• Says Fake News, Misinformation, Disinformation May Induce Voter Apathy
On September 19, two days from today, voters in Edo State will head to the polls to elect a governor. The election is yet another opportunity for the people to exercise their democratic and constitutionally guaranteed right to elect a leader of their choice. The Nigerian State, political actors and the institutions responsible for the management of the electoral process owe a collective duty to ensure eligible voters are free to exercise their franchise in an atmosphere that is both peaceful and participatory. For the avoidance of doubt, the character of the electoral process, and the credibility of its outcomes in Edo State hold far reaching implications for the entire democratic process in Nigeria. The election is therefore another litmus test for a broad assessment of the commitment of relevant actors and institutions to deepening Nigeria’s democratic experience. Our expectation, which is line with the hopes of citizens in the state and across Nigeria, is that the election is credible, its processes transparent and outcome reflects the will of the people. Any breach to electoral laws and regulations must be sanctioned and we are in support of due process mechanisms visa bans, threats of assets seizures and other sanctions targeting election riggers and those who engage in attempts to subvert the genuine will of the people by the United States and United Kingdom Governments.
CDD Election Observation Methodology
As part of its contribution to the goal of deepening the culture of credible elections in Nigeria, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) through its dedicated Election Analysis Centre (EAC) will closely observe key aspects of the electoral process in Edo State. CDD methodology for the observation of the election is in line with core principles of non-partisan election observation as enshrined in extant national laws, guidelines and international best practices. The CDD EAC deployment plan is based on purposive sampling technique. The EAC will select wards and Polling Units to be observed on the basis of the situational and political contextual analysis of the State. Hence, the choice of wards and PUs to be observed was informed by the following consideration: number of polling unit in a ward relative to other wards in LGA in both States, history of incidents of electoral violence and widespread electoral malpractice in previous elections particularly the 2016 off cycle and the 2019 general elections, cases of pre-election violence, and the Local Government Areas and strongholds of key contestants and political parties.
In the final build up to the election, CDD long term observers have also been monitoring, and reporting on the character of the pre-election environment with the objective of collecting, and disseminating information to critical stakeholders for early warning to prevent and mitigate electoral violence. In spite of efforts of key stakeholders to persuade the major party candidates to commit to peaceful conduct and engage in issue-based campaign, the electoral environment continues to be gripped by needless partisan tension.
Deliver Your Polling Unit 100 Percent Directive: A Likely Cause of Partisan Clashes
CDD notes with concern the recalcitrance of political actors and their surrogates who continue to instruct their die-hard supporters to ensure 100 percent victory at all cost in their respective polling units. Observers report that party thugs are being deployed to local governments to “deliver” votes and there is likelihood of a breakdown of the peace. While politicians may argue that there is nothing wrong in wanting to win 100 percent, the problem lies in the fact that supporters are likely to adopt both fair and foul means to ensure such objectives are realized. The notion that a democratic election should be won 100 percent by one party contradicts what is known that voters support different parties. CDD expects the leading contestants in communicating to their supporters, to make it clear they (contestants) do not endorse any form of electoral malfeasance. It is not too late for the candidates and their parties to make these open announcements to distance themselves from supporters’ actions which constitute infractions on the laws and the rules of proper democratic conduct.
Parties Claims and Counter Claims of Victory: A Recipe for Violence
Another very dangerous trend in the final build up to the election is the tendency of politicians and their surrogates to make baseless and outlandish claims to victory, even before the election has been held. CDD observers report that there has been an upsurge in claims and counter claims of victories by major rival party camps. While some politicians have sponsored online polls to give the impression to their supporters that they are coasting home to victory already, others have been busy claiming the election is already won. CDD observation indicates these claims are meant to delegitimise the outcome in case of a loss and create the impression that they have been cheated of victory. If these claims are not countered to disabuse the minds of the electorate, especially at the grassroots, it could become the basis to incite supporters to engage in conduct inimical to public peace. The hotspots of possible violence identified by CDD include: Etsako West, Etsako East, Etsako Central, Owan West and Akoko-Edo in Edo North Senatorial district. In Edo South, Oredo, Orhionmwon, Egor, Ovia North East, and Ikpoba-Okha LGAs have shown such early warning signs. While in Edo Central Senatorial district, Esan Central, Esan North East and Esan West.
