Uncertainty, fears as Anambra votes amid security troubles

…Over 34,000 officers, 3 copters, others to secure lives, ballot

… Ensure every single vote counts, INEC boss orders staff

…Voter apathy ominous – Mohammed

…Victory ours, APC, PDP, APGA boast

…IPC establishes special journalists’ safety monitoring, alert desk

Today, the people of Anambra state will elect one of the 18 candidates as governor. This is despite the security challenges that have envoped the state and indeed the entire South-east region. ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU, TOPE SUNDAY and EMEKA NZE examine the concerns amid calls for a credible poll.

The threats, attacks, killings 

Prior to this day, there were uncertainties about the election. Recall that the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had threatened to lock down the entire South-east for six days if its leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, was not released unconditionally before November 4, 2021.

The proscribed group, in a statement by its media and publicity secretary, Emma Powerful, said the failure to release Kanu would attract a one-week sit-at-home from November 5, 2021, till November 10 with the exception of Sunday, November 7, 2021.

The threat, attacks and continuous killing of Nigerians for about a year sparked anxiety in the state as many feared that the move could make the conduct of the election impossible or bloodier. 

Police’s moves

The Inspector General of Police, IGP Usman Alkali Baba, has given directive for 34,587 police personnel as well as three police helicopters to be mobilised to the state in order to guarantee a hitch-free exercise.

In a statement its spokesperson, Frank Mba, the IGP said the overhauling included the deployment of selected seasoned strategic commanders from the rank of assistant commissioner of police and above to Anambra for effective supervision of security personnel and operations in the elections.

The statement in part, “DIG Egbunike is saddled with the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of the Operation Order evolved from the Election Security Threat Assessment, to ensure a peaceful environment devoid of violence and conducive enough to guarantee that law-abiding citizens freely perform their civic responsibilities without molestation or intimidation.

“DIG Egbunike will be assisted by the DIG in-charge of Operations, Acting DIG Zaki Ahmed. Other strategic commanders deployed to Anambra State include five Assistant Inspectors General of Police (AIGs), fourteen (14) Commissioners of Police (CPs), 31 Deputy Commissioners of Police (DCPs) and 48 Assistant Commissioners of Police (ACPs). The Senior Officers are to coordinate human and other operational deployments in the three Senatorial Districts, 21 local government areas and the 5, 720 polling units in Anambra state.”

“The IGP re-assures the nation that the Force is adequately prepared for the Gubernatorial Elections in Anambra state.

“He reiterates that the Force will do everything within its powers to work with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and all stakeholders to protect democratic values, provide level playing field for all political actors, ensure adequate protection of voters, INEC personnel and equipment, accredited observers and other key players in Anambra state.”

The candidates, total voters, the parties 

According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), over 2.5 million registered voters will decide between the 18 candidates and the parties participating in today’s election; these parties and their candidates are: Valentine Ozigbo’s is the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Also, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Sen. Andy Uba of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Sen Ifeanyi Uba as the candidate of Young Progressives Party (YPP), Dr. Obiora Okonkwo would fly the flag of Zenith Labour Party (ZLP). Others were Obiora Agbasimalo, Labour Party; Dr. Godwin Maduka, Accord Party’s; Bennet Etiaba, ( AA); Chidozie Nwankwo,( AAC); Akachukwu Nwankpo (ADC), Afam Ume-ezeoke (ADP); Geoffrey Onyejegbu (APM); Philip Echetebu (APP), Okeke Chika Jerry (BOOT Party). Leonard Ohajinkpo will contest on the platform of NNPP, Afam Ezenwafor for NRM, Nnamdi Nwawuo for PRP and Obinna Uzoh for SDP.

IPC’s initiative

In its contribution, the International Press Centre (IPC) Lagos-Nigeria announced the establishment of a Special Journalists’ Safety Monitoring & Alert Desk for journalists and other media professionals covering the poll.

IPC’s executive director, Mr. Lanre Arogundade, said the special alert desk would operate from Friday, November 5 to Sunday, November 7, to cover the immediate pre-election, the election and the immediate post-election periods.

“Journalists have been molested by security agents and political thugs during previous elections despite accreditation by INEC and nothing can be taken for granted.

“The special alert desk will monitor and document the situation of journalists and other media professionals and send out immediate alerts if they encounter problems,” he said.

He advised journalists and other media professionals on the ground to reach the special alert desk should the need arise as follows: Hotlines: +234 802 362 6281; +234 806 381 0424; +234 813 277 6441;+234 0811 450 3887. Twitter: @IPCng, Facebook: IPC Nigeria.

He, however, charged journalists covering the election to abide by the provisions of the Nigerian Media Code of Election Coverage requiring adherence to the ethical and professional standards of factual accuracy, discipline of verification, avoidance of disinformation and misinformation, avoidance of hate speech and conflict sensitivity.

INEC’s assurances

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has given the assurance that the election would be credible.

