On Saturday 6th of November, the much anticipated gubernatorial election was conducted in Anambra state. The election took place in a climate bogged down by threats from the proscribed Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), who announced a sit at home order that was cancelled 48 hrs before the election. Their sit at home was initially announced with an ultimatum for the unconditional release of its leader- Nnamdi Kanu, by the Federal Government. The cancellation of the order partly doused the climate of fear that hovered around the state. There is uncertainty as to whether IPOB called it off because security agencies had threatened to deal decisively with them if they attempted to thwart the election or because eminent personalities consisting of statesmen and members of the clergy reached out to them through back channels or maybe even both.
Despite being fraught with fear the election was conducted, and it was largely peaceful except for an incident of ballot box snatching in Onitsha. The conduct however was afflicted by apathy. Anambra state despite having a history of low voter turnout, this time around witnessed an abysmal level of turnout on election day. Out of 2.5million registered voters, only 253,388 voters showed up to vote, roughly 10%. An election is an integral part of democracy and is best appreciated when there is a massive turnout to elect leaders. Democracy loses its appeal and I dare say essence in the absence of popular participation. When the minority has their way and the majority has their say, democracy is turned on its head. In interrogating why the majority was a no show on election day we have to take into consideration two major issues. First, IPOB’s history of deploying violence whimsically to achieve its aim and second, a government that so far has failed to understand force can not be the sole means to quell politically motivated agitations. These issues doubly contribute to a climate of fear. Citizens were therefore torn between supporting IPOB because of pro-Biafran sentiments or being aloof for fear of being caught in a crossfire. This sort of atmosphere is unhealthy for democracy to thrive.
The election was also plagued by issues other than fear. The Bimodal Voters Authentication System (BVAS), a technological innovation introduced by INEC to limit human interference by merging fingerprint and face biometrics for identity verification of voters, faltered. BVAS is an integrated device that performs multiple functions, it serves as Voter Enrollment Device (IVED) during voter registration, voter accreditation on Election Day and also functions as INEC Results Viewing Device (IReV Device) to be utilized for uploading election results on Election Day. Integrated into the INEC Voter Enrollment Device, the BVAS is designed to combine fingerprint and facial authentication to ensure that the person holding the PVC is the one that will vote.
However, in many polling units, this machine malfunctioned and did not authenticate many voters’ fingerprints, as well as facial recognition, making the entire process slow and difficult. The candidates themselves were not exempted as Prof. Charles Soludo, who later emerged victorious waited for 5hrs to vote. So did the PDP aspirant, Mr Valentine Ozigbo, who came second. The failure of technology and logistic challenges influenced INEC’s decision to extend voting by 24hrs into Sunday 7th November.Due to irregularities and non-arrival of election materials, INEC postponed the election in Ihiala LGA. At the time it took the decision Prof. Soludo having won 17 LGA’s had 98,148 votes and a lead of more than 40,000 over his opponents.
According to the INEC register, Ihiala has 148,407 registered voters. Therefore, not allowing them to exercise their franchise was out of the question especially when their number eclipsed the gap between the contestants, essentially positioning their votes as a potential game-changer. The results from Ihiala eventually secured Soludo’s victory as he polled 8,283 votes, followed by Valentine Ozigbo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who got 2,485 votes. There was also widespread vote-buying by political party agents across the state. Carried out discreetly in some polling units while in the full glare in others, voters were being induced by amounts ranging from N6,000 to N10,000. Vote buying is a recurring feature in Nigerian elections and perhaps the lack of prosecution for offenders fuels it.
On the eve of the election officers of the Nigerian Police Force protested alleged non-payment of their feeding allowances. The officers demanded that their feeding allowance be paid immediately. It is a shame that allowances for those meant to protect the integrity of the election process were delayed. This development makes security agents susceptible to financial inducements from political party agents that make them compromise. Security personnel were positioned in strategic locations in the state to counter subversive elements.
Security agencies adopted a strategy to deploy an overwhelming number of armed security personnel to outnumber the violent secessionist agitators. Nigerian Police Force claimed to deploy 34,000 personnel comprising of two Deputy Inspectors General of Police, five Assistant Inspectors General, 14 commissioners, 31 deputy commissioners and 48 assistant commissioners of police. This is in addition to deployments by other agencies. Mobile units of the army and police conducted patrols in different parts of the state severally in a show of force. Despite the heavy policing INEC experienced a challenge of logistics as many of its ad-hoc staff were stranded because drivers previously hired pulled out at the last
minute as a result of security-related concerns.
The reaction of the Anambra people to this heavily policed election should influence a political solution to the greatest threat-IPOB. Low-voter turnout is indicative of a dislike for exercising franchise in a tense atmosphere amongst other things. It is not belated for the Federal Government to review its force centric approach to secessionist agitations to incorporate dialogue and negotiations. The unity of Nigerian being non-negotiable should not hinder avenues for negotiation and dialogue but should rather spur it.
On November 10th 2021, INEC declared of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) as the winner of the election. Soludo polled a total of 112,229 votes to defeat his closest rival, Mr. Valentine Ozigbo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who scored 53, 807 to emerge second. Among the contenders for the race, the ex-governor of the central bank had the most stellar achievements in his professional career. At the Anambra State governorship election debate, Prof. Soludo affirmed his belief in the unity of Nigeria but stated that IPOB must be heard. The Federal Government can tap into the nationalist stance of the Governor-elect and take advantage of it to solve the secessionist problem. It would be foolhardy for another election cycle to be bedeviled by this problem when it is avoidable. The need for a large troop of security personnel to be deployed for this election is obvious.
However, repeating this cycle after 4 years is needless. Especially when it affects voter turnout adversely due to a climate of tension that induces apathy.