As Anambra State citizens go to the polls today to elect their governor, political parties and their candidates have continued to use psychological techniques such as propaganda, threats and false rumours to sway votes to their sides.
And despite assurances from the Independent National Electoral Commission and security agencies that the governorship election in the state will be hitch-free, there are fears that today’s election could turn violent.
As at Thursday, there was palpable tension in major cities in the state especially Awka, the state capital where armed policemen and other security agents had mounted roadblocks.
And on Friday, many residents moved out of major towns and cities to villages to cast their votes in today’s election.
The election is taking place in 4,608 polling units and 326 wards in 21 local government areas of the state.
Residents who began to move out of the cities early Friday in order to beat the 6p.m no movement order, said they registered in their villages.
Some of the residents of Awka who spoke with Saturday Punch said they were uncomfortable with the heavy security presence in the state, which according to them, was a resemblance of a war situation..
Also, the opposition parties are afraid that the thousands of arms in private hands circulating in the state could be used to perpetrate violence during today’s election.
A resident of Awka, Mr. John Okoye, accused government of creating unnecessary tension in the state with the heavy deployment of armed policemen and other security operatives for the governorship election.
He said, “I feel as if we are under invasion. The number of police checkpoints in the city has been increasing since Monday, they are creating unnecessary tension.’’
Another resident of Awka, Mrs. Amaka Okafor, said considering the way the parties and candidates were going about the election, she feared there could be violence.
She said, “’Everybody is taking this election as a do or die affair. The tension is too much, it’s like we are in a war zone. How can government impose a 22-hour curfew because of an ordinary governorship election? I hope there won’t be any violence at the end of the day.’’
Some of the opposition parties had alleged that there were thousands of pump action guns retained by the vigilantes in the various communities, and they feared these people could use the arms to suppress their.
Though no record of the disarming of vigilantes had been taken as at Thursday, the Special Consultant to the Nigeria Police Force on Vigilante Documentation, Mr. Chris Udeze, toldSaturday Punch that the vigilantes were in the process of disarming.
Udeze said more than 10,000 vigilantes from 700 formations were being disarmed at the various police stations in the state.
Reacting to the fears being expressed, the All Progressives Grand Alliance candidate, Chief Willie Obiano, appealed to his co-contestants not to resort to violence.
He said, “Our ambition to lead Anambra State to the desired destination is not worth the spilling of the blood of any human being.”
His opponent in the All Progressives Congress, Senator Chris Ngige, had alleged that his agents and supporters in Governor Peter Obi’s local government area were often attacked and chased away during elections.
The week had begun violently for the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra, whose four members were killed by security agents in Onitsha.
Considering the capacity of the movement to carry out mass mobilisation, there are still fears that it could launch a revenge attack on Election Day.
But Director of Information of MASSOB, Mr. Uchenna Madu, toldSaturday Punchthat his members had been directed to peacefully go out to vote and return home.
He, however, said he was not comfortable with the heavy surveillance of the security agencies on MASSOB members and their offices.
Madu said the decision of MASSOB to mobilise support for an opposition candidate could still be made. “We do not have to publicly announce it. We have our own way of sending signals,” he said.
As at Thursday night, armed policemen and soldiers had taken positions in strategic points in the state, especially areas around the offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission at the state headquarters and local government area headquarters where election materials were kept.
At the checkpoints, motorists were thoroughly searched before being allowed to continue their journeys. Also, the police have placed a 22-hour no movement order on the state and have vowed to dismiss police orderlies seen escorting any personality during the exercise.
Troops have also been deployed in areas where suspected members of MASSOB have their strongholds.
Some of the hotspots are Anaocha Local Government Area, the local government of Governor Peter Obi and Chief Victor Umeh, the National Chairman of APGA.
To douse tension in this area, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, said huge numbers of security agents would be drafted to the area and other flash points to avert complicity that might lead to manipulations.
Abubakar said the policemen drafted to the various senatorial zones had been fully briefed on how to handle problems in the violence- prone areas.
The Federal Government had earlier in the week designated two police helicopters to patrol the state during the election. But apart from this, Abubakar, said the air force would also come in with helicopters.
He said the army would be fully on ground to provide assistance to the police and other security agencies, while two units of the Mobile Police Force comprising 120 armed men will be deployed in each of the three senatorial zones.
There are also fears that the election could be compromised following allegations of monetary inducement of voters and delay in distributions of voting materials to certain areas.
A civil rights organisation, the International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law had called attention to the riverine communities where it said lots of malpractices were detected during the continuous voter registration exercise.
In a letter to the Resident Electoral Commission, Intersociety also called attention to Dunukofia Local Government Area, where it said there had been consistent previous cases of massive thumb printing of ballot papers.
It also called on INEC to note the alleged invasion of the state by thousands of fake voters and the infiltration of the INEC ad hoc staff by interested parties in the election.
Also, a candidate of the Alliance for Democracy, Mr. Aaron Igweze, had on Thursday alleged that wealthy political parties were positioning agents at strategic places near polling units to induce voters with money.
He toldSaturday PUNCH that it was not going to be a level playing field for other smaller political parties including his AD, a factor corroborated by the candidate of the Advanced Congress of Democrats, Dr. Ifeatu Ekelem, who alleged that the big parties were buying off agents of the smaller parties.
Also, the National Chairman of the Labour Party, Chief Dan Nwanyanwu, said the police and INEC should be alert over monetary inducement of voters which would play itself out today at the various polling units.
Nwanyanwu also identified the alleged mass exodus of youths from neighbouring states to boundary communities in Anambra State for the purpose of causing mayhem. as another major point of distraction.
Likewise, the candidate of the United Democratic Party, Mr. Godson Okoye, expressed concern over the issue of early arrival of result sheets at the various polling units at the same time other sensitive materials would be brought to allay fears of manipulation.
He said INEC should go beyond mouthing assurances of smooth conduct of election to ensuring that vital materials arrive at the polling booths on time. “There are issues of materials not getting to certain areas early, we want the result sheets to be there on time,” he said.
But INEC and the police have continued to assure that the people’s fears notwithstanding; everything would go on smoothly even as INEC chairman, Prof Attahiru Jega, accused political parties of not coming forth with concrete proof over monetary inducement of voters on election days.
Jega said, “If there are evidences of money distribution by certain agents to induce voters while election is going on, we will take the matter up. If you provide us with solid evidence of cash inducement we will not fail to arrange with security agencies to arrest and prosecute those involved.’’”
He said the commission would conduct one of the country’s best credible elections in Anambra State, urging stakeholders to ensure that peace prevail.
Jega said the speculations that the Anambra election could witness irregularities was not likely as the commission had over a period of time trained and retrained its staff on the conduct of credible polls.
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