Ondo Governorship Election Credible

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Mr Samson Itodo, Executive Director, YIAGA Africa

Civic rights advocacy group, YIAGA Africa has said the recently conducted governorship election in Ondo State passed its integrity test but the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, needed to do more in the area of staff training.

In a document titled, ‘Process and Results in Verification Statement on the 2020 Ondo Governorship Election’, the organization revealed that its findings were based on reports from men and material on the field before, during, and after the conduct of the election.

According to the report presented during the week in Abuja, it said it deployed an organizational arm, YIAGA Africa Watching The Vote (WTV) with its Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) methodology to ensure the integrity and sanctity of the ballot were protected and guaranteed.

In the event, it deployed 600 stationary observers in pairs to a representative statistical sample of 300 polling units; 28 mobile observers located in all 18 Local Government Areas and 19 collation centers; and one observer to the state collation center.

It said that with deployment, it was in a position to provide timely and accurate information on accreditation and voting and counting and independently verify the Ondo gubernatorial election’s official results as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

According to the organization, there were some isolated incidents of intimidation and harassment of observers, voters, and polling officials by some party thugs, which led to violent disruption of the voting process in a limited number of units and likely resulted in the disenfranchisement of voters in the affected locations.

The report further stated that acts of violence, intimidation, harassment, and assault directed against women especially female voters, polling officials, security, party agents, or observers were recorded in six percent of polling units.

The report reads in part: “Nigerian elections are signposted with practices that compromise the freedom of choice and undermine political legitimacy. YIAGA Africa notes with great concern the menace of vote-buying and the impunity exhibited by major political actors in procuring votes with huge amounts of cash during the Ondo governorship election. Across several polling units, the secrecy of the ballot was severely compromised despite attempts by polling officials to prevent voters and party agents from showing how ballot papers were marked.

“On Election Day, votes traded between N1000 and N7,000 at the polling unit. It is YIAGA Africa’s opinion that the massive vote buying employed by political actors in the election made it difficult for voters to freely cast their ballots in the polling units where they occurred. It is disappointing that elections are largely defined by the highest bidder and spender.

“Whilst YIAGA Africa urges INEC to undertake reforms to protect the secrecy of the ballot, it is important to note that vote-buying is a governance challenge that diminishes human dignity and questions the legitimacy of electoral outcomes. “Addressing this menace requires a multi-pronged approach that fosters improved public governance, abolishes do-or-die politics, and strengthens mechanisms of accountability.

“As stated in our pre-election reports, YIAGA Africa undertook Watching the Vote to provide citizens, governorship candidates, political parties, and INEC with independent information on whether the official results truly reflect the ballots cast at polling units. If INEC’s official results fall within YIAGA Africa’s estimated range, then the public, political parties, and candidates should have confidence that the official results reflect the ballots cast in the polling units. However, if the announced results have been manipulated and do not match the polling unit results, YIAGA Africa will expose it”, the report pointed.

YIAGA Africa noted in the report that INEC official result for the 2020 Ondo State gubernatorial election falls within its WTV estimate, and pointing out that, “Had the official results been changed at the ward, LGA or State collation centers, the official results would not have fallen within the YIAGA Africa WTV estimated ranges.

“Because the official results fall within the estimated ranges, governorship contestants, parties, and voters should have confidence that INEC’s official results for the 2020 Ondo gubernatorial election reflect the ballots cast at polling units.

“It is important to highlight that the counting process at polling units was transparent and included representatives from the three political parties that received the most votes”, it added.

While these infractions do not undermine the integrity of the process, they are a sign that election- day officials should be well trained to improve on their performance, it concluded.