Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Anambra Guber Poll: The Fortes and the Foibles

The February 6, 2010 gubernatorial election in Anambra State has come and gone but the memory of the poll will linger. The issues and debate on the election has dominated the political scene since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) released the Notice of Poll on September 8, 2009. The election was unique in many ways. It marks the beginning of staggered elections in Nigeria as a result of judicial pronouncements. It is a one race poll where only one office, that of the governor was contested. The poll was vied for by the highest number of aspirants and candidates in the political history of Nigeria. A whooping 47 aspirants bought the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) nomination form to contest the party primary while a total of 25 political parties successfully nominated candidates to contest the election. The poll was also dogged by litany of litigations as aspirants in some of the political parties went to court to contest the validity of the nominations of their parties. The last of the court judgments that could have scuttled the election was the one delivered by Justice Mohammed Liman on February 4 when the learned judge agreed with the petitioner, Action Congress (AC) in Osun State, that INEC as presently constituted (with only four out of the 13 members of INEC board remaining in office) do not have the required number to form quorum and as such incompetent to conduct or organise any election in Nigeria.

Even though there were 25 candidates in the Anambra gubernatorial elections, only six of them got significant media attention. They are the candidate of PDP, Chukwuma Soludo, that of Labour Party (LP), Andy Uba, Prince Nicholas Ukachukwu of Hope Democratic Party (HDP), Governor Peter Obi of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Uche Ekwunife of Peoples Progressive Alliance (PPA) and Chris Ngige of AC. The culture of political debate was revived during the campaigns in Anambra State. Various interest groups organised debates for the candidates with the most prominent one being that of Anambra Rebirth Group on January 26, 2010. To a large extent, there was issue based campaign in Anambra while unprecedented level of political tolerance was also noticed. On the streets of Anambra, billboards and posters of all the contestants could be seen without one being destroyed for the other. The election also featured the wide use of opinion polls in order to influence voters. Unfortunately for the bookmakers, they were proved wrong as the eventual winner was not the one projected to win. As an accredited observer in the February 6 election, I saw that political parties and their candidates did not joke with the monitoring of the election procedures through their party agents. In the six local government areas visited by my team, we saw that the aforementioned six high profile candidates had their agents at the election materials distribution centres as well as most of the polling stations.

There were no reported cases of violent clashes among the supporters of the candidates as they crisscrossed the 326 wards of the state to appeal for votes. There was also no death recorded either during the campaigns or the actual election. All these are positive signs that are worth noting. Even the fear of arms-build up and sewing of fake police uniforms raised by the Inspector General of Police (IG) Ogbonna Onovo did not precipitate major violence during the election. The poll was largely peaceful with only isolated pockets of violence recorded. This says much for the professionalism of the police and other security agents deployed for the election. It would be recalled that over 230,000 officers and men of the Nigerian Police were mobilised for the Anambra gubernatorial election.

I also witnessed many positive things done by INEC. I saw high level of professionalism and dedication among the presiding officers and polling clerks that manned the polling units. They were courteous and cooperative with the voters, observers and party agents. They also tried as much as possible to follow the electoral guidelines. INEC had also provided voting cubicles in order to guarantee secrecy of ballots while we also learnt that all the ballot papers, ballot boxes and the result sheets have serial numbers, thus making them easy to track. Accredited observer groups, local and international as well as the media were able to follow through the preparation and conduct of the election, thereby contributing to the transparency of the poll. Among the other positive things observed in the Anambra election was the enthusiasm of the electorate who trooped out en-mass to perform their civic duty. Old and young, male and female they fished out their voters’ card and marched to designated polling stations to cast their ballot.

Unfortunately, many of them were disappointed. Their names could not be found in the printed electronic register. Many of them scurried from one polling unit to the other in the vain hope of finding their names on the voters’ register, all to no avail. I recall the scene that greeted my team as we got to Amafor Civic Centre in Nkpor, Idemili North Local Government on that fateful election day. No fewer than five potential voters accosted me to assist them locate their voting centre or convince the presiding officer to allow them vote. Sadly, as an observer, I could not interfere in the electoral process and as such could not be of help to the hapless voters. The resultant effect of the flawed voters’ register is that, of the 1,844,815 registered voters in Anambra State, only 301,232 voted at the election. The total valid votes cast was 284,547 while 16,685 were rejected. In simple arithmetic, 1,543,583 registered voters (about 84 per cent) were completely disenfranchised. This is preposterous! I also noticed that the distribution of voters per polling units was lopsided. On the average, there were supposed to be 500 voters in a polling unit. In some of the polling stations visited during the poll, the numbers ranged from 3,700 to 50. In places where the numbers on the voters roll was on the high side, it took longer time to accredit each voter as the polling clerk had to peruse huge sheaves of papers to locate the name of the voter. The flaw in the Anambra gubernatorial poll was topped by the late commencement of election in many of the 4,623 polling units. The exercise meant to start by 9am could not take off until about 11am and past noon in many places. This is quite untoward.

Graciously, INEC had admitted its fault on the flawed voters’ register and late commencement of poll. In fact, it has scheduled a verification and revalidation of voters for April – June 2010. However, in my humble opinion, what the Commission need to embark on now is a fresh voters’ registration exercise. The February 6 poll, in spite of the highlighted errors and inadequacies, has produced a winner in the name of the incumbent, Peter Obi. I say congratulations to him. It is also heart-warming to see that many of Obi’s fellow candidates had voiced their displeasures on some aspects of the poll but had rather decided not to challenge the outcome of the election at the tribunal nor call out their supporters to riot. Some have even congratulated him. This is noble and commendable. As Governor Obi gets inaugurated for second term on March 17, 2010, one of my key recommendations to him is to conduct elections into the 21 local governments of Anambra State without any further delay. It has been long overdue. The Anambra poll has also underscored the imperative of genuine electoral reforms. This is urgent, more so as INEC prepares to release the plan for 2011 general elections in March.