As political activities gather momentum ahead of the October 10 Ondo governorship election, Yiaga Africa Watching The Vote is observing the political environment and conduct of political stakeholders as part of its Pre-Election Observation. The Pre-Election Observation commenced in August 2020 with the deployment of Long-Term Observers (LTOs) in all eighteen LGAs of the state. These LTOs are observing campaign activities and preparatory activities of INEC, security agencies, National Orientation Agency and civil society groups. Given the fact that electoral politics in Nigeria is traditionally characterized by tension-soaked atmosphere, outbreaks of violence, coupled with zero-sum politics which are high stakes and confrontational in nature, the PREO also identified potential security threats prior to the October 10 election.

The October 10 election is the fifth off-cycle election in the state since the transition to civil rule in 1999. Seventeen political parties are contesting for the highest political office. The campaigns have been dominated by the incumbent Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and this rival, Eyitayo Jegede, SAN of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Like the recently concluded Edo election, the Ondo election is a two-horse race between the APC and PDP candidate. With the emergence of the incumbent Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi as the candidate for the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) it might become a three-horse race.

The findings in this first reporting phase reveal heightened levels of political intrigues, counter strategies and violence. Whilst INEC has shown commitment and readiness for the election, key contenders and political actors have advanced narratives that forewarn of breakdown of law and order including alleged threats to deploy state and non-state instruments of force and armed violence. This could affect the efficiency and credibility of electoral management processes if not curtailed. For instance, the destruction of 5,000 Smart Card Readers under a questionable fire incident at the INEC office in Akure on September 10, 2020 is considered an attempt to scuttle the commission’s preparations and undermine its ability to conduct the polls. Yiaga Africa is concerned that the election may become a replay of undesirable events given the attitude of some political gladiators in the state.

As part of preparations for the election, INEC is visibly conducting voter education, recruitment and training of election officials and stakeholder engagement. These are preparatory activities monitored by Yiaga Africa LTOs. Although political activities such as campaigns and rallies have dominated the political space, they, however have been plagued with acts of violence. Yiaga Africa LTOs reported incidences of violent verbal and physical attacks, vandalism and destruction of properties, attacks and intimidation of political opponents from different Local Government Areas (LGAs). The LGAs with a high incidence and indicators of violence are Akure South, Akoko South-East, Idanre, Owo and Akoko South West. Specific cases of voter inducement were reported in Akoko South West, Akure South, Akoko South-East, Akoko North West, Ifedore and Odigbo LGAs.

Only 39% (1,822,346) of the entire population are registered to vote, a good number of registered voters 1,478,460 (81.1%) have collected their PVCs. This implies that only about 31.6% of the populations are eligible to participate in this year’s governorship poll. Since 2011, voter turnout has not exceeded 35% in Ondo state. In the 2011 presidential election, turnout was 31% while in the 2016 governorship election it was 35%. In 2011, it was 21% for the presidential election and 29.3% for the state assembly election. Given the background of pre-election violence and gangster politics, the state may witness a further decline in voter turnout during election. This is exacerbated by the failure of security agencies to curb acts of lawlessness and impunity perpetrated by armed political thugs and political actors. Low voter turnout may further enhance chances for electoral manipulation in the strongholds of the major political parties particularly in the rural areas where election rigging usually takes place.

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