Ladies and gentlemen of the press, welcome to the first Yiaga Africa Watching The Vote Press Conference on the 2020 Edo governorship election scheduled for September 19, 2020.
Ahead of the September 19, 2020 governorship elections in Edo state, Yiaga Africa deployed 24 Long Term Observers (LTOs) in the 18 LGAs of the state to systematically observe and gather information on the pre-election environment as well as early warning signs of electoral violence. The Yiaga Africa Long Term Observers (LTOs) were deployed 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 COVID-19 pandemic. For this reporting phase, the findings from the LGAs indicate 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). Electoral competition has been reduced to a contest between personalities as opposed to issue-based campaigns. The LTOs reported incidences of violent verbal and physical attacks, identity-based violence, fake news mongering and hate-speech rhetoric employed as campaign strategies by both parties for campaigns. The observers also reported the repositioning of cult groups as political merchants for the election in some LGAs. While INEC activities for the election have commenced in earnest in some LGAs, observers reported low public sensitization especially on the new Voter’s Code of Conduct for Elections during COVID-19. In addition, observers reported sexual and gender-based violence in some of the LGAs in the state. Yiaga Africa fears that the spate of violence and insecurity in the pre-election period may discourage voters from turning up to vote on election day.
Key Observation Findings
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, were reported during the first reporting period. Similar reports were received from additional LGAs; Etsako East and Etsako West, in the second reporting period.;
- 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). Oredo and Ikpoba/Okha LGAs has the most report of incidents, in the two WTV reporting period and;
- Recruitment of thugs or militia groups in Ikoba/Oko, Oredo, Orhionmwon, Ikpoba/Okha, and Egor, LGAs.
Potential hotspots and flashpoints of violence: Based on our observation reports, 13 of 18 LGAs are considered as potential hotspots and flashpoints of violence. They 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.
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.
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.
- 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 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.
- 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 organizations should ensure all political parties and candidates are given adequate media exposure and visibility.
Yiaga Africa commends peace efforts by the Oba of Benin, INEC and National Peace Committee to reconcile warring factions and deescalate the tension in the state. Yiaga Africa expresses its commitment to supporting these efforts to ensure the people of Edo are given the opportunity to express their will in a peaceful and safe environment. Yiaga Africa will continue to observe the pre-election environment and share its report with stakeholders.
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