The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) has called on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to intensify voters’ education ahead of the October 10, 2020, Ondo governorship election.
The centre during a roundtable meeting organised for Civil Society Organisations in Ondo State on Thursday, August 27, 2020, on the 2020 off-cycle governorship election in Ondo State said voter education is key to getting election process right in a democracy.
Highlighting challenges witnessed in the just concluded Local Government election which are capable of undermining the credibility of the governorship poll, the CSOs described the level of voters’ apathy in the state as the bane of the electoral process.
At the meeting, the CSOs observed that the high level of violence during the LGA election has created a tense environment ahead of the governorship poll.
The CSOs said while the LG elections recorded low voter turnout, poor participation by marginalized groups, as well as the destruction and defacing of campaign billboards in various parts of the state, the polls were characterized by anomalies including the use of thugs to disrupt the electoral process, and use of arms by the party faithful.
In a communique released on Thursday, August 27, the organisations also said that the Ondo LG election further exposed the lopsided structure in Nigeria’s electoral process as security operatives saddled with the responsibility to protect the people were found intimidating the electorates.
“Every participant, stakeholders and political actors came to the poll with different agenda and this majorly led to the spike in violence,” the communique said.
Participants at the meeting noted that most of the polling units there were no result sheets while findings in places like Ifedore showed that election observers we were asked to leave the vicinity and results were fraudulently written in these areas with the supervision of security operatives.
The communique said: “These anomalies hold serious implications for the conduct and outcome of free, fair and credible elections in Ondo State, come October 10.”
“There is a growing fear of stockpiling of arms ahead of the election, there have been cases of rival partisan camps openly displaying arms or engaging in exchange of gunfire just to show that they also have access to firearms – a means of pressing opponents. Most times they do this in the presence of Police officers who serve as aides to the political actors,” the communique added.
Addressing the challenges presented by COVID-19 pandemic, the CSOs observed that the awareness on the policy of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) on conducting an election amid the outbreak is low.
The organisations warned that: “INEC has failed to actively engage the CSOs on plans for the Ondo election especially with the new guidelines released on the conduct of the election in a COVID-19 pandemic situation.”
It also said that the electoral body has failed to be proactive in engaging the people on the guidelines and conduct of elections amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
“This gap was very much on display during the recently concluded LGA elections, which witnessed people participating without adherence to laid down guidelines; most voters were not aware of how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect or change the conduct of an election in the off-season election,” the communique read.
Making its recommendations, the CSOs called on INEC to conduct a comprehensive security risk assessment to identify areas with high risks of security challenges, intensify voters’ education to reduce voter apathy, ensure that all sensitive and insensitive materials arrive the polling unit on time and sensitize its own staff while ridding the commission of the bad eggs.
The organisation also called on INEC to take responsibility of ensuring that the welfare of its ad-hoc staff is taking care of, take into consideration, challenges that have been presented due to COVID-19 pandemic especially making greater efforts to protect the elderly people and the vulnerable ones among videos.
Also, all contents – videos, messages, banners, flyers – produced for citizens enlightenment should be translated to Nigeria’s local languages for easy assimilation by the citizenry and the needed support for the people with disability and the aged-people be put in place to allow for equity and balance.
“CSOs must continue to advocate for peaceful, fair, and credible elections. Not just in gatherings as these, we must continually advocate in our homes, churches, market places, irrespective of the timing,” the communique said.
In addition, political parties should be sensitized to realize that the responsibility for voter education is not exclusively for INEC and CSOs as they must ensure all party agents and members of political parties on their roles at the polling units, collation centres.
To ensure women participation in the election, security operatives should work more to protect women who are actively participating in the election, there should be strong advocacy for women supporting women during the election or in politics generally.
“Women already in the position of power should mentor other women and encourage participation in politics and work towards forming their own political parties to end the negative narratives of tagging them as prostitutes or wayward for participating in politics,” the communique said.
The CSOs that participated in the meeting include Ondo state Development Forum, EyeMax Care Foundation, Centre for Environment and Community Development, Knowledge and Care Providers, Kids&Teens Resource Centre, Melville Women Initiative, Star Ruby Initiative and Human Development, Gender Equality and the Girl Child Development Foundation, Beacon for Hope and Action of Life, Community Development and Adherence Support Initiatives, Young Shall Grow Educational Initiative, Oloki Memorial Foundation and A-One Readers Education Foundation.
Others are Girls 2 Women Research and Development Foundation, Excel Mankind Wellbeing Initiative, Women Advancement and Development Initiative, Life and Peace Development Organization, Upline Centre For Development, Healthy Mother and Child Foundation, St Joavics Foundation, Handicapped Education Foundation and Global Assistance For Better Day Organization.