The irregularities in the Anambra State governorship election certainly call into question the ability of INEC to deliver credible elections and, yet again, leave politics to the mercy of uncertain and, sometimes, dangerous judicial verdicts. Vincent Obia writes
Poll irregularities and protests are the two things one finds in virtually all reports issued from Anambra State since the last fortnight. And those were the things most Nigerians feared as November 16, the date scheduled for the state to go to the polls to elect a new governor, approached.
The Independent National Electoral Commission confirmed the general apprehensions on the election day and heightened doubts about its ability to deliver credible elections, especially ahead of the increasingly divisive and tension-soaked 2015 general elections.
The election day witnessed a harvest of anomalies, which reached a stalemate when the returning officer, Professor James Epoke, who is also the Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar, declared, “The rule guiding this election stipulates that if the votes from the cancelled polling units are higher than the difference between the leading candidate and the second placed candidate, no winner will be returned and, therefore, the election will be declared inconclusive.”
INEC said it would hold a supplementary election before a winner can emerge in the Anambra State governorship election.
The stalemate was what Nigerians got from over two years of preparation by INEC, hundreds of millions of naira in electoral expenditure, and months of campaigning by politicians.
The total number of cancelled votes was 113, 113, out of the total of 429,549 votes cast at the election by an accredited voting population of 451,000.
According to the results so far declared by INEC, the candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance, Willie Obiano, polled 174, 710 votes, while the Peoples Democratic Party candidate, Tony Nwoye, scored 94, 956 votes, and the All Progressives Congress candidate, Chris Ngige, had 92,300 votes. The Labour Party candidate, Ifeanyi Ubah, sored 37,440 votes.
Elections were cancelled in polling units in 14 of the 21 local governments of the state. The cancellations were mainly the result of late or non-arrival of voting materials on the election day. This logistic problem happened mostly in Anambra Central senatorial district, an area with the highest voting population and where the opposition, particularly APC, was believed to be very strong.
Idemili North and Idemili South local governments alone in Anambra Central, for instance, have, respectively, 306 and 200 polling units, 592 and 309 polling points, and 173, 832 and 85, 731 registered voters. With a combined voter population of 259, 563, the two local governments possess a huge electoral strength. Ironically, the area also bore the most terrible brunt of the anomalies that inundated the governorship election.
Idemili North council area had elections in about 160 polling units cancelled.
Nwoye could not even find his name in the voter register at his Nsugbe Central School polling centre.
In Obosi Ward 7, INEC conducted a fresh voting on Sunday, as the commission said elections did not take place in the area on Saturday due to non-accreditation of voters and absence of result sheets. But it was an election many people alleged was fixed in bad faith on a day and time most locals in the generally Christian community were expected to be in church.
The above scenario was contrary to what obtained at most polling units in Awka South, Anaocha and Aguata, and other areas believed to be the home base of the incumbent governor, Mr. Peter Obi, where accreditation and voting started relatively early.
Call for Cancellation
The candidates of the three major opposition parties – Nwoye, Ngige, and Ubah – signed a joint statement on November 17 calling for the total cancellation of the election. They based their call on alleged gross manipulation of the voter register, leading to gross disfranchisement of thousands of voters; illegal removal of results sheets, doctoring of result sheets, illegal removal of ballot booklets and thumb-printing of the ballot papers; harassment and intimidation of polling agents by security officials and party thugs; use of a voter register in some local government councils different from the voter register INEC had made available to the candidates; late arrival of electoral materials; and manipulation of results in many polling units where no polling took place.
The three candidates called the election a sham that does not reflect the wishes and aspirations of the electorate in Anambra State. To buttress their point, they cited a public admission by the INEC chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega, that some INEC staff had sabotaged the conduct of the election.
Jega had admitted the widespread anomalies in certain areas of the state and blamed them on sabotage by some electoral officials that he said would be prosecuted. Some of the electoral officials have, reportedly, been arrested.
APGA, PDP in Special Friendship
APGA and PDP were the only major parties that accepted the poll results. APGA National Chairman Victor Umeh addressed a press conference in Awka, in reaction to the rejection of the poll by the three opposition candidates. He dismissed the protests of the opposition candidates and boasted that the APGA candidate was poised for a well-deserved victory.
“As far as I am concerned the election is free and fair, those people crying blue murder have inordinate ambition. By tomorrow when the result will be out, I will face them. I challenge anybody who cares to analyse the results carefully and they will realise that APGA won in those councils where it had won in other elections in past polls. There is no need whatsoever for any of the candidates to fault the exercise,” Umeh said.
Umeh accused Ngige of being “a serial gubernatorial candidate,” and alleged that Nwoye, whose candidacy was confirmed by the Supreme Court only two weeks to the election, “was not even in the race.”
Interestingly, while its candidate dismissed the governorship poll and called for its cancellation, PDP expressed satisfaction with the election, which it described as peaceful, free and fair. In a statement by its national publicity secretary Olisa Metuh, PDP commended President Goodluck Jonathan for providing a conducive environment for the election.
“In the same vein we commend the entire people of Anambra State and all stakeholders who played key roles in ensuring peaceful and orderly conduct of the process,” Metuh said.
He added, “While we now await the official result, we wish to express our satisfaction that the election was conducted without disturbances, despite the massive importation of political thugs by the APC as well as their heinous plots to introduce violence to disrupt and rig the poll having discovered that they have been rejected by the people.
