Makes salient recommendations to avert violence, others
By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja
As the Edo governorship election draws closer, an election observer, YIAGA AFRICA, Tuesday, released the first Pre-Election Observation, PREO, report on political activities carried out so far by political parties and their candidates.
The PREO report with subject, ‘2020 Edo Election: An election defined by strongarm tactics and violence’ revealed some key findings which include Dominance of two political parties and their campaigns; Spate of pre-election violence escalating; Potential hotspots and flash-points of violence; State of INEC’s Preparedness for the election; Poor public sensitization on new policies and guidelines on Voting Amidst COVID19; Voter inducement and purchase of Permanent Voter Card (PVC); Glaring exclusion and under-representation of women; and Human Rights Violations by Security Agents.
According to YIAGA AFRICA the two dominant parties in the governorship race are guilty of violent rhetoric, hate speech, vandalism, and violence, and that Edo State currently witnesses a surge in cult groups’ activities, especially in Ikpoba/Okha, Oredo, Orhionmwon, and Owan West LGAs, which are all traceable to an entrenched subculture of violence built around well-known ‘strongmen’ including thugs, touts, gangsters, and cultists on the one hand, and “the widespread belief that elections cannot be won – or smooth governance guaranteed – without strongarm tactics and the support of powerful thugs.”
The PREO involves the deployment of 24 carefully recruited and trained LTOs in each of the 18 LGAs in Edo State to systematically observe and gather information concerning the pre-election environment and early warning signs of conflict and electoral violence.
These citizen observers are equipped with a checklist to record the relevant information and provide verifiable findings.
Twenty-four of the LTOs report bi-weekly on a standard set of questions at the local government level, while the others are mobile within the state, and they report critical incidents only.
The LTOs are recruited from their LGA of residence where they monitor electoral activities such as voter education and information, political campaign activities, marginalized groups (youth, women, and PWDs), and election-related violence round the clock. Additionally, they track electoral stakeholders’ activities like; INEC, political parties, NOA, CSOs, and women, youths, and PWDs.
All findings from the LTOs are transmitted to the WTV data center via coded SMS and are thereafter, analyzed, and reported periodically. However, in the case of critical incidents, the WTV project escalates immediately to sister CSOs and Security agencies like; the Nigeria Police Force and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSDC) as well as INEC.
The report reads in part, “Edo State’s political context has been influential in shaping the politics of the Edo governorship election as revealed by Yiaga Africa’s Watching the Vote (WTV) findings from the first phase of the pre-election observation (PREO) in the state.
“Yiaga Africa deployed long term observers throughout the state to observe the pre-election environment and to monitor government responses to COVID-19 in each of the 18 Local Government Areas (LGAs).
“This pre-election observation also includes violence monitoring as part of an early warning system designed to prevent electoral violence and track the prevalence of human rights violations, particularly in light of the COVID19 pandemic.
“For this reporting phase, the findings from the LGAs indicates that while INEC released a list of candidates for 14 political parties contesting in the September 19 election, political campaigns appear to be dominated by the All Progressive Congress and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
“The competition has been reduced to a contest between personalities as opposed to issue-based campaigns. The WTV long term observers reported incidences of violent verbal and physical attacks, identity-based violence, and hate-speech rhetoric as campaign strategies employed by both parties for campaigns.
“Key Observation Findings include; Two parties dominate the political campaigns: In line with INEC’s time table for the election, political party campaigns commenced from June 21, 2020. Yiaga Africa monitored political party campaign activities such as campaign rallies, display of posters by political parties, media engagement, and meetings by political parties contesting in the election.
The campaigns are dominated by All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The Labour Party (LP) and New Nigerians People’s Party (NNPP) are engaged in campaigns but not with the same intensity, media coverage, and public participation like the APC and PDP campaigns.
LTOs witnessed or heard of campaigns associated with APC and PDP in 17 out of 18 of LGAs. While for LP and NNPP, campaign associated activities were recorded in 16% of LGAs. Women and youth were actively engaged in the political party campaigns process as campaign merchants across the state.
“The spate of pre-election violence is escalating: The two dominant parties in the governorship race are guilty of violent rhetoric, hate speech, vandalism, and violence. At a PDP rally in Apana Community in Etsako West LGA, clashes between PDP and APC supporters led to violent attacks and vandalism.
At least one incident of SGBV was recorded in Orhionmwon, Oredo, Ikpoba/Okha, Etsako Central, Owan West, Esan West and Ovia North East LGA. The state is also witnessing a surge in cult groups’ activities, especially in Ikpoba/Okha, Oredo, Orhionmwon, and Owan West LGAs.
This is mainly attributable to an entrenched subculture of violence built around well-known strongmen, thugs, touts, gangsters, and cultists on the one hand, and the widespread belief that elections cannot be won – or smooth governance guaranteed – without strongarm tactics and the support of powerful thugs. The situation is direr because of the proliferation of small arms and other weapons, which is evident in the free use of firearms at campaign venues.
“Specifically, Yiaga Africa observed the following early warning signs of violence in the following LGAs; Physical violence towards women at campaign rallies in Etsako Central LGA; Vandalism or the destruction of property belonging to a candidate or his/her supporters in Oredo, Orhionmwon, Igueben, Etsako Central, Esan North East, Ikpoba/Okha, Egor and Esan South East LGAs); Candidate inciting or encouraging his/her supporters to commit acts of violence in Oredo, Orhionmwon, Igueben, Ikpoba/Okha, Egor and Esan Central LGAs); Individuals or groups gathering small arms or light weapons (Ikpoba/Okha, Oredo, and Orhionmwon LGAs), and recruitment of thugs or militia groups (Ikoba/Oko, Oredo, Orhionmwon, Ikpoba/Okha, and Egor, LGAs.
