A little over one week to the Anambra State governorship election, there are genuine concerns on whether the election will go ahead as scheduled owing to the spate of violence in the South-east region. Will this season of brutality lead to a postponement of the election? Many believe that the election is already seriously threatened.
These threats have been consistent and unrelenting in the last few months. The recent succession of attacks have renewed doubts about the election. Many of these attacks have been linked to the Independent People of Biafra (IPOB), however, the group which wants a sovereign state of Biafra, independent of Nigeria, constantly denies involvement. Therefore, the sequence of viciousness unleashed on the populace have been blamed on faceless “unknown gunmen.”
In 2017, IPOB in similar fashion had announced a boycott of the governorship election in the state, but the election went ahead as scheduled. Uncertainty about the coming election started building up last March, when some unidentified gunmen stormed the home town of Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, Isuofia in Aguata LGA of Anambra State and attacked a gathering where he was speaking with young people about his vision for the state. Soludo is the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) for next month’s election.
The gunmen came at a time when Soludo was still struggling to get the ticket of APGA. Before the attack on Soludo, there were sustained attacks on establishments owned by the Federal Government, including police stations, correctional centres and damage of vehicles belonging to government, including attack on INEC. The attack on Soludo, however, gave the orgy of barbarity a political coloration, leaving all with the question of whether the election would hold or not.
In the last few weeks, the level of insecurity in the state has become alarming. It came to a disturbing climax penultimate week when Dr. Chike Akunyili, the widower of the late former Minister of Information and former Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Dora Akunyili, was murdered in a most gruesome manner, along with eight others.
Before the Akunyili murder, in Ajalli, Orumba North Local Government Area, a police station was attacked and two policemen killed. Also, the vehicles of a member of the House of Representatives and former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirant, Hon. Chris Azubogu were attacked, and one of his drivers killed.
The gunmen also set ablaze the offices of the Department of State Services (DSS) and Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) in Nnewi, Anambra State, leaving two people dead in their trail. Also set ablaze was the Nnewi country home of a Lagos-based chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr. Joe Igbokwe, and the home of another prominent son of Nnewi and former minister, Dr. Chu Okongwu, which was also invaded and burnt.
In most of the incidences, eyewitnesses have pointed at the separatist group; Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), even though the group has been struggling to extricate itself. Overwhelming evidence at the scene of attacks and information from terrified victims claim that the heavily armed groups always pass one message to those who manage to escape alive: ‘tell the concerned authorities that there will be no election in Anambra State.’
Away from IPOB, the APGA and APC have been engaged in a war of words over who is responsible for the attacks in the state.
The APC accused APGA of not doing enough to stem the tide of insecurity in the state. Senator Andy Uba, the party’s governorship candidate accused Governor Willie Obiano of having a hand in the increasing violence in the state for the purpose of putting off the scheduled election.
Uba said with the huge monthly security vote collected by the governor and his wife, the security of the state ought to be better managed. Uba who spoke through the media director of his campaign organisation, Hon. Afam Ogene said: “Each time Gov. Obiano clownishly adorns himself in military camouflage, does he do so for mere comic display?”
But in a swift response, APGA stated that by accusing Governor Willie Obiano of having a hand in insecurity in the state, the APC was indirectly accusing President Muhammadu Buhari of ineptitude, since the president is the Chief Security Officer of the country.
The state Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. C. Don Adinuba who also doubles as the Director of Media and Publicity of the Soludo Campaign organization, argued that the “Anambra APC indicts President Buhari anytime it comments gratuitously on a negative security development in the state. President Buhari, not Governor Willie Obiano, is the Commander-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces and head of all security agencies in the country. Security is on the Exclusive List of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
“Each of the 36 state governors in the federation is merely the titular chief security officer of his state. No governor has control over the police force or the Department of State Services or the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) in his state, let alone any of the Armed Forces. Even the Anambra Vigilante Group (AVG) is supervised by the state police command, like any other state vigilante service,” Adinuba explained.
As the brickbat continues, there have been arguments about whether there will be election in the state or not. Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN) reacting to this said the federal government was determined to ensure that elections hold, and that even if it means imposing an emergency rule in Anambra, it will not hesitate.
Malami was roundly condemned for the statement, with many stating that he has an ulterior motive by making such utterance, especially, being that he is a member of the APC campaign council in the state.
