Residents of Nigeria’s South East state of Anambra can finally heave a sigh of relief with the conclusion of the Governorship Election on Tuesday.
Held on Saturday 6th November and concluded on Tuesday, 9th November 2021 with a supplementary poll, eighteen political parties and candidates ran in the governorship race, as voting took place in about 5,720 polling units across 326 registration areas in the 21 local government areas of the state. Although, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had previously announced that there will be no voting in 86 Polling Units (representing 1.5% of the state’s total units) because there are no registered voters there.
In the build-up to the election, the commission had carried out a number of developments including an announcement of a Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) to guard against voting by identity theft, creation of 1,112 Polling Units (PUs) in addition to the existing 4,608 Polling Units, printing of 81,778 Permanent Voter Card (PVCs) for 77,475 newly-registered voters and 5,674 voters who made requests for transfers, update of voter information and replacement of lost or damaged cards.
Beyond recent political developments in Nigeria’s South East region and initial threats by non-state actors to frustrate any election in the state. The November 6 Anambra Governorship election was for many; a litmus test of INEC’s preparation ahead of the all-important 2023 general elections across 29 states in the country. These elections comprise Presidential and Governorship, as well as National and State Assembly elections.
While general expectations were largely met in the areas of security, as well as transparency of the voting and collation processes, a number of issues have arisen from the polls. These issues include the election management body’s preparations for the exercise which has revealed that a lot of work still needs to be done in order to ensure deepening of Nigeria’s electoral system.
A. Vote Buying
Proving more difficult than ever to be halted, the Anambra Governorship election, as with other elections in the country experienced massive offer of cash for votes by major political actors in the state before and during the polls.
Although there are reports of some female residents rejecting cash offers of up to N5,000; the election commission has a lot of work to do towards putting a stop to the ugly practice. Ultimately, in line with various propositions that have been made by civil society groups in the country, as well as INEC itself; the time to establish a National Electoral Offences Commission is over due.
Electorates must have and be seen to possess the choice to vote for their candidates of their preferred political party without any form of inducement, while stringent punishment must be meted out on anyone involved in electoral malpractice to serve as a deterrent to others.
B. Voters Turnout
Beyond the 2007 elections where it recorded 68% voter turnout, subsequent elections in the state recorded 16% (2010), 25% (2013) and 22% (2017) as the percentage of voters that turned out for voting. A pattern that indicated a likely repeat of low voter turn out at the polls.
While the heightened tension in the state and the South-East region as a whole had provoked fears of low turn out for the election, security arrangements and political developments in Anambra before and during the election had doused its increased political temperature. Notwithstanding these gains, the issue of voters’ apathy remains a huge setback in deepening Nigeria’s electoral process.
From the final results announced by the electoral commission, a total of 241,523 valid votes were cast while 8,108 were void. The total voters accredited for the election was put at 253, 388 (10.27%) while 249,631 votes cast represents only 10.12% of the 2,466,638 registered voters in the state.
For a republic where majority of its citizenry are expected to make crucial decisions as election of leadership, a paltry 10% out of nearly 2.5 million registered voters deciding the fate of an estimated population of over 11 million residents in the state is far from the ideal. Equally, it further presents an urgent need for radical campaigns to stem the worsening tide of voter apathy in Anambra and the country in general.
C. Logistic Concerns
Following the inability of the commission to conclude the election on Saturday, November 6 due to issues arising from Ihiala Local Government Area of the state, it scheduled a supplementary poll in the affected council area with an alteration in the timing for the commencement and end of the voting process.
INEC announced that it has moved the time for accreditation from 8:00am to 10:00am while voting which was normally scheduled to end at 2:00pm was extended to 4:00pm. Multiple news report still revealed that its officials were yet to leave the departure venue for their assigned polling units as at 09:45am on the day; leading to delays in the commencement of the polls.
Disappointment by the transport operators were highlighted in many quarters as the reason for the occurrence, but statistics prove that the development was regular with the commission; during some of the elections it conducts. This event more than ever underscores the need for the commission to work on fail-proof measures in order to forestall such challenge, especially as it prepares for the general elections in 2023.
D. The Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS)
INEC’s deployment of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) was the first time it will be used at a major election; was tipped to be a major game changer in the Anambra Governorship polls as it was intended to enhance the integrity of the voting process in particular.
Deployed primarily for electronic fingerprint and facial accreditation of voters, BVAS eliminates the use of incidence forms where the Smart Card Reader (SCR) is for any reason, unable to authenticate a voter. This thus decreases the chances of voting fraud but doesn’t totally eliminate the probability of disenfranchising eligible voters unable to be captured.
It had been hailed by various stakeholders as crucial in curbing the issue of voter’s disenfranchisement. Election observers also described the innovation it as promising for transparency in the electoral process and a milestone in the march towards renewed calls for electronic voting and transmission of poll results. An innovation
At the November 6 Anambra Governorship election however, the voters’ authentication process was not as smooth as expected, following various reports that the BVAS malfunctioned in several parts of the state, resulting in massive delays and time wastage during the voting process.
These issues range from non-functioning of the BVAS machine, slow verification, network failure, inability to capture the faces of some voters who got the PVCs when they were younger and inefficiency on the part of the presiding officers were recorded in places like Amawbia II, Awka South LGA, Nkwo Ide Square in Idemili South LGA and Ufuma Ward II in Orumba North LGA, Amesi, Isuofia all in Aguata LGA; Ozubulu in Ekwusigo LGA; and Alor in Idemili South LGA; leading INEC to extend the voting time in parts of the state.
Save for a test run carried out during the September 11 Isoko South Constituency I bye-election, INEC had consistently assured the electorates of a stress-free accreditation process with the device. This is in spite of complaints by some presiding officers still complained about the machine’s difficulties in capturing the thumbs and faces of some of the voters, especially the aged at Oleh, a council headquarter in the state.
While the BVAS can be described over all as a responsible improvement from the manual accreditation and card reader system, INEC would still need to do more in the areas of training for its staff on the use of the device, work on recruiting more software experts to handle similar issues as they arrive and collaborate with relevant stakeholders such as the Nigerian Communications Commission as well as the Telecommunication providers in the country to surmount the issue of network challenges.
These steps must be seen are most important for a country that looks forward to a gradual transition from an inefficient manual electoral process to electronic-driven voting and collation process; beginning from the much-talked about electronic transmission of results.
E. Militarisation of Polls
Ahead of the just concluded election, the Nigeria Police Force deployed 34,587 operatives, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps [NSCDC] deployed 20,000 personnel while the number of military officers were unknown.
While the massive deployment of security agencies to Anambra is understandable, Nigeria as a democracy must begin to take concrete steps towards a total movement from militarised polls; so as to ensure voting takes place in an atmosphere devoid of real or imagined intimidation by security forces.
The election has been adjudged as largely credible and peaceful, but critical stakeholders like the security agencies deserve commendation for the high level professionalism they displayed throughout the period. Most notably, the joint activities of security agencies led to the foiling of an attempted disruption of the supplementary election as the operatives effectively engaged some Unknown gunmen in a shootout for about three hours, at the border town of Orsumoghu town; just two kilometres from Orsu Local Government Area in Imo State.