Background

In the wake of the unprecedented outbreak and global spread of the Coronavirus (COVID- 19) pandemic, and its multiplier effects on virtually all spheres of human endeavor, governments around the world are forced to take decisive- and sometimes drastic- actions. The containment measures are multidimensional, namely the closure of national borders, suspension of international and local air travels, piecemeal lockdowns/stay at home, social distancing and other forms of social interventions/palliatives. Apart from the number of deaths already recorded, the costs and consequences of the spread of the pandemic have been enormous. For Nigeria and most developing countries, the disease is imposing considerable strains on the mostly fragile health facilities, causing temporary unemployment and loss of income for large number of citizens in the informal sector, and undermining food security, to name a few. Whatever efforts are being envisaged to restore normalcy during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, it is going to be a long and daunting task revitalize social services, revitalise the health sector and stabilise the political economy in the face of dwindling oil revenues.

Very few discussions are taking place around the immediate and far-reaching impacts of COVID-19 on elections and electoral cycles. In the wake of the pandemic, over 40 countries across the world have postponed elections due to COVID-19.  A number of African countries have had to postpone their general elections (Ethiopia for example), some others have gone ahead to conduct elections (e.g. Guinea and Mali), while some have not made a decision on whether or not elections would be held as schedule. Several stakeholders are now expressing legitimate concerns that the decision to hold or postpone elections in the context of the current pandemic could have legal and constitutional implications as election matters follow strict guidelines and sequences (1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended; Electoral Act 2015, etc.). The bottom-line is that the pandemic must not, in any way, endanger constitutionalism and rule of law, vis-à-vis the overall well-being of citizens.

It is against this background that Yiaga Africa organized a webinar on April 6 2020 to explore how best Nigeria could respond to the COVID-19 pandemic vis-à-vis conduct of elections. The webinar attracted participants from INEC, academia, development partners and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). It provided an opportunity for stakeholders to reflect on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on elections timetable and election management and avert constitutional crisis that may arise as a result of the limitations imposed by the spread of the pandemic. In the course of the deliberations, participants identified a wide range of issues for consideration that can help in deciding whether to postpone elections or not.

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