Governor Willie Obiano who visited President Muhammadu Buhari on the issue a day after the comment said: “I was warmly received today at the State House in Abuja by President Muhammadu Buhari. I reported the statement credited to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami to him. The Minister had threatened that the federal government will impose a state of emergency on Anambra State over security challenges.
“The President assured me and Ndi Anambra that the Federal Government is not contemplating taking such drastic action. Rather, President Buhari said that the Federal Government will increase its support to security agencies operating in Anambra State to contain the challenges. Among other measures, the President said that there will be more booths on the ground.”
Obiano said that President Buhari frowned at those who use his name and that of the Federal Government to intimidate Anambra voters. “We also discussed the November 6, 2021 Anambra gubernatorial election. President Buhari assured me that he will not support intimidation of the electorates in any form, and promised that the Federal Government will support INEC and other agencies connected with the election to ensure the conduct of a free, fair and credible Anambra gubernatorial elections.”
On the posibility of elections holding in Anambra State, the Federal Government has responded by launching operation Golden Dawn, not only for Anambra State, but for the entire South-east. THISDAY confirms that there is massive presence of the military and mobile police operatives in all corners of Anambra State.
Meanwhile, in Anambra State, there is no indication that the people are afraid to participate in the election. THISDAY observed that instead, the people are eager to participate in the forthcoming election. Hon Emeka Aforka, a member of the House of Assembly, who spoke to our correspondent said there is no violence in the state that is enough to stop the people from voting, adding that his constituents are already eager to participate in the election. He said: “Anambra has not recorded over 15 deaths since the new scale of violence erupted over the state. For a state that has for the past seven years enjoyed well-deserved reputation of being Nigeria’s safest and most peaceful state.
“Anambra has not recorded a fraction of casualties in places like Borno, Zamfara, Katsina, Benue, Plateau, Yobe, Niger, Adamawa, Taraba, amongst others, where terrorists have killed several thousands of civilians and attacked military formations. The bandits operating in the Northern part of the country have even brought down some sophisticated combat aircrafts, but these incidents did not stop elections from holding in the troubled Northern states in 2019?
“Is the number of victims of the politically motivated violence in Anambra State anything near what the nation has seen even in such states as Imo and Ebonyi controlled by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)? Why hasn’t Malami considered a state of emergency in these APC-controlled states? Anambra will hold its election, and it will be peaceful,” he declared.
Sharing a similar opinion, human rights lawyer, Mr. Kelechi Eze told THISDAY, “Let us assume that the insecurity continues, have there not been elections in other states in the North, even in the heat of terrorists attacks? I am very confident that elections will hold in Anambra. The state governor has said he is ready for the election, the APGA, APC and even PDP have also said same. So, is it people from other states, as the Anambra Governor, has said that will come and destabilize what we are doing here? It is a one-state election, and so all focus would be here. I think the Federal Government can also mobilize to ensure that the state is better protected for the election.”
Every indication, however, points to the fact that nothing will stop the conduct of the election, as both the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) the Federal Government have given their commitment to go ahead with the election. President Muhammadu Buhari last Thursday vowed that he would not allow anything or anyone to disrupt the forthcoming governorship election in Anambra State. He made the declaration during a National Security Council (NSC) meeting in Abuja with the service chiefs, where the election and rising cases of violence were the focus of attention.
Buhari, speaking through the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd), gave marching orders to the security agencies to apply overwhelming force, if necessary, to protect the November 6 governorship election and ensure it was not interrupted by non-state actors who have been heating up the polity. Monguno disclosed the President’s directive to journalists at the end of the security meeting. Monguno said besides the fact that the people of Anambra State deserve to elect a governor of their choice, the Federal Government would not let non-state actors set a wrong precedent in the country’s electoral experience.
“The president has directed that under no circumstances will anything be allowed to stop the elections from taking place successfully. The people have a right to vote, they have a right to select their leader, and no group or individual will be allowed to stimulate anarchy and chaos, leading to murderous activities. The president has made it very clear that the armed forces, security agencies, and law enforcement agencies must make sure that the elections take place. If it means overwhelming the entire environment with the presence of security agencies.
