Says intimidation, violence worrisome
By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja
As Ondo Governorship Election remains barely 12 days, an election observer, Yiaga Africa, Tuesday released its first Pre-election Observation (PREO) Report.
The report which was made available to Vanguard indicated several findings on political activities carried out by governorship candidates and supporters of various political parties, which intimidation and violence appeared worrisome activities.
According to the report, Yiaga Africa Watching The Vote has been observing the political environment and conduct of political stakeholders as part of its Pre-Election Observation. The Pre-Election Observation commenced in August 2020 with the deployment of Long-Term Observers (LTOs) in all 18 eighteen LGAs of the State.
The report also explained that these LTOs are observing campaign activities and preparatory activities of all actors involved in the process including the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, security agencies, National Orientation Agency, NOA, and Civil Society Organisations, CSOs.
Given the fact that electoral politics in Nigeria is traditionally characterized by the tension-soaked atmosphere, outbreaks of violence, coupled with zero-sum politics which are high stakes and confrontational in nature, the PREO also identified potential security threats prior to the October 10 election.
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The reports read in part, “The findings in this first reporting phase reveal heightened levels of political intrigues, counter-strategies, and violence. Whilst INEC has shown commitment and readiness for the election, key contenders and political actors have advanced narratives that forewarn of the breakdown of law and order including alleged threats to deploy state and non-state instruments of force and armed violence.
“This could affect the efficiency and credibility of electoral management processes if not curtailed. For instance, the destruction of 5,000 Smart Card Readers under a questionable fire incident at the INEC office in Akure on September 10, 2020, is considered an attempt to scuttle the commission’s preparations and undermine its ability to conduct the polls. Yiaga Africa is concerned that the election may become a replay of undesirable events given the attitude of some political gladiators in the state.
“As part of preparations for the election, INEC is visibly conducting voter education, recruitment and training of election officials and stakeholder engagement. These are preparatory activities monitored by Yiaga Africa LTOs. Although political activities such as campaigns and rallies have dominated the political space, they, however, have been plagued with acts of violence.
“Yiaga Africa LTOs reported incidences of violent verbal and physical attacks, vandalism and destruction of properties, attacks and intimidation of political opponents from different Local Government Areas (LGAs). The LGAs with a high incidence and indicators of violence are Akure South, Akoko South-East, Idanre, Owo, and Akoko South West. Specific cases of voter inducement were reported in Akoko South West, Akure South, Akoko South-East, Akoko North West, Ifedore, and Odigbo LGAs.
“Only 39% (1,822,346) of the entire population is registered to vote, a good number of registered voters 1,478,460 (81.1%) have collected their PVCs. This implies that only about 31.6% of the populations are eligible to participate in this year’s governorship poll. Since 2011, voter turnout has not exceeded 35% in Ondo state. In the 2011 presidential election, turnout was 31% while in the 2016 governorship election it was 35%.
“In 2011, it was 21% for the presidential election and 29.3% for the state assembly election. Given the background of pre-election violence and gangster politics, the state may witness a further decline in voter turnout during election. This is exacerbated by the failure of security agencies to curb acts of lawlessness and impunity perpetrated by armed political thugs and political actors.
“Low voter turnout may further enhance chances for electoral manipulation in the strongholds of the major political parties particularly in the rural areas where election rigging usually takes place.”
The report indicated that state of INEC’s preparedness, “Yiaga Africa LTOs noted an appreciable level of preparation in all LGAs save for Idanre, Ileoluji/Okeigbo, and Okitipupa. The commission has activated key preparatory activities recruitment and training of election officials, meetings or consultations with electoral stakeholders, as well as voter education programs. Despite the fire incident that destroyed 5000 card readers, the Commission has mobilized replacements from neighboring states within a short time frame.
“A Rising Wave of Pre-Election Violence Trail Political Campaigns; At the beginning of political campaigns, Yiaga Africa observers reported incidents of physical violence and verbal attacks trailing political party campaigns.
At least one incident of physical and/or verbal attacks during political party rallies, meetings, and campaigns occurred inAkoko South-West, Akure South, Idanre, Owo, and Akoko South-East LGA.In addition, there were reports of vandalism/destruction of properties such as cars, belonging to candidates and/or supporters, by perceived opponents. Findings from this observation phase reveal that APC, PDP, and ZLP candidates and supporters are primarily victims and perpetrators of these acts of vandalism or destruction of properties. Akoko South-West, Akure South, Idanre, Owo, Akoko South-East, and Ese-Odoare considered hotspots and flashpoints of violence due to the prevalence of pre-election violence.
