INEC on threshold of history again

From Romanus Ugwu To many, Nigeria has not witnessed the kind of governorship election holding in Anambra this weekend. Literally, the November 6 poll for Governor Willie Obiano’s successor has all the trappings of a war. Even a child can feel the tension associated with the build up to the mother of all elections. From […] The post INEC on threshold of history again appeared first on The Sun Nigeria.

INEC on threshold of history again

From Romanus Ugwu

To many, Nigeria has not witnessed the kind of governorship election holding in Anambra this weekend. Literally, the November 6 poll for Governor Willie Obiano’s successor has all the trappings of a war. Even a child can feel the tension associated with the build up to the mother of all elections.

From the intrigues that characterised the emergence of the political party’s candidates, endless litigations, alleged politically motivated killings and abductions, campaign of calumny to the escalating insecurity pervading the state, it was too much  scary disposition for one election.

The inkling to the befuddling uncertainty beclouding the build-up to the poll started with the spate of violence and destruction of the facilities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the state.

The magnitude of destruction, according to the Commission was colossal and millions of Naira worth of facility was pushed down the drain and initially posed a big threat to the successful conduct of this weekend’s poll.

While quantifying the level of damage and devastation, National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, regretted that two stores housing electoral materials, 376 generating sets and seven utility vehicles (Toyota Hilux) were completely burnt in the coordinated attack on its state headquarters in Awka.

“In what is a major blow to our preparations for the November 6 governorship election, two stores housing electoral materials were burnt. New and old (but serviceable) electric generating machines numbering 376 for all the Electoral Wards and the extra numbers for backup were completely burnt. The electric generators were recently relocated from the Local Government Areas (LGAs) to the State headquarters in the belief that it is more secured than the LGA offices.

“Similarly, as part of the Commission’s proactive measures to ensure the success of the governorship election later this year, about 50 per cent of the non-sensitive materials required for the governorship election already delivered to the state have also been lost in the fire. In addition, seven utility vehicles (Toyota Hilux) were burnt,” Okoye lamented

Curiously, the usual healthy pre-election engagement between the participating parties and the electorate through political campaigns were frighteningly disrupted or aborted with the sting-operation from the alleged dreaded militant wing of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) popularly known as Eastern Security Network (ESN), unleashing mayhem, sorrow and blood on innocent people that dared to violate the standing order not to engage in any campaign rally.

To match words with action in implementing the unofficial directive in their determination to disrupt the election, there was economically sabotaging imposition of sit-at-home order every Monday or whenever they deemed necessary; critical facilities and institutions were destroyed, innocent persons, security agents, including the policemen attached to one of the candidates, Prof Charles Soludo, were either severely injured or brutally murdered during campaign rallies.

The dangerous hostile attacks during those rallies were no respecter of political parties or politically exposed individuals, as low, high and mighty, including political leaders like the incumbent governor, Willie Obiano, his predecessor, Peter Obi and party’s candidates were allegedly molested and in extreme cases chased out of campaign grounds.

Underscoring the glaring security challenges in the state ahead of the election, National Chairman, Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC) and the African Action Congress (AAC) boss, Dr. Leonard Nzenwa, pungently painted ugly pictures, emphasising that insecurity and voter apathy are certainly the major threats and cog in the wheel of progress INEC recorded.

“The situation has not yielded the desired comfort that will provoke critical mass of electorate to go out and vote. Sadly, the governorship candidate of Labour Party in the Anambra guber, Obiora Agbasimelo, who was kidnapped months back, have not been let off the hook even with millions paid as ransoms by his family and well-wishers to his abductor.

“It is a terrifying situation. Within the week, unverified report across multiplicity of media, had it that over several thousands of adhoc staff recruited for the polls are declining to go to the state on account of the high insecurity in the state,” he quipped.

In reality, there have been endless mutual suspicions, allegations and counter allegations bandied around the candidates. In fact, the incontrovertible reality is that the build-up to the crucial Anambra governorship election had been anything but peaceful and rancour -free.

Regrettably, there were scary claims in some parts of the state that wearing or displaying any branded political party insignia or openly holding political meetings was not only regarded as a taboo but also tantamount to passing automatic death sentence on the culprits.

The usual electrifying, convivial atmosphere associated with political rallies for a very big election of this nature was completely missing almost throughout the build-up to the poll. The situation actually portrayed this year’s governorship poll as one of the most unattractive and colourless campaign rally in the political history of the state.

It was that threatening that campaign rallies were held outside the state while some stakeholders contemplated and even called for postponement of the election to allow the turbo-charged security situation sometime to calm down.

However, it was not all a celebration of woes because despite the apparent security situation and other challenges confronting the election, INEC had continued, on an upward trajectory, to wax strong in the implementation of its timetable and schedule of activities even though with trepidation and cautions.

