Off-cycle Governorship: INEC Urges Political Parties, Media to Study Electoral, Police, Public Order Acts and Shun Weaponization of Disinformation

The Chairman, of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu has urged political parties participating in the off-cycle governorship elections to critically study and pay attention to the provisions of the Constitution, the Electoral Act, the Police Act, and the Public Order Act for the proper and peaceful conduct of political campaigns, rallies, and processions. 

Prof Yakubu gave this charge at a Two-Day Capacity Building Workshop on Election Reporting and Ethical Practices for the INEC Press Corp Members, ongoing at Akwanga, Nasarawa State. 

This workshop is coming ahead of the off-cycle Governorship elections scheduled for 11th November in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi States. 

INEC Chairman who was represented by Mr Sam Olumekun, INEC National Commissioner and the Chairman, of the Information and Voter Education Committee said a political campaign or slogan shall not be tainted with abusive language directly or indirectly likely to injure religious, ethnic, tribal, or sectional feelings. 

He noted that abusive, intemperate, slanderous, or base language or innuendoes designed or likely to provoke violent reactions or emotions shall not be employed or used in political campaigns. 

"Let me also remind the media of their constitutional obligations. State apparatus including the media shall not be employed to the advantage or disadvantage of any political party or candidate at any election. In other words, equal coverage and visibility shall be allotted to all political parties by all public print and electronic media organisations. The same applies in equal measure to privately owned media organizations subject to payment of appropriate fees."

Prof. Yakubu also charged the media, especially the INEC Press Corps members to be familiar with the Constitutional mandate of the Commission and the roles and powers ascribed to it and to strive to understand the intendment and nuances of the powers granted to the Commission by the Constitution and the Electoral Act that are expressed in subsidiary legislations including the Commission’s Regulations, Guidelines and Manuals.

He noted that the INEC Press Corps members also become the repository of electoral information in Nigeria. "This places them at an advantageous position to play important roles in shaping the opinions and editorial policies of their media organizations on issues relating to the programmes and policies of the Commission," he said

In his special remarks, National Commissioner & Member IVEC,  Prof. Kunle Ajayi appealed to the media in general to be objective and unbiased in their reporting and avoid fake news and inflammatory and sensational news.

He pointed out that the Commission's distasteful experience with fake news in the 2023 General Elections has shown that, if not nipped in the bud, fake news can become the bane of election management in Nigeria.  

Ajayi stressed that the alarming prevalence of misinformation, ‘fake news’, hate speech, and the weaponization of disinformation has become very worrisome to the Commission. Disinformation is used to provoke religious, political, and tribal sentiments in an already polarized society such as ours, especially, during election season, which is often the leading cause of electoral violence and uprisings.

"Election-related disinformation has become a major strategy used by nefarious individuals and groups in the political space to manipulate the general public to their advantage, regardless of the consequential effect such propaganda may have on the peace and stability of the electoral process and the country at large."

Earlier in his goodwill message, Rudolf Elbling, Team Lead, DAI urged Journalists to maintain a high level of professionalism, accuracy, and impartiality in their coverage. He said Nigerian journalists are well-trained professionals, but it is always worthwhile to come back to certain crucial principles, to a credible and peaceful election process.

"Editorial Independence, facts Checking,  impartiality,  keep Proper Tone in Reporting,  Guard against Hate Speech and watchdog. 

"Media, and therefore Journalists are essential to democracy, and a democratic election without it is impossible. Furthermore, the media acts as a crucial watchdog to democratic elections, safeguarding the transparency of the process. 

"In today’s politics and society at large, media is essential to the safeguarding transparency of democratic processes. This is often called its ‘watchdog’ role. Transparency is required on many levels including for access to information; accountability and legitimacy of individuals, institutions and processes themselves; and for rightful participation and public debate." he noted. 

Earlier in his welcome address, INEC Press Corp Chairman,  Mr Segun Ojumu opined that the workshop will significantly contribute to the professionalism and effectiveness of the INEC Press Corps. By improving their skills in ethical reporting and enhancing their safety awareness, the workshop will contribute to the overall integrity and fairness of the electoral process.

In her General remarks,  the Nasarawa State Resident Electoral Commissioner,  Barr. Mrs Caroline Ogbe welcomed members of the 4th Estate of the Realm to the state and urged them to address all election coverage issues with a deep sense of professionalism, journalistic ethics, and high standards.

In his lecture, the Director ICT,  INEC, titled The Role of BVAS, IReV for Bayelsa, Kogi and Imo Governorship said Technology deployment has proven to be an effective tool in achieving free, fair and credible elections; Challenges are eminent, but INEC has put in extra efforts to ensure that they are mitigated. 

He added that the role of BVAS is to ensure one-person-one-vote, and the role of the IReV Portal is to improve the openness and credibility of our elections,  he also solicited the cooperation and trust from Stakeholders to enable the Commission to meet its set objectives.

On his part, the Director General TEI lectured on imperatives of adequate training for poll officials Mechanisms Adopted for Effective Training, reiterates that the training of Poll Officials towards the conduct of the November 2023 Governorship Elections in Bayelsa, Imo and Kogi States are critical pre-election activities that must be tackled with utmost tact and commitment.

"The Institute. I can assure you, is poised to play its role to ensure that all Adhoc staff are effectively and qualitatively trained. The Commission's goal to deliver a free, fair, credible, and inclusive election in the three States is achievable by devotion, action, purposefulness, commitment, and patriotism on the part of the Commission and every stakeholder."

And in his lecture, the team leader, the Development Alternatives Incorporated (DAI), Mr. Rudolf Elbling highlighted the significance of European Union Support to Democratic Governance in Nigeria (EU-SDGN) Phase 1 and 2 to Nigeria's Democratic journey with INEC.  He stressed that DAI provides support towards capacity building, technical support, and printing of non-sensitive reports and information flyers. 

He said some of the tools developed in collaboration are being handed over to the Commission. Among these are: the Collation and Returning Officers Management System (CROMS) intended to streamline, simplify and enhance the security, reliability and credibility of the recruitment process for collation and returning officers; the Election Results Management System (ERMS) which seeks to ensure a better results management process, enhancing accuracy and creating a repository of election results, something envisaged by Section 62 (1) and (2) of the Electoral Act, 2022”.

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