Apparently disturbed by the ‘escalating levels of violent actions and incendiary statements by political parties, candidates and their supporters’ in the run-up to the off-season elections in Edo and Ondo states, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) says it will not hesitate to suspend the elections if the situation deteriorates.
The electoral umpire made it clear that it will not hesitate to put a halt in the election process if actions of the political actors result in the breakdown of law and order in the two states.
The Commission’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr. Festus Okoye made the disclosure on Thursday in Abuja after a meeting where stakeholders deliberated on a number of issues, including preparations for the elections.
His words: “These actions include destruction of opponents’ campaign materials such as billboards, violent campaigns and use of offensive language. “It is important for political parties, candidates and their supporters to keep in mind that there are extant laws and regulations that must be adhered to, during campaigns.
“The commission will not shirk its responsibility to enforce the rules of the game.
“Consequently, parties and candidates must, on no account, underestimate the resolve of the commission to enforce the rules and regulations and apply appropriate sanctions against those who choose to break them.
“The commission remains determined to conduct peaceful elections in the two states and in the outstanding National and State Assembly bye-elections.”
Okoye said that political parties must realise that Edo and Ondo governorship elections were taking place at a time of a global pandemic and the commission was working assiduously to observe and comply with all health and safety protocols issued by the commission and health authorities.
He said that with the pandemic taking its toll on the citizenry, the people of Edo and Ondo states must be saved from the added burden of violent and raucous elections.
“Political parties must remember that Edo and Ondo governorship elections have strict constitutional and statutory timelines and threats of violence or actual violence can disrupt those timelines and create a constitutional crisis.
“The commission will continue to engage stakeholders in the two states on the need for free, fair, safe and peaceful elections, given that it has committed enormous public resources in preparing for them. “The commission will view gravely, any disruptive actions by political actors,” he warned.
Okoye said that the commission would work with, and collaborate with the security agencies to contain incidents or threats of violence before and during the elections.
“Regulatory agencies with roles in the elections, especially those dealing with insecurity, hate speech and abuse of mass media, must step up their activities and ensure that people caught breaking the law were held to account,” he said.
The commission reassured the people of Edo and Ondo of its determination to conduct credible and safe elections in the two states, and urged residents to support the process.