The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) held capacity building for officers of the commission from 17 states of the federation on Monday into Tuesday, January 24-25.
The INEC National Commissioner for Information and Voter Education (IVEC), Festus Okoye, in his keynote address at a Capacity Building Workshop for Heads of Voter Education and Publicity (VEP) and Public Affairs Officers of the Commission from 17 States of Nigeria at Villa Toscana Hotel, Asaba, Delta State, emphasised that knowledge is central to democracy and communication is at the heart of their work as election managers. He stated: “it is imperative and fundamental that we continually and continuously build the capacity of our front line staff to understand issues in the electoral process and communicate effectively.”
Okoye congratulated the Director Voter Education and Publicity Victor Aluko and his team for putting together the program. He also thanked the European Center for Electoral Support (ECES) for supporting the program, indicating expectation of more additional support towards the 2023 general election.
Okoye emphasized that the year 2022 will be busy and challenging for the Commission.
“It will present complex realities and showcase the complexities of our democracy and electoral process.
“In the year 2022, the Commission will release the Timetable and Schedule of Activities for the 2023 general election. “The Commission will give the statutory notice signifying the date of election and the place for the submission of nominations. The Timetable and Schedule of Activities will contain the period for the commencement of campaigns and rallies in public by Political Parties and the last day of campaigns by Political Parties. It will contain the period for party primaries and submission of names of nominated candidates and resolution of issues and challenges arising from party primaries.
“It will contain the period for the submission of personal particulars of candidates, withdrawal, and the replacement of candidates and publication of the final list of candidates.
“It will contain the period for the submission of the names of Poll Agents. It will set out the period for the publication of official register of voters and the Notice of Poll and election date,” he highlighted.
The INEC National Commissioner also stated that at the operational and administrative level, the Commission will monitor the Congresses, Conventions, Meetings and Primaries of the Political Parties.
According to Okoye: “The Commission must track campaign spending and finances of Political Parties.
“The Commission will procure sensitive and non-sensitive materials and deploy them as at and when due.
“The Commission must identity, harvest and recruit ad-hoc staff and various categories of collation and returning officers.
“The Commission must identify, prepare and equip Registration Area Centers, Collation Centers and other Centers for various and variegated activities.
“The Commission will hire vehicles, boats, and motorcycles and engage human carriers for the movement of personnel, materials and reverse logistics.
“The Commission must train and assist in the deployment of security personnel on election duty.
“The Commission must also defend pre and post-election litigation and petitions<” he listed.
Okoye maintained that 2022 is loaded with activities, saying that all Heads of Departments and Public Affairs Officers must be abreast of these activities. He said that elections take place at the base level and it is important to build the capacity of our communication experts to undertake the arduous challenges that comes with election management and organization.
Okoye also said that the Commission has reduced pernicious human interference in the electoral process and deepened democracy through greater use of technology.
He listed that “the Commission introduced the Candidates Nomination Portal through which Political Parties upload the List and Personal Particulars of their Nominated Candidates.
“The Commission introduced and deployed a Portal for the Accreditation of Observers and the Media.
“The Commission deployed a Portal for the accreditation of Polling Agents (Party Agents).
“The Commission developed and deployed the INEC Voter Enrollment Device currently being used for the enrolment of qualified applications desirous of registering as voters. Coterminous to this, the Commission deployed a pre-registration portal for eligible Nigerians to start their voter registration exercise before proceeding for biometric capture.
“The Commission retired the Smart Card Reader and introduced the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) for purposes of Voter Accreditation.
“The Commission introduced and deployed the (Irev) through which it uploads Polling Unit Results to a Central Portal for public viewing in real time.”
He stated that as communicators, officials must devise and deploy creative and innovative approaches of communicating issues and challenges in the electoral process.
According to Okoye: “You must be dynamic and imaginative against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic that has completely altered lifestyles and ways of doing things. More Nigerians now patronize the social media. We must find the right balance between the traditional and new media.”
He farther stated: “We must wean ourselves of dogmatism and orthodoxy and extricate ourselves from the trap of “we have done it before and there is nothing new to learn or do”. He said that the society has changed, the old ways of communicating issues and developments have given way to new approaches, adding that door to door means of communication is receding and no longer feasible.
Okoye stated that the demography of Nigeria has changed and a lot of young Nigerians are using the social media.
The implication is that printing posters, handbills and banners are no longer fashionable.
“As a Commission, we must compete and dominate the social media on issues around the electoral process.
“We must understand the language of young people and their interests.
“It is a fight of ideas and a fight for the minds of young Nigerians who constitute the bulk of the voting population. We must use info graphs, short messaging, and other creative and innovative approaches to capture their imagination,” he said.
