By Dayo Benson, Political Editor
Anambra disappointed all after all. Awka and its environs were calm few hours after last Saturdayâ€™s governorship election. The tension and uncertainty that enveloped Anambra in the build-up turned out much ado about nothing after it was all over. Immediately after poll ended, it was as if nothing happened.
Apart from heavy security presence in some strategic places including Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, office in Awka and light traffic in some parts, every other thing returned to normal. But election day was a different situation. Fear of unknown kept most people indoor in theyoung hours of the day .
When it was obvious there might not be violence, enthusiastic voters trooped out in different local government across the state to exercise their civic responsibility. Late arrival of electoral materials at polling units and inability of prospective voters to locate their names in voters’ registers were two glaring lapses noticed.
In few places where voting materials arrived early enough, policemen outnumbered voters. Reason was understandable. But as the day crept on, more people turned out.
In areas were voting materials come late, voting began as late as 1 pm, three hours behind schedule.
In Aguta Local Government Area, for instance, voting materials got to most units late. At Ward 13 unit 1 which was distribution point, vehicles and motorcycles were seen conveying materials away at about 12.30 p.m. Incidentally, this particular unit located in a community civic centre was where Peoplesâ€™s Democratic Party, PDP, candidate Prof. Charles Soludo cast his vote. Before the polling materials arrived, anxious voters cutting across different ages stood under scorching sun waiting. Here voting started at few minutes to 1 p.m.
Soludo voted at 1.03 p.m. He was the third person at the unit to cast his vote ballot. With the number of voters on two queues formed, it was very unlikely all would have voted by 4 p.m when polling ended. The presiding voter told Vanguard that he did not receive any instruction to extend the period. It was however gathered that policemen at INEC office prevented voting items from leaving INEC office early enough to protest non-payment of their allowance.
It took the intervention of Abuja INEC headquarters before it was resolved. Last Friday at Anambra State Police Command where Deputy- Inspector of Police, John Ahamadu, briefed newsmen o preparation for the poll, there was an indication that policemen had not been paid their allowances.
While the DIG briefing lasted, action thirsty armed mobile policemen who were inside the premises were chanting and revving and sometimes shooting into the air preparatory to the poll day. One of them who saw a journalist clutching a black leather bag asked â€œare you the one with money?â€
Back to election day. Complaint of mix-ups in voters’ register was rife. It was a common experience in virtually all 21 local governments in the state. Voters spoken to lamented bitterly how they moved from one polling unit to another in search of their names.
In Agalu, a community in Aniocha Local Government Area where Gov. Peter Obi hails from, there were several complaints of missing voters name on INEC registers at polling centres. At a particular unit where the governor was expected to cast his vote, he disappointed hordes of journalists waiting to watch him vote. He said he would not vote as a show of empathy to frustrated voters on the queues unable to vote.
At Community Primary School Ward 3 units 15 and 16 Agulu, voting was yet to commence at 3.45 p.m. Some of those spoken to said strange names rather than those of people in the community were on the voters’ list. A large number of those who turned out to vote were said to have return home in frustration.
The presiding officer who refused to disclose his name was advised to allow the people vote since they had valid voters card. He refused initially but backed down when Governor Obi intervened. These experiences pervaded polling units in other places. It was indeed confusion galore.
Was the election free and fair?
To a large extent, it was free and fair. Free to the extent that it was devoid of violence and intimidation in most areas. Although, there were isolated cases of violence and ballot box snatching. The exercise can also be said to be free because voters were not coerced to vote in a particular manner or for a specified candidate.
In the same vein, that people came out openly to vote for a choice candidate made it fair. However, can an election be said to be fair when prospective voters with valid voters card turned up at a polling unit and could not find their names? Can an election be said to be fair when there was a perceived disenfranchisement of voters? Is it a fair election when voters with authentic voters cards were not allowed to vote even when it had been agreed at pre-election stakeholders meeting that such people should be allowed to vote? The question were legion.
Has poll provided template for 2011?
With some of the lapses noticed especially late arrival of materials and distortion in voters’ register, the Anambra governorship poll may not be ideal of what Nigerians expect in 2011 general election.
