The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) has called on politicians in Nigeria to de-escalate the tension building up ahead of the September 19, 2020, Edo state governorship election.
Highlighting some of the early warning signs which portend grave danger for the integrity of Nigeria’s electoral process and its outcomes, the CDD stressed that some activities exhibited by political actors in the state seek to undermine the election.
The CDD cautioned that if not urgently addressed, these challenges would compromise the elections and taint the sanctity of the vote.
In its pre-election briefing paper titled: New Allegiances, Familiar Faces A Preview of Edo’s 2020 Gubernatorial Election, the CDD observed that since the start of the Edo governorship election campaign, there has been rampant defacing or outright destruction of campaign billboards by supporters of rival partisan camps in the state.
The report said the trend, as documented by CDD observers on the ground, show that in the stronghold of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), campaign billboards belonging to the All Progressives Congress (APC) are targeted and defaced and vice versa.
CDD observers also reported that foot soldiers of politicians across the state, especially in rural communities, have engaged in the exchange of verbal abuses, hate songs and chants, capable of provoking violent confrontation at a localised level.
Calling for adoption of issue-based campaigns, the CDD said the dearth of engaging conversations, which will enable citizens, know the candidate and party with the best governance ideas had undermined the very essence of the electoral process.
It also warned against the near-exclusive focus by candidates and key party figures on hauling personal insults has led to the rise of hate speech, fake news, and wanton destruction of campaign materials in the build-up to election day.
While the Centre’s observations and interactions have suggested that there is a stockpiling of small arms and light weapons in the state, CDD said asides the July 25, 2020, violence which erupted at the King Square in Benin, there have been several minor skirmishes and near-violent incidents especially when rival party supporters are on campaign processions. In one campaign rally in Okpella town in Etsako East Local Government Area, an open display of arms was documented.
Top on the list of threats outlined in the report is the compliance challenges posed as a result of the disregard for Coronavirus (COVID-19) prevention protocols outlined in the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) policy on conducting elections in the context of the pandemic.
The CDD strongly condemns the attitude of political actors in Edo State, whose haphazard adherence to pandemic prevention guidelines was putting the lives of common citizens at risk.
“Close observation of recent campaign rallies by both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State showed the parties disregarding precautionary measures for COVID-19 prevention.
CDD observers noted that while some campaign rallies in Benin City, which were televised to a national audience, observed protocols such as the wearing of face masks and the observance of social distancing, political rallies in small towns and rural areas have largely ignored these requirements,” the report said.
Berating two major political parties – APC and PDP – in the state for their selective adherence to COVID-19 guidelines, the Centre said their activities are suggestive of the notion that the lives and electoral objectives of politicians are more important than the health and well being of the citizen voters.
CDD also considering these potential complications of the political parties’ action said there is a need for INEC to immediately start a strategic and effective solution to implementing its policy during the election.
“For instance, if a voter shows up at a polling unit without a face mask, how should ad-hoc staff respond to the situation without disrupting the elections?” the report queries.
“There is also a need to train INEC ad-hoc staff to enable them to understand what is required of them in the context of COVID-19 prevention on election day,” it added.
CDD notified of the dangers inherent in the fact that politicians and their supporters do not wear face masks or maintain physical distancing during rallies, a situation which it stressed would cast doubts on the existence of coronavirus among voters.
This situation, the Centre inferred would likely expose ordinary citizens participating in the political process to the risk of contracting the deadly virus, especially because nationally, Edo State currently occupies the fourth position in terms of the number of COVID-19 infections.
The report equally apprised INEC that it would have a difficult time implementing its COVID-19 protocol on the election day.
The Centre tasked INEC to intensify its efforts in the area of training of ad-hoc staff to understand the new measures for COVID-19 prevention, and how to implement those measures at the polling unit level.
All election stakeholders were encouraged to conduct voter education programmes that communicate procedures for conducting the polls during the COVID 19 to voters.
Subsequently, complaints about alleged misuse of incumbency powers were also documented in the report; the CDD report expressed worries that the struggle over the control of the Edo State House of Assembly could further heighten tension in the state with the consequence of voter apathy.
Having diagnosed the threats to the election, the CDD concluded that if elections were truly about service to the people, political actors would eschew the impunity, hate speech and mudslinging, which have characterised the build-up to the Edo election.
CDD in its recommendations therefore urged political parties and their candidates to focus the conversation in the remaining period of the campaign on development and governance issues.
It also called for the enforcement of provisions of the Electoral Act to prosecute political actors seeking to undermine the election.
On the spread of fake news, CDD urged INEC, political parties, the media, CSOs and community groups to engage the electorate in conversations which will highlight the problem of disinformation.
The initiative, CDD said must educate voters on how to identify and discountenance fake news, misinformation and disinformation; it equally called for dissemination of peace messages to reduce the tension and build voter confidence in the electoral process.