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Anambra: From uncertainty to success

By Ray Ekpu
09 November 2021   |   3:55 am
It is not only Anambrarians that had a morbid fear of what might happen in Anambra on November six, the day of the governorship election. Other Nigerians, mindful of the escalating level of violence in the South East in the last few months, must have thought...

A rickshaw driver travels on a deserted roundabout in Onitsha, Anambra State, south-eastern Nigeria, on November 5, 2021, on the eve of a governorship election in a ballot being widely anticipated as a barometer for the country’s 2023 presidential vote. Voters in the restive southeastern Nigerian state of Anambra go to the polls on November 6, amid a massive police deployment, in a key test of electoral credibility ahead of a presidential race less than 18 months away. More than 30,000 police have been deployed to Anambra, the heart of a region where an outlawed separatist movement has been blamed for a string of attacks on police and election offices. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP<br />

It is not only Anambrarians that had a morbid fear of what might happen in Anambra on November six, the day of the governorship election. Other Nigerians, mindful of the escalating level of violence in the South East in the last few months, must have thought it would be a major miracle to conduct a free, fair and credible election in that state. Eventhough thousands of policemen, civil defence staff and soldiers had been shipped into the place with their intimidating implements of violence delivery, the fear still remained that the proscribed Independent People of Biafra (IPOB) was capable of springing a violent surprise.

It had given a sit-at-home order which covered the period of the election, the aim of which was to make the election arrangement a nullity. It had earned for itself a terror reputation in the manner it had treated, without mercy, anybody who disobeyed its order in the past. No one who disobeyed its orders lived to tell his story if found out. So there was fear, uncertainty and tension in the air. You could cut them with a blunt knife. Many people wondered whether the election would hold as many ad hoc staff recruited by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had thrown in the towel out of fear of the unknown.

Many people also wondered whether the huge contingent of security men was not brought to compromise the election process. Many other people wondered whether people will actually risk their lives by turning up to vote knowing that IPOB informants are probably looking out for those who would break the sit-at-home order. Mercifully, on the eve of the election IPOB announced that it had withdrawn the sit-at-home order and that people were free to go out and vote. But there was still a huge level of uncertainty in the air and many voters were likely to choose the option of keeping out of harm’s way by staying at home instead of throwing themselves under the bus. From the figures released it is clear that there was a serious voter apathy. But the good thing is that the election was largely peaceful and violence-free. The credit for this must go to the security agents who appeared to act largely in a professional manner. There were only few untoward incidents reported during the election. This is evidence that the security officials have apparently learnt their lessons and were fully aware that their steps were closely watched by observers, civil society activists, media men and women and other interested groups that were there to monitor the professionalism or otherwise of the security officials. Credit must also go to various influential groups in Anambra and Igboland who persuaded the IPOB fellows to rescind their order. These groups include the South East Governors’ Forum, religious and traditional leaders, prominent politicians and other well-meaning Nigerians.

If the order had not been rescinded the voter turn-out would have been abysmally low and there probably would have been incidents of violent enforcement of the order. That withdrawal of the order contributed immensely to the success of the polls. But it is apparent that INEC was uncertain about the possibility of the polls holding without a disruption despite the heavy presence of security personnel. At some of the polling stations there was late arrival of INEC officials and electoral materials which led to the late commencement of accreditation and polling. This also led to the extension of the polling period in some of the polling stations. Even where accreditation and voting started on time there was a malfunctioning of the Bi-Modal Voter Accreditation System (BIVAS) at many polling units.

The machines failed to recognise voters’ faces and fingerprints. The election officials therefore had to resort to manual accreditation and voting. It was also observed that where the BIVAS machine worked the pace was slow. After waiting for hours without being able to vote some of the voters went away without voting. As it happened in some of the states in other off-cycle elections there were reports of vote buying by the major parties in the election. In some cases the police present reportedly looked the other way, which meant that they, too, were possibly on the take.

