All eyes are on Anambra State as it moves nearer the February 6 governorship election. Given the controversies that had dogged previous elections, analysts believe the poll remains the next major indicator of how ready the country is for the much desired electoral reform, writes OLUSOLA FABIYI
Barely three weeks to the February 6 governorship election in Anambra State, there are fresh fears that the election may not be peaceful. A recent revelation by the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ogbonna Onovo, at a meeting he had with governorship candidates and political actors in the state on the need to have a peaceful election, confirmed the fears of many that the election might not be peaceful. Onovo had listed several areas where politicians were already stock-piling arms and ammunition on how to disrupt the election.
What was more shocking to many was the claim by the police boss that politicians were already recruiting armed robbers to assist them win. He stated also that desperate politicians had started making police uniforms, which he said might have found their way to the political class and hoodlum in the state for the election.
This information was part of intelligence reports submitted to Onovo‘s office by his men in the state. The report also claimed that some politicians had concluded arrangement to recruit political mercenaries from other states, especially from the Niger Delta region. The hoodlums to be recruited would be part of those to be dressed in the illegal police uniforms, when procured. Others listed to be part of the strange illegal police arrangement included thugs and motor park hooligans who would be used to either rig or disrupt the election.
The report also said that members of vigilante groups were equally being armed for the same purpose, adding that several politicians were equally talking to members of the outlawed National Association of Road Transport Owners, a drivers union, to cause mayhem during the election.
Not only that, Onovo said that a particular group was already undergoing training on how to snatch ballot boxes. Looking straight at the faces of the aspirants and political actors, Onovo said, ”Some of you are already procuring MOPOL (riot) policemen uniforms which you want to distribute to political thugs motor parks touts to perpetrate evil during the election.
”Vigilante groups are also being recruited and some retired armed robbers as well. We also have it in our intelligence that some political stalwarts have concluded with drivers unions, Onitsha Market Amalgamated Traders Association and a certain confraternity has concluded plans on how to rig the election.
”In a place called Omamballa, in Anambra East, a large number of youths were being recruited in Umuleri and Aguleri for the election.
”In Ogbaru division, a former chairman of NARTO has perfected his own plan and he is ready to finance any political party that is ready to abide by his terms. This fellow and his group are undergoing training on how to snatch ballot boxes. In Obosi, a group of thugs is being trained on how to disrupt election if it does not go their way.
”In Okpoko, a group which claims to be an affiliate to Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra is meeting. They have vowed that election will not hold in their area just as they did not allow census to take place the other time. In Otu-Ocha, there is an island there where youths are being trained in military tactics. Also, cult members are being recruited from tertiary institutions. Some politicians have concluded plans to recruit mercenaries from other states, especially from the Niger Delta.”
He said the Police had been following events in the state for over two months, adding that he was not happy with what was going on.
Though he said there was relative peace in the state following the deployment of 16 units of riot policemen to stem the tide of kidnapping, he however said there were still threats of kidnapping. He said the fear of kidnapping and molestation made him to order the commissioner of police in the state, Mr. Suleiman Leha, to provide security for all the aspirants as he would not want to hear that a candidate had either been kidnapped or molested.
Onovo noted that though he had achieved what he wanted in this regard, the situation in the state was still dicey.
He wondered why the state, which he described as one of the states with highest number of influential and educated Nigerians, was full of acrimony.
He said, ”I will not say I am not worried; I am worried because that is my home as well. We need to provide leadership for others. When people protest, they vent their anger on the police by calling us names and so on. Time has come for us to say ‘no.‘
”Let us remove the speck in our eyes first. Ghana has concluded elections and we applauded them. Several other nations as well have done theirs and we are better than them.
”If you love the people you want to lead, then, give them the opportunity to vote without any fear of intimidation.”
Out of the 25 political parties that are fielding candidates for the election, 18 sent their representatives to the meeting. Speaking one after the other, the candidates noted that there was the need for the Police to be pro-active. It was however curious that none of them denied the allegation that some of them were stock-piling arms and ammunition.
Ngige, who was the first person to bare his mind, wondered if the Police would have enough money to spend on the huge number of personnel expected in the state. He also said that it would not be fair if the Police would have to rely on the state government for mobilisation since the governor, Mr. Peter Obi, is also a contestant in the race. This if done, according to him, will mean the police would be working for Obi.
“If you fall back on him, that means you are going to watch his back for him,” he said. That was not his only worry. He wondered whether the Police could arrest offending electoral officials and get them prosecuted. He, however, said it would remain to be seen if the police would be bold to do that since no one had ever been prosecuted for the offence in the past. Already, he said voter cards were being sold in Anambra South and that people had started collecting other peoples’ cards from the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Another poser he threw at the Police boss was ”whether the police have the capacity to police their own men.” He marvelled at the possibility of politicians arresting such police men. Another contestant, Mr. Mike Okoye, of the Hope Democratic Party, said rigging was always done in collaboration with the Police. He asked Onovo to caution his men against colluding with politicians to rig the election. Chief Raph Nwosu of the Progressive Peoples Alliance also said that the attitude of Police to cases instituted at election petition tribunals was disheartening.
He said when results of election were announced and there was enough evidence that elections were not held, the police would refuse to come and testify for the petitioner, even when they witnessed the fraud. Senator Emmanuel Anosike, the running mate to Prof. Chukwuma Soludo of the Peoples Democratic Party said though the efforts of the police were commendable, he advised that since the army would also be part of the election, it would be better if they harmonised their positions to avoid confusion.
The candidate of the Labour Party in the election, Dr. Andy Uba, also expressed his worry over the growing incidence of insecurity in the state. He said he was personally ashamed of what was happening in the state, but said that the situation was not beyond redemption.
Onovo has however promised that his men would not compromise themselves during the election. For example, he said that the Police were well funded for the election, adding that he would hold meetings with leaders of other security arms before the election in order for them to harmonise their security measures.
On rigging, he said he was sure that no policeman would be ready to trade with his several years of service. He also said that senior security personnel would be on ground to attend to complaints. He told our correspondent that in order to have a free and fair election, he said all the policemen to be deployed to the state would wear special identity cards to avoid impersonation. As part of security measures, he also said no candidate would be allowed into the polling areas with either his police orderly or other security details. As a start, he had made all the politicians sign bonds to be of good behaviour before and during the election.
To many however, these may not be enough to guarantee free and fair election in the state given previous experiences which have made many to lose hope of credible poll. Events that follow the February 6 poll will determine the adequacy of the measures Onovo claimed had been put in place.
By OLUSOLA FABIYI