By JACOB KUBEKA –
With barely 10 days to the Governorship election in Osun state, South-West Nigeria, there are fears that the activities of cultists and political thugs in some local government areas could threaten the peaceful and credible conduct of the election, if not contained.
This warning is contained in Yiaga Africa’s pre-election report, which also revealed that the political and security atmosphere has remained tensely unpredictable with the security agency describing every Local Government Area as a potential flashpoint.
In addition to this threat, there are also attempts by some political mercenaries to manipulate the process right from the pre-election stage, said Yiaga Africa, a non-profit civic hub of change makers committed to the promotion of democratic governance, human rights and civic engagement.
It noted that in the weeks leading to the 16 July 2022 governorship election in Osun state, the major political parties have intensified their campaigns deploying both legal and illegal antics in an attempt to win the race to the Government house.
According to Yiaga Africa, “the Osun election is however beyond the contest for the office of the Governor as the political parties compete tough in a last-ditch effort to gain a strong impetus going into the crucial 2023 general elections.”
“Despite the foregoing, the preparation for the Osun governorship election has seen a religious implementation of the electoral timeline by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). As observed, the training of AdHoc staff is ongoing, and the non-sensitive materials are deployed and catalogued in the INEC LGA offices. Also, the collection of the Permanent Voters Card (PVC) is currently happening in the INEC LGA offices and voter education activities are being conducted by INEC and different stakeholders to ensure informed citizens’ participation. The Commission also conducted a mock accreditation to access the BVAS in some LGAs ahead of the election,” the pre-election report further said.
“The Pre-election environment has also been characterized by defections, alignment and realignment as part of an effort by political parties and candidates to gain political favour going into the election and with the 2023 polls in calculations,” said Yiaga Africa, which has been observing the Osun Pre-Election Environment since April 2022.
Yiaga Africa’s WTV specifically trained and deployed 32 Long-term observers (LTO) to the 30 LGAs to observe the pre-election environment until July 14, 2022. So far, 3 pre-election observation reports have been issued and 2 more reports will be issued before the election.
Based on the observations, some emerging concerns requiring attention ahead of July 16, 2022, governorship election include:
Political Thuggery and Activities of Cultists: the recent escalation in the activities of political thugs and cultists in Osun State remains a potential threat to the peaceful conduct of the election. Activities of thugs and cultist groups range from disruption of PVC Collection in LGAs and violent clashes which have threatened the peace in the locations affected. While Yiaga Africa commends the recent arrest of some political thugs by the police, there is an urgent need for more intelligence to be deployed in addressing these rising threats to ensure more arrests and prosecution of culprits. The critical job of effectively securing citizens, electoral materials and stakeholders without any bias should remain a priority for the security agencies ahead of the July 16 Governorship election.
Increasing Desperation of Political Actors: Yiaga Africa is also concerned about the uncouth and unguarded utterances by some political actors in the state in their efforts to woo voters. There is no doubt that these desperate utterances by major actors going into the election demonstrate a lack of caution and sportsmanship. This is capable of not just intimidating prospective voters but also inflaming the political environment, if not checked. We call on these actors especially the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to exercise restraint and advise their supporters to play by the rules.
Vote Merchandising May Delegitimize Mandate: It is barely 10 days to the Osun Governorship election, and the rate of voter inducement across the state is increasing. Indicating that money may be a defining factor in the election on Saturday, July 16th, 2022. Yiaga Africa is therefore concerned that this practice of vote merchandising if not curbed will consistently delegitimize political mandate and undermine the electoral process.
Permanent Voters Card Collection Rate: We commend INEC on its efforts in the PVC collection exercise for both old and new registrants. However, we are concerned about the strategies deployed to ensure that the over 333,179 newly produced/printed Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) are collected by voters before the election on July 16, 2022. The PVCs are currently being collected in the LGA offices and reports from the WTV LTOs reveal that prospective voters are crowding some INEC LGA offices with little hope of getting their PVCs before the election. Yiaga Africa is specifically worried about the report from Atakunmosa West Local Government Area of collusion with an INEC staff to sell prospective voters’ PVCs for the purpose of malpractice ahead of the elections. INEC needs to ensure immediate investigation of this report and commence disciplinary processes. The commission has a critical responsibility to provide accurate information on the incident and the effort to safeguard PVCs and other sensitive materials for the election.
