Less than 48 hours to November 16, 2019, Kogi State Governorship election, political actors have failed to de-escalate the tension, which had been building up in the State. Unfortunately, this has set the stage for what could be a very bloody electoral process, if urgent action is not taken to address the situation. It is disheartening that political gladiators across the partisan divide have shown no apparent signs of refraining from using vitriolic rhetoric capable of inflaming passions, which could result in dire consequences for voter confidence and turnout and the credibility of the entire process.
At the CDD Elections Analysis Centre, we believe the credibility of an election does not rest exclusively with happenings on the polls or outcome of the elections. To us, equally crucial is the nature of the environment heading into the polls, and mainly how it contributes to the unfettered participation of all stakeholders, especially political contestants in the process. Leveraging on its network of accredited observers, grassroots organisations and journalists, CDD has been keeping a close watch on developments in the Kogi state ahead of the November 16 vote.
Our findings from the observation of the pre-election environment point to a very volatile political environment, characterised by fierce rhetoric, threats of violence and actual incidents of violence. A case in point is the recent attack on the State Secretariat of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), whose governorship candidate, Natasha Akpoti is one of the only three women contesting for the governorship election. CDD further observes that such vicious political attacks in the State are capable of also discouraging marginalised groups, especially women from participating in the political process and particularly from contesting for political office.
Long term observers tracking early warning signs of violence capable of undermining participation and overall voter confidence have flagged cases of violent physical attacks between supporters of the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Attacks have also been recorded during campaign rallies and party activities. And there are reports of women being intimidated from voting in the election.
According to the Kogi State Conflict Scan Analysis recently released by Search for Common Ground (SFCG), Dekina and Ankpa LGA have recorded the highest number of violent attacks among party members and supporters. For example, on October 19, 2019, a party supporter was shot dead in Ayingba during one of the political party rallies. The number of death recorded in Anyingba and Ankpa communities is seemingly alarming. The conflict analysis also points to a rise in the use of political thugs to perpetrate violence, as this was recorded in Dekina, Ankpa, Olamaboro, Omala, and Idah LGA. CDD notes with dismay reports of the stockpiling of arms and other dangerous weapons by rival political camps. In this regard, CDD notes recent arrest of a chieftain of one of the major parties on allegation of illegal possession of firearms. Equally disturbing is the rise in politically motivated attacks on candidates, the destruction of property of political contestants, as well as threats of reprisal attacks by rival political camps.
At the last count also, the threats of violence and actual incidents of violent disturbances, including the condemnable arson on the party secretariat of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) could have the effect of making voters stay away from the polls. In the face of these threats and actual manifestations of violence, it is our considered position that the security agencies empowered by the constitution and other extant laws should no longer stand by and watch the perpetrators go scot-free. If in the build-up to the election, thugs mobilised by partisan actors are allowed to go on the rampage, the implication is that on Election Day, they will consider the inaction of the security as a green light to use more violence to subvert the electoral process. It is therefore unacceptable that there have been few arrests made by the security agencies.
INEC projects that voting will take place in 3,508 polling units across 239 wards in 21 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Kogi State. CDD observes that INEC preparation is in top gear, with assurances that no stone will be left unturned to deliver a credible poll. CDD, however, calls on INEC to tie up all loose ends concerning the deployment of ad-hoc staff to the field. In this regard, the welfare of ad-hoc staff, especially youth corps members, should be treated with utmost urgency. INEC must also ensure the safety and security of these patriotic men and women working in this tense election. CDD calls on INEC to consider making special arrangements, including hiring security if there are gaps in providing cover from the usual channels.
However, if the recent history of electoral violence targeting INEC in Kogi State is anything to go by, it is imperative for clear preventive and contigency plans to be made by INEC. It would be recalled that in December 2015, during the governorship election, the INEC office in Dekina LGA was razed by fire in what was suspected to be an attack by thugs working for some partisan interests. CDD is of the considered view that the risk of violence if not proactively and decisively addressed, could have severe consequences for the smooth conduct and ultimately, the credibility of the election.
INEC has already raised “warning signals” on the possibility of thugs mobilised by political actors disrupting the conduct of the elections as was witnessed in previous elections. In the light of concerns, it is imperative for INEC to proactively engage with plans to thwart and mitigate any hitches likely to be occasioned by partisan interests in the elections.
Role of Security Agencies
The Nigeria Police has reportedly deployed over 35,000 officers, with four officers detailed to man each polling unit. Also, the police in the face of the clear and present threat of violence has promised to provide a visible presence to prevent violence and make the electoral terrain safe for voters, INEC staff and election observers. Beyond these measures, however, CDD is of the view that the effectiveness of the deployment of officers would not lie in the big numbers alone. The neutrality and the level of professionalism on display by the police personnel on the ground would go a long way to determine how effective they are. As experience in previous elections, including the 2019 general elections has shown, without adequate oversight, the security agencies could forget their responsibilities and begin to act in connivance with partisan interests to subvert the electoral process.