Okoye further desalted: “We cannot in truth and in fact communicate what we do not know or understand. We must read and have a basic understanding of the constitutive constitutional and legal instrument underpinning the work of the Commission.
“We must understand the powers and the duties of the Commission as set out in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999(as amended); the Electoral Act, 2010(as amended) the Rules, Regulations, Guidelines and Manuals of the Commission made pursuant to the powers conferred on it by the Constitution and the various laws.
“We must therefore read and be very versatile. A Head of Department or Public Affairs Officer that is ignorant of the basic duties and functions of the Commission is a danger to the electoral process.
“The Nigerian people expect us to be upfront with information. The Nigerian people expect us to clearly, simply and comprehensively communicate changes and innovations in the electoral process.
“We can only do this when we understand these processes and procedures and communicate them effectively. If we fail to communicate and communicate simply and effectively, rumour mongers and the rumour mill will take over and define the narrative and present us with a fait accompli. It is better to be upfront with information rather than being reactive or defensive.”
Okoye maintained that 2022 is the year of preparation for bye-elections, off cycle elections and the 2023 general election, saying most of the important events in the electoral calendar will take place this year.
According to him: “Political Parties, Aspirants, Candidates and their Supporters will position to gain advantage. Some of them will attribute their problems and challenges to the Commission. They will praise the Commission when they win and denigrate the Commission when they lose. Some of them will analyze every action of the Commission and our press releases and comments may be tendered in court and become objects of litigation.
“Some of the critical stakeholders may misunderstand some of our actions, processes and procedures and read different meaning into well intentioned processes and procedures. It is our responsibility to provide clarity and dispel negative notions and insinuations with potentially damaging impact on the electoral process.
“Some persons may go to the extent of planting negative stories about the Commission and in the process attempt to drag the Commission into a mud fight. Some people may by acts of commission or omission portray the Commission in bad light. It is our responsibility to remain firm, focused, courageous and engaging. The Commission is a public trust and must be open and transparent. We must on no account personalize the issues. We must respond to those that deserve our response and allow the Nigerian people to take a position on others.”
He said that the Commission regulates the organization and activities of political parties but in the heat of campaigns, rallies and nomination processes, attempts will be made to turn the table. “We must continually and continuously remind political parties and their candidates and supporters that the Commission is the regulator of political parties and the table must on no account be turned,” he added.
Okoye further said: “as Heads of Department and Public Affairs Officers, you must assist your Resident Electoral Commissioners to engage the media. You must also engage the media. Running away from the media will not make them go away. Engage the media within the ambit of your own ability and expertise. You must not be an orator. You must not be charismatic. Your business is communication and you must communicate in knowledge and humility.”
Okoye pointed out that when the new electoral legal framework is passed and assented to by the President, INEC may have additional engagement with the Heads of Departments and Public Affairs Officers and clearly and comprehensively explain the issues in the new Act.
According to him: “There are clear and differential timelines in the Bill. There are new provisions and new innovations that change the dynamics of the electoral process. There may be new ways of determining over voting in the electoral process. The method of accreditation will change using the BVAS.
“You will be called upon to explain the architecture of the Permanent Voter Card (PVC). With the shift of accreditation technology from Smart Card Reader (SCR) to the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) the new technology, the BVAS extracts voter data in four ways:
- By typing in the Voter Identification Number (VIN)
- By typing in the last name of the voter
- By reading the Barcode on the PVC
- By reading the QR code on the register of voters.
“You will be called upon to explain Issues around Campaigns and Rallies. As some of you are aware, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is empowered by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (1999) (as amended) and the Electoral Act, 2010(as amended) to regulate the activities of registered Political Parties. The Commission issues Regulations, Guidelines and Manuals to give effect to the intendment of the law and the Constitution. Section 99 of the Electoral Act, 2010(as amended) prescribes and circumscribes the period of campaigning in public by political parties. Based on the existing law, campaigns in public shall commence 90 days before polling day and end 24 hours prior to that date. “However, section 99 of the Act recognizes that Political Parties are not the only operators in the electoral process. Therefore, section 100 of the Act provides that a candidate and his party shall campaign in accordance with such rules and regulations as may be determined by the Commission.
“You may be called upon to explain issues relating to finances of political parties, limitation on election expenses; election expenditure by political parties and disclosure of sources of income by political parties.
“You may be called upon to explain the concept of validity of party primaries and other related issues. You must therefore be prepared and arm yourself with the requite information.”
Okoye also said that they must see improved permanence by the Heads of Voter Education and Publicity and the Public Affairs Officers.
‘We want to see better and robust engagement with the media. We want to see well written press statements that represent the clear intentions of the Commission and convey same in simple language. We want to see clear engagement in the social media. Policies of the Commission and innovations must be cascaded to the grassroots using the best and most effective means of communication,” he said.