A report by Yiaga Africa,has identifiedthe All Progressives Congress, APC, and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, as two dominant political parties that are promoting violent rhetoric, hate speech, vandalism, and violence.
According to its first Pre-Election Observation (PREO) Report dated August 31, 2020 and tagged: “2020 Edo Election: An election defined by strong arm tactics and violence,” a copy of which was forwarded to Ashenewsonline on Tuesday, Yiaga mentioned series of cases to substantiate its claim to the result of the report.
The report further noted that apart from “violence built around well-known strongmen, thugs, touts, gangsters, and cultists,” the “proliferation of small arms and other weapons, is evident in the free use of firearms at campaign venues.
“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 strong arm 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,” the report reads.
Yiaga also observed early warning signs of violence in some local government areas; “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); candidate inciting or encouraging his/her supporters to commit acts of violence in Oredo, Orhionmwon, Igueben, Ikpoba/Okha, Egor and Esan Central LGAs).”
It also reported “ndividuals or groups gathering small arms or light weapons (Ikpoba/Okha, Oredo, and Orhionmwon LGAs), and recruitment of thugs or militia groups (Ikoba/Oko, Oredo, Orhionmwon, Ikpoba/Okha, and Egor, LGAs.”
Read the full report below:
2020 Edo Election: An election defined by strong arm tactics and violence: Yiaga Africa First Pre-Election Observation (PREO) Report
August 31, 2020
Edo state’s off-cycle governorship election will be the sixth governorship election to be conducted in the state since the transition to civil rule in 1999. In 2008, the Action Congress Party governorship candidate challenged the outcome of the election. Through a decision of the election tribunal, Adams Oshiomhole was declared the duly elected governor of the state. The court decision in 2008 makes Edo state one of seven states with an off-cycle gubernatorial election. Edo state gubernatorial elections have always presented interesting political dynamics and have consistently remained highly contested. The 2020 Edo governorship election has seen the continuation of these political dynamics and presents a unique political context that has influenced the state’s pre-election environment.
First, the regional significance of the Edo governorship seat remains critical for the two dominant parties, the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). For the APC, Edo is strategic for its political relevance in the South-South geo-political zone as the only state with the APC as the ruling party before the defection of the incumbent Governor to PDP. The APC is seeking to establish its political strength by retaining its position as the ruling party in Edo, particularly given the APC’s loss in the 2019 Bayelsa election, which saw the re-emergence of PDP as the ruling party in the state following the court decision disqualifying the APC governorelect.
Second, grievances arising from internal conflict within the APC saw an incumbent governor disqualified to contest in the party primaries — an infrequent political occurrence. Third, the incumbent Governor Obaseki is contesting on the platform of the PDP, a party that served as his major opposition in the 2016 election. On the other hand, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, his prominent opponent in the 2016 election, is contesting on the APC platform. Lastly, this will be the first governorship election to be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with the electoral commission preparing to test new policies on the conduct of elections during a pandemic. Also, stakeholders will be conducting election activities in extraordinary circumstances.
Edo state’s political context has been influential in shaping the politics of the Edo governorship election as revealed by Yiaga Africa’s Watching the Vote (WTV) findings from the first phase of the pre-election observation (PREO) in the state. Yiaga Africa deployed long term observers 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 COVID19 pandemic. For this reporting phase, the findings from the LGAs indicates 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). The competition has been reduced to a contest between personalities as opposed to issue-based campaigns. The WTV long term observers reported incidences of violent verbal and physical attacks, identity-based violence, and hate-speech rhetoric as campaign strategies employed by both parties for campaigns. The observers also reported the repositioning of cult groups as political merchandise for the election in some LGAs. While INEC activities for the election have commenced in earnest in some LGAs, observers reported that INEC is conducting very little voter education, 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.
Key Observation Findings
- Two parties dominate the political campaigns: In line with INEC’s time table for the election, political party campaigns commenced from June 21, 2020. Yiaga Africa monitored political party campaign activities such as campaign rallies, display of posters by political parties, media engagement, and meetings by political parties contesting in the election. The campaigns are dominated by All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The Labour Party (LP) and New Nigerians People’s Party (NNPP) are engaged in campaigns but not with the same intensity, media coverage, and public participation like the APC and PDP campaigns. The LTOs witnessed or heard of campaigns associated with APC and PDP in 17 out of 18 of LGAs. While for LP and NNPP, campaign associated activities were recorded in 16% of LGAs. Women and youth were actively engaged in the political party campaigns process as campaign merchants across the state.
- 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; I. Physical violence towards women at campaign rallies in Etsako Central LGA;
II. 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), III. Candidate inciting or encouraging his/her supporters to commit acts of violence in Oredo, Orhionmwon, Igueben, Ikpoba/Okha, Egor and Esan Central LGAs),
IV. Individuals or groups gathering small arms or light weapons (Ikpoba/Okha, Oredo, and Orhionmwon LGAs), and recruitment of thugs or militia groups (Ikoba/Oko, Oredo, Orhionmwon, Ikpoba/Okha, and Egor, LGAs.
3. Potential hotspots and flashpoints of violence: Based on our observation reports, the potential hotspots and flashpoints of violence 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. Reports from our LTOs suggest that the spate of violence and insecurity in the pre-election period may discourage voters from turning up to vote on election day.
- 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 technologicallydriven 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. In collaboration with the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the commission is conducting training for its electoral officers. The recruitment of ad-hoc staff and the configuration of Smart Card Readers are ongoing.
5. Poor public sensitization on new policies and guidelines on Voting Amidst COVID19: 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. In Esan North South East, Ovia South West, Igueben, Akoko Edo, Etsako West, Etsako East LGAs, voter education was exceptionally poor. Additionally, Yiaga Africa observed minimal voter education campaigns targeted at women, youth, and people living with disability (PWDs) from INEC, National Orientation Agency (NOA), and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), across the LGAs.
- 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.
7. 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 gender issues 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.
8. Human Rights Violations by Security Agents: Yiaga Africa LTOs tracked and reported human rights violations, intimidation or abuse, and violence by security agents while enforcing curfew or government regulations on COVID-19. Across the LGAs, at least one incident was recorded in Oredo, Orhionmwon, Ikpoba/Okha, Uhunmwode, Etsako Central, Esan Central, and Ovia North East LGAs.
1. Curtailment of proliferation and use of firearms and other weapons and ensure appropriate sanctions for those implicated in thuggery and violence.
2. 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.
3. Improve inter-agency collaboration and cooperation to forestall rivalry and unhealthy competition in the management of election security Federal and state government
4. 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.
5. Political parties and candidates should conduct issue-based campaigns rather than engage in voter inducement and recruitment of thugs and cultists for violence.
6. Political parties and candidates should subject themselves to public scrutiny on their campaigns manifestoes through debates, town halls, and direct public engagement.
7. 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)
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Public engagement on new health protocols and Voters Code of Conduct should be intensified across LGAs and communities.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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.
14. Citizens should refrain from perpetrating violence, refrain from hate speech, and not accept gift items in exchange for their votes.
15. Citizens should work with security agencies by reporting incidents or threats of violence, or perpetrators of violence.
16. Media organizations should ensure all political parties and candidates are given adequate media exposure and visibility.