Ahead of the 2023 general elections, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has challenged its Heads of Department, Voter Education as well as Publicity and Public Affairs Officers to be strategic in communications
Mr Festus Okoye, INEC National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, gave the charge at the opening of a two-day training for INEC Voter Education and Publicity Officers in South West on Monday in Lagos.
Okoye said that the training became germane because of the assurances by the INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, that the commission is poised to organise free, fair, transparent, verifiable and inclusive election.
He said that it also became important against the backdrop of the coming into force of a new electoral legal framework for the conduct of elections and the commission’s commitment to infuse technology in the electoral process.
“Being Heads of Departments and Public Affairs Officers, it is your responsibility to advice the Resident Electoral Commissioners, and Electoral Officers on the best way to communicate the policies of the Commission, its technological innovations and issues in the conduct of elections.
“Your role therefore is important in getting Nigerians to understand our policies, programmes and procedures during the 2023 General Election and thereafter,” he said.
According to him, heads of departments and public affairs officers must interface between the commission and the critical stakeholders at the state and local government levels.
“To perform effectively and optimally, there are irreducible minimums that must be met and must be present,” he added.
Okoye emphasised the need for excellent composure and comportment, personal integrity, good reading habit and documentation, basic knowledge of the constitutive legal instruments for the conduct of elections, understanding the processes and procedures of the commission, among others.
He highlighted some of the challenges to include media’s crave for sensational headlines, spectre of fake news, problem of planted stories, breaking news syndrome, sources not willing to be named and information leakage from within, among others.
Calling for proper navigation of the media and communications terrain, Okoye urged the officers to know their subject and be the expert while also ensuring proper preparations before going for a live interview.
“You cannot take back what you say on live interviews. Keep your answers on the borderline, especially when issues are unfolding.
“Avoid ambiguity and check whether your words and sentences may be subject to different interpretations. Don’t run away from the media.
“Be proactive with information sharing. It is better to give information upfront than allow the media share false information and you struggle to explain.
“Cultivate the media but don’t hug the limelight. Cultivate the media channels you could readily send information to and expect them to use and make it an agenda,” he added.
Okoye urged the officers to respond to urgent issues involving their states and never allow them to fester.
He appealed to them to comment only on issues concerning their states and avoid policy issues that are the exclusive preserve of INEC headquarters.
Urging the officers to arm themselves with necessary information, Okoye said that all these categories of staff to be used for the forthcoming elections are undergoing training and the training of others would commence in a few days.
“For the 2023 General Election, the Commission will recruit 707,384 Presiding Officers and Assistant Presiding Officers, about 17,685 Supervisory Presiding Officers, 9,620 Collation/Returning Officer, as well as 530,538 Polling Unit Security Officials, making a total of 1,265,227.
“The Commission is engaging all institutions and critical national institutions supervising critical national assets.
“The Commission has revised and signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the National Union of Road Transport Workers and the Marine Workers Union of Nigeria.
“The Commission needs and will hire at least 100,000 buses and 4,000 boats for the election and the drivers and workers to be engaged must also subscribe to the Oath of Neutrality that will be administered by the Commission,” he said.
According to him, all the sensitive and non-sensitive materials required for the conduct of the 2023 General Election are being moved to locations.
He added that security is being beefed up in the states and local government offices of the commission.
“All the materials required for the election will be in place at least a week to the election,” Okoye said. (NAN)