“There are so many implications for elections to be sabotaged by non-state actors. In the first place, we are in a democracy. Secondly, it is important to note that if these non-state actors should succeed in destroying the potential for orderly elections, then it is natural that other parts of the country will also want to copy this situation. The problem here is that in as much as the government wants to conduct peaceful elections, there are non-state actors who have been heating up the polity, who have made all kinds of attempts to stymie orderly elections for next month.
“The mere thought that a group of non-state actors want to portray his government as not being able to be firm is totally out of the question. The tail cannot wag the dog, it is totally unacceptable and, again, we in the security and intelligence community have been trying as much as possible to talk with the leadership in the South-east, to make them aware of the fact that President Buhari is not averse to the aspirations of the people of the South-east,” the NSA added.
He stressed, “So long as whatever they desire to achieve, they do it through the normal prescribed manner, either legislative, legal, or whatever. For as long as it is within the confines of legitimacy, President Buhari does not have a problem with that. But any action that is outlandish, any action that typifies roguery, the usurpation of the authority of the state is not going to be tolerated.
“Again, we’re also mindful of the fact that Nigerians, being what they are, also need to understand that if these non-state actors should go out on a limb and extend the frontiers of violence, and begin to kill people, there is a possibility that reprisal attacks can take place in other parts of the country, which is what we do not want to happen. So, we’re working with the community leaders, with the governors and everybody to ensure that they bring their people, restrain them on the leash.”
As the November 6 date for the election draws close, indications are that all is set for the election. Though there are renewed fears that even though the leader of the IPOB, Nnamdi Kanu was brought to court last week, the refusal to grant the request of his lawyers for him to be remanded in Kuje Prison instead of the DSS detention centre or his release has sparked off another round of violence.
Already, IPOB has declared one week sit-at-home protest from November 5 to November 10, to prevail on the Federal Government to release Kanu. As the November 6 governorship election date is enveloped in the IPOB sit-at-home period, the implication is not lost on both the populace, the federal and state governments, INEC, the media and other critical stakeholders. Apparently, the exercise is targeted at the Anambra governorship election. The group in a new press statement by its Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful said: “Following the adjournment of our great leader Nnamdi Kanu’s court case to 10th of November 2021, by the Federal High Court, Abuja, we the great movement and family of the Indigenous People of Biafra wish to inform Biafrans, friends of Biafra and lovers of freedom that IPOB will lock down Biafraland from 5th of November to 10th of November except Sunday, November 7th, a day our people worship the Almighty God if the Nigeria Government fails to release our leader unconditionally before 4th of November 2021.
“Our leader, Nnamdi must be released unconditionally on or before November 4, 2021 because he has not committed any offense known to any law. Failure to release our leader on or before November 4, 2021, our one week sit-at-home begins on November 5, 2021 till November 10. Although we quite understand the pains and adverse effects of this option on our people, we are compelled to take it to achieve a better purpose in the collective interest of Biafrans. We have taken time to analyze what transpired on October 21 when our Leader was arraigned in court and discovered that the Federal Government is not sincere and only wants to humiliate him and keep him perpetually in DSS custody to rot there.
“We all saw how lawyers, journalists, Igbo delegates and respected traditional rulers and other people who came from all around the world to witness his court case were restricted and denied access into the court premises by security agents who kept them outside under the scorching heat of the sun. What a humiliation and wickedness! We cannot accept that anymore. We can never allow Nnamdi Kanu to be tried secretly and we can never also allow him to be tried under Sharia law under any guise. Nigeria must follow international laws in handling our leader.
“Unless the Federal Government releases him unconditionally before November 4, we shall sacrifice one week for him as a warning protest to convey to our oppressors that Nnamdi Kanu represents over 70 million Biafrans. He is innocent of all the charges preferred against him. As long as he is in detention our individual businesses do not matter so much because he is suffering for us all and we can’t abandon him. We seriously regret the inconveniences this may cause our people but it’s a necessary sacrifice we need to make until we have our full independence. Nobody resident in Biafra land is expected to flout this directive as doing so amounts to challenging the will of the people on the Biafra project,” the release stated.
Despite the threat posed by the new order, stakeholders in Anambra believe that the election would hold. Human rights lawyer, Mr. Kelechi Eze said the worst that the separatist group can do is to cause voter apathy. He said the IPOB threat was not capable of stopping the election. He said: “I still do not think that the threat is capable of stopping the election. The best that the IPOB can achieve with this order is to cause voter apathy,” he said.