The gubernatorial election in Anambra State held November 16, came with high hopes of being the best, but ended up tainted and inconclusive
| By Anayo Ezugwu | Dec. 2, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
NOBODY expected it of Anambra State. In fact, in the run-up to the gubernatorial election held in the state on November 16, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had assured the nation that it would be the most credible election ever held in the country. Speaking during a stakeholders’ forum at the Women Development Centre, Awka, on Wednesday, November 13, Attahiru Jega, chairman of the commission, promised that INEC had made adequate preparation to ensure a credible, free and fair election. Jega had made a similar promise much earlier, saying, “Our objective is to make the Anambra governorship election the best so far. But, no matter how hard we try, we alone in INEC cannot succeed without the cooperation of all stakeholders, especially political parties, their candidates and the people of Anambra State.”
But despite the preparation and high hopes, the gubernatorial election in the state has ended in a cliff-hanger with some of the candidates calling for its cancellation. Rather, the INEC, on Monday, November 18, declared the gubernatorial election in the state inconclusive. Thus, the commission ordered the conduct of supplementary election in some local government areas of the state, where the election was cancelled due to some irregularities.
The preliminary results announced by James Epoke, returning officer of the INEC, showed that Willie Obiano, candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA, scored 174, 710, to beat Tony Nwoye, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, who scored 94,956 votes, to the second position, while Chris Ngige, a serving senator and candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, came third by scoring 92,300 votes.
The valid votes cast at the election were 413,005, while the rejected votes stood at 16,544, bringing the total number of votes cast to 528,549 in a state that has 1, 784,536 registered voters. Epoke explained that the supplementary election was ordered because the total number of votes cancelled stood at 113,113 and were more than the difference between the votes scored by the candidate with the highest number of votes and the runner-up. The supplementary election will be held in some polling units in 13 local government areas of the state namely Ayamelum, Anambra East and West, Anaocha, Aguata, Anambra South, Ekwusigo and Idemili North.
This development must have been a great disappointment to a lot of Nigerians and, perhaps, the foreign observers because of the promises made by the INEC and President Goodluck Jonathan that there would be a faultless election in the state. To prosecute the election, the commission had deployed 349 electoral and returning officers for the election from Cross River State, a state that recently won accolades for the high integrity of its electoral processes, to the state. And to give vent to the president’s assurance, the security agencies deployed about 28000 men across the state and along with that, there was a three-day lockdown of the state.
But the assurances of the presidency and the electoral commission came under serious suspicion midway into the election on the election-day as opposition party candidates in the state began to moan that the election was programmed to fail. The first signs of trouble were the failure of the INEC to deploy election materials as and when due to many areas and notably, the strongholds of some of the opposition candidates. The election in some of these areas had to hold on Sunday, November 17. A good number of the voters were thus disenfranchised as some of them did not bother to return to cast their votes after the previous day’s experience when they had to wait for several hours for voting materials.
This gave birth to some insinuations that Governor Peter Obi and President Jonathan collaborated to return the APGA candidate. It was alleged that the presidency considered the 2013 gubernatorial election as a payback time for Obi, who has been a faithful ally of President Jonathan through thick and thin. The suspicion, apparently, caused the outcry in the opposition camp who viewed the lapses and irregularities that marred the election process as being stage-managed to ensure that Obiano was given the seat to compensate the governor.
Hence, following the announcement of some of the results, the opposition members called for a halt. Speaking at a joint press conference in Awka, Ngige, Nwoye and Ifeanyi Ubah, candidate of the Labour Party, called on the INEC to stop further announcement of the results because of the alleged widespread irregularities. They claimed that the conduct of re-run election in some polling units in Idemili North Local Government Area was a waste of time. “They can do any amount of voting they like. After consultations with our agents as well as local and foreign observers, we have discovered that what we earlier complained about was a child’s play, compared to the widespread disenfranchisement that was orchestrated by the same body given the responsibility of ensuring a free, fair and credible election on Saturday. We discovered that INEC has set up a multi-layer arrangement to ensure that most voters in the state were disenfranchised, apparently acting out a script to manipulate the result of the election in favour of a certain candidate. Where voting materials were supplied, the commission provided wrong voters’ registers.”
