After weeks of intense and bitter election campaigns, it is gratifying that the electorate in Anambra State will tomorrow elect their governor. Having listened to the contestants and compared notes, the voters are now better equipped to choose the person that is best qualified for the job, despite the mudslinging that characterized most of the campaigns. They must be allowed the freedom to choose their governor without any interference whatsoever.
For this exercise to be seamless, over 21,000 police officers and other security agents have been mobilized to ensure adequate security during the exercise. This is in addition to the 5,000 regular police and special police units that are deployed to take care of the situation on the ground.
Besides, the police have deployed water boats to take care of the waterways while police helicopters are already deployed to take care of aerial surveillance during the exercise. The need for water-tight security in the 21 local government areas, 326 wards and 6,200 polling units in the state cannot be over-emphasized in the face of threats of a boycott by some groups.
All the security agents deployed for this election must work patriotically for its success. They should not take sides with any political party. They must be neutral and impartial in their conducts during the exercise. All the same, election in the state, especially governorship one, is indeed a big event and the stakes are so high.
There are so many interests to contend with. Apart from being a gateway state to the Eastern heartland, Anambra is a highly viable commercial state. With clusters of industries around Nnewi axis, Anambra State can easily be transformed to be the Dubai of Africa and the Silicon Valley of the United States.
The fact that 37 political parties are participating in this election shows that it is a big political event. It can be rightly regarded as the biggest political event in the state. That is why it is going to be keenly contested. So many people and groups are very much interested in who will be in charge of Government House Awka.
The three senatorial zones of the state are important in this election even though Anambra North had most of the leading contenders, probably because of the zoning formula in the state. Similarly, the deputy governorship’ slots are almost shared between Anambra South and Anambra Central with leading ones in Anambra South.
The outcome of the election will establish firmly if the zoning formula in the state is really working or not. However, other factors that cannot be enumerated here for want of space and other reasons will come into play in this election. This is because the political awareness in the state has been raised some notches higher since 1999 when this democratic dispensation was birthed after years of inglorious military dictatorships.
There is no doubt that the voters in the state will speak with their votes tomorrow and it is good that their voice is heard and their wish duly respected by all those in charge of the election. Ordinarily, there will be no cause for alarm as election, which is a civic duty for all citizens of voting age, should be enjoyed and not be dreaded as it is the case in Nigeria, where electoral contest has been reduced to a do or die affair. For some people, electoral contest is like going to a war front.
There is urgent need for a change of this ugly electoral narrative for the better. Nigerians need not be killed because of election. In the same vein, Anambra people should not be killed because of this governorship poll. Therefore, efforts should be made by INEC and other stakeholders to make it a pleasant exercise for all eligible voters, especially those that will be voting for the first time.
As the people of Anambra State go to the poll tomorrow, one issue that will be germane to its success is the need for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to maintain a position of absolute political neutrality in the conduct of the poll. The United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa and Sahel, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, has also spoken along this line and urged the Prof. Mahmood Yakubu-led commission to be professional and neutral in the conduct of the poll.
Their doing so will confer credibility to the outcome of the poll. Like a referee in a football match, INEC must conduct the exercise according to the laid down rules. There will be no change of rules in the middle of the game. All biases on the part of the umpire must be clearly ruled out. Let INEC use this poll to prove that it is truly independent and show that it is beyond manipulation from any quarters.
The lapses of previous elections must be rectified before the poll. Anambra poll should be an improvement on previous ones. INEC officials must be above board in this exercise. They should be disinterested in who emerges the winner. The neutrality and impartiality of the electoral umpire will largely ensure that the poll is free, fair and credible.
Although the provision of adequate security is very important in the conduct of the election, every other thing depends solely on the umpire to make the outcome more transparent, credible and acceptable. Therefore, all eyes are on INEC to make this happen. It is not in contention that Anambra election is a litmus test for INEC and an indicator to what to expect in 2019 general elections. Getting the poll right will show how far INEC can go in 2019.
Let it be emphasized that in every election, there must be a winner and a loser. The parties to the Anambra poll must bear in mind that only one candidate will emerge victorious. All participants, their parties and supporters should go into the contest without bitterness.
They must embrace the spirit of sportsmanship and conduct themselves responsibly throughout the exercise. I strongly believe that if INEC conducts a free, fair and credible poll, the outcome will be accepted. But those who may feel aggrieved with the outcome are free to approach the electoral tribunal for redress. On no account should they resort to self-help.
Above all, INEC must ensure a level playing field for all the contestants and get its logistics, especially the card readers and others, right as well. Since the Resident Electoral Commissioner in the state, Dr. Nkwachukwu Orji, has assured of a free and fair poll in the state, let the umpire just do that. That is the minimum Nigerians expect from it.