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A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and Chairman of the Alliance on Surviving COVID-19 and Beyond, Mr Femi Falana has urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to provide face masks for voters in Edo and Ondo states in the upcoming elections.
Falana made this call during the Channels TV Citizen’s Town Hall on Voting Amidst COVID-19 on Wednesday, June 3, 2020.
He was responding to questions raised by the presenter on the feasibility of the new draft guidelines released by the electoral body for the Edo state governorship election in September and the Ondo State governorship election in October later this year.
In the new policy for voting, INEC had stated that “any voter without a face mask shall be turned away from the polling unit.”
Falana in response to this part of the guidelines said INEC will have to bear the responsibility of providing face masks to voters.
“If INEC insists that every voter must wear a face mask, we must now go beyond the guidelines to make them work.
“We cannot rely on churches and NGOs to carry out the responsibility of the government.
“Contrary to what the INEC Commissioner said, we are not talking about hundreds of millions of Naira”.
Noting that voter turnout for both elections is expected to be low, Mr Falana debunked claims by INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Electoral Operations and Logistics Committee (EOLC), Prof Okechukwu Ebeano, who had earlier argued that providing face masks for voters could run-up a huge bill for INEC.
“The number of voters in both states – Ondo and Edo – is about 4.083 million. To provide face masks to all could cost INEC up to N403 million. So, I don’t think INEC should provide face masks, even if INEC has the resources.” Prof Okechukwu Ebeano had said.
Refuting the claims, Falana said “I do not expect that in Ondo and Edo states you’ll have more than 500 voters.
“It’s not possible under the current situation.
“If you’re going to make 500,000 face masks, you won’t make them at N500 each.
“Because the higher the quantity you have to make, the lower the price to make one.
“So, in the end we may just be talking about N100, 000 not millions.
“Why should that be difficult for INEC to provide?” Falana queried.
He urged the government to be mindful of the level of poverty in Nigeria which could hinder voters from being able to afford the face masks.
“The elite must appreciate that many of our people are undergoing excruciating poverty.
“There are people who cannot afford a face mask of N300 or N400 so we must provide for them” Falana said.
Meanwhile, the general commentary around the issue of face masks at the polling units has been around voters or party representatives wearing branded face masks.
“Wearing of face masks to polling units will be compulsory, but any voter with branded face masks will be turned back from the polling unit.” Ebeano said in an earlier event organised for journalists.
it is important to note that the confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria are now above the 10, 000 mark and experts have observed that due to increased testing capacity, the number could be doubled in a few months.
Nigeria recently announced the reopening of religious centres and although guidelines were announced, compliance will be loosely monitored.