Not much can be done about vote buying and vote selling in a situation of extreme poverty that has afflicted majority of Nigerians especially since last year when the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the financial situation of most Nigerians. But the stakeholders who believe in the sanctity of elections must put in place a sensitisation programme against vote buying and selling if our democracy is to remain untainted.

The lessons learnt from the malfunctioning of the BIVAS equipment by INEC will be useful for the purpose of improving the management of future elections. In the next few months there will be off-cycle elections in Ekiti and Osun States. The use of the BIVAS machine in these elections must serve as some kind of dress rehearsal for the big one in 2023.

The Returning Officer for the Anambra Governorship election, Professor Florence Obi has announced that the election is inconclusive and will only be concluded when the results of the election in Ihiala Local Government Area scheduled for November 9 are in. She says that no election was held in Ihiala on November 6. However, the votes recorded so far for the four leading parties are as follows: APGA 103, 946; PDP 51, 322; APC 42, 942 and YPP 20, 917. Of the 19 LGAs whose results have been released the APGA candidate Professor Chukwuma Soludo has won in 17 LGAs thus exceeding the 2/3 requirement by three LGAs. On the strength of the total votes so far scored he has recorded 103, 946 votes higher than the next candidate.

So it is obvious that Soludo is likely to become the next Governor of Anambra State. For him it hasn’t been an easy journey. In September 2009 he had announced that he would be gunning for the Governorship of Anambra State on the PDP platform. He didn’t make it. On July 17, 2013 he resigned from the PDP and joined the APGA to contest the November 2013 governorship election but he was disqualified by the APGA screening committee. He then endorsed Willie Obiano for the job.

The November 6 election provided an opportunity for Obiano to return the favour. He did, campaigning vigorously for Soludo. Debt paid. But this journey was not a stroll in the park for Soludo. A few weeks ago he nearly got killed at a campaign venue. He merely escaped with the skin of his teeth while several people were mowed down by unknown assailants. This attempt on his life must have made the campaign an even more difficult endeavour for him especially because of the problems within the APGA family. The threats by IPOB also made face-to-face campaign tough so all of the candidates resorted, largely, to social media campaigns. Soludo, a 1984 first class honours graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in Economics went on to nick a Ph.D in Economics in 1989.

By the time he was 35 he had already become a professor of Economics at that university. He has had a successful career in the economic arena as Chief Economic Adviser to President Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Executive Officer of the National Planning Commission. But it was as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria that he made a significant mark with wide-ranging reforms. However, running Anambra as its Governor will pose a different kind of challenge, the challenge of creating a humane environment for the people to thrive despite the violence that has enmeshed the South East zone.

Anambra is the home of Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the rebel leader who declared the former Eastern Region the Republic of Biafra in 1967. This declaration led to a 30-month civil war in which millions of people died. Despite the outcome of the civil war Ojukwu is held in high esteem by most Anambrarians and since he is the one who gave birth to APGA most of them choose to rally round that party, rain or shine. But of recent there has been a minor earthquake in that party which led to the decamping of some members to APC. Even Ojukwu’s wife, Bianca had to voice out her disagreement on the goings-on in the party. Eventhough he is dead Ojukwu remains a fixture in the politics of Anambra. Anambra also had such political heavyweights as Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, first President of Nigeria, Dr Nwafor Orizu, former President of Senate and Dr Alex Ekwueme, Second Republic Vice President.

It is difficult to ignore these eminent ancestors in the politics of Anambra. Also to be taken into account in the management of the State is the huge presence of industralists and other billionaire businessmen whose interests must be factored into the economic management of the State. They were said to have played a prominent part in the recent election making it a cash-and-carry bazaar. These billionaires even have a club where 100 of them meet regularly and donate one million each to their members whenever they have any functions. They are a formidable force in the State. That is the setting in which Soludo will operate when he takes office in March next year.

Luckily for him he has been around which means that he is no stranger to the system. But stranger or not managing any state in the South East at this time of inexplicable violence and reckless rhetoric is not going to be the equivalent of drinking water.