• Ahead of the September 19, 2020 governorship elections in Edo state, Yiaga Africa conducted a survey among 657 randomly-sampled phone-owing adult Nigerians (18 years and above) residing in Edo State between 28th July and 3rd August 2020 to gauge their opinions about the impact of COVI9-19 pandemic and the campaign environment on the credibility of the governorship elections. This report summarizes some of the main findings from the survey and makes recommendations for promoting the credibility of the upcoming elections.
• Although approximately seven-in-ten survey respondents (68%) support INEC’s decision to hold Nigeria’s first off-cycle governorship election during the COVID-19 pandemic, a plurality (42%) remain concerned that voters and election officials could contract the virus on election-day. Respondents were evenly split on INEC’s effectiveness in communicating the new COVID-19 voting guidelines, and more than a quarter of those surveyed (27%) report having been exposed to information about COVID-19 voting procedures from political parties and candidates.
• Survey respondents expressed major concerns about violence carried out by political parties (56%) and security officials (48%) during the elections. With more than 3 weeks to go before the governorship election, approximately one-in-ten respondents have directly experienced violence and intimidation related to the elections, while over one-third have heard political candidates using hate speech on the campaign trail. Fifty-six percent of those surveyed were worried about the widespread practice of trading money and other material benefits for votes, while so far, four percent personally experienced vote buying.
• Public attitudes towards INEC in Edo are very polarized. Forty-six percent of respondents lack confidence in INEC’s ability to promote credible elections, 50% question the electoral umpires’ independence and 44% doubt the institutions’ preparedness for election.
• Despite the COVID-19 epidemic and the ongoing political crisis, an overwhelming majority of registered voters (85%) in our survey are likely to vote in the September 19 elections. Furthermore, 54% of all respondents are optimistic that the elections will be credible, and a plurality (42%) believe the quality of elections will increase relative to the 2019 presidential elections.
• Based on the results from the pre-election survey, Yiaga Africa recommends that INEC, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and State Task Force COVID-19 should ensure strict compliance with INEC policy on voting amidst COVID-19 and other health safety protocols. Polling officials should be required to undergo COVID-19 testing before and after the election. Public engagement on new health protocols and Voters Code of Conduct should be intensified across LGAs and communities.
• Given the pervasive threat to safety and security in the Edo election, Yiaga Africa urges the federal and state government to desist from partisan use of the police and security forces to manipulate the electoral process. Security agencies should neutralize existing security threats in Edo state to enable the voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote in a peaceful and secured environment. More proactive and preemptive interventions like peace meetings, peace accords, curtailment of proliferation and use of firearms and other weapons, appropriate sanctions for those implicated in thuggery and violence should be taken. If caution is not exercised, the outcome of the September 19 governorship polls may be determined by violence not voters.
• Lastly, INEC should take concrete steps to address the perceptions of its lack of independence, impartiality and professionalism through proactive and timely disclosure of election-related information; effective management of election day logistics; consistent application of electoral guidelines and lastly, transparent collation and transmission of election results.