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 states governorship polls.

The commission’s National Commissioner and Chairman (Information and Voter Education Committee), Festus Okoye, 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 Marle 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 PUNCH that INEC had informed political parties that their guidelines for campaigns must conform to 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 INCE commissioner stated, “All the registered political parties are aware of the global pandemic and how it has affected the way we live and organise 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.”

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