Survey Predicts Use of Strong Arm Tactics, Violence in Edo

0

Chuks Okocha scrutinises the survey by Yiaha Africa, a civil society group, which suggests that the Edo state gubernatorial election would be defined by strong arm tactics and violence

Ahead of the September 19, 2020 governorship elections in Edo state, the civil sociery group, Yiaga Africa said that it deployed 24 Long Term Observers (LTOs) in the 18 LGAs of Edo state to systematically observe and gather information on the pre-election environment as well as early warning signs of electoral violence.

The group further said that NOIPolls was also engaged by Yiaga Africa to conduct a survey to empirically gauge their opinions about the impact of COVI9-19 pandemic and the campaign environment on the credibility of the governorship elections.

The survey, it said assesses citizens knowledge and exposure to information on the pandemic, and confidence in state institutions and electoral stakeholders. This report summarizes some of the main findings from the Pre-election Observation and survey and proffers recommendations for promoting the credibility of the upcoming elections.

According to outcome of survey signed by the Executive Director, Samson Itodo, although approximately seven-in-ten respondents (68%) support INEC’s decision to hold Nigeria’s first off-cycle governorship election during the COVID-19 pandemic, a plurality (42%) remain concerned that voters and election officials could contract the virus on election-day. Respondents, the survey said were evenly split on INEC’s effectiveness in communicating the new COVID-19 voting guidelines, and more than a quarter of those surveyed (27%) report having been exposed to information about COVID-19 voting procedures from political parties and candidates.

The Long Term Observers (LTO) findings reveal that there was little or no voter information campaign on INEC’s guidelines on voting during COVID-19 in Esan North South East, Ovia South West, Igueben, Akoko Edo, Etsako West, Etsako East LGAs.

The report of the survey, Yiaga said that respondents expressed major concerns about violence carried out by political parties (56%) and security officials (48%) during the elections. With more than 3 weeks to go before the governorship election, approximately one-in-ten respondents have directly experienced violence and intimidation related to the elections, while over one-third have heard political candidates using hate speech on the campaign trail. This was corroborated by field reports from the Yiaga Africa LTOs who reported incidents of violence mostly perpetrated by supporters of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party.

Citing specific instances, the Yiaga Africa report said that “At a PDP rally in Apana Community in Etsako West LGA, clashes between the supporters of PDP and APC 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.”

According to the survey, the potential hotspots and flashpoints of violence, where the electoral battles are expected to be the fiercest include; Etsako West, Etsako East, Etsako Central, Owan West and Akoko-Edo in Edo North Senatorial district. In Edo South, 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.

Yiaga Africa said in the report that attitudes towards INEC in Edo are very polarized, explaining that “Forty-six percent of respondents’ lack confidence in INEC’s ability to promote credible elections, 50% question the electoral umpires’ independence and 44% doubt the institutions’ preparedness for election.

“Despite, the COVID-19 epidemic and the ongoing political crisis, an overwhelming majority of registered voters (85%) report being likely to vote in the September 19 elections.

The survey report said that despite the COVID-19 epidemic and the ongoing political crisis, an overwhelming majority of registered voters (85%) are likely to vote in the September 19 elections. Furthermore, 54% of all respondents are optimistic that the elections will be credible, and a plurality (42%) believe the quality of elections will increase relative to the 2019 presidential elections.

However, spate of violence and insecurity may discourage voters from turning up to vote on election day.
But based on the results from the pre-election survey, Yiaga Africa recommends that INEC, Presidential Task Force and State Task Force should ensure strict compliance with COVID-19 guidance enunciated in INEC policy on voting amidst COVID-19 and other health safety protocols. The report explained that Polling officials should be required to undergo COVID-19 testing before and after election. Public engagement on new health protocols and Voters Code of Conduct should be intensified across LGAs and communities.

The survey said that 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. Security agencies, it said should neutralize existing security threats in Edo state to enable the voters exercise their constitutional right to vote in a peaceful and secured environment.

These threats include; hate speech, disruption of campaigns by thugs, vandalism, assassination attempts on political stakeholders, proliferations of arms and weapons in places like Ikpoba/Okha, Oredo and Orhionmwon LGA etc. More proactive and preemptive interventions like peace meetings, peace accords, curtailment of proliferation and use of firearms and other weapons, appropriate sanctions for those implicated in thuggery and violence. If caution is not exercised, the September 19 may be determined by violence not voters.

According to the Yiaga survey, INEC should take concrete steps to address the perceptions of its lack of independence, impartiality and professionalism through proactive disclose of election-related information; effective management of election day logistics; consistency in the application of electoral guidelines and lastly, transparency in the results collation and transmission process.

Yiaga said the conduct and outcome of the upcoming governorship election in Edo state will have important implications for elections and democracy in Nigeria for several reasons. To begin with, the Edo governorship poll is the first state-wide election to be conducted by INEC during the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, Edo is the only state in the South South geopolitical zone that, until recently, was controlled by the ruling APC and so for the APC it is a battle to recapture lost ground and the opposition PDP, a struggle to retain reclaimed territory. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the state has been embroiled in a political standoff between the current governor Obaseki and his ‘political godfather’ and former governor of the state Adams Oshiomhole.

