Amid multiple bloodbaths in the building-up to the election, a thick blanket of security provided by over 40, 000 armed and unarmed security operatives, and confusion occasioned by a sit-at-home order nearly imposed by a separatist group, the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), residents of Anambra State, yesterday, filed out to vote for a new state executive.
Besides serving as one of the bellwethers for the 2023 presidential election, the guber contest was also a reference point in militarisation of the election, even as it was characterised by fear, tension and malfunction of devices.
Except for a few incidents of ballot box snatching, the exercise was largely peaceful, with claims of voter apathy and massive voter turnout coming from different camps.
As was the case during the gubernatorial elections in Edo and Ondo states, there were widespread and brazen cases of vote-buying in some polling centres in the state. Some of the polling units, where this took place include PU 007 Fegge Pay Office 4, Onitsha South, PU 09, Odokwe Village Square II, Nteje 1, Oyi Local Council, and Polling Unit 002, Nteje 3. In these and many other polling units, agents of some of the frontline political parties were busy doling out cash to voters, while others were writing down names of those that had already cast their votes. The amount given out ranged from N500 to N2, 000.
Even though the election was largely peaceful due to the heavy deployment of security personnel, it was, however, marred by the late arrival of electoral materials, and the delayed distribution of the same.
Again, technology almost threw the spanner into INEC’s works with diverse shades of complaints trailing the poor functioning of smartcard readers, and the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), which made the biometric process stressful and very slow.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the first time deployed the BVAS system for accreditation of voters in a major election. Some members of staff of the electoral umpire deployed for the election experienced technical challenges using the devices to capture voters in some parts of the state.
Peeved by the development, the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Prof. Chukwuma Charles Soludo lamented: “This BVAS technology is a complete failure, and by almost 1:00 pm in the day, voting is yet to start in most of the polling units in the state.”
Soludo, who expressed shock over the breakdown of the BVA System at his Polling Unit 002, Ward 13, at Ofiyi Square, Isuofia in Aguata Local Council, said the devices deployed in the state were the reasons that many voters failed to vote in time or voted at all.
His words: “I have been here since 11:30 am to cast my vote but the card reader is not working, so I have to wait for five hours for INEC to bring a functioning card reader which enables me to vote by 5:08 pm to vote”.
“I don’t know if the malfunctioning of card readers in my ward was a calculated effort to reduce my votes, we have 15 polling units in Isuofia Ward but only five polling units didn’t experience the problem of the card reader. I am sure of winning the election no matter the turnout of voters, everyone is aware that Anambra is APGA and APGA in Anambra. If only 10 persons came out to vote, APGA will still win,” the former Central Bank governor stated.
But Governor Willie Obiano had, as early as 9:28 am voted at his Otuocha Ward 1 with his wife, where he also urged the people of the state to go out and cast their votes.
Obiano commended the electorate for braving the odds to discharge their civic responsibility.
Interestingly, despite earlier concerns that violence could mar the exercise in the eighth most populous state in the country, and the second smallest in landmass after Lagos, the election went with little or no violence.
A former governor of the state, Mr. Peter Obi, while commenting on the issue said he knew that the governorship election would be peaceful.
Obi who spoke after voting in his polling unit at Agulu Ward 1, Anaocha Local Council, however, said there was delay occasioned by the late arrival of voting materials and malfunctioning of BVAS in some parts of the state.
“I have been here since morning waiting for this process to commence. It took quite a while for the process to start, but I must say that now that they have started, it went well,” he said.
“But I have been getting calls all over the state. For most communities, it is the issue of non-arrival of all voting materials across the state.
“I got calls that machines are not working and of course, here it was delayed for a long time which shouldn’t be. There should be improvements in all these but you can see that there is not much improvement,” he said.
The candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Valentine Ozigbo, who also experienced challenges with the BVAS, also lamented that he used his hotspot to connect the BVAs system before it worked.
“We had to use hotspot before it worked, while I commend INEC for the technology, I want to say that it must be improved. So, I call for an extension of time to ensure every eligible voter votes if it is not their cause, I am expecting a minimum of one million people to vote out of about 2.5 million registered voters.
