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Anambar 2021: Anxiety as governorship election beckons

By  Lawrence Njoku (Enugu) and Uzoma Nzeagwu (Awka)
30 October 2021   |   4:05 am
There is tension in Anambra State over next Saturday’s governorship election in the state. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) slated the date for the election since last year and made all the necessary preparations.

There is tension in Anambra State over next Saturday’s governorship election in the state. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) slated the date for the election since last year and made all the necessary preparations. The registered political parties complied with the approved timetable and elected candidates who would fly their flags in the election. In fact, the candidates have been campaigning vigorously to win the hearts of Anambra people and get their votes.
But a cog in the wheel of the election manifested shortly after the party primaries. Activities of unknown gunmen became rife in the state.  These gunmen, who wield dangerous weapons, began to harass politicians and impede political activities. In the process, party campaigns were disrupted, as it was no longer safe to hold open campaigns in the state.
The Guardian investigations revealed that almost all the 14 governorship candidates, in an attempt to woo party officials, donated branded party vehicles to them. However, in the past two months, none of these branded vehicles could be spotted anywhere in the state. The party officials apparently jettisoned driving them to avoid being attacked by the hoodlums. At the last count, two drivers of party branded vehicles were killed in Nnewi and Nnobi areas of the state, while gunmen recently attacked the convoy of a member of the House of Representatives, Chris Azubuogu, who was fortunately not in any of the vehicles.

The same could be said of campaign materials like caps, shirts and fliers, which disappeared from the streets. Those who were wearing the campaign materials suddenly returned them to their wardrobes, even as the candidates resorted to the use of bullion vans to move around as a measure to secure themselves.
Although residents had hoped that several reinforcements by security agencies would pave the way for the election to hold, the order issued last week by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) for a lockdown of the entire Southeast states beginning from November 5 should the Federal Government fail to release their detained leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, has compounded the situation of things in the state.
As it is, the fear is no longer about unknown gunmen but about whether the people would come out next Saturday to cast their votes.
Although the IPOB in the statement signed by its Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, neither called for the boycott of the election nor threatened the INEC, the political parties and their candidates, the order has been creating fear and tension in the state, even as doubts on whether residents would participate in the election continue to grow.

This is because past orders by the IPOB had never been violated in the state. For instance, in August this year, IPOB issued an order to observe ghost Mondays every week in the region until Kanu is released from custody. Few days later, the group rescinded the order, following several interventions. However, since then, Mondays appear to have been accepted as a holiday in the region as residents now stay indoors.
In Anambra, the state government had severally tried to break the Monday barrier to no avail. It had called a meeting of workers, transporters and market leaders as well as industry chiefs to enable activities to resume but his efforts yielded no result. The apparent failure of the government to dissuade people from obeying the Monday sit-at-home orders informed its recent decision to allow schools to open on Saturdays in the state.

“If the people obeyed past sit-at-home orders, how much more this one that is coming with a lot of command? Nobody who has witnessed the level of bloodshed and attacks that happened in the last few months in the state would want to risk his life by coming out to vote. We are in serious dilemma,” a source said.

Thus, since the order by the IPOB, apprehensions have taken centre stage in the state despite assurances by the Federal Government that the election would hold under a secure and peaceful atmosphere. The apprehensions have been worsened by the “militarisation” of the state lately, which has been creating some discomfort for residents. It is now common to see a convoy of no fewer than 20 vehicles loaded with well-kitted armed policemen, apparently deployed from other parts of the country, patrolling the streets. Their presence has no doubt added to the anxiety of eligible voters in the state.

A resident, John Okam, told The Guardian: “It is not about going to vote. It is about going out and returning with your life intact. Nobody will want to lose his life because he wants to go and vote. It is only the gullible that can fail to read in between the lines in the statement from IPOB. Although they did not ask us not to vote, anybody that has followed trends will know that they deliberately fixed their stay at home to frustrate the election. Otherwise, why will they not wait until the election is over? It is a bad omen.”

Okam stated that it was unfortunate that the leaders of the IPOB had decided to “dance to the music being played by some political actors by attempting to disrupt the election so as to produce an unpopular candidate as governor of the state.”

According to him, “there are people who have already perfected plans on how to write the results of the election and are waiting for the people not to come out on that day to enable them write whatever they want. This is the opportunity they are waiting for. But as it is, I cannot lose my life over nothing. Let this election pass and whoever INEC announces to us, let the person start ruling Anambra State.”