Fake News, Misinformation and Disinformation May Induce Voter Apathy
CDD has also been monitoring the role of fake news and misinformation in the electoral process. The fake news, disinformation and misinformation ecosystem in Edo State is driven by a variety of platforms on social media. Both the APC and PDP in Edo state have dedicated media teams with clearly defined structures designed to maximise their online presence. While the PDP is using targeted and sponsored messages on both Instagram and Twitter, the APC is supporting a structured team of up to 300 canvassers spread across Facebook, Twitter, Nairaland and WhatsApp groups. In addition to attempts at discrediting their political opponents, disinformation narratives have also turned against the electoral management body – INEC. Fake news peddlers have been targeting INEC with a view to delegitimise what it does, and create suspicion in the mind of the public. The two major parties have engaged in disinformation campaigns with allegations of bias against INEC. The disinformation campaign is having an effect on the ground. CDD observers report that one of the possible effects of fake news and disinformation is that it could dampen voter enthusiasm and participation in the process.
COVID-19: Voters Should Please comply with Health Protocols
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to create challenges for the management of elections, Citizens will have to find the resolve to obey the INEC guidelines for conducting elections during the pandemic. Citizens are enjoined to obey protocols such as physical distancing rules and wearing of face masks during the polls to avoid an explosion of cases post elections. As of 15 September 2020, Edo State has 2,610 confirmed cases of COVID-19. This constitute 4.6% of the total number of cases in Nigeria. Of the 2,610 cases, 2,420 have been discharged while there are 90 active cases and 100 deaths respectively.
INEC May Need to Extend Voting Hours
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on all aspects of social, economic and political life. We commend INEC for the introduction of the Covid-19 complaint policy on conduct of elections. The prevailing atmosphere created by the on-going pandemic and high risk of electoral violence might lead to the loss of some ad hoc staff on the day of the elections. It is imperative that a backup plan be immediately activated. CDD will like to point out that given the extra health precautions and social distancing policy to be adopted during polling, voting may take longer than normal. We hereby call on the Commission to prepare to provide for extended polling hours.
CDD observers report an increase in the deployment of security operatives across Edo State. The role of security in the election remains to deter trouble makers, protect election materials and ensure the space is safe for poll officials, voters and election observers. CDD calls on the security operatives deployed in Edo State not to engage in any acts, which would intimidate or scare voters away from exercising their democratic right to vote. CDD similarly calls on the officers of the police and sister security agencies deployed to the State to ensure they do not descend into the arena of partisanship. CDD calls on the high command of the police and other security agencies to ensure there is no gap between the numbers of deployment and the officers on the ground.
CDD observers reported an emerging trend in the pattern of vote buying wherein it is the voters who are now searching for the highest bidder among the political camps to sell their vote to. A number of voters interviewed insisted that the only thing, which would make them to vote, is if a contestant agrees to pay an amount for the vote. Beyond individual voters searching for willing buyers to sell their votes to, it is similarly disturbing, as confirmed by our observers that barely three days to the Edo State governorship election, the National Directorate of Employment (NDE) under the Minister of State for Labour and Employment decided to empower 2,000 women in the State. CDD is worried that this puts a partisan coloration to a government run empowerment scheme, just as it would motivate politicians in the opposing camp to engage in similar schemes to woo voters with incentives, which flout the provisions of the Electoral Act. Security agencies must remain vigilant in checkmating illegal voter inducement.
CDD believes the Edo Election presents a real opportunity to prevent some of the unacceptable fallouts from previous elections, wherein there were clear attempts to taint the vote through an inflation of voter turnout. This was the case in the last governorship election wherein turn out of over 100 percent was recorded in LGAs like Okene in Kogi state, from where the incumbent hails. In Edo, INEC should be able to anticipate such magnitude of electoral fraud so it does not become a rubber stamp for a fraudulent process.