“I want to urge Anambra people to go out and vote the parties of their choice. We have received assurances from the security agencies and they said they are capable of ensuring security for all. On our part, we assure Anambra people it will be free, fair and credible election.

“The only issue we had was about card transfer. Some people transferred their cards to other local governments and some from other states. But the cards have been printed and sent to all the local government areas for distribution,” he said.

He directed all staff of the Commission to ensure that “every vote counts.” Yakubu gave the directive in his message to the Commission’s staff on Friday in Abuja.

He said despite the challenging situation in the build-up to the election, including attacks on INEC facilities, the Commission’s determination to ensure that the election held as scheduled had been unshaken.

Yakubu said in the process, INEC re-built its fixed assets and replaced movable facilities.

“We also sought and obtained the support of the security agencies, political parties and candidates and all other stakeholders for a successful exercise.”

Yakubu reminded the staff that over the next few days, all eyes would be on the commission.

“As you are aware, Nigerians expect the Anambra governorship election to be an improvement on the high standards achieved in recent elections. That is why we introduced the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) for fingerprint and facial biometric authentication of voters. We have trained staff on the new technology.”

He added that INEC had also delivered all sensitive and non-sensitive materials for the election on schedule, deployed election duty staff.

Yakubu also said INEC made logistics arrangements to move personnel and materials to thousands of locations in Anambra state where voting and collation of results would take place.

“It is, therefore, imperative for all of you to ensure that every single vote counts.

“You must remain true to our commitment that only the voters in Anambra state determine who becomes the next governor.

“In doing so, you must be guided by the extant laws, our guidelines/regulations and good conscience. You should remain vigilant, principled and committed to the vision and mission of the Commission.”

Voter apathy

A political analyst, Aminu Mohammed, in his take, said with the various attacks, threats and the number of security personnel deployed for the election, voters might lose interest in the process.

In a phone chat with Blueprint Weekend, Mohammed said: “In Anambra there is tension everywhere, people are afraid. IPOB threat is there, unknown gunmen problem is there and the security personnel will add to the fear among registered voters. 

“When people are afraid there is tendency that they will not come out to vote. So, this election may set a new low in voter turnout, in not only the state but in governorship elections nationwide. This is largely because of the worsened insecurity and escalating violence in the state.

“Nigerians and stakeholders within and outside Anambra are worried about the security situation in the state and are eager to see how the election will be conducted.” 

However, a security expert, Emmanuel Johnson, thinks the “heavy presence of security personnel in Anambra state will help build public confidence and ensure credible poll.”

He said:” I have read on national newspapers and even listened to some persons condemning the deployment of over 30,000 security personnel to Anambra. Some even claimed that a party will use them to rig. But, the question I ask is, what should the federal government do? Fold its hand and watch? Allow the rogue to have their way and prevent a democratic process from taking place?

“You see, the situation is very tense in the South-east, even more in Anambra perhaps because of the governorship election. For a peaceful and even credible poll, the Nigerian Police, Army, DSS and other security agencies have done well for the heavy deployment of security personnel to Anambra.

“We are aware that some security personnel are used to rigging elections, but most are for a better democratic process. I am optimistic that Anambra people will come out and vote as security personnel and other stakeholders will support INEC to ensure the process is credible and acceptable by the majority.”

PDP’s boasts

In a chat with this reporter, the national publicity secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Kola Ologbondiyan, described Anambra state as “a PDP state,” adding that “Valentine Ozigbo will emerge victorious.”

Ologbondiyan said: “For us, what is important is the guarantee of peace and security in the process of electioneering. The party has stated clearly that the deployment should not be an intimidation for voters who want to come out and elect their next governor. In as much as the deployment of security personnel is to ensure that there is no breakdown of law and order, it is welcome. 

“However, the PDP will totally reject any form of exercise that is designed to intimidate voters and give the All Progressives Congress (APC) the opportunity to steal the mandate of the people.”

On the chance of the PDP’s candidate, Ologbondiyan said, “Naturally, the people of Anambra state are PDP-oriented. They belong to the PDP. As such they are prepared to change the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) that presently exists in Anambra. So, the people’s candidate, Valentine Ozigbo, will win this election.”

APC’s confidence

Meanwhile, the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) has declared that it would win the 2023 general elections as well as the governorship election in Anambra.

The cecretary of the party’s Caretaker Extra-Ordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), Senator John James Akpanudoedehe, who made the declaration recently, saying, “You all will agree with me that the process of recalibrating our party into a functional winning machine in 2023 is well on course.

“With the huge membership strength we have recorded during the last registration and revalidation exercise, there is no doubt that Nigerians still trust us and that we will win all the upcoming elections convincingly, starting from the governorship elections in Anambra, to Osun, Ekiti, and the 2023 general elections.

“Nigerians, by now, have realised that the APC-led government of President Muhammadu Buhari means well for Nigerians and is doing everything possible to deliver infrastructure to Nigerians amidst difficult economic times globally.”