Elections in Nigeria have always assumed the status of a war on their own. Unlike the conventional war, this war is fought with deep war chest, propaganda, blackmail, intimidation and other rough tackles. Since the advent of democracy in the country in 1999 after many years of military interregnum, the story has been the same. Politicians, at every level, have devised various ingenious means and methods to win elections. In this game, the electorate who are supposed to freely express their wish and preference through the ballot box, often finds themselves either marginalized or disenfranchised.
All these came to the fore recently in Anambra State, south-eastern Nigeria. For two days, November 16 and 17, 2013, the electorate fanned out to their different polling booths to elect a new governor who will take over the running of the affairs of the state from Peter Obi, the incumbent governor, whose tenure expires in a few months time. That election featured about 23 contestants, all eyeing the exalted seat. Everything was thrown into the campaign. But try as they all did, it was clear that only one person would emerge victorious. That was a settled matter.
Except for a supplementary election, scheduled for Saturday, November 30, the election is yet to produce a clear winner. Expectedly, the election has raised more questions than answers. Many of the gladiators are crying foul and blue murder. The electoral body, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is facing a barrage of accusations over its less-than-tidy conduct of the election.
The politicians considered the election as crucial. In the first instance, Obi, the incumbent governor, saw the election as an opportunity to make a bold statement by installing a successor on the platform of his party, All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA. In actual fact, Anambra State is the only state under the control of this party which is largely considered the platform of the people of the South-east, the Igbo. That probably accounted for why all through his whistle-stop campaigns, Obi had to invoke the spirit of the late Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, ex-Biafra warlord, the
Ikemba Nnewi and the founder of the party who is highly revered in Igbo land. Perhaps, this was a subtle way of reminding the electorate that they owed their progenitors a duty to keep their ancestral link and umbilical cord intact.
For the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, the election was an opportunity to reclaim the state they lost to APGA eight years ago. But the entrance into the race by Tony Nwoye, its candidate, barely two weeks into the election after a protracted court case, could not have been to win. It could possibly have been a grand ploy by the PDP to divide the votes. This is because of the fear that Chris Ngige, a former governor of the state, now a serving senator and candidate of the All Progressive Congress, APC, was believed to be capable of springing a surprise at the election, thereby, upsetting the applecart. That fear may not have been misplaced. The APC considered the election a test of its avowed determination to take over the government at the centre in 2015.
Therefore, the party believes winning the Anambra election would be a catalyst that will propel it in 2015.
Ifeanyi Ubah, the candidate of the Labour Party, who was making his first appearance as a candidate for any elective office in the state, ran a good campaign, particularly in the media. He told whoever cared to listen that he had the magic wand to turn things around in the state. He went as far as boasting that he could deploy his personal resources into the governance of the state, if need be, and if he is eventually elected by the electorate. But he soon found out that securing votes in an election was far different from lifting oil or selling goods in the market. Anyway, the four were those considered to be serious contenders in the election which ended in a deadlock.
INEC too did not come out clean. Going by the elaborate preparations it claimed to have made, the electoral umpire was not expected to have any issue as far as the voter register was concerned during the poll. But that was not to be. Many names were said to be missing in the voter register. Two cases in point are that of Nwoye, the PDP candidate, and as alleged by him, his family members.
So many others’ names were also said to be missing from the voter register used for the election in his ward.
The question that readily comes to mind is: Given the fact that INEC had discovered that the voter register to be used in the electoral process in Anambra State was fraught with problems, which it had enough time to put right, should any name still be missing in the register? Again, from past experience in this country, it is very certain that one of the strategies compromised electoral umpires usually employs to subvert the will of the people during election is the use of delay tactics in the deployment of election materials to areas considered as stronghold of a candidate that might create an upset in the poll. It is against this background that Ngige’s condemnation of the electoral process is seen by some observers of the election as justified.
Long before the election, INEC should have considered the geography and topography of the state, and correctly estimate the distance from one council area to the other. If this had been properly done, it would have enabled the commission to plan the distribution of sensitive materials based on its findings. Certainly, the agency had more than enough time to plan for the Anambra election, if nothing else, to show its readiness and competence to carry out the forthcoming 2015 nationwide election.
Regrettably, the agency has consistently failed to carry out hitch-free election each time. Like Attahiru Jega, the INEC Chairman, admitted: “INEC prepared for that election more than it had ever prepared for any other election in the past. There is no doubt that INEC’s operational capability could not be said to be its best but we did our best under very difficult circumstances.” That storyline seems to be familiar. But when will this umpire live up to expectations in view of the vast resources put into it?
By any standard, the announcement by INEC that supplementary election will hold in 210 polling units spread across 10 local government areas of the state is an admission of failure. It is the reason the winner of the election could not be ascertained yet since there are 21 councils in the state and a winner must score two-thirds of the election in 25 per cent of the councils.
As things stand now, none of the three frontrunners, namely Willy Obiano, Nwoye and Ngige, has secured the majority votes and spread required by the Electoral Law to emerge winner on the first ballot. Even though Obiano, the APGA candidate, secured the most votes of 174,710 out of the 429,549 total votes cast, his 79,754 votes more than that of the PDP candidate, Nwoye’s 94,956 votes were less than the 113,113 votes that were cancelled by INEC in different polling units of the state. Therefore, to determine the ultimate winner, a total of 113,113 votes will be up for grabs in the supplementary election. It then follows that the winner of the Anambra election and his supporters will have to tarry awhile for the victory dance which will only come after the result of the supplementary election is announced.
Curiously, the talk of supplementary election has not gone down well with some of the candidates in the election, and they have vowed to boycott next Saturday’s election if INEC did not cancel the whole exercise. That will cast a dark spot on the integrity of the whole election. And the country would again come under the trauma of endless court litigations which have been a regular feature of our politics in Nigeria. INEC should endeavour to learn from past mistakes and extricate itself from the litany of errors that have become its moral albatross in the conduct of elections.
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