By Jide Ajani
Koriko Hotel (not real name),Â Â Awka, Anambra State, was a beehive of activities penultimate Friday.Â Members of the Anambra State Election Monitoring Team, put together by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, had just concluded their meeting with another monitoring team from the European Union as well as other recognized bodies of observers.
After the meeting, a member of INECâ€™s monitoring team headed for the hotel bar for some drinks.Â There, he saw some scruffy looking individuals filling out an election observerâ€™s form.Â He moved closer to the individuals and inquired which of the monitoring teams they represented and where they got the form from.Â Mum was the response.
Further probing yielded no response. There were three of them.Â Some members of the recognized observer and monitoring teams insisted that the individuals filling the form must make full disclosure.Â One of them volunteered to go get their principal.Â Among those present as observers were Anselm Okolo, Colonel Bello Fadile (rtd) and Olufemi Aduwo.Â Time was 7 p.m.
In no time, the man who left returned with thugs who barricaded the hotel premises insisting that the observers were sent by another aspirant to come and spy on them.Â The hotel served as the operational base of one of the leading political parties in penultimate Saturdayâ€™s election.Â Unknown to the trio of Okolo, Fadile and Aduwo, the forms they saw being filled were fake.Â On the individuals were also fake identity cards as certified observers.Â From that same political party, Sunday Vanguard learnt that there were fake uniforms of members of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, fake NYSC cards as well as other materials that were bound to compromise the entire process.
Also found on the individuals was a list of persons to be paid for electoral duty, ostensibly with a view to bribing same. But if the trio of Okolo, Fadile and Aduwo thought they had landed the exposition of a big scandal, they got it wrong.
The thugs descended on them.Â Aduwo, who apparently had a camera in his bag received the worst of the beating.
In fact, he was stripped naked.Â It took the intervention of Deputy Inspector General, DIG, of Police, John Amadu, to rescue them from the mob that had become uncontrollable.Â The police also got Aduwo a spare pair of trousers.
The whole drama lasted some three hours.Â Meanwhile, the chairman of INEC, Professor Maurice Iwu, whose idea it was to set up the Anambra State Election Monitoring Team, also had to place a call to Vice President Goodluck Jonathan on the seeming menace some politicians were turning themselves into in the state. Vice President Jonathan, now Acting President, also instructed that those likely to cause trouble should check themselves.
But apart from the drama on the eve of the election, there was another matter of the election itself.Â The election started late.Â That became a big problem both for INEC and the electorate.Â Two things were responsible. First was the conduct of some police officers and men.
In fact, there was nowhere in the entire state where voting commenced earlier than 10:20 a.m. The instruction as agreed between INEC and the security agencies, specifically the police in this instance, was that no voting materials should leave any distribution centre without a police escort.
Sunday Vanguard was told that some policemen were yet to receive their approved allowances for election duties early Saturday.
It was this non-payment of allowances, according to sources close to INEC, that made most of the officers refuse to escort voting materials to designated polling stations. According to the State Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, materials had left the state office of INEC since Friday for easy distribution to local government offices of the commission.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that INEC chairman had to get in touch with DIG Ahmadu who immediately ordered that the materials be moved.
At a point, according to sources, the REC was â€œto be instructed to go on air and explain that the materials were on their way and that the cause of the hitch had been taken care ofâ€.
Then there was the second problem of the Votersâ€™ Register.
* Mix-up in votersâ€™ register
The mix-up in the register was monumental. Some voters could not find their names in the Register. But INEC had discovered a bigger problem that would have made a complete mess of the processes leading to the election. The Votersâ€™ register had been inflated with fictitious names.
Ten officials of the commission were sacked when the fraud was discovered.â€œThe sacked staffers were discovered to have entered fictitious names in the voters registerâ€, one INEC source said. â€œThe cooked up names were accompanied by either images of clearly under aged persons or blank photo spaces. The criminal action of the indicted staff led to the bloating of the votersâ€™ figures in some areas of the stateâ€.
The Commission, Sunday Vanguard gathered, discovered this fraud when it sent a technical team from its headquarters to vet and clean the votersâ€™ register. INEC was said to have set up a panel to investigate the matter and try the accused staff. â€œA number of them confessed to have acted to insert fictitious names and details in the Registerâ€, the source told Sunday Vanguard.
The only way INEC moved to remedy the situation was to purge the votersâ€™ register of some names, It was gathered that it was in the process of purging the fictitious names which were inserted by the sacked officials working in concert with the same leading political party that led to the mix-up.
This same party had instituted a voting process which had begun on Friday night, just a day before actual voting commenced. But the process remained intact.Â Most people who have commended the conduct of the elections were convinced that the process this time was very okay. In 2007 elections, the criticism was merely about the processes leading up to the emergence of some (if not) most of the candidates fielded.
An eye witness account:
It was a general problem in all nooks and crannies of the State and I do not know why INEC failed in their
duties to get things right. INEC shoddy preparations presented a big problem for the determined voters and I hope INEC will sit up in subsequent elections.
Now, despite these clearly avoidable human errors and pockets of reports of some desperate people trying to be mischievous in some areas the elections were free and fair and anybody that says otherwise is an enemy of progress. Anybody that says he was robbed in this election tells a lie from the deepest part of hell.
Any of the near 30 aspirants that say the election was not free and fair is a bad loser, a trouble maker and a political criminal. And I doubt if anyone of them will go to Court to challenge this election
â€œAll things considered, I think history was made in Anambra State and Nigerians deserve kudos for this.
It is important to note also that lots and lots of lessons were released to the public for perusal and only a fool will ignore the huge lessons of history. First, it is now clear that we can get it right if we want to. What it requires is courage, determination, hard work, honesty and integrity. The near 30 candidates who took part in the election would have learnt that winning election is not a tea party. It involves hard work, many months of sleepless nights, deployment of the precious gift of time, money, energy to mobilize supporterâ€, Joe Igbokwe, the Director of publicity for Action Congress, AC, in Lagos State,