Opinion: From Awka with tears – An eyewitness account of the election in Anambra

by Udo Jude Ilo

anambra_state_election_day_1The lessons from Anambra election were painful. The events of the day captured in my view the dysfunctionalities of the Nigerian state. INEC cannot be removed from the larger challenges facing the country but it has created a standard for itself which it has acquired notoriety for falling short.

Anambra State in Nigeria occupies a position of both historical and political importance. It produced the first (non-executive) President of Nigeria and a major force in Nigeria’s independence struggle in the person of Nnamdi Azikiwe. The Vice President under the 2nd Republic Chief Alex Ekwueme was also from Anambra State.

It boasts of an array of distinguished Nigerians who have made their mark locally and internationally such as Chief Innocent Ifediaso Chukwuma who pioneered local production of automobiles in Nigeria. Belying this geographical enclave with less than desirable urban planning and infrastructure is also the biggest market in Africa which is found in Onitsha bordering the famous Niger River.

Sadly, this great state has achieved unprecedented political infamy since the return to civilian rule in 1999. It created a new record in political god fatherism when a sitting governor was kidnapped and nearly forced to resign.

It was the state where an election petition for a governorship election lasted for nearly three years in a four-year tenure. It was also the state where the impeachment of a governor was found to be without merit and it took months to get the governor back in office. The local government structure in the state has been under constant battering. Given its chequered history, Anambra is a lesson in what is wrong with our ‘democracy’.

Thus the election on the 16th of November was not just an election but a huge opportunity to navigate away from a history of dysfunctional democracy that is gradually tilting towards normalcy. This tilt to normalcy however appeared to have been brutally stopped on its tracks.

I travelled down to Anambra state with hundreds of other civil society observers who not only understood the significance of the governorship elections but also its implications for Nigeria’s general elections in 2015. INEC had also framed the election as a test of its preparedness for the 2015. The stakes were clear to every participant including political parties who were keenly aware of how the outcome of the elections will boost or diminish their chances in the 2015 general elections.

It was in this electrifying atmosphere that the elections commenced.

In the morning when we made our rounds across the state, it appeared normal and we were very optimistic that the elections were going on fine. By midday, it all took a disturbing turn. What become obvious was the chasmic difference between the glowing rhetoric of Atahiru Jega (The INEC Chair) and the dysfunctional system on ground.

It is important to point out that INEC has never been in deficit of good intentions. It has always by words and posture coupled with the impeccable goodwill of its chair portrayed good intentions. However, these ‘good intentions’ seems to be restricted to the words and office of the chairman.

The reality is that there is a disconnect between policy framework and practice; between projections and the on-ground structures to achieve them; between assumptions and realty and most worrisome between principles and practices. Inherent in this disconnect is the constant cry against late arrival of election materials or bungled logistics arrangement; poor deployment and capacity of election staff and poor sensitization of the public. These factors reared its ugly head in Anambra in a manner that severely damaged the credibility of the election.

The worrying question is how long INEC will continue to make the same mistakes all over again. Like the Civil Society Election Situation captured it in their report, this is a case of perennial incompetence. With this kind of incompetence (though some Nigerians argue that it is more of sabotage), the 2015 election with all its strategic importance is in grave danger.

The events of the election also revealed the disappointing quality of our political parties. It is not just the usual case of election malpractice which cuts across the three major political parties contesting for the election, but sadly the inability of the political parties to perform the basic functions required in an election. It was pretty obvious that most of the political parties did not review the voters’ lists that were shared to them which resulted in the omission of numerous names in the voter register.

There was poor sensitization of the people resulting in very poor turnout. Vote buying, thumb printing of ballot papers, and other electoral offences were routinely carried out. It was really sad to hear stories of voters dispensing with their votes for about N500 ($3). This not only exposes the poverty in the land but the fact that rather than address poverty, political parties exploit it.

Another sad reality of the Election Day was the level of faithlessness that people had in the process. Across the board, many people I interacted with said there was no point in voting since the result of elections were already determined. People had no qualms aiding electoral malpractices. You get the sense that the election is just a season of activities with little relevance to the quality of governance. This citizens’ apathy is sustained by the poor quality of governance and is not also helped by INEC putting its credibility and character to question.

The death knell for the election in Anambra was the fact that for some reason (sabotage from an INEC staff) elections were not held in Idemili North the stronghold of one of the opposition candidates. INEC management of this crisis was disastrous. While acknowledging its fault, it did nothing to elicit confidence; and the hurried announcement for a supplementary election the next day which was a Sunday felt more like panic than troubleshooting.

The lessons from Anambra election were painful. The events of the day captured in my view the dysfunctionalities of the Nigerian state. INEC cannot be removed from the larger challenges facing the country but it has created a standard for itself which it has acquired notoriety for falling short. The fragility of our democracy, the twisted nature of value system and the weakness of our institutions played out in Anambra in a manner that raises fundamental questions about the sustainability of our democracy and the diminishing fortunes of our development.

Driving away from Awka on the evening of the 17th with a report of an inconclusive election after months of preparation was heart breaking. As I drove through the weathered and embarrassing road network in the Anambra capital city, I wondered what manner of democracy imposes this kind of regression on its people. When I joined the federal road that will take me from Awka to Enugu State, I had to hold firmly to my seats because of the debilitating nature of the road.

I sadly realized that the road has been in decay for almost a decade. These kinds of infrastructural failures mirroring the insensitivity and failings of governance reinforce the gravity of undermining the ability of people to speak through the votes. I couldn’t help but shed tears for a country that has so much but enjoys so little.



Read this article in the Premium Times Newspapers


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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