A new report has shown that consistent breach of COVID-19 protocols, a dearth of issue-based campaigns, abusive actions, war of words and fake news have marred Edo State pre-election environment.
The report reveals that close observation of recent campaign rallies by both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State showed the parties disregarding precautionary measures for COVID-19 prevention.
Published by Centre for Democracy and Development(CDD), the report, titled New Allegiances, Familiar Faces: A Preview of Edo’s 2020 Gubernatorial Election analysis, was conducted through the network of stationary and roving observers from civil society organisations, media organisations and citizens groups.
According to the report, “Political parties have also consistently not adhered to COVID-19 protocols. Close observation of recent campaign rallies by both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Edo State showed the parties disregarding precautionary measures for COVID-19 prevention.
“CDD observers noted that while some campaign rallies in Benin City, which were televised to a national audience, observed protocols such as the wear(ing) of face masks and the observance of social distancing, political rallies in small towns and rural areas have largely ignored these requirements.
“The fact that politicians and their supporters do not wear face masks or maintain physical distancing during rallies cast doubt on the existence of coronavirus among voters. It remains to be seen whether the Commission will have the authority to insist that political actors, who are known for routinely disregarding election rules, should adhere strictly to the guidelines as conceived.
“It is also important to point out that the emergence of COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted the economic livelihood of ordinary citizens in Edo State, money already plays a significant role in Nigeria’s politics. The new circumstances, “COVID economy” therefore, heighten the susceptibility of voters and electoral officials to vote-selling and bribery, respectively.”
Dearth of Issue-Based Campaigns
“CDD observers report that instead of issue-based campaigning, the political parties and their candidates have largely focused their messaging around praising their preferred candidate, while impugning the character of the opposing party candidate. From the camp of the APC, derogatory commentary focusing on the alleged forgery of academic certificates by Obaseki have been repeated on the campaign trail.”
During an August 2 appearance on Channels TV, Mr Oshiomhole doubled down on the often-repeated claims that Mr Obaseki was parading forged credentials, and was therefore unfit to occupy the office of governor, the report highlighted.
“Since the start of the campaign, there has been rampant defacing or outright destruction of campaign billboards. The trend, as documented by CDD observers on the ground, is that in PDP strongholds, APC campaign billboards are targeted and defaced, while in areas with larger concentrations of APC supporters, PDP campaign billboards are defaced.
“CDD has observed several instances (of) the use of government vehicles for the purpose of campaigning. This is in flagrant disregard for the provisions of the Electoral Act as amended, which makes it clear that no person shall provide for the purpose of conveying any other person to a registration office or to a polling unit any government vehicle or boat, or any vehicle or boat belonging to a public corporation except in respect of a person who is ordinarily entitled to use such vehicle or boat and in emergency in respect of an electoral officer.
The Act states that any person who contravenes the provisions of this section; shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a maximum fine of ₦500,000.00 or to imprisonment for six months or to both.
But CDD observers regularly spot public vehicles being used for the purpose of campaigns; a 28 July rally hosted by deputy governor Phillip Shuaib, saw him arrive in a long convoy of government vehicles.
“APC supporters have also reported to our observers that they are being coerced to withdraw their support for their preferred candidates through threats to revoke long-held land allocations. APC supporters in Agbede town, Estako West local government alleged being a victim of political persecution as work on their previously approved building under construction was stopped, allegedly on account of their insistence to support their preferred candidate.”
War of words
“CDD observers have found candidates and key figures of the two major parties have been using a lot of hate speech and derogatory and intemperate language during the campaign so far. On 26 July, Oshiomhole, in a speech to supporters made a comment, which portrayed Obaseki as a “green snake,” which ought to be killed.
“As party candidates and key party figures deploy violent and charged rhetoric capable of inciting supporters, CDD observers have reported that their foot soldiers across the state, especially in rural communities, have also been exchanging verbal abuses, hate songs and chants, capable of provoking violent confrontation at a localised level.
“This sort of divisive language was the trigger for the 25 July clash between supporters of the APC and PDP in Kings Square in Benin, the Edo State capital.
“Clashes occurred after party supporters sang abusive songs to insult their perceived political adversary during a courtesy visit by Obaseki to the palace of the Oba of Benin. Reprisal chants and then a free for all fight between the two partisan camps then followed.”
Social Media, Fake News and Disinformation
“The two leading political parties have established platforms to spread false news and disinformation on social media. The tension in the electoral space in Edo State is being fuelled by this weaponisation of fake news and disinformation online.
While the bulk of supporters of the two major parties campaign offline at rallies and other campaign events, organised groups of rival party supporters are busy using social media to amplify the messages being generated on the ground.
“The partisan social media influencers are creating an avalanche of false news to discredit opposition candidates, key party figures and families linked to the election. Most of the disinformation being peddled is targeted at inciting hatred or the rejection of major party figures. Identity politics in the context of the ethnic origins of candidates and party figures is a prominent feature of the false content being disseminated according to CDD observers.”
“On the basis of CDDs observation of the pre-election environment, there are clear early warning signs which point to challenges that could jeopardise the electoral integrity, if not urgently addressed.
“Apart from the threat posed by COVID-19, the attitude of the political parties, the inciting rhetoric and the role of fake news, misinformation and disinformation are all capable of constraining participation in, and undermining the integrity of, the election.
The report proffers the following recommendations to stakeholders involved in the Edo State gubernatorial electoral process:
“CDD calls on INEC to intensify its efforts in the area of training of ad-hoc staff to understand the new measures for COVID-19 prevention, and how to implement those measures at the polling unit level. This is in addition to reinforcing a firm understanding of their roles as impartial agents in the conduct of the election.
“INEC and partners must commence voter education that clearly communicates her procedures for conducting the polls during the COVID-19 to voters.”