A resident in Awka, Chijioke Chukwuma, also wondered why a group of people would want to disrupt Nigeria’s nascent democracy by trying to stop people from participating in the governorship election.

“Do they want anarchy and disorderliness in the Nigerian society?  The citizens in the Southeast have been obeying the Monday sit-at-home order, not out of obligation but under compulsion, as they fear for their lives. 

“This same group has declared November 5 to 10 as sit-at-home and if this is achieved by the group, it will be their undoing. If this is achieved, there will be voter apathy and when there is a scanty vote, there is the tendency to manipulate election results. It will affect the credibility of the election and legitimacy of the candidate who would win the election. This will make Anambra State ungovernable and further boost the morale of the agitators. The election should hold or else it will send a wrong signal to the international community that Anambra is not ready for governance, and a state of emergency will be in the offing.

“Just last week, the United Nations officials visited Mali to inquire from the military junta when they will return to democracy. And there was a coup in Sudan, which was vehemently condemned by the whole world including UN Secretary General, Anthonio Gutares. This tells us that dictatorship and military rule is condemnable in its entirety.”

Speaking in the same vein, the National Coordinator, Anambra Redemption Movement (ARM), Amechi Okeke, urged the authorities to put all the necessary arrangements in place and ensure the success of the election.
“This election is a constitutional matter,” Okeke said. “If there is no election in Anambra, what do the agitators stand to gain? Our leaders should enter into discussion with the agitators. As this goes on, let the election hold. I will appeal that the election should be held. The constitution does not allow a vacuum, because by March 17, the incumbent will definitely vacate the seat and somebody must be there as governor.

“However, if the election does not hold, I am afraid that a sole administrator would be appointed by the president in line with the constitution of the country. My advice to the leaders of Southeast is to enter into dialogue with the IPOB as soon as possible so that they will allow the election to hold. Personally, I am prepared to cast my vote, and I believe Anambra people are ready to come out, all things being equal security wise,” he said.

The Executive Director, Civil Rights Concern, Dr. Okey Onyeka, on his part, said the threat by the IPOB and other agitators were real and could actually disrupt the election.

He said: “The fact that many people are already afraid to come out on sit-at-home days is giving them the momentum to add more days of sitting at home. Many people are now feeling that they need to change their strategy to release people from the stress they have foisted on residents.

“I do not feel comfortable about the threats as the crisis it may generate could be avoided by allowing the election to take place and the debate about the nature of the country that we want would continue.

“We are preparing for the election by sensitising people to come out and vote and choose their governor. We are also training those to observe the process and report on the management and events around the election.

“On the fears of the election not happening, I am quite optimistic it will happen as the security agencies are preparing to ‘dominate’ the space such that nobody will have the confidence to come out and cause violence or disrupt the election. We have also connected with the socio-political leaders of the state to reach out to the agitating groups and these are currently happening so that they could see reason and stop further threats to allow the election to hold peacefully.”

A housewife, Mrs. Abigail Odili from Nnewi, expressed fears about people’s safety on the election day, but said she was ready to come out and vote.

“We can see that everybody in the Igbo area respect their sit-at-home order, so it is possible that people will not come out. Not that they don’t want to come out to cast their votes but the fear of harassment and danger to their lives.

“I believe the promise by the police and government to provide security will work out.  I will come out to vote. We have to choose our governor; if voters are afraid to come out, then the politicians will rig and give us their own person.”

A Coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the South East had also last Thursday warned the IPOB against trying to truncate the election with their sit-at-home protest.

It explained that if the election does not hold on November 6 due to sit-at-home protests, it would result in total breakdown of law and order and lead to the declaration of a state of emergency.

Leader of the Coalition and Board Chair, Int’l Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law, Emeka Umeagbalasi, also warned against disrupting the election.

Umeagbalasi appealed to leaders of the IPOB and other pro-Biafra agitators to rescind the sit-at-home order so that they would not create a repeat of what happened in Imo State.

“If the election does not hold on November 6, 2021, it means you have created a state of anarchy and a total breakdown of law and order in Anambra State. What this means is that the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria cannot keep quiet and allow a part of the country to degenerate into anarchy. The only safest thing he can do is to declare a state of emergency in that state.

