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When Votes Count: Yiaga Africa Report for Edo and Ondo Governorship Elections
The Edo and Ondo governorship elections in 2020 were the first state-wide elections conducted in a pandemic in Nigeria. The elections were conducted amidst intensifying concerns for public health safety with both states experiencing rising numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the period leading to the elections. Both elections were significant for different reasons and were important in the electoral democracy journey of Nigeria. First, Nigeria marked twenty-one years of democracy in 2021, emerging from its sixth electoral cycle with the 2019 elections providing a very controversial outcome and questioning the commitment of the political class to the development of democracy in Nigeria. Secondly, these were the first governorship elections after the 2019 general elections and the Bayelsa and Kogi state governorship elections all conducted in 2020. Nigeria lost the opportunity to consolidate the various efforts to invest in building the electoral process in the 2019 general elections. The subsequent Kogi and Bayelsa elections were riddled with major infractions as citizens’ rights to vote were threatened with the high incidence of election violence, disruption of the process and partisan use of state institutions by both the federal and state government. The elections in Edo and Ondo presented another opportunity for INEC to build citizen confidence both in elections in Nigeria and in INEC as the Election Management Body. Thirdly, the elections were to serve as a benchmark for the assessment of INECs improvement on its processes and the commitment to ensuring that the investment in building Nigeria’s electoral democracy is yielding some results. This was also important because both elections were to provide important information that will inform electoral reforms in Nigeria. Lastly, these were the first state-wide elections to be conducted by INEC in a pandemic which created new realities that the world grappled to adjust to. The ability of INEC to effectively manage the elections was to be significant in assessing INEC’s capacity nationally and its leadership within the region.
On these premises, the Edo and Ondo state elections were conducted amidst intensifying concerns for public health safety and electoral integrity. The unprecedented cases of pre-election violence and politically motivated conflicts at both intra-party and inter-party levels from the party primaries through the campaign period created a tension-filled
election environment with potency to escalate during the elections. However, contrary to the worrying indicators for violence and the escalation of the COVID-19 virus that characterised the pre-election environment, the Election Day processes and outcome were adjudged positively and enjoyed wide citizens reception. This was possible because of the various levels of intervention in the pre-election phase and the commitment of INEC to proceed with specific innovation to enhance transparency in the process. Noteworthy were the critical policy reforms by INEC like the INEC Policy on Conducting Elections in the Context of COVID-19 and the Voter Code of Conduct on Voting Amidst
COVID-19. These policies were important as they contributed to stakeholders’ confidence in INEC and support to the conduct of elections in the pandemic. In addition, INEC introduced innovations to deploy technology in the result
collation and transmission process with the deployment of the Z-Pad technology and the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) Portal. The ability to upload polling units level results on the IReV was a game-changer in the Edo and Ondo elections as it enhanced citizens' oversight role over the process and enabled transparency in the process.
While the elections received popular support, they were not perfect elections. The assessment of the quality of elections cannot be limited to the voting process but must extend to both the quality of different election activities in the electoral process beginning from the pre-election phase and the activities of key actors in the electoral process. Yiaga Africa’s Watching the Vote in assessing the elections adopts a comprehensive electoral cycle approach informed by observation findings from the pre-election environment observation, election day observation and post-election engagement. Accordingly, key learnings and lessons from the Edo and Ondo elections in 2020