“Assault on the freedom of association and expression; Yiaga Africa is concerned with the assault on the freedom of association and expression of citizens especially those wearing apparels laced with the insignia of their preferred candidate or political party.
Yiaga Africa received reports of attacks and intimidation of party supporters especially in Akoko South-West, Akure South, Owo and Idanre LGA.In Oba Akoko, an Aketi-Ayedatiwa branded campaign vehicle was ambushed and set ablaze.
Women occupants were allegedly beaten and stripped naked for wearing politically branded t-shirts and fez caps promoting one of the aspirants. Similarly, political thugs attacked the SDP party chairmanship aspirant and party supporters in Idanre LGA. A supporter of ZLP wearing a ZLP face cap was also macheted to death in Idanre by political thugs.
Political thugs also attacked and injured supporters of the PDP in what appears to be a coordinated attack in Owo LGA. Yiaga Africa findings that most of the victims and perpetrators of the attacks and intimidation belong to the APC and PDP.
“Proliferation of Small and Light arms; Yiaga Africa LTOs reported cases of political thugs brandishing arms and weapons during political campaigns without restraint from security agencies. Based on Yiaga Africa’s findings, Akoko South West LGA has a high case of arms buildup. In addition, armed political thugs were reported to be terrorizing communities in Ilaje and Ileoluji/Okeigbo LGAs. These unrestrained acts of lawlessness and impunity create apprehension which could lead to low turnout of voters during the election.”
Other findings include voter inducement which according to the report, ahead of the election, “Political parties and candidates have resorted to inducing voters with cash gifts and food items in a bid to secure their support. Yiaga Africa LTOs observed cases of voter inducement during campaign activities in Akoko South-West, Akure South, Akoko South-East, Akoko North-West, Ifedore, and Odigbo LGAs. These acts were perpetrated by both the APC and PDP.
Inclusive Participation of the Marginalized Groups (Women, Youth, and PWDs)
Of the 17 parties fielding candidates in the election, only one party, Labour Party nominated a female candidate. This has widened the political inequality gap in the state. Yiaga Africa LTOs noted that parties engaged women and women groups in canvassing for votes especially in Akure North, Akure South, Idanre, Ifedore, Ondo East, AkokoNorth-West, Akoko South-West, Ese-Odo, Ilaje, Irele, Odigbo, and Okitipupa LGAs. Youth groups were also involved in campaigns and mobilization for parties in Akure North, Akure South, Idanre, Ifedore, Ondo East, Akoko North-West, Akoko South-West, Ese-Odo, and Ilaje LGAs.
“Voter Education Campaigns and Public Sensitization on COVID-19; Seventy-seven percent (77%) of Yiaga Africa LTOs were exposed to or heard of voter information campaigns on the INEC guideline for voting during COVID-19. In addition, 52% of the LTOs reported exposure to information on the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Precisely, 85% of the LTOs were exposed to COVID-19 prevention massaging by NCDC, 48% by NOA, 44% by CSOs, and 7% by political parties.
“To bring down the barriers that affect the participation of women, youth, and persons living with a disability, audience-specific messaging is required during voter education. Although, INEC makes an effort in ensuring audience-specific messaging, Yiaga Africa LTOs, observed low interventions targeted at increasing the knowledge of marginalized groups (women, youth, and PWDs) in understanding the upcoming election and voting procedures at the LGA level.
“Political Campaign Activities Amidst COVID-19; Yiaga Africa’s WTV assessed the level of adherence to COVID-19 guidelines by political parties during campaigns. Yiaga Africa LTOs noted that political parties failed to comply with social distancing guidelines in all political party campaigns observed by the citizens’ observers. However, the parties complied with at least one of the COVID-19 health/safety guidelines such as wearing face masks and the use of hand sanitizer in all the LGAs except, Ifedore, Ondo East, Akoko North East, Ileoluji/Okeigbo, and Okitipupa LGAs.”
Meanwhile, the report made some key recommendations to the Federal and state government, pointing to the fact that given the pervasive threat to safety and security in the Ondo 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.
“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 sustain the use of the election results viewing portal and ensure timely post of the Form EC 8 A at the polling units. Also, INEC should post information on the polling unit where elections were cancelled or PUs where elections didn’t hold on the results viewing portal.
“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.
“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 Ondo 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
“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.
“Citizens; Citizens should work with security agencies by reporting incidents or threats of violence, or perpetrators of violence.
“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.”