The political standoff has led to a politically charged campaign period and many fear that as the election draw nearer, opposing camps will engage in violence and vote rigging in order to win the election.

The survey. Yiaga Africa explained that with these issues in mind that it through its Watching The Vote projec undertook the Pre-election Observation (PREO) to assess stakeholder preparations for the elections, monitor political campaigns and track early warning signs of violence.

The PREO methodology entailed deployment of 24 Long Term Observers (LTOs) in all 18 LGAs of Edo state and a pre-election survey with a random sample of 657 phone-owing adult Nigerians (18 years and above) residing in Edo State.

The PREO seeks to achieve the following goals;
• First, to provide high-quality evidenced-based information in the run-up to the Edo governorship contest that can inform suitable interventions to promote the credibility of the electoral process and safety of the electorate.
• Second, to provide a scientific gauge of the opinions of the electorate regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the campaign and election environment, including INEC’s ability to organize elections during the pandemic and citizens’ willingness to engage in election-related activities.
• Third, to assess the electorates’ attitudes towards, and experience with, election violence, votebuying, and INEC’s election preparedness and to understand how these issues may impact voter turnout and perceptions of election credibility.

There are five key findings that emerged from the survey:
• First, while a majority of respondents’ support INEC’s decision to hold Nigeria’s first off-cycle governorship election during the COVID-19 pandemic, 42% remain concerned that voters and election officials could contract the virus on election-day, and a further 40% are dissatisfied with INEC’s effectiveness in communicating the new COVID-19 voting guidelines.
• Second, within Edo’s politically charged pre-election context a majority of respondents expressed concerns that political parties (56%) and security officials (48%) would use violence during the elections. Approximately one-in-ten respondents have directly experienced violence and intimidation related to the elections, while over one-third have heard political candidates using hate speech on the campaign trail.
• Third, attitudes towards INEC in Edo are very polarized. Forty-six percent of respondents’ lack confidence in INEC’s ability to promote credible elections, 50% question the electoral umpires’ independence and 44% doubt the institutions’ preparedness for election.
• Fourth, despite the COVID-19 epidemic and the ongoing political crisis, an overwhelming majority of registered voters (85%) are likely to vote in the September 19 elections.
• Finally, a slim majority of all respondents (54%) are optimistic that the elections will be credible, and a plurality (42%) believe the quality of the governorship elections will increase relative to the 2019 presidential elections.

The report listed it’s key findings from the field observation by Long Term Observers to include:
• Preparedness by INEC: INEC is successfully implementing activities in the timetable and schedule for the election. This has been done within the limits imposed by the covid-19 protocols. The new thinking and methodologies have so far seen the deployment of more technologically-driven solutions in the electoral process, notably the introduction of party nomination portal, election observer accreditation portal, and media accreditation portal, which all minimize physical contacts as 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 adhoc staff and the configuration of Smart Card Readers are ongoing.

• Low voter education on the new Policy on Voting Amidst COVID-19: 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.

• 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 the supporters of PDP and APC 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 activities of cult groups especially in Ikpoba/Okha, Oredo, Orhionmwon and Owan West LGAs. This is largely attributable to an entrenched subculture of violence that is 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 more dire because of the proliferation of small arms and other weapons which is evident in the free use of firearms at campaign venues.

• 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 issues of gender 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.

The survey like all reports of this nature made recommendations which said that 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.

It further said that more proactive and preemptive interventions like peace meetings, peace accords, curtailment of proliferation and use of firearms and other weapons, appropriate sanctions for those implicated in thuggery and violence. The federal and state government to desist from partisan use of the police and security forces to manipulate the electoral process.

It further said that INEC, Presidential Task Force and State Task Force should 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 election. Public engagement on new health protocols and Voters Code of Conduct should be intensified across LGAs and communities.

Yiaga Africa called on political parties to promote issue-based campaigns, political parties and candidates should subject themselves to public scrutiny on their campaigns manifestoes through debates, townhalls and direct public engagement, while 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.
Edo state has a population of 4.2. million of whom are registered voters. Edo is one of the states that holds off-cycle governorship elections, based on the 2008 post-Edo state

QUOTE

Yiaga said the conduct and outcome of the upcoming governorship election in Edo state will have important implications for elections and democracy in Nigeria for several reasons. To begin with, the Edo governorship poll is the first state-wide election to be conducted by INEC during the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, Edo is the only state in the South South geopolitical zone that, until recently, was controlled by the ruling APC and so for the APC it is a battle to recapture lost ground and the opposition PDP, a struggle to retain reclaimed territory. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the state has been embroiled in a political standoff between the current governor Obaseki and his ‘political godfather’ and former governor of the state Adams Oshiomhole