The Anambra Election has come and gone but it’s one election from which there’s a lot to learn, especially for the Independent National Electoral Commission. The election is one of its kind in Nigeria’s relatively nascent democracy owing to events and happenings in Anambra in the build-up to the election. From indigenous people of Biafra’s (IPOB) threat of disrupting the poll with a counterproductive week-long sit-at-home order, and menace of unknown gunmen wreaking havoc in the beleaguered south-east.
Days to the election, the air was thick with palpable apprehension and doubts spurred by the uncertainty of whether the election will hold or not. The people are not ill-disposed to or contemptuous of the election, but they are wary of the terror and atrocities of IPOB and rampaging gunmen. Not even the insistence of INEC to go ahead with the election and the heavy presence of security operatives did enough to douse the tension.
It came as a huge sigh of relief for stakeholders in the state and outsiders who were interested in the election when IPOB suspended the week-long sit-at-home order it planned to enforce, the proscribed secessionist group did not only call off the sit-at-home, but also admonished residents of the state to go out and vote candidates of their choice. The announcement brought respite to the troubled electorates in the states.
Despite its widely publicised preparation for the election, INEC’s performance was below what many expected. Many were quite surprised that the commission had to grapple with the logistic issue and technical glitches of devices in an isolated election in a relatively small state like Anambra. The election was also marred by voters’ apathy, a development brought about by different factors. For instance, of the 2.5 million registered voters, less than 250,000 persons picked up their voters’ card and a little less than that amount voted in the election. Be that as it may, the resolve of those determined to exercise their franchise is not dampened.
The most serious and pronounced problem is the malfunctioning of the Biometric Voters Accreditation System (BVAS). The BVAS replaced the smart card reader deployed in previous elections. With its use during the by-election in Isoko, it’s expected that INEC would have tackled any problem associated with the BVAS to forestall future occurrences. Of course, it’s practically impossible to guarantee 100% efficiency and reliability of certain machines or electronic devices at all times, but one will certainly be left with a deep source of concern if widespread. malfunction of such electronic devices — that are supposed to determine the fate of people — becomes the order of the day.
We also have situations where INEC officials did not get to the polling unit early due to one logistic or the other, hence living electorates — which included elderly and vulnerable people — angry and helpless. However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the commission. There were innovations introduced by the commission that enhanced the credibility of the election and will, going forward, strengthen our democracy. One such is innovation is the ability to view the election result on INEC’s dedicated portal in real-time. This is a big step in the right direction as we strive to deepen the electoral system and build confidence in the electorate. But these gains were overshadowed by a hurtful inefficiency of the BVAS.
Also, another highlight and one that somewhat became a major talking point of the election is the behaviour of certain elderly women who outrightly rejected a man working for one of the big parties and wanted to buy their votes with ₦5,000. The viral video of the incident brought joy to many who seem to have given up on the practice of vote-buying and inducement of voters with material items for possible electoral allegiance. What even made the action of women more profound is their ability to turn down such offers in the face of pervasive penury and devastating inflation.
Having said that, going forward, Anambra is a Guinea pig — in a manner of speaking — in our bid to have an electoral system we trust and believe in. The happenings during the election should serve as a wake-up call for INEC. It should be a teachable moment and period of reflection ahead of an ominous 2023 election. The electoral umpire needs to go back to the drawing board and fix its shortcomings. We just can’t afford a repetition of Anambra’s mistakes in 2023 and gubernatorial elections before it. The commission is trying its best, but it can do more.