On 12 November, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Hope Uzodinma of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as the winner of the 11 November governorship election in Imo State.
The poll was one of the off-cycle governorship elections that took place in three states on the same day in Nigeria. The two others were held in Kogi State in the North-central and Bayelsa State in the South-south region.
Mr Uzodinma, the incumbent governor of Imo State, defeated 17 other candidates in the poll to be reelected governor of the South-eastern state.
The electoral battle was considered a three-horse race pitting the incumbent governor against Samuel Anyanwu of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Athan Achonu of the Labour Party (LP).
PREMIUM TIMES reported Mr Uzodinma scored 540,308 votes to defeat his closest challenger Mr Anyanwu of the PDP, who scored 71,503 votes while the LP candidate, Mr Achonu, came third with 64,081 votes. None of the other 15 candidates had up to 10,000 votes.
Factors behind Uzodinma’s victory in Imo election
As the incumbent governor of the state, the victory of Mr Uzodinma at the 11 November poll did not come as a surprise to many observers, but his margin of win was unexpected.
However, some factors helped to get him reelected for a second term in office as governor of the state.
Victory in all 27 council areas
According to the results of the election announced by INEC, Mr Uzodinma won in all 27 local government areas of the state. The governor became the first governorship candidate to win in all the council areas of the state since 1999.
The feat meant that Mr Uzodinma, surprisingly, defeated other 17 candidates in their own local government areas, including the two other major contenders in the exercise: Messrs Anwanwu and Achonu, who hail from Ikeduru and Ehime Mbano Council Areas respectively.
Having defeated the other candidates in their strongholds, Mr Uzodinma raked up more votes than any other candidate to cruise to victory in the poll.
Mr Uzodinma’s landslide victory has been linked to alleged electoral malpractice, including overvoting, vote buying, ballot box snatching and intimidation of voters.
For example, PREMIUM TIMES reported that some individuals alleged to be agents of the APC, induced voters with N5,000 at a polling unit during the governorship election.
Messrs Anyanwu and Achonu, in a joint press conference held in Owerri on 13 November, also accused Mr Uzodinma and INEC, without evidence, of rigging the election for the APC candidate in collaboration with some security agencies.
They alleged the diversion of electoral materials to private residences where ballot papers were thumb-printed in favour of Mr Uzodinma.
The duo, consequently, gave INEC seven days to review the outcome of the election or “cancel the results outrightly.”
They threatened to challenge the exercise in court if INEC failed to heed their demand.
Like the candidates, some INEC-accredited observers for the election also alleged massive irregularities in the poll, including hijacking of election materials by suspected political thugs.
A group of observers, led by Kenneth Umez, the director of operations of She-for-She Initiative for Women and Girl Child, called for the cancellation of the exercise.
“The election was marred by irregularities characterised by vote buying and physical attacks on persons who were out to exercise their franchise.
“The Independent National Electoral Commission needs to address the people of Imo and the generality of Nigerians as to why voting was carried out in many polling units without the use of the BVAS meant for accreditation of voters,” the observers said.
“In several instances, security agencies were complicit as observed and shown in several viral videos where they compromised their duties of ensuring credible Election. By that, they aided and abated the massive rigging as witnessed in the Imo State election. In one instance, a voter was attacked in an attempt to expose open-day vote buying with cash,” they alleged.
“In over 2000 polling units results as uploaded and seen in the IREV, the total number of votes as allocated to candidates were higher than the actual number of accredited voters, which in all totality demerits the integrity of the Imo Governorship Elections. We, therefore, call for total cancellation of the November 11, 2023 Imo State Governorship Election,” the group added.
Alleged bad reputation of major opposition candidates
Political analysts believe that the alleged poor reputation of the two other top candidates in the poll may have accounted for their inability to garner enough votes in the poll to unseat Mr Uzodinma.
“Imo people were not given quality candidates to choose from,” one of the analysts, who asked not to be named, said.
“Uzodinma may not be the best candidate, but there were not quality opponents to challenge him,” he added.
Mr Anyanwu of the PDP, despite coming from Imo East District (Owerri Zone) which had the highest voting strength in the state ahead of the poll, failed to win a majority of votes in the district, according to results released by INEC.
Data from INEC showed that a total of 1, 032, 405 voters collected their PVCs in Owerri Zone ahead of the election while Orlu Zone with 12 LGAs came second with a total of 890,702 voters picking their PVCs in the zone.
The PDP candidate’s failure to win in his district has been attributed to his reported rift with a former governor of the state, Emeka Ihedioha, who withdrew from the governorship race ahead of the PDP’s primary in the state.
Many residents of Owerri Zone were said to be aggrieved against the PDP candidate over his alleged role in the surprising withdrawal of the former governor from the party’s primary. Mr Ihedioha, who was sacked from office by the Supreme Court in 2020, hails from Mbutu Community in Abor Mbaise LGA within Owerri Zone.
The perceived anger by residents of Owerri Zone against Mr Anyanwu may have accounted for his poor performance in the district during the poll.
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