Observers on the platform of Watching The Vote have called for more enhanced citizens’ engagement to promote credible elections in the forthcoming Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections slated for Saturday, November 16, 2019. RUTH TENE NATSA reports.
As the electorate prepare for the 2019 gubernatorial elections in Kogi and Bayelsa states respectively, Nigeria’s foremost election observer group, Watching The Vote (WTV), has called for a more proactive citizens’ engagement by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in order to engender credible elections in the affected states.
LEADERSHIP Friday recalls that YIAGA Africa’s Watching The Vote deployed Long Term Observers to all local government areas in both Kogi and Bayelsa states to observe the pre-election environment.
The report was based on INEC’s level of preparedness, political campaigns, voter education and participation of marginalised groups, and early warning signs of electoral violence.
The report which stated that the gubernatorial elections will be having a large number of political parties contesting (23 in Kogi and 45 in Bayelsa), said this may increase pressure on INEC and more importantly on polling officials on election day and therefore recommended that INEC should beef up its oversight and monitoring mechanisms that will further strengthen and ensure compliance to the electoral laws and guidelines, while avoiding unnecessary postponements of polls.
The report, which was signed by YIAGA Executive Director, Samson Itodo, and released to journalists in Abuja yesterday, called on INEC to ensure inclusion, especially of all marginalised groups, stressing the need for a more proactive and targeted communication using different channels of communication on the electoral process.
Further recommendations by the WTV group include that INEC should come up with a robust mechanism and collaborate with both state and non-state actors to curb the menace of buying and selling of PVCs and other forms of voter inducement.
They also called on the security agencies to be more intentional in addressing early signs of violence (hate speech, physical attacks, communal crises, voter inducements) and other criminal activities ongoing in the pre-election environment as well as engage in active engagement and communications with citizens on the principles regulating security deployment and its operations ahead of the elections.
The observer group further called on candidates of the participating political parties and supporters to ensure they promote unity and peaceful elections by refraining from any form of physical or verbal attacks on opponents and invest in getting out votes and mobilising voters to turn out peacefully to vote and not delve into undemocratic ways (buying of PVCs and inducing voters) of winning elections.
The observer group in its report identified voter inducement as one of the issues that may mitigate the credibility of the elections in the states.
“Generally, voter inducement was reported in at least 1 in every 3 LGAs of the 21 LGAs in Kogi state, and in all the LGAs in Bayelsa states. WTV LTOs witnessed or heard of cases of voter inducement in Kolokuma/Opokuma, Southern Ijaw, Yenagoa, Brass, Ogbia, Nembe and Sagbama LGA in Bayelsa state and in Adavi, Ogori Mangogo, Okehi,Okene, Bassa, Ibaji, Idah, Kabba/Bunu and Kogi K.K LGA in Kogi state,” it said.
The group noted that “political party activities especially campaign rallies are minimal in Kogi state, as none of the popular political parties in the state (ADC, APC, PDP, SDP) seem to be engaging voters.”
“WTV Kogi report showed that only 38 %, 1% and 23%, of LTOs either witnessed or heard of rallies conducted by ADC, APC and PDP, respectively. And in Bayelsa state, 65% , 65% ,5%, and 5% of LTOs either witnessed or heard of rallies conducted by the same ADC, APC and PDP, as well as SDP,” it added.
Accorsing to the report, the activities of INEC in its earlier pre-election observation was directly witnessed and heard across the 21 LGAs of Kogi state and 8 LGAs of Bayelsa state.
“The WTV LTOs have monitored the pre-election environment relating to the activities of INEC from 9th November 2018 to the last week of the pre-election observation from September 9 to October 3, 2019,” it revealed.
The report indicated that as part of the preparatory activities for elections, the electoral commission had stated that the distribution of Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) will commence on September 2, 2019, in both Bayelsa and Kogi states.
In addition, the PVCs would be available for collection at the registration areas or wards of all the Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the states. WTV findings for this reporting period show that PVCs distribution is currently ongoing in all the LGAs in both Bayelsa and Bayelsa state.
The WTV findings showed that voter education activities were conducted by INEC, National Orientation Agency (NOA) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) across the state.
“The findings from Bayelsa state revealed that voter education activities were conducted by INEC, NOA and CSO in 50% ,80% and 85% LGAs respectively, and in Kogi state, voter education activities were conducted by INEC in %58 of LGAs, by NOA in %29 of LGAs and by CSO in %81 LGAs Most notably, voter education messages are targeted at marginalized groups like women and People Living with Disabilities (PWDs) was poor across the states, however, this was measurable for youth (50% by INEC and 60% by CSOs in Bayelsa state),” it further revealed.
Meanwhile, INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, has expressed concerns over the forthcoming elections, stating that Kogi and Bayelsa were not easy states when it comes to conducting elections.
The INEC chairman stated this at a meeting with the Bayelsa State Traditional Rulers Council in Yenegoa, the state capital recently.
LEADERSHIP Friday reports that Yakubu, who spoke with other electoral delegates from the state, also said the attitude of the political class in both states have remained a challenge.
“Today, it is exactly 31 days to the kick-off of the off-season election in both Bayelsa and Kogi, The eyes of the entire country and the world would focus on both elections for a number of reasons.
“This coming election would be the first major elections since the conduct of the general elections that would help us to improve on forthcoming elections.
“Secondly, and to be very candid with you my royal fathers, Bayelsa and Kogi are not easy states when it comes to conducting major elections, particularly governorship elections,” Yakubu said.
It is left to be seen how events will play out in both states as the exercise gets nearer by the day even though not a few Nigerians believe both elections will serve as another litmus test for the electoral umpire (INEC) on whether it can right some of the wrongs observed during the 2019 general elections conducted earlier in the year.