The candidates insisted that fraudulent practices and massive irregularities that greeted the election on Saturday had made it to fall substantially below the requirements of the Electoral Act. They said the parties were deceived by Jega who told them on Wednesday that the voters’ register was perfect. The candidates also alleged massive security lapses, which gave room for intimidation of their supporters and agents. They further alleged that there was a massive deployment of Anambra State government funds in all the polling units to buy votes. “Some of the voters were paid as much as N10,000. Having noted these points and having noted the compromising stance of INEC officials, we have come to the inevitable conclusion that this commission (INEC) is determined to go back to its old ways,” the joint statement said.
Prior to the press briefing, they had also announced the boycott of the re-run election in 65 wards in Idemili North on Sunday. The election was cancelled in the wards because election materials could not be delivered there on Saturday, the day of the poll. To register their displeasure, on the early hours of Sunday, November 17, more than 200 women drawn from the 21 local government areas of the state protested the conduct of Saturdays’ governorship election in Awka, the state capital. They said the election was not credible and called for its cancellation and conduct of a fresh one. The women, who carried leaves, expressed their disappointment with Jega. They rolled repeatedly on the road leading to the INEC office chanting, “Jega has failed us,’ and ‘He should resign or be removed.”
The women had gathered at Arroma Junction and marched through the Alex Ekwueme square, raining abuses on the policemen and soldiers. It took a combined team of police officers and soldiers to resist the women’s attempt to gain entry into the INEC premises. Angela Akukalia, spokesperson of the protesting women, said many people were disenfranchised because their names were not found on the voters’ registers. “The election materials were not even available in most polling units across the state. In areas where they were available, they arrived so late and by then, most people had gone home. Even the rescheduled election in Idemili North was fixed on a Sunday when most people go to church and would not be around to vote. This was a scientific way to rig the election. Jega has failed us. He has shown he is not capable,” Akukalia said.
The APC has also expressed disappointment on the conduct of the governorship election in Anambra State. The party, in a statement, demanded the cancellation of the entire election based on alleged massive disenfranchisement of voters. Lai Mohammed, interim national publicity secretary of the party, who issued the statement, said the disenfranchisement of voters was caused by blatant incompetent and/or deliberate sabotage of the electoral process by the INEC. He said its call for the cancellation of the poll superseded its earlier demand for a re-run in four local government areas, and was based on the report it received from its agents as well as local and foreign observers in the state.
The party alleged that INEC, inexplicably used a voter’ register that was totally different from what it gave to political parties ahead of the election. “We discovered that INEC has set up a multi-layer arrangement to ensure that most voters in the state were disenfranchised, apparently acting out a script to manipulate the result of the election in favour of a certain candidate. Where voting materials were supplied, the commission provided wrong voters’ register,” Mohammed said.
In the same vein, the Nigeria Civil Society Election Situation Room, a coalition of 40 civil society organisations that monitored the election, said the election fell short of standards. In a statement on Sunday, the coalition noted that poor deployment of logistics, materials, and incompetence of many polling officials contributed to the problems that affected the poll. Tunji Lardner, leader of the group, in the statement, said: “INEC’s conduct of the governorship election in Anambra State poses serious concerns ahead of the 2015 general elections and the Situation Room calls on INEC to change its strategy with a view to improving on its preparations for the 2015 elections.”
The election witnessed a low turnout of voters in most of the polling units visited by Realnews. The Sunday’s rescheduled election in Idemili North was characterised by low turnout. In Obosi, one of the polling stations visited by Realnews, there was a low turnout of people because most of the voters preferred to be in church. Only very few came out after Sunday services to cast their votes. Accreditation commenced in most places between 11 a.m and 12 noon, to make room for people who went to church to participate. In Obodu Urowulu, Central School, Umuata and Ire polling units, some of the voters queued for accreditation and later voted while many others declined to be part of the process.
Chuma Okeke, a voter, said he came to exercise his franchise but regretted the development that led to the rescheduling of the election in the area. He advised the INEC to ensure that such failure did not occur in subsequent elections in the country.
Nkemdilim Onubuogu, another voter, said despite the encountered problems, she had no choice but to hang on to vote for the candidate of her choice, saying it was a sin to boycott the election. Unlike Okeke and Onubuogu, Nkiru Anibugwo said she would not be part of the process because she had lost interest in the exercise considering the action of the INEC on Saturday, while Obigaeli Okafor, another registered voter, said the election was not meant for her as it was against her faith to work on Sunday.
