Aisha Abdullahi and Samson Itodo, directors of leading election monitoring group, Yiaga Africa Watching the Vote present the organisation’s observations on the 2020 Edo governorship election
The 2020 Edo Governorship Election will be the first state-wide election to be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The election will be regulated by new sets of guidelines and policies developed by the Commission following the Coronavirus outbreak. With the state ranking fifth (as at September 16, 2020) amongst states with the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, INEC and other stakeholders face a huge challenge of safeguarding public health while not compromising on electoral integrity. In line with the new norm of social or physical distancing, INEC introduced online submission of party candidates’ list and online accreditation of observers and media organizations. These technologically driven solutions minimized physical contact remarkably. Also, an election result viewing portal was introduced by INEC to facilitate public access to polling unit results to enhance the transparency of election results management.
Clearly, the stakes are high in the September 19 governorship election as typified by the spate of pre-election violence and the level of desperation on the part of political actors to not only delegitimize the process but ensure they secure political power at all cost. According to INEC, 14 parties are on the ballot having fulfilled all conditions for candidates’ nomination. Yiaga Africa noted in its first pre-election observation, that the electoral campaigns had been dominated by two parties – the All Progressive Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Sadly, the competition was reduced to a contest between personalities instead of a competition of ideas, issues, and proposals for sustainable growth and development. Two-thirds of LGAs in the state were classified as hotspots and flashpoints of violence by Yiaga Africa due to the frequency of violence, arms proliferation, and a spike in cult groups’ activities in those LGAs. The violence rhetoric and strongarm tactics employed by the two major parties for campaigns created a tense atmosphere and a climate of fear. This informed peace talks initiated by the Oba of Benin, His Royal Majesty Oba Ewuare II and the signing of the Peace Accord convened by the National Peace Committee. Yiaga Africa commends the peace building initiatives led by the Oba of Benin, Oba Ewuare II, and the National Peace Committee, headed by the former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar.
As one of Nigeria’s largest non-partisan and independent movements of citizens observers committed to promoting electoral integrity, Yiaga Africa WTV will be providing systematic, accurate, and timely information on the election day process. Specifically, Yiaga Africa will provide accurate information on the quality of the election day process and ascertain if the official results announced by INEC reflects the total votes cast. If the announced results have been manipulated and do not match the polling units’ results, Yiaga Africa will expose it. If the official result announced reflects the polling unit’s votes, Yiaga Africa would confirm it.
INEC should ensure strict compliance with the electoral laws and guidelines in administering the election amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Polling officials should enforce the use of facemask and gently remove any voter showing the signs of COVID-19 from the polling unit.
INEC must show utmost professionalism in election administration and ensure timely, effective, and secure deployment of its staff, materials (sensitive and non-sensitive), and other resources needed for the election to enable early commencement of polls.
We urge INEC to ensure transparency and openness in the management of cancellation of votes and determination of the margin of lead in line with extant electoral laws. Uniformity of processes and consistency in applying its guidelines should be maintained across all polling units and LGAs.
INEC should ensure proper coordination with security agencies for the effectiveness and safety of personnel and materials deployment. This includes ensuring the safe delivery of personnel and materials after the election.
INEC ad hoc staff must ensure that polling units are located in areas accessible to all voters, especially PWDs, to disproportionately disenfranchise voters or limit their rights to participation.
Security agencies must maintain the utmost levels of neutrality and professionalism in enforcing election day security. They must respect the law and citizen’s constitutional and civic rights and refrain from excessive force.
There should be proper coordination between all the security agencies deployed for the election; proper communication lines and engagement rules should be strictly adhered to. Deployment of personnel and logistics should be all-round and not restricted to certain parts of the state.
Early warning signs of election violence should be addressed by relevant security agencies to avoid escalation or spill over on election day. These issues should be addressed in a professional and civil manner.
Security agencies should ensure protection for vulnerable voters, especially women and persons with disabilities. Security personnel should enforce appropriate sanctions for any form of violation of the right to vote.
Political parties, candidates, and their supporters should show commitment to electoral accountability by respecting the rules governing the conduct of the elections and refrain from employing violence to win the election at all cost. Parties should continue to call on their supporters to shun every form of violence.
Political parties, candidates, and supporters should continue to abide by the spirit and letter of the Edo State Peace Accord signed on Tuesday, September 15, 2020.
Parties should undertake massive sensitization of their supporters on the elections’ guidelines, especially on the margin of lead principle and the constitutional requirement for determining a winner of an election.
Political parties, candidates, and their supporters must refrain from vote-buying and the related practice of compromising the ballot’s secrecy so that the voters of Edo state are free to vote their preference for governor.
Voters are encouraged to show up at the polling unit and cast their votes in a peaceful manner. Elections are decided by those who come out to vote.
Voters should hold the political parties and candidates to account for their commitment to the peace accord. Any party or candidate who defaults in upholding the peace accord is unworthy of public trust.
Voters should adhere to COVID-19 public health protocols and INEC’s voters’ code of conduct for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. Voters should go to their polling units wearing their facemasks, practice physical distancing and frequent washing of hands, or use hand sanitizers.
Voters should reject efforts by political parties to buy their votes. Remember to uphold the secrecy of the ballot and be guided by conscience as they cast their vote.
Communities are encouraged not to engage in collusion and should let members of the community vote for whichever candidate they prefer.
CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS (CSOs)
CSOs should intensify voter education campaigns to encourage and mobilize eligible voters to participate in the exercise.
There is a need for proper coordination and collaboration between observer groups in ensuring that high standards and the global principles of election observation are adhered to.
