Anambra voters answered but INEC faltered

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It was heart-melting to see elderly people and physically challenged people in Anambra State coming out last Saturday to vote. Before the November 6, 2021 gubernatorial election in Anambra State, the fear many people had was that insecurity and fear could work against the conduct of the election. It was feared that many people would choose to remain indoors for fear of the unknown and that the unknown gunmen could strike at different parts of the state, creating more fear among the people.

The first signal that things could go bad was that though the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra announced a cancellation of the seven-day sit-at-home order scheduled to start on Friday, November 5, it was still held in the five states of the South-East of Nigeria, Anambra State inclusive. That had been the response to such cancellations. Many people had been attacked for venturing out on days that were said not to be a sit-at-home day following an announcement by IPOB. Consequently, the fear of coming out even after such cancellation had been the beginning of wisdom.

Since most people did not come out on Friday despite the cancellation of the sit-at-home order, it was feared that the next day – which was election day – would see most people not coming out to vote. There were even fears that the electoral officers might also be afraid to come out on election day.

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Interestingly, on election day, Anambra voters surprised all permutations by coming out to vote. Voters of all ages came out. Secondly, there was peace in Anambra on the day of the election. There were no attacks by unknown gunmen.

The irony came from a different source: the Independent National Electoral Commission. The first deficiency was that INEC officials did not arrive at the venues of the election on time. According to Yiaga Africa, INEC officials only arrived early in 17 per cent of the polling units. There are 5,720 polling units spread across the 21 Local Government Areas of Anambra State.

The second was that there were glitches with the electoral machines which caused delays and frustration among the voters, thereby disenfranchising many voters. The major cause of the problem was the Bimodal Voter Authentication System, which malfunctioned in many voting centres. However, many of the voters waited patiently for several hours before voting. The candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, for example, had to wait for over five hours before voting. Many had to go home and return repeatedly to know if the BVAS had started functioning. Many could not vote on Saturday, which made INEC announce an extension of voting till the next day.

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As if that was not enough, INEC could not declare the winner of the election by Sunday as had been the tradition. By Sunday evening INEC had announced the result of the election in 19 LGAs out of the 21. Soludo of the APGA had won 17 LGAs, while Mr Valentine Ozigbo of the Peoples Democratic Party won one LGA and Dr Ifeanyi Ubah of the Young Progressives Party also won one LGA. Initially, the result from Orumba North could not be announced because of some discrepancies. On the other hand, there was no election in Ihiala LGA because of some threats. Consequently, an election that was supposed to have been completed over the weekend would remain inconclusive for some time.

Therefore, while the voters played their role of coming out to vote and churning violence, INEC that had repeatedly claimed that it was ready for the election failed to keep its side of the bargain. The implication is that suspension will prevail in Anambra until the election is completed. This is not tidy. It creates fears and suspicion that underground plans are in the offing to deny the people’s choice victory. This is something that Anambra does not need, especially at a time like this when it is still battling to shake off the insecurity that was unleashed on it by the activities of unknown gunmen.

Eventually, around midnight, INEC announced the result from Orumba North LGA. The candidate of APGA won it again, making it 18 LGAs for him, while his two opponents from PDP and YPP still had one LGA each. INEC also announced that there would be a supplementary election in Ihiala LGA on Tuesday, November 9. This put everything concerning the election on hold. The jubilation by the winners is on hold. The lamentation by the losers is on hold. The burden of deciding who rules Anambra in the next four years has been put on the shoulders of Ihiala voters.

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Hitherto, the security operatives in Anambra State have been commended for maintaining the peace by keeping off the politics of the state. There was a deployment of about 35,000 police officers to Anambra State. Because of this huge deployment, those that had carried out attacks under the vague name of unknown gunmen were smart enough to suspend all attacks. In addition, to the relief of many people, there was no report of security operatives intimidating voters or helping some people to snatch ballot boxes or chasing party officials away from the collation centre. They stayed at strategic spots in each community and allowed the free flow of movement.

It is expected that the security operatives would maintain their neutrality in the supplementary election. People have already seen the trend of the election. Because of the need to be part of those who will decide who will be the next governor of Anambra State, more people will come out to vote today, Tuesday. All the top four candidates and parties will make efforts to win voters to their side. Some will attempt to use illegal means to get more votes. For some politicians, the logic is that one should win an election by all means first and leave it to the court to adjudicate if the election was actually won or rigged. Those who think like this believe that courts can use technicalities to ratify electoral results obtained by fraudulent means. The duty of the security operatives should be to ensure that nobody uses violence or illegal means to achieve electoral advantage. If they do it successfully, they will be commended, and the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd), will get more accolades.

On a final note, Anambra people have pleasantly surprised many people by their actions regarding the November 6, 2021 gubernatorial election. They have shown their resilience and independent-mindedness. INEC and the Federal Government should fulfil their own side of the bargain.

Azuka Onwuka
Brand Communications Strategist/Consultant. | + posts
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