As the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State draws nearer, there are growing concerns among stakeholders, observers and analysts about the potential credibility of the outcome amid the worsening security situation in the state.
There has been an upsurge in violent attacks in the state recently mostly blamed on “unknown gunmen” suspected to be the banned Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) militants, who have brutally enforced sit-at-home order issued to protest the incarceration of its leader, Nnamdi Kanu.
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Though the country’s security authorities have mobilised huge number of personnel to the state to douse tension and guarantee a smooth electoral process, the series of arsons and armed attacks on state institutions, unabated killings of security agents and civilians across the southeast states and the secessionist group’s threat to impose a 10-day sit-at-home order, November 5-10, have elevated the fears that the election will be of substantially poor quality.
In addition, the internal politics of the major political parties in the state have long been riven by disputes arising from primaries, which all ended in courts and caused defections from one party to another ahead of the election.
The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), in its election briefing, analysed how the combination of insecurity, political intrigue, and operational difficulties will likely shape the conduct and outcome of the Anambra governorship election.
According to CDD, the slew of violent attacks in the state, often attributed to IPOB, seemingly targeting the key state institution involved in conducting elections, and the group’s pronouncements would sustain an elevated level of apprehension among INEC staff and the general public and could affect the conduct of the election.
“The fact that the group’s sit-at-home orders have, over the past three months, been greeted with a measure of public compliance particularly in Anambra State, suggests that its threats to lock down the state during the election are not mere bluster.
“Indeed, the election is of symbolic importance to the group for several reasons. For one, as indicated in the group’s announcement of the election boycott, IPOB views the polls as a substantial bargaining chip in its bid to have its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, released.
“In addition, given that Anambra State is considered the unofficial home of the movement, the election represents an opportunity for the group to either boost or diminish its credibility in the very context from which it draws much of its support.
“A successful boycott of the election will also greatly bolster the group’s claim to be tipping the scales of public opinion in the South East away from state-level democratic politics and towards a region-wide demand for a referendum on Biafran independence,” the centre said.
CDD, however, said despite the IPOB threat, there are several overriding reasons why the election is likely to still hold.
IPOB’s calls for a boycott of elections both in Anambra in 2017 and across the South East during the 2019 general elections were ultimately reversed ahead of the election.
This, according to CDD, suggested that the group’s announcement of election boycotts is reversible and that the public is primed to take such threats with a grain of salt.
“However, the possibility that the election will be held amid the boycott will elevate the threat of election day clashes between IPOB members and the police, weakening the quality and credibility of the electoral outcome,” it added.
The whirlwind of legal disputes which produced Chukwuma Soludo of APGA, Ventile Ozibo of PDP and Andy Uba of APC, the three major parties in the election, would have possible implications for the conduct and outcome of the election, the centre argued.
In addition to the disputes which resulted in political realignments of stalwarts, CDD said the power of incumbency, the reputation of front-running candidates, and the reach of the contending parties seem to hold the most weight in accessing their prospects in the election.
“Of the three main contending parties, the APC appears the most disadvantaged in incumbency terms, boasting no Anambra representatives in either the state assembly or either of the two houses of federal parliament.
“Given its association with the Buhari administration, which has historically been deeply unpopular in the South-east, the APC will have a steep hill to climb in respect to winning popular support ahead of the election.
“Nevertheless, given its continued dominance at the federal level and since the party exerts influence over the security forces and other levers of state, it would be premature to entirely write off the political prospects of its candidate Andy Uba,” it said.
Finally, a much smaller party, the Young Progressive’s Party (YPP), boasting a single Senator in the National Assembly, has emerged as a potential contender with Senator, Ifeanyi Ubah, putting himself forward as the YPP’s gubernatorial candidate. Ubah belonging to a united and relatively untainted political platform might make him a potential wildcard in the coming polls.
In addition to the security climate, whether or not party appeals and the reputations of candidates will have an influence on the electoral outcome will be shaped by the credibility of the electoral process, especially as it regards INEC’s capacity to conduct a free and fair election.
The centre acknowledged that INEC has made some noteworthy strides in its preparations for the Anambra polls with the introduction of the Bi-Modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) – a voter accreditation technology that uses both fingerprints and facial recognition – and the creation of over 1,000 additional polling units in Anambra, making balloting both more accessible to voters and less likely to be encumbered by lengthy queues.
“However, the commission has been affected by the wider climate of insecurity, not only in the form of direct attacks to its offices and equipment but also through losing working days amid the enforced sit-at-home orders.
“Nevertheless, INEC has asserted that it has recovered from the earlier cited attacks on its facilities and should be in a position to organize polls. This is fairly conceivable given previous experience gained in 2015 and 2019 by INEC and security agencies in holding elections in highly conflictual regions, including in parts of Borno and other northeastern states threatened by terrorist insurgent groups.
“The fact of this being an off-cycle election will also make possible the substantial deployment of civic and election observer groups from elsewhere in the country, which will contribute to reinforcing the integrity of the polls. While the ongoing training of electoral officers and ad hoc staff will also contribute to shaping the conduct of the elections, its wider record of preparations suggests that the commission is likely positioned to carry out an at least moderately credible poll,” it noted.
It said despite the likelihood that elections in some form will be held in Anambra on November 6, it is also likely that the context of insecurity, a measure of latent public support for IPOB, the heavy deployment of security forces, and the acrimonious political competition leading up to the poll will depress voter turnout.
It, therefore, urged all relevant stakeholders to exhaust all reasonable avenues to ensure that the democratic franchise of Anambra voters is delivered.