Opinion: Lessons From Anambra Governorship Election – By Ayo Oyoze Baje
“Election days come and go. But the struggle of the people to create a government which represents all of us and not just the one percent – a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice – that struggle continues”.
From the holistic perspectives of the preparedness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the deployment of technology, the security status before and during the recently concluded Anambra governorship election, voter turn-out and the engagement of the civil society in the democratic process one can safely state that, ‘’fair was foul and foul was fair’’, as William Shakespeare would have described it.
For enlightened and patriotic Nigerians who have been on the lookout for elections to be conducted here in Nigeria on week days, without disrupting business activities the Anambra polls would have been much better conducted. In countries such as Denmark, Indonesia, Malaysia, Norway and Puerto Rico elections go on under peaceful atmosphere without the deployment of a mass of security personnel.
As one has often reiterated, free, fair and credible elections form the firm foundation on which to build the house of democracy here in Nigeria. But as Joseph Stalin rightly stated: “It is enough that the people know there was an election. The people who cast the votes decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything”. There comes in INEC.
Considering the vast and varied experiences gathered by the electorate and more so the electoral body, over the past 22 years of unbroken democratic process, added to the huge sums of public fund expended on the polls, it should have done a better job. Of great significance too are the important lessons all the stakeholders should glean from it, ahead of the Ekiti and Osun state versions come 2022, subsequent to the much-touted 2023 general elections.
According to credible media reports, right from journalists on the field and from the Situation Room there were clearly avoidable lapses. In spite of the Voter Education and the determination of INEC to succeed, issues of long-winding delays in the supply of electoral materials to polling units and the malfunctioning of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) reared their ugly heads. In fact, Professor Charles Soludo the flag-bearer of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) party, had this to say: “Fundamentally is that technology collapsed; BVAS technology of a thing is a complete failure…Almost 12.30 pm in the day and voting is yet to start in most of the polling units in the state.”
Interestingly, he became the eventual winner of the election, breasting the gubernatorial tape with a total of 112,229 votes. His closest rival, Mr. Val Ozigbo of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, came second with 53,807 votes, while Andy Uba, the candidate of All Progressives Congress, APC, came third with 43,285 votes.
Truth be told, INEC needs to up its game by being much more proactive in its preparations for elections. For instance, it ought to have had more frequent tests on its technological facilities, especially the BVAS to avoid the software hitches. That was long before the election kicked off. And it should have had alternatives to the ad-hoc staff who refused to show up as at when due because of the threat to peace by the pro-IPOB group and the now infamous ‘unknown gunmen’.
According to the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) at INEC Office in Awka, Dr. Nwachukwu Orji some members of the Transport Union failed to show up in good time to get the voting materials to the polling units. Since similar delays have characterized previous elections right from 1999, 2003 up till to that of 2019 it should have made adequate room for Plan B.
With regards to the critical factor of growing insecurity in Anambra state and the South-East geo-political zone in general, kudos must go to the groups of elders who intervened to stem the rising tide of palpable fear IPOB visited on the electorate before the election. These include the respected traditional rulers and church leaders.
The lesson from this is that beyond the candidates signing peace accords the institutions comprising traditional and religious leaders should be duly recognized and empowered to carry out their fence-mending and flame-quenching activities. In the end, jaw-jawing pays more than stoking the fires of conflicts because anyone could fall a victim.
Furthermore, INEC, working closely with security forces should identify both the sponsors and perpetrators of various electoral fraud, prosecute them and get the guilty ones severely punished. This will definitely send a message of warning to criminals with similar intentions. According to media reports, “thugs allegedly attacked and dispersed several voters and made away with the ballot boxes. That was at 008 and 009 Notre Dame, Abatete. And at PUs 028 and 029 Halls 1 and 2, Obinagu Abatete, “ballot papers were allegedly thumb-printed and stuffed in boxes”.
The collation officer for Ihiala, Dr. Jarma Anagbogu of the University of Calabar, UNICAL, who announced the result from Ihiala, said there was no election in Orsumoghu and Lilu communities because of security challenges.
According to INEC portal on Voter Education: “Any conduct – action or inaction which is prohibited by the 1999 Constitution, as amended or the Electoral Act 2010 and a breach of which attracts punishment, is called an electoral offence. Electoral offences may be committed by INEC or Security Officials, Political Parties and their officials, Candidates, Observers, Journalists/Media Houses or the general public”.
Narrowing it down to the abysmally low voter turnout in Anambra state election with a total of 2,466,638 registered voters, while 253,388 were accredited for the election (representing a 10.273% ) challenges our understanding and practise of democracy. According to Vivian Odi Mma – the General Secretary, Alliance for Credible Elections this situation calls for serious concern. And one must add the imperative of well-coordinated action. Despite all the voter education and mobilization by both INEC and jingles from the Situation Room voters did not understand the importance of voting as a civic duty. INEC definitely needs more helping hands in pragmatic partnerships to deepen the essence and ethics of democracy.
As we join our hands to give big kudos to Prof. Soludo, as the people’s choice having won in 19 local government areas and scored 25% in all the 21 local government areas of the state, we enjoin him to walk the talk, to be magnanimous in victory. In the words of Marco Rubio: “Leadership cannot be measured in a poll or even in the result of an election. It can only be truly seen with the benefit of time. From the perspective of 20 years, not 20 days.”
Other contestants should therefore, sheath the sword and assist him in building the Anambra Project. That is what matters most, not wasting valuable time and resources in chasing shadows in court. In fact, his polling 8,283 votes to Ozigbo’s 2,485 votes and Andy Uba’s 343 votes in the supplementary election held in Ihiala local government speaks out loud and clear! He is the voter’s choice.
Coming at a time that the Senate has bowed to public pressure and rescinded its decision on Clause 52 which deals with the methods of voting and collation of results one hereby calls on Mister President to quickly sign the Electoral Amendment Bill into law in the national interest. As Tsai Ing-wen wisely stated: “Democracy is not just an election, it is our daily life”. The public’s clarion call for electronic transfer of their votes is not only the voice of the people but that of God.