Curbing Threat of Vote Buying
CDD has received widespread reports of politicians inducing voters with cash, gift items and food. Reports indicate this anomaly has been observed to be at a very high level in Ankpa, Okehi and Lokoja. As the electoral process continues to grapple with the severe challenge posed by vote-buying, CDD reiterates its call on the electorate to shun political actors attempting to induce them to trade away their votes.
Where such persuasion fails to work, the mooted collaboration between INEC and the anti-graft agencies, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) should be quickly firmed up to identify and arrest perpetrators.
De- Campaigning Instead of Campaign.
The Centre for Democracy and Development has been working on countering fake news and disinformation in Kogi state ahead of the elections. Our monitoring revealed the instrumentalisation of fake news and disinformation by the leading political parties. The parties created a structure comprising of false news proponents referred to as the Shekpe boys and the data boys. Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are the leading platforms used to spread disinformation. CDD monitoring revealed disinformation is tailored to serve several purposes; notably to hurt an opponent, to delegitimise INEC, to counter an attack, to divert attention from critical issues and always seek to gain attention by becoming viral. The belief by political parties and candidates that the other side is utilising fake news to gain votes and win the elections increases efforts in deploying disinformation. Instead of engaging in an issue-based campaign, the political parties have relied more on de-campaigning their opponents.
CDD observed that the spread of disinformation around emotive issues such as ethnicity and violence got significant traction on social media. We found people are more susceptible to believe this because of the high levels of confirmation bias. CDD calls on the Press, citizens and relevant stakeholders to beware of fake news on election day. We envisage that the political parties volume of fake news on the election will be high. We project a high likelihood of false report swirling around; contrived late arrival of election materials, missing election materials, violence, electoral malpractices and rigging, and sharing of fake election results. We do not preclude such happenings in such a closely contested election but are warning citizens to beware of fake news and the media to refrain from reporting such news without confirming to avoid raising tension in the State.
While wishing the good people of Kogi State peaceful and credible polls, we again reiterate previous calls on:
- INEC to use the remaining time to perfect the deployment of materials to reach all parts of the State and ensure no eligible voter is disenfranchised.
- The security agencies to be on top of their game by enforcing the provisions of the Electoral Act, especially concerning electoral offences and the related violent disruptions of the process. We call on the political stakeholders to not just talk peace but make and walk peace. We implore our young people to shun violence in the coming days.
- Political actors to de-escalate the tension and refrain from making statements capable of further inflaming partisan or ethnic passions, and walk the talk for peace in line with the accord facilitated by INEC.
- Civil society organisations and media to remain vigilant and without partisanship observe all deployment processes, monitor all aspects of the polling from opening to the collation phases.
- Voters to come out en masse to vote for a candidate of their choice while being aware of the threat posed by fake news, misinformation and disinformation.
As the voters in Kogi State go to the poll on November 16, CDD admonishes that the most fundamental outcome, which all stakeholders, including the political actors, should work towards is to have free, fair and credible elections, which would reflect the democratic choices and mandate of the people. Regardless of the outcome of the governorship and the senatorial rerun elections, what should be of interest to all stakeholders is the will of the people prevails. CDD calls on the political actors to rein in supporters with violent tendencies, especially as their activities create a legitimacy problem for the electoral process and the entire democratic system in Nigeria.
The rising incidents of violent attacks, vote-buying and intimidation of rival camps make it imperative for the security agencies involved in the process to act with decisiveness and utmost professionalism. CDD calls on INEC to work closely with law enforcement agencies to prevent all infractions capable of undermining voter confidence, and ultimately the credibility of the elections.
Methodology for CDD EAC Deployment
The CDD EAC deployment plan is based on purposive sampling technique, adopted to sample the political wards and polling units (PUs) in all the local government areas (LGAs) to which CDD observers are to be deployed for the Kogi State governorship election. As a non-probability sampling technique, purposive sampling enabled us to decide which wards and PUs require close observation in the election drawing from extant observation of the situation 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 units in a ward relative to other wards in LGAs in Kogi State
- History of incidents of electoral violence and widespread electoral malpractice in previous elections particularly 2015 offseason election and the 2019 general elections
- Contextual analysis of the current political situation in Kogi State.
- Homes/strongholds of critical contestants for the 2019 governorship elections or notable godfathers in the State
- PUs that are remote and difficult to access by monitors and journalists – this is because these areas are more vulnerable to rigging and disruption.
In all, CDD EAC observers will cover an average of 50 per cent of all political wards the 21 LGAs and selected PUs in the wards. CDD is also deploying trained journalists to all LGAs in Kogi State to observe and gather information on accreditation, voting and collation processes.
PROF. ADELE JINADU IDAYAT HASSAN
Chairman CDD EAC Director CDD