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Yiaga Africa has raised alarm and expressed concerns about threats of violence in Ondo State Governorship elections in the state.
At the Pre-election Press Statement on the 2020 Ondo Governorship Election Thursday, October 8, 2020 held at the Bliss World Hotel, Ijapo, Akure, Ondo State, the organisation fears possible interagency rivalry.
Dr Aisha Abdullahi, Co- chair watching the votes Yiaga Africa Watching the votes working Grouop, stated that while the contesting political parties and candidates have committed to a Peace Accord, the security agencies need to deploy with competence, professionalism, and neutrality on election day.
Abdullahi said, “Upholding these principles will prevent incidents of violence on election day and secure lives and properties”.
“There are also concerns about the coordination between the federal security agencies and Ondo state-recognized security organizations like the Western Nigeria Security Network, otherwise called Operation Amotekun – The lack of clarity in the role of security outfits recognized by the state on election day could trigger interagency rivalry and make the process prone to violence and manipulation”.
Yiaga Africa calls the attention of INEC and security agencies to notorious blind spots in riverine communities of Ilaje and Ese-Odo LGA known for election rigging, perennial logistics challenges, and threats to polling officials and election materials posed by activities of militants in the region. To ensure the early commencement of polls in those areas, INEC should ensure adequate logistics preparations coupled with heightened security deployment to protect election materials and officials. The Commission needs to increase its oversight in those areas to ensure consistency in applying election guidelines. This call is consistent with Yiaga Africa’s recommendation in the 2016 Ondo and 2019 Bayelsa governorship election observation report on election in riverine communities.
In the recent governorship election, Yiaga Africa reported the late opening of polls in several polling stations. Yiaga Africa Edo PVT findings show that only 4% of polling units commenced accreditation and voting at 8:30 am. Although INEC has shown readiness to deploy its officials and materials early to the polling units, Yiaga Africa is concerned with the Commission’s reliance on the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) to transport election materials and personnel to the polling unit. Some members of the NURTW are reported to have endorsed some candidates in the election. These political endorsement puts their integrity and neutrality to question. Yiaga Africa fears that partisan and comprised NURTW members will deliberately cause delays in the commencement of polls in some battleground LGAs by either refusing to deploy or give reasons to delay the process.
According to the observer group, Since 2011, voter turnout has not exceeded 43% in Ondo state. In the 2011 presidential election, turnout was 32% while 41% turnout was recorded in the 2015 presidential election. Turnout for the 2015 state assembly election was 34.9%. For the 2016 governorship election, turnout stood at 35%. In 2019, it was 33% for the presidential election and 29.3% for the state assembly election.
“Based on Yiaga Africa pre-election survey, 87% of respondents expressed willingness to vote, thereby indicating enthusiasm on the part of voters to participate in Saturday’s election. – However, the pre-election violence has created an atmosphere of apprehension, leading to further decline in voter turnout. This apprehension is affirmed by 53% of respondents who expressed concerns that political parties will deploy violence during the election”.
Summary of Findings from the Yiaga Africa Pre-Election Observation
Yiaga Africa commenced its Pre-Election Observation (PREO) from August 2020 with 28 Long-Term Observers (LTOs) deployed across the 18 LGAs. The LTOs systematically collect information on the pre-election environment and monitored electoral activities of stakeholders like INEC, political parties, National Orientation Agency (NOA), civil society groups, etc. The observation period’s findings showed increased acts of violence and heightened risks of politically motivated violence triggered by verbal and physical attacks during rallies, vandalism, or the destruction of properties belonging to candidates and their supporters, and attacks intimidation of candidates/party supporters. The pre-election environment was signposted by violent campaign rhetoric and hate speech, excessive use of force by political parties, and unhealthy electoral competition. Beyond the electoral campaign, our findings indicate early commencement of election activities by INEC in line with the timetable and schedule of activities issued by the Commission. INEC, NOA, and civil society organizations, including religious/faith-based organizations, were visibly involved in voter education and citizen mobilization. Comprehensive reports of our pre-election observation can be downloaded from our website – www.yiaga.org or www.watchingthevote.org. Here are key trends in the pre-election environment as reported by Yiaga Africa citizens observers;
- State of INEC’s preparedness: INEC demonstrated commitment and readiness in conducting the 2020 Ondo governorship election. The Commission successfully implemented activities in the election timetable and schedule within limits imposed by COVID-19 protocols. Yiaga Africa notes INEC’s consistency with stakeholder engagement across all 18 LGAs. Yiaga Africa observed key preparatory activities such as voter education, distribution of voter register to political parties, recruitment and training of polling officials staff, and distribution of election observation kits. Yiaga Africa received reports on the conduct of voter education activities by INEC in all LGAs. Yiaga Africa notes INEC’s quick response to the fire outbreak that gutted it’s Akure office and destroyed over 5000 card readers. The response averted the negative impact of losing a vital technological tool for voter accreditation and limiting electoral malpractices.
- Political campaigns signposted by violence: Yiaga Africa received reports of physical violence during political party rallies, meetings, and campaigns in Akoko South West, Okitipupa, Akure South, Akoko South-East, and Akoko North West LGA; and verbal attacks during political party rallies, meetings and campaigns at Akoko South West, Akoko South West, Akure South, Akure North, Okitipupa Akoko South-East, Akoko North West and Irele LGA. Yiaga Africa also notes the incident that started on October 3, along Oba Adeshida in Akure South LGA between supporters of the two leading parties resulting in the death of two citizens. Yiaga Africa also received a report of another violence that erupted in the Ipele community of Owo LGA; thugs attacked party supporters for chanting party songs. Vandalism and destruction of property belonging to a candidate or their supporters occurred in Akoko South West, Akure South, Akoko South-East, Akoko North West, and Idanre LGA. Yiaga Africa LTOs also heard candidates inciting or encouraging their supporters to commit acts of violence in Akoko South West, Akoko South-East, Akure North, and Ese-Odo.
- Assault on 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 their preferred candidate or political party’s symbol. 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, a 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 a party chairmanship aspirant and party supporters in Idanre LGA. A party supporter wearing a face cap was killed in Idanre by political thugs. Political thugs also attacked and injured a party’s supporters in what appears to be a coordinated attack in Owo LGA. Yiaga Africa finds that most of the victims and perpetrators of the attacks and intimidation are supporters of the APC, PDP, and ZLP.
- Campaigns as avenues for voter inducement, not issued-based engagement: In clear violation of the Electoral Act, political parties engaged in the distribution of money and gift items in a bid to curry the support of voters. The campaigns were a contest of the highest spender as opposed to debates on policies and manifestoes. In most cases, the parties negotiated with the voters on the amounts to pay on election day for their votes. Voter inducement was prevalent in 12 LGAs, namely Akoko South West, Akoko South-East, Akure North, Akoko North West, Okitipupa, Akure South, Odigbo, Ese-Odo, Irele, Ifedore, Ondo East, and Ilaje LGA.
- Non-compliance with COVID-19 Public Health Protocols: Even though INEC developed a policy guide on conducting elections in the COVID-19 pandemic, Yiaga Africa observed non-compliance with public health protocols during campaigns as party supporters flouted the public health guidelines by not wearing face masks or maintaining social distancing. Political parties do not have any concrete plan for ensuring adherence to COVID-19 public health protocols.
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