Today from 8:30am, voters in Osun State are expected to be at their various polling units across the 30 local government areas in the state to elect a governor for the state tagged the state of the virtues. Even though, the people in Osun State have the liberty to vote for any of the 15 contenders flying different party flags in the state, public opinion and analysis have narrowed down the choices before them to largely five candidates, and most likely two. This thinking has been seen to have reflected in the invitation to public debates organised first by the BBC Yoruba and then Arise and Channels TV in conjunction with the Situation Room respectively. These debates had served as platforms for candidates to engage issues of governance and for people to interrogate the candidates not only on their manifestoes but also on their ability to show understanding of and the capacity to manage state issues if they are elected to run the affairs of the state.
Personality Disparagement Trumped Issue-based Campaign
Before the debates, the candidates had the opportunity to engage voters in the state across media platforms ranging from mainstream and conventional media to digital media. However, a study had indicted the five parties to have failed to sell their candidates on the basis of the programmes they have for the people and the state. According to a ten-week report released by the Positive Agenda Nigeria, a research-based non-governmental organisation in Osogbo, the campaign atmosphere in the state from April 6 to July 13, 2022, when the final data was collated, the five political parties had done more of personality disparagement than informed policy engagement with the voting public.
The implication of this finding is that as the over 1.4m eligible voters go out to vote across the 3,763 polling units in the state, they have just 10% of informed campaign engagement from the 5 most prominent candidates vying for the governorship seat. It was not as if the issues were not mentioned at all, the depth of engagement was not deep at all. A state that is grappling with across education, economy, health, security, workers’ salary, welfare and employment than getting significant messages on infrastructure, agriculture and social programmes requires anyone coming to steer the ship of the state to put on a deep thinking cap. Despite the fact that the people have a bevy of choices to make from among the 5 major contenders, nevertheless, the campaigns failed to sufficiently communicate ideas of what candidates would do differently has left people at a crossroad. This is just one of the findings of the ten-week real time monitoring of the campaign space prior to today’s election.
Public Expectations did not Match Campaign Issues
The PAN study also checked if the meagre issues deeply engaged by the political parties aligned with what the public searched for in the period of the campaign. The researchers used Google Trends and survey to interrogate if what the candidates were talking about resonated with the needs and issues that the Osun voting public expected them to engage. The study discovered a gap between what people’s expectations and candidates’ campaign focus. For instance, the report noted that while the Osun public sought information about salary, economy, security and health, the political actors were busy engaging only security. In the same manner, a survey of 300 voters across the three senatorial districts in the state attested to the discrepancy between voters’ expectations and politicians’ campaign messages.
The report noted that “the majority of the electorate stated that they have watched, seen, read and listened to messages that focused on issues and/or needs within the education, economy, health, security, and workers’ salary, welfare and employment more than getting significant messages on infrastructure, agriculture and social programmes.”
Threats to Credible Poll
Also, the poor level of engagement in the campaign atmosphere has also bred what the report tagged threat to credible poll. These, according to the report, are factors that have the capacity to impact on free, fair and transparent electoral process in the governorship contest. Messages emanating from the two major parties revealed threats such as vote-buying, use of political thugs, rigging through collision with the election management body and rigging through the use of force from security forces.
On these threats, the report noted “throughout the ten weeks of monitoring, a total of 105 traces of threats to the poll were discovered. Analysis reveals 49.52% for cumulative week ten report against 55.84% of discussing vote-buying in the previous nine weeks.”
These threats have the tendency to encourage voter apathy and impact on the believability of the process. Going by what was recorded in Ekiti State governorship election, critical stakeholders must devise a way of preventing these threats. Of the four threats, vote merchandising seems to be intractable. Fears are rife that politicians might change tactics due to the broadcast arrest of some vote traders in Ekiti State.
The report wanted to have an understanding of the electorate view on who was likely to offer them money for their votes. Fingers were pointed at ward party leaders, ward party youth leaders, ward party candidates, fellow voters and family members.
Moving forward by becoming more vigilant
As voting progresses today, it is our hope that all stakeholders would rise to address the issues identified in the campaign monitoring data would be used to plug the loopholes. Going forward, it is our hope that the Independent National Electoral Commission will wake up to its campaign monitoring responsibilities as contained in the campaign guidelines enacted in 2015.
Rasheed Adebiyi, the Team Lead of Positive Agenda Nigeria, is a faculty of the Department of Mass Communication, Fountain University, Osogbo, Nigeria