Tomorrow, Saturday, November 18, the 2.2 million registered voters in Anambra State will file out to elect a new governor for the state. The nation has looked forward to this election for several reasons. It is probably the most keenly contested gubernatorial election in Nigeria, with 37 registered political parties fielding candidates. Secondly, the nation sees this election as a dress rehearsal for the 2019 general elections. In other words, the performance of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in the election will indicate its level of preparedness for 2019. Only an exceptional performance in tomorrow’s election can boost the confidence of Nigerians in the ability of INEC to properly conduct the impending general election.
We are, however, encouraged by the fact that the INEC chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has shown himself to be a credible and fair umpire, as demonstrated in the agency’s handling of the Osun and Bayelsa states by-elections. We hope he will continue on that path and ensure a credible exercise tomorrow.
It is important for the electoral agency to note certain things. One of these is that elections often fail because of the failure to ensure the most elementary things, such as the number and distribution of electoral officials. We urge the electoral agency to review the report of its experience in 2013. It should not repeat the errors and tardiness in the distribution of electoral materials, and the late commencement of accreditation and voting, particularly in Idemili North, Idemili South and Ogbaru Local Government Areas.
Every effort should be made to ensure that the election is trouble-free, and conducted as scheduled. Troublemakers should know that Section 131 of the 2010 Electoral Act, as amended by the 2011 Electoral Act, prescribes stiff punishment – a fine of N1 million or six months imprisonment or both – for offenders who may wish to disrupt the poll in any way. Again, the Constitution does not envisage a power vacuum, so the election must hold. Any action taken to prevent the election from holding puts Anambra State at risk of being placed in a state of emergency, with all the imponderable consequences that this entails.
The political campaigns have lived up to expectation in terms of competitiveness and have so far witnessed no violence. For these, all the political parties deserve commendation. As the campaigns are rounded off today, we expect greater discretion, moderation in rhetoric and unimpeachable conduct. Anambra has had a poor reputation for the integrity of its politics and the self-control of its politicians. We hope the markers set down four years ago, which led to a peaceful election and transition, are maintained in this election cycle.
The security services are promising a smooth operation in Anambra State with an armada of 27,000 policemen, 300 motor vehicles, three helicopters and 15 gunboats. The Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) has also mobilised 15,000 members. Although the security authorities began rather badly with the embarrassing Police withdrawal of the security detail of the incumbent governor, we feel reassured with the positive response of not only the National Assembly but also the Presidency, through which Governor Willy Obiano’s security detail was promptly restored. It is a matter of regret that after 17 years of democratic rule, a governor could willfully be stripped of his security detail, with the flippant explanation that “his ADC will be returned to him early Sunday morning after the governorship election on Saturday, November 18.”
We expect the police to live above board tomorrow. We also hope that soldiers will be kept out of sight during the election as their presence under any guise would likely heighten voter apathy in a population that already views the military with a great deal of alarm.
The idea of quarantining the state and blockading inter-state highways thereby preventing other Nigerians who have no business with the election from going to their destinations is primitive, counter-productive and nothing short of the typical penchant of Nigerian security services personnel for inflicting pain on other Nigerians for no just cause. There is absolutely no reason why travelers should not use the express roads that run through Anambra State to go to their different destinations, when they do not interfere with the elections.
On the whole, we expect a free, fair and credible election. The INEC and the security agencies must conduct themselves in the manner of patriotic and neutral umpires. All stakeholders in the election should be law abiding. The collation and announcement of the results should be trouble-free and fair to all the contestants. We expect the election to be a celebration of democracy and a reflection of the will of the people of Anambra State in the choice of their governor.