Poor Publicity for the Mock Accreditation Exercise: Yiaga Africa commends the resolve of INEC to ensure improved functionality of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) by conducting a mock accreditation exercise in selected polling units across senatorial districts of the state from July 4 to July 5, 2022. We are however concerned about the low participation of residents of Osun State in the exercise, which is likely due to the inconsistency or lack of adequate information about the exercise by the commission.
The Summary of Observation Findings
INEC Remains Consistent in Implementing the Election Preparatory Activities: As the election draws near, election preparatory activities by INEC are on course, in line with the election timetable. Election preparatory activities were observed in all the 30 LGAs of Osun state as reported by Yiaga Africa WTV LTOs, especially the collection of PVCs. This exercise was stepped down from the LGA level to the ward level from 20th-25th June 2022. In Osogbo LGA, as reported by the LTO, the commission engaged the security agencies in a one-day training session on the need to ensure free, fair and credible election through proper security operations. Yiaga Africa LTOs also observed and reported the distribution of non-sensitive materials across the 30 LGAS. The non-sensitive materials include the ballot boxes, voting cubicles, tables and other materials to support the set-up of and the deployment of personnel to the Registration Area Centres (RACs). LTOs also observed and reported the training of INEC-Adhoc personnel ahead of the election.
Voter Education/Information Campaigns by INEC, NOA, and CSOs The last two weeks recorded an increased level of voter education and information campaigns across the state, only Odo-Otin and Ola-Oluwa LGAs reported not witnessing or hearing about any voter education/information activities by INEC, NOA or CSOs. Reports received from the 28 LGAs revealed that CSOs, INEC and NOA sensitized the public on the need to collect their permanent voters’ cards and the need to vote on July 16. Specifically, some of these stakeholders provided information on the new voting procedures to be adopted in the Osun election, as contained in the new 2022 Electoral Act and Guidelines on Election. Also, CSOs organized workshops and were seen going around some communities in Korope (Small Bus) with loudspeakers sensitizing people even in the marketplaces, these efforts were majorly observed in Atakumosa West, Boripe and Ede North LGAs.
Campaign Activities by Political Parties WTV LTOs monitored political parties’ activities such as party campaigns/rallies, presence of candidates’ posters/billboards, door-to-door campaigns, market shows and media adverts. While Yiaga Africa’s pre-election observation efforts track the activities of all political parties that are contesting the election, however, in this reporting period, the APC and PDP have continued to dominate the political campaign scene.
The reporting period witnessed an increase in political rallies, door-to-door campaigns and market shows. APC organised campaign/rallies and held meetings in 28 of the 30 LGAs (Atakumosa East, Atakumosa West, Boluwaduro, Boripe, Ede North, Ede South, Egbedore, Ejigbo, Ife Central, Ife East, Ife North, Ife South, Ifedayo, Ifelodun, Ila, Ilesa East, Ilesa West, Irepodun (Osun), Irewole, Isokan, Iwo, Obokun, Odo-Otin, Ola-Oluwa, Olorunda, Oriade, Orolu, and Osogbo); While PDP campaign/rallies and meetings were witnessed or heard of in 28 of the 30 LGA’s; Atakumosa East, Atakumosa West, Ayedaade, Ayedire, Boluwaduro, Boripe, Ede North, Ede South, Egbedore, Ejigbo, Ife Central, Ife East, Ife North, Ife South, Ifedayo, Ifelodun, Ila, Ilesa East, Ilesa West, Irepodun (Osun), Iwo, Obokun, Odo-Otin, Ola-Oluwa, Olorunda, Oriade, Orolu, and Osogbo.