Indeed, voters in the state have found the INEC culpable for the disastrous aftermath of the election process. In Nsugbe, many voters blamed the INEC for disenfranchising them during the election including Nwoye, candidate of the PDP. Nwoye did not vote in the election because he could not find his name in the voters’ register at his Nsugbe Ward 1 polling unit in Anambra East local Government Area. Also, his parents were unable to vote just as he alleged that more than 30 percent of his supporters were disenfranchised as they could not trace their names in the register.
Nwoye, who spoke to reporters, said the rigging of the election was pre-planned and the style adopted by the APGA in connivance with the INEC was to remove people’s names from the voters’ register especially in areas where the APGA lacked support. He said the same list that was used to disenfranchise him and his parents was the same list that they used in voting in the last election and wondered how this time around more than 30 percent of the registered names were missing. He said he tried to communicate with Jega but he was incommunicado. “I am totally disappointed. I was here as early as 8 am to get accredited but I didn’t see anybody. I went round the entire polling units in my town, in all the polling units, I met 800 to 900 people, African Independent Television, AIT, was on ground to cover. People came out in thousands to cast their votes but they didn’t see anybody. It took the intervention of Maurice Iwu, former INEC chairman, for the commission to come to our polling units. That was around 10:30 to 11 am. When they came, I checked three times without seeing my name in the register. My father who registered here did not see his name, my uncle and my relations, most of them did not see their names here.
“The election officials said I should go to enable them to settle down and sort it out. I came back, they have not sorted it out. So, it does not augur well for me as a gubernatorial candidate. I’m an honourable member-elect of the House of Representatives; I was elected in the same unit. I voted here in 2011 and now that register that had over 500 registered voters does not have up to 100 voters now. What happened? So, INEC officials removed those names over night. It doesn’t augur well because this is the only election INEC is conducting in the whole country. In 2015 when Jaga will be conducting election in every part of the country, how can he cope? And most importantly, we got a report in Obosi, Agulu where the governor comes from, that the governor had hijacked materials and used security personnel to chase people away. Even in Obosi, where I have a strong support, Obosi has more than 50,000 voters, and they don’t want people to vote,” he said.
Another complainant was Theresa Enuba, a voter, who told Realnews that her name was also omitted from the voters’ register. Enuba claimed that 90 percent of the people in Nsugbe did not see their names in the register. “My name was omitted in the register and I’m sure this was where I registered during the registration process. INEC purposely disenfranchised most of us because our son wants to be the next governor of the state,” she said.
The situation in Idemili North was worse. As Jega admitted on air, an INEC official whom Realnews discovered to be one Chukwujekwu Okeke, muddled up the election material for the area. Also Seyi Oguntuwashe, who was deployed from the INEC office Abuja, also added to the problem when she went round to retrieve result sheets which were earlier distributed to polling stations in the area. In Abatete, in Idemili North Local Government Area, neither materials nor INEC officials were seen in the area. Reacting to the situation, Onataluchi Ogwuikpor, a voter, said he had been at the community hall since early in the morning without seeing any of the INEC officials assigned to the area. “We are confused; nothing is happening; we have been at Eke-Abatete since 7 a.m. There have been movement of vehicles in and out of this place; all I want to do is to cast my vote and go home but I cannot do that,” Ogwuikpor said.
At Ifite-Abatete voting unit, only three people had voted before some people started to protest on the grounds that there were no result sheets. Corroborating the situation, Edozie Aroh, state commissioner for youth and sports, criticised the lapses witnessed in the exercise. He blamed the lapses on the poor dispatch of materials and personnel by the INEC, adding that any result from the area would not be acceptable to them. He expressed sadness that voting had not commenced as at 3.30 p.m. “It is a poor showing by the INEC; in spite of decentralising the distribution of materials to ensure easy access, we still did not get materials; people are protesting; they insist that they won’t vote without the result sheets in place. We suspect foul play because materials should have been in place by 9 a.m.; they said that the corps members were on strike, among other reasons. If results are released for Abatete, it will not be acceptable to us here,” Aroh said.
In Obosi, Idemili North Local Government Area, there was no presence of INEC officials until 4 p.m. Consequently, the community refused to participate in the process, stressing that accreditation was supposed to have started at 8 a.m. and ended at 12.30 p.m., while voting was billed to have commenced at 12.30 p.m. and ended 4 p.m.