“Potential hotspots and flashpoints of violence: Based on our observation reports, the potential hotspots and flashpoints of violence include Etsako West, Etsako East, Etsako Central, Owan West, and Akoko-Edo in Edo North Senatorial district. In Edo South Senatorial district, our reports suggest Oredo, Orhionmwon, Egor, Ovia North East, and Ikpoba-Okha LGAs while in Edo Central Senatorial district, Esan Central, Esan North East, and Esan West are potential hotspots. Reports from our LTOs suggest that the spate of violence and insecurity in the pre-election period may discourage voters from turning up to vote on Election Day.
“State of INEC’s Preparedness for the election: INEC is successfully implementing activities in the timetable and schedule for the election within limits imposed by the COVID-19 protocols. In the pre-election period, INEC has deployed more technologically driven solutions in the electoral process, notably introducing party candidate nomination portal, election observer accreditation portal, and media accreditation portal, which all minimize physical contacts recommended by the new norm of social and physical distancing. In collaboration with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the commission is conducting training for its electoral officers. The recruitment of ad-hoc staff and the configuration of Smart Card Readers are ongoing.
“Poor public sensitization on new policies and guidelines on Voting Amidst COVID19: Yiaga Africa findings reveal low public sensitization on INEC Policy on Voting Amidst COVID-19, especially the Voter Code of Conduct.
INEC, political parties, and other stakeholders are failing in their responsibility to effectively communicate the new guidelines on voting amidst COVID-19 to voters. In Esan North South East, Ovia South West, Igueben, Akoko Edo, Etsako West, Etsako East LGAs, voter education was exceptionally poor. Additionally, Yiaga Africa observed minimal voter education campaigns targeted at women, youth, and people living with disability (PWDs) from INEC, National Orientation Agency (NOA), and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), across the LGAs.
“Voter inducement and purchase of Permanent Voter Card (PVC): Like the last 2019 Bayelsa and Kogi elections, WTV findings reveal the inducement of voters by politicians in the state. WTV LTOs reported the distribution of money or gift items by politicians and their supporters in all the LGAs except Uhunmwode, Akoko Edo, Etsako West, and Etsako East LGAs. While buying PVCs was recorded in Esan Central, Oredo, Orhionmwon, Ikpoba/Okha, and Igueben LGAs.
“Glaring exclusion and underrepresentation of women: For the 2020 governorship election, only one of the governorship candidates and three deputy governorship candidates are females. Ironically, 48% of registered voters in Edo are women. Campaign rallies and party mobilization teams also have high percentages of female members and supporters, but gender issues are yet to gain prominence in the election. Perhaps this can be explained by the strong traditional values of patriarchy and male domination among Nigerians.
“Human Rights Violations by Security Agents: Yiaga Africa LTOs tracked and reported human rights violations, intimidation or abuse, and violence by security agents while enforcing curfew or government regulations on COVID-19. Across the LGAs, at least one incident was recorded in Oredo, Orhionmwon, Ikpoba/Okha, Uhunmwode, Etsako Central, Esan Central, and Ovia North East LGAs.”
Meanwhile, YIAGA AFRICA made salient recommendations which charges security agencies on curtailing proliferation and use of firearms; political parties and candidates on issue-based campaigns and avoid hiring of thugs; INEC on collaborating with stakeholders to de-escalate the rising political tension and violence, preventing possible COVID-19 infections, and others; Citizens complying with health and safety guidelines, refraining from perpetrating violence, hate speech, and not accepting vote selling and buying; and the Media giving all political parties and candidates adequate media exposure and visibility.
“Security agencies; curtailment of proliferation and use of firearms and other weapons and ensure appropriate sanctions for those implicated in thuggery and violence; Employ preventive measures to neutralize existing security threats in Edo state to enable the voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote in a peaceful and secure environment.
“Improve inter-agency collaboration and cooperation to forestall rivalry and unhealthy competition in the management of election security Federal and state government; Given the pervasive threat to safety and security in the Edo election, Yiaga Africa urges the federal and state government to desist from partisan use of the police and security forces to manipulate the electoral process.
“Political Parties; Political parties and candidates should conduct issue-based campaigns rather than engage in voter inducement and recruitment of thugs and cultists for violence; Political parties and candidates should subject themselves to public scrutiny on their campaigns manifestoes through debates, town halls, and direct public engagement; Political parties should conduct voter education on INEC’s policy on voting amidst COVID-19 as part of their role in increasing voter turnout in elections.
“Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC); INEC should collaborate with other stakeholders like the National Peace Committee, traditional/religious institutions, security agencies, media, and CSOs to de-escalate the rising political tension and violence by signing peace accord or pact between the candidates the election; INEC should collaborate with the Presidential Task Force and State Task Force to ensure strict compliance with COVID-19 guidance enunciated in INEC policy on voting amidst COVID-19 and other health safety protocols. Polling officials should be required to undergo COVID-19 testing before and after the election; Public engagement on new health protocols and Voters Code of Conduct should be intensified across LGAs and communities.
“INEC should take concrete steps to address the perceptions of its lack of independence, impartiality, and professionalism. This will include proactive disclose of election-related information, consistency in the application of electoral guidelines, and transparency in the results collation process; INEC should ensure proper coordination with the security agencies and relevant health agencies to guarantee polling officials and voters’ security and safety on Election Day.
“Citizens; Voters should exhibit a high sense of responsibility by complying with health safety guidelines before, during, and after the election. This will reduce the prevalence rate of COVID-19 infections in the state; Citizens should refrain from perpetrating violence, refrain from hate speech, and not accept gift items in exchange for their votes; Citizens should work with security agencies by reporting incidents or threats of violence, or perpetrators of violence.
“Media; Media organizations should ensure all political parties and candidates are given adequate media exposure and visibility.”