After casting his vote alongside his wife, Orjiugo, at the PU 010, Social Centre Square, Amaesi Ward in Aguata Local Council, at about 11:00 am, Ozigbo pointed out that there were places where election materials and officials had not arrived at about 11 am. He thanked “God for the clement weather,” adding, “ a moment ago, my wife and I fulfilled our own part of the obligation which is to cast our votes.”
While some frontline politicians condemned the hitches, Nkem Okeke, deputy governor of Anambra, who recently decamped to the All Progressives Congress (APC) begged to differ, and described the governorship election as the smoothest he has ever seen.
Speaking to journalists after casting his vote, Okeke said the BVAS functioned properly and the biometric process was stress-free.
He applauded the “massive” turnout of voters whom he had earlier thought would be discouraged by the security problems and general apathy. He also described the process as being “very transparent.”
However, the INEC extended the voting process to make room for lost time. The revised closing time, however, applied to areas where polling units opened after the commencement period of 8:30 am.
As early as 8 am, some polling units in the state had started witnessing the arrival of eligible voters, while some voters helped INEC officials to set up their systems in some voting units.
INEC officials did not arrive at some other polling as of 2 pm yesterday. Worst hit was the Ihiala Local Council, Anambra North Senatorial District, where no INEC official was cited in any of the polling units as of 2:30 pm.
At Alor in Idemili South, most eligible voters including the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, could not perform their civic obligation as of 2.30 pm following the malfunction of the BVAS.
At Aguluzuigbo, the country home of the former National Chairman of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Victor Umeh, the story was the same as several eligible voters did not perform the exercise.
Lamenting the inefficiency of the BVAS machine, Ngige, who arrived at his Nkwo Ide Square Polling Unit at about 12.30 pm, asked the commission to conduct a “mock election” a month before a major election as a way of testing its facilities.
The minister who tried severally to be captured for voting without success was bewildered as the machine kept saying, “please ensure you are smiling and try again.”
Afterwards, Ngige stated that Alor alone recorded a failure rate of 25 percent of the BVAS machine. “I pray it doesn’t get to 30 per cent. This is alarming. It is supposed to be at least five per cent failure…”
It was gathered that the delay in deploying the electoral materials to the polling units was created by the inability of the commission to secure vehicles that could convey them.
The Guardian learnt that most transport operators contacted by the commission declined to convey materials to the polling units due to fears that they might be attacked while doing so.
“So it was this morning that we were able to procure some transporters who agreed to convey some of the materials and staff to the polling units”, an INEC source told The Guardian.
The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) in its preliminary statement on the conduct of the poll, noted that despite concerns over the heavy deployment of security agents, very few incidents of intimidation and violence were reported, thereby defying the context of fear and uncertainty that preceded election day.
The group regretted that security agents were frequently absent at the commencement of accreditation in several polling units, which likely heightened uncertainty among voters and officials, just as it said that the persistent incidents of the failure of the BVAS across numerous polling units, impaired the smooth conduct of the elections, and will likely disenfranchise some intended voters.
The lateness of officials in commencing accreditation and polling, CDD said left many voters frustrated, necessitating INEC’s extension of the voting period till 4 pm.
It also noted the incidents of electoral malpractice including vote-buying have been widespread and will likely impact the credibility of results. By way of recommendation, it called on security agencies to continue to respect human rights and standard rules of engagement and to secure voters as well as INEC staff and infrastructure. We also call on civic and pro-democracy groups to remain vigilant, especially during the collation and announcement of voting results.”
Furthermore, “we urge INEC and its officials to ensure the diligent counting of votes, especially since voting collation will likely stretch into the night. We urge INEC to properly train its officials in the use of its BVAS devices.”
The group added: “We implore voters to remain calm and, where possible, to monitor the outcome of the polls up to the announcement of the results. We also call on political parties to remain calm and to do nothing to compromise the integrity of the election.
Meanwhile, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) has commended the patriotism of corps members engaged in the conduct of the guber poll.
The director-general of the scheme, Brigadier General Shuaibu Ibrahim, made the commendation, yesterday while monitoring the exercise in nine local councils.
He said the corps members had written their names in the annals of history, having contributed towards the entrenchment of a credible electoral process.