“I’m sure this is not what the people of Anambra State want at this point in time. With the planned sit-at-home home, we will be preparing for what happened in Imo State to befall Anambra.”

The coalition further noted that stopping the election would negatively impact on the ongoing self-determination agitation in Southern Nigeria.

“Holding it and allowing voters to vote will raise more public consciousness and the support required; and further serve as a litmus test for the agitation and emancipation of the Southeast. 

“The election, if popularly conducted and won, will also ensure the safety of the electoral mandate of the majority of the Anambra voters and loyalty and allegiance of the winner to Anambra people as well as security and safety of their faith, boundaries and territories. 

“To allow the election to be massively and scientifically rigged or to be stopped will be disastrously calamitous.” Further findings also showed that the state government has been unrelenting in its efforts to ensure that eligible voters participate in the election. The government has increased its awareness campaigns, assuring residents that their safety would be paramount before, during and after the election.

As part of the efforts, the state government would formally open the Anambra Airport today (Saturday). It had slated the opening of the airport for sometime next year.

But a source said: “Agreeing to open the airport is also part of the campaign efforts of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). You know that already, there is a lot of disenchantment in the state about the performance of the outgoing administration. They want to use it to showcase what they have done, which to me is good.”

It was, however, gathered that aside from the airport opening, officials of the government have continued to mobilise leaders of associations in the state to enable them to prod their members to come out and vote.

The Director, Media and Publicity, Senator Andy Uba Governorship Campaign Organisation (SAUGCO), Victor Ogene, argued that the threat by IPOB is an existential one that borders on the place of the Igbo within the larger Nigerian federation. He noted that the crux of the issue is how to redress perceived and real issues of alienation and marginalisation of Ndigbo.

Ogene added: “Now, the contentions swirl around how to, at least, ameliorate the situation. For us in the All Progressives Congress (APC) Anambra family, it is our take that reconnecting our state and people with the centre would be a major starting point in the efforts to reintegrate with the rest of the federation.

“Regarding next week’s gubernatorial election, we are proud to say that we are fully ready for the contest.
With our local government tours ending this Sunday, October 31, 2021, and the plethora of eminent political players that have imbibed our message of inclusion, I make bold to say that we are very ready for D-Day, November 6, 2021.

“We, however, appeal to our kit and kin who may think differently about the desirability of holding elections to have a change of heart. In seeking the betterment of our people, we must eschew any act that may lead to the avoidable loss of any life,” he said.

In the same vein, Political Adviser to Governor Willie Obiano, Chief Ifeatu Obi- Okoli, stated that APGA was not leaving anything to chance in ensuring that it retains the state. 

“These things are distractions, which APGA cannot give into. There are over 5,000 polling units in Anambra State. I don’t see how IPOB will go there and stop people from coming out to vote.

“There will be an election. The constitution did not specify that a certain number must vote in any election for the winner to emerge. The only thing is that there may be low turnout of voters but that does not mean Anambra people will not vote.

“We have seen several threats to the coming election but none has marred the process. November 6 will come and go. It will not mark the end of Anambra State. Those issuing threats can continue to do so. What I think is that there should be dialogue on this agitation for Biafra. It is not all the time that we should resort to threats. The election has been fixed and nothing will stop it. We are looking forward to that date and I am fully convinced that Anambra people will not accept anything that can derail the process.”

The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO) in the state, DSP Ikenga Tochukwu, stated that the Command was ready to protect the electorate before, during and after the election. “We are firm. Every day we are evolving new strategies to tackle security challenges as they emerge. Our deployment is deliberate and very strategic to take care of before, during and after the election period. 

“The Commissioner of Police, CP Echeng Echeng, on assumption of office on October 8, 2021, undertook a critical threat analysis and embarked on painstaking intelligence gathering through strategic deployment of our intelligence assets, robust synergy with sister security agencies, organised vigilante groups and other stakeholders.

“We have been bold in confronting all security challenges and threats and indeed we have recorded several successes,” he said. Despite the threats and uncertainties surrounding the election, the INEC has been focused on its plans for the election. It has recruited and trained its ad hoc workers and continues to distribute non-sensitive materials for the election. The headquarters of the commission in Awka has been a beehive of activities though with improved security.
A staff of the Commission, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, gave the assurance that the current state of affairs in the state would not affect the commission in the discharge of its duties.