The Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) Gender and Election Watch (GEW) was in Ondo state to observe the 2020 Ondo State Governorship election from a gender perspective; focusing on the elections and how it impacts on women and men differently and against the COVID – 19 Public health emergency. Having deployed a network of stationary observers across the three senatorial districts and 18 LGAs of Edo state; particularly in Ose, Akure South, Akure North, Ifedore, Owo, Okitipupa, Ese Odo, Odigbo, Ilara, Ileoluji, Ipe Akoko, Akoko North East and Akoko South West LGAs for the 2020 Ondo State Governorship Elections. NWTF GEW observations are informed by reports obtained from the citizens observers deployed and calls received on the three (3) GEW hotlines, GEW observes as follows:
- A commendable gender inclusive deployment of electoral officials in the Ondo state election – Reports from the GEW observers indicate that the gender deployment of poll workers was between ratio 2:2 and 2:3 in favour of the women in most polling units visited. GEW further observed an improved efficiency in the gender deployment of security operatives deployed at various polling units and intersections within the state which is commendable. Furthermore, the gender deployment of party agents is also commendable.
- An appreciative voter turn-out of women in about 50% of polling units visited- The turn-out of women during the Ondo State election is commendable. However, generally, the voter turn-out was low when compared to the numbers of collected PVCs in the state. GEW also observed the presence of the elderly showing commitment to participate in the election. Notable was PU 001, Adonmu in Akure South were we observed more aged women who turned up for the elections.
- There was priority voting for PWDs, nursing and pregnant women as well as the elderly in most polling units visited – However, there were notable cases were voters rejected the priority voting directive and demanded that all voters must join the queue for example, PU 019, Ward 2, St. John/Mary Hospital in Akure South and PU 013, Gbogi/Isikan ward, Honeymoon also in Akure South LGA. GEW further observes that most polling units visited were inaccessible to PWD’s.
- Poor adherence to Covid-19 protocol despite INEC’s adequate provision of hand sanitizers and infra-ray thermometers which were used in the polling units visited. In many instances, there was complete lack of adherence to the social distancing principle of the protocol while in addition to voter’s refusal to put on their face masks. However, Ward 2, PU 010, Sacred Heart school in Akure South LGA had a commendable practice of social distancing measure.
- Vote trading was noticed during the Ondo Governorship Election especially among leading political parties.
- Female security operatives were professional, warm, and supportive during the voting process. More specifically, they supported vulnerable groups during the elections in most polling units visited. Furthermore, contrary to the general fear and apprehension by the public over the security imperatives of the election, the process devolved in a way and manner that was friendly and conducive for the conduct of the election.
Challenges were observed around the following:
i. Absence of braille ballot guide for the visually impaired in some of the polling units – Some poll workers when asked did not know what the document looks like or what it is to be used for.
ii. Few Incidences of malfunctioning of card readers in some polling units, most notable was the situation at PU-023, ward 007, Idiagba, Akure South LGA where out of 148 accredited voters, only 11 of them were successfully authenticated by the card readers while 137 failed the finger print authentication but were however allowed to vote manually.
iii. Poor Voting Procedure Knowledge – Some of the Adhoc-Staff did not have good working knowledge of the voting procedures and documents, especially documents for election observers and braille ballots.
GEW therefore recommends as follows:
i. The Ondo Governorship is an improvement on previous elections in terms of gender inclusion in the deployment of personnel both by INEC and the security agencies.
ii. While there was an improved conduct of security agents during the just concluded elections. There is however still room for further improvement. Security agents should be non-partisan.
iii. INEC should ensure that there is easy access to spare/backup card readers to resolve incidents of Smart Card Reader failure during accreditation of voters in real time
iv. Better training of Adhoc – staff, particularly those handling the voter registration booklet and smart card readers.
v. INEC should also endeavor to situate Poling Unit at accessible and neutral positions to enable vulnerable groups such as the elderly, PWDS, pregnant women, and nursing mothers cast their ballots.
vi. The issues of vote buying are still pervasive, there is a need for INEC and Security operatives to step up their efforts in apprehending and prosecuting of offenders in line with INEC guidelines, the electoral act and other extant law.
vii. There is need for improvement in obeying the government directives on Covid-19 while conducting subsequent off-cycle elections.
viii. The ratio 2:2 gender mix of security agents, observers, accredited journalists, party agents and poll workers should be sustained.
ix. There should be continuous education and training of security personnel on electoral processes and their specific roles during election to forestall altercation between them and other stakeholders as a result of suspicion of partisanship
x. Citizens, especially young women are encouraged to come out en-masse and vote in subsequent elections.
xi. Teaching of civic and voter education in schools needs to be encouraged to improve on citizen’s awareness of the electoral process in order to reduce voter apathy.
Overall, the voting process was relatively successful and would seem to indicate a growing consistency of relatively successfully conducted elections by INEC. Obviously, there are still lapses observed that should be improved upon by the electoral body. Some of these observations have been highlighted above. INEC improved over their performance in Edo state 2020 governorship election.
GEW Hotlines: +234-7025005026, 7025005027, 7025005028
For Gender and Election Watch (GEW) Room
of the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF).
Ms. Mufuliat Fijabi
Chief Executive Officer (NWTF).