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Nigeria: Anambra set for lowest voter turnout ever amid threats of secession

By Akin Irede
Posted on Friday, 5 November 2021 15:07

A supporter of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) leader Nnamdi Kanu holds a Biafra flag during a rally in support of Kanu, who is expected to appear at a magistrate court in Abuja
A supporter of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) leader Nnamdi Kanu holds a Biafra flag during a rally in support of Kanu, who is expected to appear at a magistrate court in Abuja, Nigeria December 1, 2015. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

The most populous state in southeast Nigeria, Anambra, holds its governorship election on Saturday. The secessionist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), had initially ordered residents to sit at home, with the government urging them to come out. Despite the order being cancelled, has the damage been done? Who will come out to vote?

Updated on 5 November at 16h15 GMT+1

Will we see a rerun of history?

Back in the year 2017, the Anambra State governorship election had just finished. Governor Willie Obiano of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has been announced winner of the poll. But the state which has 2.4 million registered voters has just witnessed its lowest voter turnout yet at 22%.

Secessionist group, IPOB, says the refusal of voters to show up at the polling units is evidence that the people are indeed tired of Nigeria and are ready for a referendum to secede.

Four years later, Anambra State is set to hold another gubernatorial election. The IPOB had once again declared a sit-at-home order which was to obeyed by all residents from 5-11 of November; but it was cancelled on late Thursday night. Instead, it is asking Ambrarians to vote.

But despite the last minute change to the order, this time around the IPOB has an armed unit known as the Eastern Security Network which enforces its edicts. The Nigerian military and the police have also deployed a large number of security operatives across the state to checkmate IPOB.

Although IPOB claims to be a peaceful organisation, its sit-at-home orders are usually enforced violently with shops of traders – who dare to step out – burnt while persons moving around in security convoys are shot dead.

This was the fate of Chike Akunyili, the husband of late Nigerian hero,  Dora Akunyili, who rose to fame in the early 2000s when she championed a war against fake drugs. Chike was moving with armed policemen in September and was mistaken for a politician and was gunned down, according to several reports.

This volatile security situation forced several political parties to hold low key campaigns while some were not even brave enough to operate campaign offices. Amid the tension, Nigeria’s Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, said the Federal Government was considering declaring a state of emergency in Anambra, the state which boasts of having some of the most illustrious Nigerians.

More killings and destructions

The southeast, which was adjudged the most peaceful region in Nigeria by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in its National Human Development Report for Nigeria in 2016, has since become one of the most volatile regions in the country no thanks to the rise in the activities of secessionists and overzealous Nigerian security officials.

A report compiled by the Federal Government last month stated that due to the activities of IPOB, over 200 people were killed including 175 security personnel in the South-East. The government alleged that IPOB killed 128 policemen, 37 military personnel and 10 other security operatives on the orders of its leader, Nnamdi Kanu, who is now being detained in a secret government facility while facing terrorism charges.

According to the report, there were 19 attacks on election offices that resulted in the destruction of 18 logistical vehicles, several election materials, equipment and ICT gadgets. About 164 police stations and formations, including police headquarters, Owerri, Imo State were allegedly attacked by IPOB leading to the injury of 144 policemen and the destruction of 628 vehicles. It said 396 firearms and 17,738 ammunitions were carted away during the IPOB attacks. There were also attacks on prison facilities in the region leading to the escape of 1,841 inmates in the region.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which is saddled with the responsibility of conducting elections, also stated that in the attacks on its offices in Anambra State 326 generators were destroyed along with election materials. It is in this atmosphere of chaos that elections are expected to hold.

Will voters show up?

In a bid to encourage voters to turn up at polling units, the Nigerian government has deployed a large number of security personnel in the state. The Inspector-General of Police, Usman Baba, says 34,587 operatives are being deployed to Anambra. He said the deployment would consist of conventional police officers, Police Mobile Force, the Counter Terrorism Unit, Special Forces, Explosive Ordnance Unit, Force Intelligence Bureau, INTERPOL, Special Protection Unit and a medical team. The Nigerian Army also launched a campaign known as “Exercise Golden Dawn”

With about 2.4 million registered voters in the state, it is believed that there will be at least one police officer per 68 voters which is far more than the UN ratio requirement of one police officer to 400 citizens.  But will this boost voter confidence?

…all candidates have signed a peace accord that will ensure stability. So, we are trudging on. The people are enthusiastic. Voters are obtaining their cards with enthusiasm.

In 2013, the total number of registered voters in the state was 1.7 million while 465,891 voters were accredited to vote. The voter turnout was just about 32.7%. By 2017, when the number of registered voters had risen to about 2.4 million, the voter turnout was 22% amid rising secessionist agitations.

With the insecurity now at an all-time high, there are fears that the voter turnout may not exceed 15%. Already, INEC says 86 out of the 5,720 Polling Units in the state have no voters.

The US has in previous elections threatened to impose travel restrictions on individuals who promote violence during the election.

But IPOB claims it is not stopping people from voting. It cancelled late Thursday 4 November its sit-at-home order. Incidentally, the election takes place on the 6th.

“For the sake of clarity, what we said was that the entire Biafra land would be locked down from November 5 to November 10, 2021 if by November 4 the Federal Government fails to release our leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, unconditionally. Our position has nothing to do with Anambra election. All we need is the release of our leader who committed no crime to be held perpetually in custody,” it said.

What to expect?

Despite an end to the stay-at-home order, human rights group, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), predicts a low voter turnout due to the insecurity in Anambra State.

We also note an increased likelihood of an even higher level of voter apathy than has typically been witnessed in Anambra elections.

In its situation report, the CDD, which focuses on promoting voting rights, says: “We note that the heavy security presence, particularly in Awka, the state capital, will likely ensure that elections are held in some form. However, the risk of clashes between state security agents and non-state armed groups as well as the threat of armed attacks on polling stations will remain elevated, particularly in more rural local government areas in the state where security deployments have been relatively scantier.

“We also note an increased likelihood of an even higher level of voter apathy than has typically been witnessed in Anambra elections.”

Speaking with The Africa Report, a National Commissioner with INEC, Festus Okoye, says the commission had made adequate preparations for the poll.

“As far as we are concerned, we have done enough to assure and reassure the people that when they come out to vote their safety will be guaranteed and their votes will count. We have engaged in different voter education initiatives both on radio and television and we have also sought the help of traditional and religious leaders and other critical stakeholders.

“The police have assured everyone of security. Also, all candidates have signed a peace accord that will ensure stability. So, we are trudging on. The people are enthusiastic. Voters are obtaining their cards with enthusiasm. So, we are confident that with what we have done, we will record a successful election. But regarding the voter turnout, it is not something anyone can predict.”

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