Yiaga Africa welcomes the action by the UK and US government to impose sanctions on Nigerians who undermine Nigeria’s electoral process and incite violence at elections. These actions are consistent with Yiaga Africa’s call on the international community to continually hold political leaders and institutions to account for their commitment to the Nigerian people and the democratic process. Yiaga Africa urges other foreign missions to take similar actions against election riggers and sponsors of violence.
Yiaga Africa WTV Election Day Observation
On election day, Yiaga Africa will deploy its Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) methodology for election day observation at the polling units. Citizens observers will also be deployed to the LGA collation centers to track results collation. The PVT is a proven and advanced observation methodology that employs well-established statistical principles and utilizes sophisticated information technologies. It provides timely and accurate information on the conduct of accreditation, voting, and counting and independently verifies the official governorship results as announced by the INEC. PVTs are not opinion polls. Yiaga Africa citizen observers do not ask voters for whom they cast their ballot. Instead, the PVT relies on the official results from polling units where observers are deployed to watch the entire process. This tested and proven election observation methodology has been deployed in over 50 countries around the world, including Nigeria – most recently by Yiaga Africa in the November 2019 Kogi and Bayelsa governorship elections.
For the September 19 Edo Governorship Election, WTV will deploy 500 stationary observers to a representative statistical sample of 250 polling units and 25 mobile observers located in all 18 LGAs of Edo state. WTV will also deploy 18 collation centre observers to each of the LGA Collation Centers. Yiaga Africa WTV 500 stationary observers, 25 mobile observers, and 18 collation center observers were carefully recruited according to established criteria and carefully trained to ensure that they are non-partisan and independent. All Yiaga Africa citizen observers had to sign a pledge of neutrality and were given a code of conduct to which they have to adhere when observing. The sampled polling units were determined by established statistical principles to ensure the resulting information is representative of the state and unbiased. The PVT sample of polling units was drawn according to well established statistical principles. It is truly representative of all of the polling units because the percentage of sampled polling units for each LGA is similar to the percentage of all polling units for each LGA. For example, Akoko Edo LGA has 5.4% of all the polling units in Edo (143 of 2,627), and 5.6% (14 of 250) of the sampled polling units are in Akoko Edo LGA. While not identical, the percentages for every LGA are very close, clearly demonstrating that the PVT sample is representative of the entire state (Appendix I) shows the representativeness of sampled polling units).
On Election Day, WTV observers will report to their assigned polling units at 7:00 am and remain there throughout setup, accreditation and voting, counting and the announcement and posting of the official results. Throughout the day, every citizen observer at sampled polling units will send in eleven coded text messages to the WTV Data Centre in Benin, located here at Home Vile Hotel, Benin. Coded text messages sent by WTV citizen observers will provide detailed information on the conduct of the process as well as the official results for the polling unit, as announced by the polling officials. Over the course of Election Day, Yiaga Africa’s data center in Edo will receive 4,500 text messages containing approximately 56,000 individual pieces of information about the 2020 Edo governorship election. Once the text messages are received at Yiaga Africa’s data center, they will be processed and reviewed to ensure the information is complete, authentic, and accurate.
It is important to remember:
The PVT is an Election Day observation methodology that provides accurate information on the conduct of voting, accreditation, and counting and independently verifies the accuracy of the results. However, elections are more than just election day. To ensure a comprehensive assessment of the entire election process, Yiaga Africa WTV also deployed a separate set of observers to monitor the pre-election environment. Yiaga Africa’s overall assessment of the election is based on both pre-election and election day data.
Using statistical principles, the PVT only deploys to a representative sample of polling units rather than all polling units. As such, the PVT results are statistically valid estimates of what happens at all polling units (even the ones to which Yiaga Africa did not deploy citizen observers). However, as in past elections, in order to capture any critical incidents that may affect the election, Yiaga Africa has deployed mobile observers who will visit both sampled and unsampled polling units across the state on election day.
As with other citizen observation efforts, PVT observers are deployed inside polling units to observe voting, accreditation, and counting. In order to observe what happens outside of polling units, Yiaga Africa has, as in past elections, deployed mobile observers who will assess the environment outside of polling units. PVT can provide information on the secrecy of the ballot at polling stations as a sign of vote-buying, but no observation effort can provide information on whether individuals chose to vote based on monies paid to them or perceived threats outside the polling unit.
Since PVT is based on official results from a representative random sample of polling units, Yiaga Africa will be able to estimate the state-wide results for the governorship election within a narrow range based on well-established statistical principles. If INEC’s official results fall within Yiaga Africa’s estimated range, then the public, political parties and candidates should have confidence that the official results reflect the ballots cast at polling units; if the announced official results do not reflect the ballot cast, Yiaga Africa will expose it.
On Election Day, Yiaga Africa’s WTV Data Centre Edo will open at 6:00 am and will remain open until the counting has finished at all sampled polling units, and all WTV citizen observers have sent in all eight of their observation reports. Yiaga Africa’s data center is open to the public and media at all times. Throughout Election Day, Yiaga Africa will provide – as appropriate – updates on the conduct of the election based on the near real-time reports from its observers. These will be released at the data center and posted on social media at Yiaga Africa’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/yiaga.org) and Yiaga Africa’s Twitter page (@YIAGA).
On Saturday, September 19, 2020, at 10 pm, Yiaga Africa will release its estimated projections based on its preliminary data. On Sunday, September 20, 2020, at HomeVille Plus Hotel, Benin, Yiaga Africa, will share its preliminary WTV findings on the conduct of setup, accreditation, voting, and counting. Immediately after INEC announces the official results for the governorship election, Yiaga Africa will hold its own press conference and issue its election results verification statement. Verification of the election results will be based on the INEC official results as announced by poll officials at the WTV sampled polling units.