The campaign/rallies and meetings by the Accord party were observed in 19 of the 30 LGA’s Atakumosa East, Ayedire, Ede North, Ede South, Egbedore, Ejigbo, Ife Central, Ife North, Ife South, Ifelodun, Ilesa East, Ilesa West, Irepodun (Osun), Obokun, Odo-Otin, Ola-Oluwa, Olorunda, Oriade, and Osogbo, while YPP only observed in 11 of the 30 LGA’s’ Ejigbo, Ife North, Ifedayo, Ifelodun, Ilesa East, Ilesa West, Irepodun (Osun), Odo-Otin, Ola-Oluwa, and Osogbo.
4. Indicators of Voter Inducement The distribution of money, gifts and food items to induce voters by political parties and candidates featured throughout the pre-election campaign period as observed and reported by Yiaga Africa’s LTOs. This ugly trend is undermining the credibility of electoral mandates. During this reporting period, more events associated with voter inducement were reported by the LTOs in Ife Central, Ife North, Ifedayo, Ilesa West and Odo-Otin LGAs. Specifically, food items such as Garri and Beans were seen distributed to people as a campaign strategy in these LGAs.
Increase in the activities of Cult Groups and Physical Violence during Political Campaign WTV also received reports of activities of cult groups and violence during political campaigns. There was a reported case of a clash between two cult groups in Ilesha West on June 23rd at a registration area where PVCs were being distributed. The infighting led to many people being injured at the end of the day. There was a reported case of physical violence that led to the death of two people on 19 June 2022 in Ejigbo LGA during a political campaign visit to Oyeyode Oyesosin of Ejigbo land. While in Osogbo there was a clash between two rival cult groups that led to the death of a woman by a stray bullet on the 21st June 2022, in Osogbo LGA. Across the state, vandalization, destruction and defacing of political party candidates, posters and billboards were reported by Yiaga Africa WTV LTOs. This incident mostly occurred at night along the major roads when party supporters were returning from campaigns.
Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)
Yiaga Africa commends INEC for the implementation of the preparatory activities and calls on INEC to provide better oversight over the activities ongoing at the LGA levels. We also call on INEC to come up with a seamless and stress-free PVC collection strategy across the LGAs to boost citizens’ confidence and encourage participation. INEC should intensify the education of citizens and stakeholders on the consequences of vote-trading, especially on Election Day. To increase electoral transparency and accountability, INEC should make the PVC collection data public in the state and make the information available on its website. The commission should improve communication on its processes and procedures ahead of the elections. Especially on the deployment of technologies and application of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) in the election, to avoid misinformation.
As the elections draw near, security agencies working on the elections should ensure that all personnel deployed are adequately trained and operate with all sense of responsibility, professionalism and neutrality. Security agencies should ensure the arrest and prosecution of all involved in any form of violence and voter inducement in the days leading to the election. Security agencies, especially the police, should publicize hotlines for citizens to make complaints, report incidents, or access information on the election.
Yiaga Africa calls on all political parties to engage in issue-based campaigns and shun luring voters with unsustainable gifts that would not lead to the economic development of the State. Political parties and candidates should disengage themselves from encouraging thuggery and cultism through monetary gifts during campaigns as it encourages violence.
Media organizations should ensure fair coverage of all the candidates/parties contesting in the election devoid of bias or prejudice.
CSOs in Osun should continue to engage in get-out-the-vote campaigns to mobilize citizens to participate in the electoral process. Specifically, they should engage more in targeted campaigns to increase the participation of women, youth and PWDs.
Yiaga Africa calls on all registered voters in Osun State who have not collected their permanent voter cards (PVCs), to collect their cards as the collection of PVCs is ongoing in all INEC LGA offices and to vote on election day. Yiaga Africa calls on citizens to shun all forms of voter inducement as it undermines the democratic process.
The report is jointly signed by Ezenwa Nwagwu (Board Member, Yiaga Africa) and Cynthia Mbamalu (Director of Programs, Yiaga Africa).