By Omoniyi Salaudeen
The Anambra State gubernatorial election scheduled for November 6, has unexpectedly assumed a front burner in the national discourse for no reason other than the emerging spectre of violence that has seized the state ahead of the poll. Debate is also raging about the merits and demerits of the use of electronic transmission of results.
Besides the Federal Government’s threat to declare a state of emergency to deal with the deteriorating security situation and the sharp reactions that followed, the possibility of the electoral umpire conducting a free, fair, and credible election under the current tensed political atmosphere is equally un-assuring. Arising from this dilemma, some opinion leaders are already weighing the two options available in the present circumstance.
One of these is the possible postponement of the election to douse the tense. The other is a suggestion calling on the security agencies to collaborate with the internal security arrangement in the Southeast to guarantee the safety of lives and property of the people during and after the election.
Those in support of the former option view the fear already instilled in the minds of the people as a recipe for massive rigging by way of capitalizing on the likelihood of voters’ apathy that might likely result from the ensuing situation of uncertainty.
A former governor of the old Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, explained this better in a telephone interview with Sunday Sun.
He argued: “Now, there is violence and fear. If this fear continues and it will continue up to the 6th of November, then many people will not come out. And that will be a good situation for rigging. Therefore, I will like us to discuss with the government a postponement of this election for about two or three months and then we work out also things that will calm the nerves to make people wanting to be able to come out and vote without fear.
“I am saying that November 6 is too near for action that can be taken to assure that people can come out to vote without fearing for their lives. And not just postpone and go and sleep, all of us from Anambra State will come down and work on the insecurity that has been introduced in the state. We have seen that some of the unknown gunmen are beginning to be known. And the ones known are not from the state. When the unknown and now known, it will be easier to deal with. It was difficult to deal with unknown gunmen’s situation. But now that they are beginning to be known gradually, it will be easier to deal with either their sponsors or those being sponsored.”
On the contrary, Chief Chekwas Okorie, who is also a respected opinion moulder in the Southeast, expressed a preference for a collaborative arrangement between the security operatives and the internal security network in the region as against postponement.
He said: “Security agencies have the responsibility to do their job and reassure the people. A couple of days ago, the Southeast leaders of which I am also a part took far-reaching decisions on how to deal with the insecurity using the internal mechanisms. It is for the government to synergise with the leaders in the Southeast to make sure the election holds. But the idea of a state of emergency should be jettisoned. It shouldn’t even be given a thought at all.
“Nobody should contemplate a state of emergency. It is a measure that will definitely worsen the situation. It will almost be tantamount to a declaration of war on a section of the Southeast region. And no government should be associated with that because many states in the country are in a war situation and the government has not considered the option of a state of emergency.”
The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee on anti-corruption, Prof Itse Sagay, also weighed in, saying “one has to leave everything to the judgment of the INEC and the security agencies.
“It is for them to assess the situation on the ground. If they can do it without postponement, then let them do it. If not, then an alternative route to democracy has to be sought, pending the establishment of an atmosphere of peace in which a valid and credible election can be held.”
As far as INEC is concerned, the surest way to ensure the credibility of the process is the electronic transmission of results. But the latest amendment of the Electoral Act by the Senate has set tongues wagging over the desirability or otherwise of the electronic option.
In all of these arguments, however, a preponderance of opinions expressed by the stakeholders support the constitutional powers granted to the electoral body to decide for itself the appropriate modality considered to be suitable for its assignment.
Ezeife, speaking further on the raging debate, declared support for the INEC on its position to transmit election results electronically.
“If INEC is sincere, we support the use of electronic transmission of results. My position is that INEC should work according to the constitution. The constitution gives INEC the power to conduct the election and do it as it deems right. It is not for the National Assembly or even president to tell INEC how to transmit election results. INEC has integrity and wants to live by integrity. Therefore, we totally support the electronic transmission of results”, he declared.
Okorie, also sharing the same view, said “it is the electronic transmission that everybody expects that should be used. And INEC already had an experiment on it in elections conducted all over the country, including Edo and Ondo states governorship elections. And all of these have proved to be credible and transparent. So, the Anambra State election should even be an improvement on that process. It shouldn’t even be given a second thought. It shouldn’t be a second option either.”
He, therefore, urged the Senate to use the opportunity of the joint committee of the National Assembly set up to harmonise its differing positions to redeem itself.
“First of all, INEC has constitutional powers to conduct elections in the country. But coming to the amendment to the Electoral Act done by the state, I think the Senate has an opportunity to redeem itself by adopting the House of Representatives version now that a joint committee has been raised.
“Otherwise, what the Senate did was not only embarrassing, but also self-indicting. The House of Representatives is more in line with what Nigerians want. If for any reason, Senate bulldozes its way through, it will be shot down by the court because the role of INEC is constitutional. It cannot subject a commission established by the constitution to the whims and caprices of the authority of an organ of the executive arm of government like NCC,” he added.
Similarly, Sagay, shedding further light on the issue, gave INEC a legal declaration of support for its stand on e-transmission of results.
His words: “I have listened to all sides of the arguments, I know that the Senate is opposed to electronic transmission of results. But INEC is saying that it already has the powers under the constitution and various other legislations to conduct the election and transmit results electronically. I agree with INEC. It has the powers based on various documents and legislations it has cited. I don’t think this position can be refuted or disputed.
“I don’t know why the Senate is opposed to electronic transmission of results. Honestly, Nigeria is an unusual and difficult country where every little thing has to be argued, fought, and quarreled over. In a civilized world, a world where people who constitute it want to make progress, the transmission of results electronically is faster and more accurate. I don’t think that there should be any doubt about it that the Chairman of INEC is correct and the Senate is absolutely wrong. They are just playing bad politics. The apprehension about the possible failure of the communication network is a misplaced apprehension because electronic transmission is also backed up by ballot papers. Wherever there is any disagreement about the validity of figures, all they have to do is to count the ballot papers and the ballot papers will always win. That is the way it is all over the world.”
While reacting to misinformation being promoted by some electronic media on a state of emergency declaration, he clarified that under no circumstance can the state governor and house of assembly be suspended.
“Let me also quickly educate the Nigerian public on a very illiterate view that is widespread in the country about the declaration of a state of emergency. Surprisingly, it is widespread among supposedly educated Nigerians that once you declare a state of emergency, then the governor will be removed and the house of assembly will be suspended. That is absolutely illiterate and completely wrong. Under the 1999 constitution, the most extreme power that can be exercised by the Federal Government under a state of emergency in a state is that the National Assembly can make laws in areas where the state is unable to make laws because the lawmakers are unable to meet. The state house of assembly remains in place; it is not affected by a state of emergency. The governor remains in place; he is not affected by a state of emergency. If you are in doubt, I will like to refer you to Section 11, paragraphs 4 and 5 of the 1999 constitution. I have heard it from respected radio stations and respected television sprouting a dangerous view that a state of emergency means suspension of the governor and the state house of assembly. That needs to be corrected. You cannot touch the governor or the state house of assembly under any circumstance whether there is a declaration of a state of emergency or not. These positions cannot be affected under any circumstance,” the SAN said.
Another renowned constitutional lawyer, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, also lending his voice, declared that “INEC has an unlimited power to do anything on elections. It can ignore the Senate amendment because it is inconsistent with the provision of the constitution.”
As the time ticks steadily towards November 6 scheduled poll, people are getting increasingly apprehensive about the atmosphere of uncertainty hanging precariously over Anambra State.