On November 16, 2019, the people of Bayelsa state will go to the polls to elect a Governor that will lead the state for the next four years. In what promises to be a keenly contested election with forty-five political parties contesting for the governorship election of which three (3) are women. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Bayelsa State has a total of 923,182 registered voters, out of which 889,308 Permanent Voters Card (PVC) which is 96.3% have been collected.
In addition, this is one of two off-cycle elections to be conducted by INEC since the 2019 general elections. Those elections failed to meet the expectations of many Nigerians. With the experience of the 2019 elections still fresh in the minds of the people, not only INEC, but also the security agencies and critically, political parties are once again in the limelight to inspire confidence in the electoral process by ensuring the perennial challenges witnessed in the 2019 general elections are addressed and that the process is credible.
As one of Nigeria’s largest non-partisan and independent movements of citizens observers committed to promoting electoral integrity, YIAGA AFRICA’s WTV will be providing systematic, accurate and timely information on the election day process. YIAGA AFRICA will be the only observer group that can independently determine if the official results announced reflects the total votes cast. If the announced results have been manipulated and do not match the results posted at polling units, then YIAGA AFRICA will expose it.
YIAGA AFRICAs Watching the Vote is “Driven by Data – For All Nigerians – Beholden to None!”
Watching the Vote Pre-Election Observation
As part of our efforts to deepen electoral integrity, YIAGA AFRICA commenced its Pre-Election Observation (PREO) from September 2019 with 21 Long-Term Observers (LTOs) deployed across the 8 LGAs. This statement highlights summary findings of the pre-election period, which focused on assessing the level of INECs preparation, political party campaigns, voter education, activities of marginalized groups and early warning signs of electoral violence. The pre-election environment revealed amongst other things commercialization of the political process, violent campaign rhetoric and hate speech, excessive show of force by political parties especially the APC and the PDP and unhealthy electoral competition resulting to deaths, arson and violence. Beyond the electoral campaign, our findings indicate early commencement of election activities by INEC in line with the timetable and schedule of activities issued by the commission. INEC and civil society organizations including religious/faith-based organizations were visibly involved in voter education and citizen mobilization. Consistent trends in the pre-election environment include:
- Pre-election violence: Incidents such as violent physical or verbal attacks, vandalism or destruction of properties and candidates’ posters, inflammatory or inciting statements and recruitment of political thugs were recorded across all four reporting periods. With the most recent being, the violent clash between the APC and PDP in Nembe LGA observed on November 13, 2019. In addition, there were reported cases of sporadic shootings in Southern Ijaw and Yenagoa LGAs.
- Violation of Electoral Laws: Throughout the reporting period violations like voter inducement through the distribution of money, gift items and its kinds by candidates or their supporters was observed and remained consistent in the four reporting periods. In addition, was the report on buying and selling of PVC and voters’ details. This report was received more from Ogbia, Sagbama, Southern Ijaw and Yenagoa LGAs.
- Election Preparatory Activities: Election activities were undertaken by INEC across the state. This includes targeted engagements with critical stakeholders, the distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) in September 2019. Voter education activities by INEC were undertaken in all 8 LGAs as well as election observation kits distribution. YIAGA AFRICAs WTV also confirms the deployment of non-sensitive materials in all of the 8 LGAs.
- Political Parties’ Campaigns: Campaign rallies have dominated the political space in the state. By the fourth reporting period, the dominant political parties in the state (Accord, APC, PDP and SDP) have extended their campaign rallies across the state with APC and PDP seeking to hold rallies in all LGAs.
- Participation of Special Groups: the reports highlighted that youth and women groups were increasingly engaging the political space by campaigning and canvassing for votes for political parties and candidates.
- Violence Against Women: Elections remain a civil process that requires the participation of all sections of society. Reports were received on violence against women in the electoral process with more reports coming in from Ekeremor and Southern Ijaw LGAs.
Emerging Concerns on the 2019 Governorship Election
- High Security threats, Recruitment of Thugs and Arms stockpiling: Bayelsa state has a history of electoral violence engineered by politicians who want to win elections at all costs in the state, especially with the battle for the control of the riverine areas. The recruitment of thugs and militants and the gathering of arms to deploy violence is a major threat to a credible election. More reports on this were received from Southern Ijaw, Brass, Sagbama and Yenagoa. In addition to this, is the threat of community conflicts that may impact on the election especially with the recent incident in Ekeremor LGA where a clash over a community election led to a major crisis with some houses burnt. The recent violence clashes between PDP and APC supporters resulting in the death of 3 citizens in Nembe when PDP attempted to hold a campaign rally in Nembe LGA also posed an additional challenge.
- Buying of PVCs and Vote Buying Prevalent: The buying and selling of PVCs was one of the predominant election malpractices recorded in the pre-election environment. The findings from all four observation reports revealed that PVC were purchased for N500. The implication of this includes the possible attempt to undermine the credibility of the process by manipulating the process of accreditation and voting, it can also be a tool to wither down the voting strength of a particular party or region.
- Community Collusion: With the identification of certain voting blocs in different communities and the show of intolerance to opposing political views, WTV findings indicate the possibility for some communities to collude in flouting the election guidelines to put the party of their choice at an advantage.
- Displacement of Voters Due to Flooding: The issue of flooded communities remains one of the major challenges in the elections especially considering that there is poor documentation or data showing where voters in flooded communities are located or relocated to. However, the report shows that some polling units in communities within the Kolokuma/Opokuma, Southern Ijaw, Ekeremor, Sagbama, Yenagoa LGAs are affected and demands that INEC provides some alternative for voters from affected communities.
- Logistical Concerns: INEC has consistently had logistical challenges on election day. Election day logistics for the Bayelsa elections will be even more difficult given the likelihood of rain before and on election day as well as the difficult terrain. However, these are not the first elections that INEC has conducted in Bayelsa and voters have the right to expect polling units to open on time.