The hydra-headed and litigated emergence of party candidates were conclusively resolved legally, update of the voter registers were logically conducted, rebuilding of INEC’s vandalised offices and replacements of the damaged facilities were equally carried out comprehensively.

Again, the plotting of the antidote to the security situation has been progressing successfully. Deployment of electoral materials both non-sensitive and sensitive, effective engagement of relevant stakeholders especially the security agencies were top-notch, just as surmounting the difficulties in sourcing and recruitment of ad-hoc staff have all been conclusively carried out.

However, with the police deployment of an unprecedented number of personnel in addition to similar deployment by other security formations for the election, there is confirmation that this weekend’s poll may be among one of the most militarised governorship election in the country.

Reading the riot act, the Federal Government through the National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Mungono, had warned that security agents will not sit idle and watch disgruntled elements, bent on looting, destroying public property, and resorting to intimidation, terrorizing people and committing possibly arson and homicide during this weekend’s poll.

“We all know how important an assignment the election in Anambra State is, not only for those of us who are supposed to ensure a hitch-free exercise, but for the people who are expected to vote. The exercise must be devoid of rancour, apprehension, tension, and all those factors that lead to suspicion and people ending up in courts or even into violence.

“I want to reassure the general public that the security agencies are going to do everything within their power to ensure that the people of Anambra State undergo this exercise without any incident. In the same vein, I want to offer a word of brotherly advice to our brothers and sisters in the state who may want to use unorthodox means and methods that are unusual to destabilise an already delicate situation, to please think again.

“We are all eager to achieve results in this election that will be acceptable to everybody. I don’t think it will be helpful to anyone to go out and ignite something that might cause pain for the good, peace loving people of Anambra, under whatever disguised.

“The law enforcement agencies, in as much as they are to operate in accordance with the requirements of their profession, will not sit by idly and allow people to start looting, destroying public property, and resorting to not just intimidation, terrorizing people, possibly arson and even homicide. This will not be accepted. Law enforcement agencies have been asked to watch out for such elements,” he warned.

To actualise the threat, the casualties figures have already started building up, as the combined team of security agents, comprising the military, police, Department of State Services (DSS), in commando fashion, have engaged the militant wing of IPOB in show of might and exchange of brute force in some parts of the state.

On the flip-side however, the clincher or game charger in this weekend’s governorship poll, according to political watchers, will be the deployment and test running of the much publicised new technologies that the commission plans to fully use during the 2023 general elections.

Despite resolving the controversy surrounding the deployment of electronic transmission of election results, including the use of newly acquired upgraded technology, the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) with the electoral umpire securing approval from relevant quarters, there are still lingering of enhancement of electoral credibility and legality of the use since the amendment has not been signed into law.

More importantly, INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, had while praising the efficiency of the new technology and highlighting some endemic challenges detected during its pilot use in the Isoko South 1 State Constituency bye-election in Delta State, promised some adjustments to perfect the use.

According to him; “we introduced the BVAS for efficient human recognition through a biometric verification mechanism using both fingerprint and facial recognition of voters. The result of the pilot in the 84 polling units was very encouraging indeed. It took an average of just one minute for the device to correctly locate the voter in the system and another two minutes to authenticate a voter.

“In terms of the ruggedness of the device and its battery life, no single BVAS was replaced due to discharge of battery throughout the voting period. Most importantly, the device was able to guarantee the credibility of voter accreditation by preventing the incidents of multiple voting or the use of stolen PVCs to vote. All voters were accredited electronically using the BVAS. The use of the incident form was eliminated: The State Constituency bye election was historic in this respect”, he quipped.

However, beyond the apprehension surrounding the deployment of BVAS technology for test run in a sensitive and important election of this nature, has the Commission tackled the detected challenging shortcomings as promised?

Again, further than the razzle-dazzle and blessings associated with the deployment of technology, two very pertinent recurring factors the electorate and political watchers would crave for assurances are the twin recurring issues of voter apathy and vote buying involving all the key stakeholders.

Expressing fears of voter apathy, IPAC hinted that: “with all that is taking place there, with the huge money playing its role as it is still doing, with the state playing her role as they are doing, and currently still figuring out how possible they can creatively tame the audacity of the so called ‘rascal aggressors’, those we do fear might not play their role are the people, the electorate”, IPAC boss, Nzenwa noted.

However, there seems to be no going back judging by the confidence and assurances from the electoral umpire. “INEC is determined to proceed with the 2021 Anambra governorship election as scheduled,” Prof Mahmood reassured, emphasising: “the safety and protection of voters, our personnel, accredited observers, the media and materials are cardinal considerations in any election. We have been assured by the security agencies of a secure environment for the election.”

Head or tail, INEC is, in reality, actually on the threshold of history to not only conduct a credible, acceptable free and fair governorship election this weekend, but also convince Nigerians of its readiness for a well organized poll ahead of the 2023 general elections.

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