By Angela Atabo
YIAGA Africa, a civil society organisation, has alerted security agencies of 13 flash points in Local Government Areas (LGA) where possible violence needs to be checked in the Sept. 19 governorship elections in Edo.
YIAGA Africa Board Member, Mr Ezenwa Nwagwu, made this known at the group’s First Pre-Election Observation (PREO), Report on the Edo elections.
Nwagwu said that YIAGA Africa deployed 24 Long Term Observers (LTOs), in 18 LGAs of Edo to systematically observe and gather information on the pre-election environment as well as early warning signs of electoral violence.
He said that the observers reported incidences of violent, verbal and physical attacks, identity based violence, fake news mongering and hate-speech rhetoric employed as campaign strategies by parties.
He said that the observers also reported the repositioning of cult groups as political merchants for the election in some LGAs as well as gender based violence.
“YIAGA Africa fears that the spate of violence and insecurity in the pre-election period may discourage voters from turning up to vote on election day especially with cases of alleged stockpiling of arms.
“Based on our observation reports, 13 of the 18 LGAs are considered as potential hotspots of violence.
“They include: Etsako West, Etsako East, Etsako Central, Owan West and Akoko-Edo in Edo North Senatorial district.
“In Edo South Senatorial district, our report suggests Oredo, Orhionmwon, Egor, Ovia North East and Ikpoba-Okha LGAs while in Edo Central Senatorial district, Esan Central, Esan North East and Esan West are potential hotspots.
“What YIAGA Africa has done is like a weather report alerting that it is going to rain so that those responsible for providing umbrella and so on can do the needful.”
Nwagwu said that findings revealed the inducement of voters by politicians by distributing money or gift items in all LGAs except in four, while buying of voter cards was recorded in Esan Central, Oredo, Orhionmwon, Ikpoba Okha and Igueben LGAs.
According to him, YIAGA Africa has recommended that security agencies should curtail proliferation and use of firearms and other weapons and ensure appropriate sanctions for those implicated in thuggery and violence.
He also urged them to employ preventive measures to neutralise existing security threats in Edo to enable voters to exercise their constitutional rights to vote in a peaceful and secure environment.
He called on the Federal and state governments to desist from partisan use of security forces to manipulate the electoral process given the pervasive threat to safety in Edo.
Nwagwu said YIAGA Africa urged political parties and candidates to conduct issue-based campaigns rather than engage in voter inducement and recruitment of thugs and cultists for violence.
He also urged them to subject themselves to public scrutiny on their campaign manifestoes through debates, town halls and direct public engagement and also conduct voter education.
“The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), should collaborate with the Presidential Task Force to ensure strict compliance with COVID-19 guidance and to take steps to address the perception of its lack of independence, impartiality and professionalism.
“INEC should ensure proper coordination of security agencies and relevant health agencies to guarantee polling officials and voters safety,’’ Nwagwu said.
The Executive Director ,YIAGA Africa, Mr Samson Itodo, said with the report on violence, the group expected three things from the government, adding that one was for security agencies to move into the 13 LGAs and secure the people.
Itodo said that there were some cases where violence was ongoing currently and security agencies needed to arrest and prosecute those found wanting.
He said that the remaining five LGAs needed to be watched as well to avert violence.
“For us at YIAGA Africa, we consider the entire state a battleground due to the nature and contest of the election.
“Beyond the security agencies, INEC has a fundamental role to play to ensure that result collation is transparent; it is very important that party agents and observes are given access into those collation centres.’’
Itodo called on INEC to collaborate with other stakeholders like National Peace Committee, traditional and religious institutions, security agencies, media and CSOs to de-escalate the rising political tension and violence by signing peace accord among candidates.
He urged Nigerians to refrain from perpetrating violence, refrain from hate speech and not accept gifts in exchange for votes while working with security agents to report incidents of threats. (NAN)