Victor Egbunam, a resident of Obosi, expressed disappointment in the INEC, which had earlier assured the people of a free and credible election. He said that the INEC had no reason not to provide facilities for election in Idemili, considering the smooth road network in the area. “I consider this action of INEC as sabotage and a show of incompetency,” Egbunam said.
At Aguleri, Obiano, the APGA candidate, did his accreditation by 9:45 am. He said that he had not been disqualified from contesting the election as being speculated in the press. “I’m happy to be here and I’m happy to be participating in this process. Let me use this opportunity to disabuse the minds of people that I have been disqualified, I have not been disqualified, I am very much in the race. It is just a campaign of calumny by the opposition, I am very much in the race, very soon you will see me cast my vote, I urge everybody to come out and vote,” Obiano said. What precipitated the disqualification rumour was that before his accreditation, the APGA candidate surprisingly did not know his polling unit. He created a scene when he got to Eri Primary School 1, Aguleri at about 9: 30 am and queued for accreditation in the polling unit but was later told that that unit was not his polling unit. The election officials directed him to go and look for his polling unit. This, invaluably, led to the claim in the media that Obiano did double registration.
Surprisingly also, at the time of accreditations, there were no security operatives at some of the polling units visited by Realnews, including the one where Obiano cast his vote. But there was heavy presence of security personnel at some other polling units visited by the magazine, mostly in the strongholds of other governorship candidates. Despite the state-wide complaint, Victor Umeh, national chairman, APGA, has praised the conduct of the election, saying the INEC had fulfilled its promise to make it the best election ever. “We are satisfied with the way INEC has conducted this exercise so far. We are thoroughly satisfied with the conduct of the security agencies,” Umeh said.
He accused those who had questioned the credibility of the election of insincerity, adding that they were complaining because it had become clear to them that they would lose. He also dismissed the allegation that his party had rigged the election. “We will never rig election in this state. We believe in due process. We believe in the rule of law,” Umeh said. Indeed, the retention of the state by the APGA will give the party relevance in national politics after losing Imo State, another stronghold of the party to the APC. So, analysts said it would have been suicidal for the party to go to the opposition. Anambra State in the hands of the APGA also gives the ruling party the hope that it has an ally in the state. Little wonder that many of the voters who loved to vote back Ngige in the saddle could not risk voting for him because of the vicious campaign that the APC is an alien party headed by Bola Tinubu, former governor of Lagos State and General Muhammadu Buhari, former head of state and presidential candidate of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, CPC. Be that as it may, the conduct of the gubernatorial election in Anambra State promises to be one of the most contentious as candidates who felt short-changed in the election are preparing to head for the courts.
Before the legal fireworks start in the courts, political parties are already laying the foundations. On Thursday, November 21, the APC petitioned INEC over the irregularities that characterised the election on Saturday. In the petition, the APC demanded that Chukwuemeka Onukaogu, state resident electoral commissioner should be transferred, arrested and then prosecuted for allegedly ruining the election. The petition signed by Bisi Akande, APC chairman and Tijani Tumusah, interim national secretary advised that a new resident electoral commissioner should be appointed to supervise a fresh governorship election and not a supplementary poll in the state. “To proceed with election as proposed by INEC will amount to a gruesome assault on the right of the people of Anambra State to elect a governor of their choice and legitimising of a great travesty of the electoral process as witnessed during the November 16, 2013, guvernorship election. APC also want the election cancelled because officials of the Nnamdi Azikwe University, Awka, were recruited as supervisory presiding officers by Onukaogu, contrary to INEC’s directive that nobody from the institution should be used for the exercise since Nkem Okeke, APGA’s deputy governorship candidate, was a senior lecturer in the university.
APC also debunked the claims by INEC that only the courts had the power to cancel the election. “A correct reading of the Electoral Act 2010 as amended is to the effect that INEC cannot reverse itself where a candidate in the election has been returned as a winner. This has not been done. Indeed, INEC had on November 18, 2013 declared the election as inconclusive. The commission is duly empowered to reject the purported results as announced. It is instructive that it is the prior cancellation of results by the commission that has led to the affected areas being included in the areas for which the supplementary election is to be held,” it said.
While APC is speaking with one voice, the PDP is emitting a discordant tone. The PDP at the national level through Olisa Metu, its national secretary espressed satisfaction with the conducted of the election but Nwoye and the state PDP have rejected the election.
For the time being, Nigerians are watching keenly to see how the game will play out in the end.