“We also commend the candidate of our great party, Comrade Tony Nwoye, for his resilience, grassroots appeal and credible outing which brought him to the forefront in the race, despite having only two weeks to campaign. This is evident in the results so far released in which he roundly defeated the candidate of the APC who has been campaigning for four months before our candidate. The PDP is, indeed, happy with Comrade Tony Nwoye’s performance so far.”
Apart from the endorsements by APGA and PDP, government media has celebrated a babel of endorsements from some largely inconsequential parties.
But it seems clear from the statements of APGA and PDP that APC’s Ngige was the target of the irregularities that inundated the Anambra State governorship election.
Road to Shame
The road to the abnormalities in Anambra State penultimate Saturday was well laid out, well known, and widely discussed. It had been widely rumoured that Jonathan, who is the national leader of PDP, had entered into a pact with Obi to concede to the latter the right to produce his successor in return for Anambra votes at the 2015 presidential election. Events in the state’s chapter of PDP prior to November 16 seemed to play out that belief.
PDP had found it almost impossible to pick an acceptable governorship candidate for the election. There were two parallel primaries held by PDP on August 24 in Awka, which produced two different candidates of the party. The primaries were conducted by factions of PDP chaired by Ken Emeakayi and Ejike Oguebego, two men who have been laying claim to the chairmanship of PDP in Anambra State.
While the Emeakayi-led primary, held at the Women Development Centre in Awka, produced Nicholas Ukachukwu as its candidate, the Oguebego faction, which conducted its primary at the Emmaus House in Awka, elected Andy Uba as its candidate.
But the PDP national leadership endorsed the primary that produced Ukachukwu.
The controversial primaries were followed by a flurry of litigations in Awka and Port Harcourt, which culminated in a November 4 ruling by the Supreme Court upholding the verdict of the Court of Appeal, Port Harcourt Division, that Nwoye was the valid candidate of PDP for the November 16 governorship poll.
It seemed clear that PDP was not prepared for a serious contest. This was ostensibly underscored by a statement by PDP National Chairman Bamanga Tukur during the takeoff of the party’s governorship campaign on November 9 in Awka that winning the election would be difficult for the party. The statement by Tukur during the presentation of the PDP flag to Nwoye and his running mate, Dr. Amamchukwu Ezike, was widely interpreted as part of a psychological preparation for an eventual concession of the state to APGA.
INEC has declared the Anambra governorship election inconclusive, despite calls for its outright cancellation. But the conclusion on many minds is that the commission is either incompetent to deliver credible elections or is complicit in a systematic attempt to fix elections in favour of the ruling party.
INEC seems caught in a tangled web of choices on the Anambra election.
Mr. Emma Ezeazu of the Alliance for Credible Election says, “INEC would want to cancel the election, but the issue is that a certain degree of results has been declared by the same INEC.
“The commission would be wishing so rigorously that somebody or a group of people would go to court so that the court can do the dirty job for them by annulling the election. But they are caught in a big web: the number of results that have been declared, their image going to 2015, and the waning trust of the Nigerian people on the body.”
But many feel INEC should have taken the bull by the horns, by cancelling the entire election when it observed the large-scale irregularities that marred the process. This was what the commission did on April 2, 2011 and April 4, 2011 when it called off the National Assembly election due to logistic problems associated with the availability of electoral materials.
“For the image of INEC, especially going to 2015, it looks to me that they should just take a bold step and cancel the election, and tell everybody to go to court if they don’t like that.”
But experts have said that INEC is not empowered by the electoral laws to cancel an election whose results it has declared. They say only the courts can do that. INEC has also said so.
Besides, the commission may not be able to take the step it took on April 2, 2011 because it has held some elections and declared their results.
Supplementary Election and the Legality Question
INEC has decided to conduct a supplementary election on November 30 in the areas where elections could not hold on November 16 or the results were cancelled. But this, again, appears to be a controversial choice. Ngige, Nwoye and Ubah have said they will not participate in supplementary poll.
Some analysts have said that there is no provision for a supplementary election in either the Electoral Act or the 1999 Constitution.
According to Jiti Ogunye, a Lagos-based lawyer, there are only four types of elections in the Electoral Act, namely, general election, bye-election, fresh or rerun election, and a run-off election.
A general election is the regular election conducted under the Electoral Act and the constitution. It includes presidential, governorship or legislative elections or election into the local government or area councils. A bye-election is conducted to fill a legislative seat made vacant by the death, resignation, incapacity or recall of an incumbent.
A rerun election or a fresh election is conducted following an order by an election tribunal, court, or election appeal tribunal nullifying the result of a particular election, and directing that a fresh election be conducted in place of the nullified or voided election.
A run-off election is conducted between two leading candidates vying for a particular office following the failure of the initial election among the candidates in an election to produce a clear winner in accordance with the law.
But Chief Press Secretary to the INEC chairman, Mr. Kayode Idowu, is quoted as saying that the commission is in line with the provisions of the law on the question of supplementary election. He said the coming election in Anambra State was a supplementary poll “because it is still the elections but in certain areas that were identified and it’s not a run-off because a run-off will be between the leading party and the runner up party. In this case all the 23 parties are taking part, so it’s not a run-off.”
The debate goes on. It looks set to continue for a long time. Like in 2006, Anambra State is again in the midst of a national malaise, trying to lead the whole country to the answer the society needs, the answer to the crisis of elections.
How the issues would be resolved is not clear. What is not in doubt is that the governorship battle in Anambra State is in for another stormy move from the political to the judicial battleground. And politics is again left to the mercy of the dicey verdicts of the courts.