As part of its effort to ensure citizens and civic groups engage the election process from an informed perspective, Yiaga Africa through its Watching The Vote (WTV) project conducted a comprehensive capacity building for leaders of Civil Society Organisations in Edo and Ondo state. The capacity building tagged,” Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) Academy” was held in Benin city, Edo state on 21st August 2020 with another round of training held in Akure Ondo state on 24th August 2020.

During the session, Yiaga Africa’s Director of Programs Cynthia Mbamalu reiterated the need for Civic Groups to be part and parcel of the electoral process saying they must take leadership responsibility in improving citizens’ participation in the process. According to her, while it is expected that both elections will be competitive, there has been a lot of focus on politicians and political actors and less focus on the people. Thus, the aim of the election observation academy is to build collaboration with State-based civic groups to promote citizens’ engagement and credible elections.

PVT Academy with CSO leaders in Ondo

“We want peaceful elections and we need stakeholders to take charge of the process. No life should be lost because of an election”, she said. Cynthia decried the many challenges that marred the November 2019 Kogi and Bayelsa Governorship election saying such a scenario should not replicate itself in Edo and Ondo elections.

Beyond building a collaborative effort for credible elections, the training provided an avenue for civic groups in the state to understand the Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT) Election Day observation methodology. This according to Cynthia will enable citizens and civic groups to be able to engage election observation findings received from Polling Units.

She said Yiaga Africa sees the election as a process rather than just an activity as whatever happens before the election may impact on the Election Day. “This is why we kicked off first with the observation of the pre-election environment in Edo and Ondo states to enable us to build early warning systems”, she said.

Director of programs Cynthia Mbamalu speaking during PVT Academy with CSO leaders in Edo

“Pre-elections, we start with observing the party primaries, and the pre-election atmosphere, and how the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is going about preparations”. We also do violence monitoring to identify the indicators of violence, and solve it early, by contacting the security personnel or even INEC”, she explained.

She said, on the Election Day, Yiaga Africa will deploy 500 citizen observers to 250 sampled polling units across the LGAs in Edo and 600 citizens observers to 300 sampled polling units in all the 18 LGAs in Ondo. These observers according to her are equipped with checklists to observe the accreditation and voting, sorting and counting amongst other critical aspects of the election. Additionally, according to Cynthia, observers will be deployed to all the LGA results collation centers in Edo and Ondo states, the aim according to her is to verify the accuracy of results announced by the electoral commission.

“The special thing about the PVT is that it can indicate if the results of the elections are accurate (we do not give exact results, just estimates), and we can highlight where there are problems in the process”, she said. The goal is that after elections, we use the reports from stakeholders to advocate for electoral reforms, either at the state level or at the level of INEC (administrative) or legislative and legal reforms.

During an interactive session, participants agreed on the need to coordinate CSO efforts to engender citizens’ participation and promote credible elections in Edo and Ondo States. They decried the corrupt and polarised groups both from the media and CSOs that engage in political de-marketing and overheating of the polity and harped on the need to desist from doing that, as such as acts will do more harm than good as it will discourage citizens from participating in the process.