•Poll may be defined by violence, voter apathy, says CSO
Chuks Okocha in Abuja
With the Edo State governorship election less than three weeks away, amid growing fears of violence, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is taking no prisoners in its pursuit of a free, fair, and peaceful poll. INEC has listed conducts that may run afoul of the Electoral Act and the penalties, declaring its determination apply the law strictly.
This is as a coalition of civil society groups, Yiaga Africa, says from its survey, the September 19 election may be marked by strong-arm tactics, violence, and voter apathy.
In a bulletin released at the weekend, INEC, reading the riot act to the parties, gave a list of actions that would not be condoned during the election, and the penalties for such.
Quoting extensively from the Electoral Act, INEC stated that Sections 23 (a and d) of the law frowned on unlawful possession or selling or buying of voters’ cards, saying the penalty for the offences is two years imprisonment or fine of 500,000.
INEC said in Section 59 of the Electoral Act, anyone impersonating voters shall be arrested and prosecuted for an offence of impersonation under the law applicable in the state and the Electoral Act.
Section 124 (1) of the Electoral Act, INEC said, deals with the bribery of its officials or security officers and anyone found wanting shall be jailed for one year or fined 500, 000 or both.
According to INEC, Section 125 of the Electoral Act states that anyone spying to know who a person voted for is to be jailed for six months or made to pay a fine of N100, 000. Section 127 (1) of the Act specifies that voting or trying to vote where a person is not registered is an offence corroborated in Section 127 (2) and a person shall be jailed for six months or pay a fine of 100, 000 if found guilty of the offence.
INEC said section 128 of the Electoral Act dealt with acting or inciting others to act in a disorderly manner, saying it is an offence punishable with a year imprisonment or a fine of 500,000, while Section 129(1) states that campaigning, blaring of siren within 300 meters of a polling unit on an election day is an offence under Section 129(3) with a jail term of six months or a fine of N100,000.
Furthermore, INEC said under Section 129 (1) of the Act, the destruction of electoral materials or snatching of any election material constituted an offence, as stated in section 129(4), with one year jail term without an option of fine.
INEC also addressed the issue of underage or multiple voting, explaining that anyone found wanting here shall be jailed for 12 months or fined 500,000 or both.
But Yiaga Africa, in a report by its Executive Director, Samson Itodo, identified those that could influence the credibility of the governorship election to include INEC and the other stakeholders, including the security agencies, the courts, and domestic observers.
“Of the five institutions that can influence the credibility of the upcoming Edo governorship elections, respondents expressed the highest levels of trust in the military (56%) followed by election observers (53%), the courts (48%), INEC (46%), and finally the police (39%),” it stated regarding its opinion poll.
Yiaga Africa stated that, “Voter apathy has also been evident in Edo State during the 2016 governorship and 2019 presidential elections, where only 32.7% and 35.6%, respectively, of registered voters cast their ballots. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the looming climate of insecurity in the lead up to the September 19 polls, there is overwhelming concern among stakeholders that registered voters in Edo may not be motivated to vote.”
According to the report, “Ninety-four per cent of Edo respondents in our survey identify themselves as registered voters. Among the registered voters, approximately seven-in-ten (71%) report being “very likely” to vote in the September 19 election, and a further 14 per cent ‘somewhat’ likely. When combined, an overwhelming majority of registered voters in Edo State (85%) are enthusiastic about casting their ballots for one of the 14 governorship candidates.
“A deeper examination of the results indicate that men are almost 10 points more likely to report being ‘very/somewhat likely’ to vote than women and residents in Edo Central are also slightly more positively disposed to voting relative to those in Edo North.”
On the perceptions of election quality, the group said the final section of its findings focused on citizens’ opinions of the quality of the 2020 Edo governorship election.
It stated, “Several academic studies find that when citizens believe that their elections are credible, they are more likely to trust the newly elected government, express satisfaction with democracy, and actively engage in the political process between elections.
“Yiaga Africa asked respondents to evaluate the integrity of the upcoming governorship elections and found that a little more than half of respondents (54%) expect the upcoming contest to be ‘completely free and fair with minor problems’. Positive opinions of election quality were highest among men, 36 and over, and respondents living in Edo North and Edo Central.”
The CSO said scholars and policy experts suggested that several factors, including the performance of election management bodies and expectations of violence and electoral fraud might influence citizens’ perceptions of election quality.
It revealed, “Our survey results indicate that perceptions that the upcoming Edo election will be free and fair are lower among those who are concerned about violence perpetuated by political parties and security agencies; those concerned about vote buying; and those worried about the spread of COVID-19 on Election Day. Although, positive evaluations of election quality are not associated with INEC’s election preparedness, perceptions of election quality are lower among those dissatisfied with INEC’s independence.
“As a follow-up question, respondents were also asked to compare the quality of the upcoming 2020 Edo governorship election with the general election held in early 2019. Again, the results provide additional confirmation that Edo citizens are generally optimistic about the quality of the upcoming elections.
“Specifically, a plurality of respondents (42%) believed that the quality of the upcoming governorship elections would increase ‘a lot/somewhat’ relative to the 2019 general election.
“However, 19% thinks it will decrease ‘a lot/somewhat’ and a further 15% believes that quality of the elections will not change. The relatively positive election quality expectations among Edo residents are particularly encouraging and provide somewhat of a silver lining to the report’s findings.