitive materials that must wait and be produced or procured close to the election period.”
On whether or not the commission had received from the Federal Government all the funds it needed to prosecute the elections, Okoye affirmed that INEC had the funds it needed for the activities within this period, adding, “We are confident that the commission will continue to receive funds for its various activities as and when due.”
Ballot papers printing
As part of preparations for the elections, INEC says it cannot print the ballot papers yet until the clean-up of the voter register is concluded, which will enable it to know the actual number of registered voters. The figure, it affirmed, would inform the quantity of ballot papers to be printed.
Okoye, responding to a question on the printing, said, “The commission cannot print the ballot papers at this point. The commission must be sure of the approximate number of registered voters before printing ballot papers.
“This means the commission must complete the clean-up of the voters’ register and display the register for claims and objections before making a determination on the number of voters that will participate in the election.”
He explained further that the commission would later invite the political parties participating in the elections to inspect their identities as they would appear on the ballot papers.
Okoye stated, “The commission must also design the ballot papers. Coterminous to this, section 42(3) of the Act provides that the commission shall, not later than 20 days to an election, invite in writing, a political party that nominated a candidate in the election to inspect its identity appearing on samples of relevant electoral materials proposed for the election and the political party may state in writing within two days of being so invited by the commission that it approves or disapproves of its identity as it appears on the samples.” (PUNCH)