The independent observers which INEC accredited and the one appointed by the commission pointed at some of the lapses. For example, at a media briefing after the results were announced, the INEC appointed boardd of independent monitors pointed out some of them.
One is lack of adequate instructions to National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, members used as electoral officers. The board noted that the NYSC members were not properly instructed whether or not to allow voters with valid voters card but whose names are on the register to vote. Also, an example of using transportation provided by prominent politicians to convey sensitive electoral materialsÂ was also sighted.
What next for candidates?
Dr. Chris Ngige: The Action Congress candidate who came second in the election was not a true reflection of Anambra peopleâ€™s wish. Ngige noted that the election was one in which the minority elected a governor while majority stood by and watch helplessly. Ngige has therefore vowed to challenge Obiâ€™s victory in court.
Observers believe that the former governor may be seeking a pound of flesh this time around. Obi it was, whose election petition filed after the 2003 governorship election eventually led to Ngigeâ€™s exit from Government House sitting in Enugu that finally sealed Ngige fate.
Can Ngige go full distance Obi went in his petition. Analysts and even stakeholders in the state agreed that Ngige is a good governorship candidate material but his party AC is not very strong in the state. Indeed, many believed that it was Ngigeâ€™s personality and not his party that earned over 60 thousand votes he got at the election.
If his petition succeeded before the tribunal, it is not known what may happen. But if it fails, 2014 is a time. Will Ngige still be strong and relevant politically in Anambra as he is today? Will AC as a party still be able to hold its own and command more followership? At over 60 now, will age still be on Ngige side in 2014?
Prof Chukwuma Soludo
The former Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN governor was highly rated in the last Saturday election. Soludoâ€™s stature and his Peopleâ€™s Democratic Party, PDP, platform stood him on a good stand. Some opinion polls even placed him ahead of other candidates. However, his manner of emergence as PDPâ€™s candidate which other aspirants saw as an imposition worked against his failure in the election.
His third position in the polls was a bit of disappointment. Soludo was also a victim of misfortune that befell PDP in Anambra days before the election. In a true spirit of good sportsman, he was the first to concede victory to Obi and congratulated him. Obviously,Â he can still fight another day and win if the party put its house in order.
Dr. Andy Uba
The Labour Party, LP, candidate has proved himself to be a long distant runner in Anambra governorship race. From 2007 when his mandate was voided as governor after 17 days in office, Uba did not give up hope of returning to Awka Government House. He went back several times to the Supreme Court that threw him up for reinstatement but to no avail. Now that the governorship race has been won and lost, what is left for Uba? Some said he may return to PDP.
Uba who also conceded victory to ObiÂ visited him two days after the election.Â Some commentators believe that since Uba was a former governor, PDP ought to have conceded the governorship ticket to him.Â Can Uba still return even with Soludo around?
Hon. Nicholas Ukachukwu
He is one of the aggrieved aspirants that left PDP after Soludo emerged. Ukachukwy who was Hope Democratic Party standard bearer started his campaign a little late but not many were surprised about his performance in the election. It is also not known what he is up to politically in nearest future. Will he return to PDP or remain in HDP and make the party strong and acceptable in the state?
Hon. Uche Ekwunife
The only formidable woman in the governorship election, Hon. Ekwunife emerged like a bolt out of the blue.
She is also a product of PDP.Â Until she dumped the PDP for Peoples Progressive Alliance, PPA, not much is known of the strong lady of Anambra governorship election.
Her performance in the election was quite a surprise to many.Â If campaign can win election, Ekwunife deserved victory last Saturday.Â But the dynamics of politics particularly Anambraâ€™s, is deeper than campaign alone.Â No doubt like St. Paul said in the Bible, Hon. Ekwunife had fought the good fight, she had finished the race and she kept the faith, especially with Anambra people who believe in her.
For her courage to roar on a terrain where men whisper, she has succeeded in creating an Uche Ekwunife consciousness in the minds of the people. Ekwunife who returned to her seat in the House of Representatives yesterday has fought and gone away, surely she will return to fight another day.