Three top contenders in the yet-to-be concluded Anambra State governorship election, which commenced on Saturday, have won their respective polling units.
This was prior to the announcement by the Independent National Electoral Commission that voting would continue on Sunday (today).
The extension was due to the malfunctioning of the newly deployed Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, which disrupted accreditation and voting in some areas, the commission said.
The top contenders were the candidates of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Chukwuma Soludo; All Progressives Congress, Andy Uba; and Peoples Democratic Party, Valentine Ozigbo.
The APC candidate, who voted at Saint Peter’s Catholic School, Uga Ward 16, Polling Unit 10 of Aguata Local Government, scored 80, followed by APGA with 10 votes, YPP scored five votes while PDP scored two votes.
The candidate of the PDP, who voted at polling unit 010 Social Center, Ward 005, of the Aguata Local Government, Area scored 75 votes, followed by APGA with eight votes while the APC scored two.
The candidate of APGA, who voted at Isuofia Ward 13, Unit 002 in the Aguata LGA, scored 126 votes while PDP scored five and both APC and YPP scored three votes each.
Voter apathy, late arrival of materials, vote-buying mar polls
Meanwhile, the election was marred by voter apathy, vote-buying, late arrival of materials and the malfunction of the BVAS machine.
Despite the efforts by INEC to ensure a hitch-free exercise, there were several complaints from voters in towns like Awka, Onitsha, Nnewi, Isuofia and some other parts of the state.
Voting was expected to start by 8.30am but as of 11am voting was yet to commence in most centres in Awka, the state capital. With over two hours into the voting exercise, the people of Mgbakwu in Awka North were still awaiting voting materials, which later arrived after midday.
Party agents and voters waiting at Central School lamented the absence of materials and electoral officers. The school houses the two polling units in the town.
A party agent, Benneth Aniezeofor, lamented that the development would impact the exercise negatively as people might lose interest.
“Late arrival of materials will disenfranchise many voters and people may run out of patience and leave which is not good for the election,” he added.
Another resident said, “We called them and they told us the materials and polling officers were on the way. We also got the information that the vehicle being used to convey the material developed a fault in the way. One can only hope that the materials will arrive. We have to vote.”
When contacted, the spokesperson for INEC in the state, Reginald Onyeukwu, directed one of our correspondents to his superior.
He said, “I am far away at Aghamelum, please make a report to my HOD in the office, maybe there are some problems.”
Due to low voter turnout at Nkwo Market Square in Akwa Central, party agents were seen going from one house to another and calling family members and friends on the telephone to come out and vote.
One of the party agents, Joseph Nnake, attributed the apathy to fear, saying low voter turnout could mar the exercise. He also described the election as peaceful.
One of our correspondents observed vote-buying at the Nkwo Market Square. Voters were paid N2,500. After voting, the interested voters were ushered to a secluded room to collect the money. A police officer was also heard telling his junior colleague to collect their own share of the money from party agents.
At Ward 19, Unit 8 at the Ezenifite Town Hall, Okpuno in Awka South Local Government Area, voting finally commenced at about 9.35am.
The Registration Area Officer, Ibrahim Ganiyu, disclosed that they worked overnight at the centre to ensure that ad hoc staff moved to the field early on Saturday. He noted that corps members needed further guidance regarding the process.
Reports from other local government areas across the state indicated that voting did not commence at 8.30am. A 63-year-old woman, Madam Theresa, said she would wait till voting started.
“I am a native of Cross River State but my late husband hailed from this town. I came out to vote. I am not afraid of any kind of harassment or intimidation. Even if they shoot me, I will die and go to where my late husband is,” she said.
At Ward 9, Ezimezi in Amawbia, Awka South Local Government, a mild drama ensued as voters protested the instruction by the presiding officer, Ahmed Abdulahi, who said ‘No facemask, no voting’.
Irked by the order, a former Anambra State House of Assembly member, Chikodi Aghanya, described the instruction as “rubbish”.
A presiding officer however explained that it was INEC’s instruction and they would implement it, while admitting that they were having challenges with the network to operate.
Meanwhile, Governor Willie Obiano and his deputy, Dr Nkem Okeke, hailed the process, describing it as transparent.
The governor, who has cast his ballot at Eri Primary School, Unit 004, Otuocha 1, Aguleri, Anambra East LGA of the state said, “I appeal to Ndi Anambra to come out and vote as the voting exercise would last for only a few hours. I commend the voting process, it was fast and easy. I am optimistic that the entire exercise would be free and fair across the state.”
Why I displayed my ballot paper – Deputy gov
The deputy governor, who had dumped APGA for the APC weeks before the election, displayed his ballot paper to other voters before dropping it in the ballot box.
Okeke, who voted at Ward 3, polling unit 005, Umueze Awozu, Enugwu-Ukwu, said he did so to dispel rumours that he had returned to APGA. He commended INEC for the new technology it deployed for the exercise.
He stated, “I had to reveal my ballot paper because there have been rumours that I had defected back to APGA, which is not true. You just saw that I voted for my party, the APC,” he added.
“I’m impressed with the turnout. The process was transparent. Credit should be given to the Federal Government for providing the enabling environment. The presence of the security personnel gave the people courage to come out to vote.
“This is the easiest voting experience I have ever had; the process is unified. In previous elections, I had issues with fingerprints, but this was different.”
However, at Alor Ward 1 in the Idemili South Local Government Area, scores of voters could not vote as of 11.46am as the BVAS machine did not respond.
The presiding officer, who asked not to be named, said the BVAS could not capture the voters.
The National Chairman of APGA, Chief Victor Oye, expressed reservations over the exercise, especially the poor performance of the BVAS machine.
Oye, while voting at Amawbia ward 3, Polling Unit 003 in Awka South Local Government, said, “With the massive turnout of voters at the polling unit, I am afraid that many eligible voters might be disenfranchised. It appears INEC is working in partnership with APC to rig the election.”
The Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, who battled with the BVAS for over an hour waited to cast his vote despite the hiccup.
The minister called on INEC to make arrangements for manual accreditation when the machine fails so the people could exercise their franchise.
He said, “I have been here for over an hour without success. I’m not impressed. The failure rate is between 25 and 30 per cent. This is not encouraging. INEC should not be packing the equipment after each election. They should be testing such machines a week before elections in a mock trial. I won’t leave here until I vote.”
Meanwhile, the APC candidate, Andy Uba, who spoke at Otiogba Centre, Ugah Ward 1 polling unit 015, 021, 022, stated that he was optimistic that he would win given the defections into the party before the election.
He added, “I have voted without any problem. The BVAS is working in my polling unit and I am sure INEC is working to fix the problems that have been noticed.”
The PDP candidate, Mr Valentine Ozigbo, called for an extension of voting hours to ensure that no eligible voter was denied the opportunity to vote.
He said, “I call on INEC to extend the voting hours to allow eligible voters to cast their ballot since the delay is not their fault but it is due to the malfunctioning BVAS.”
Also, the candidate of APGA, Charles Soludo, said his party would win the election if the election was free, fair and credible. The BVAS, however, malfunctioned in his polling unit, causing a delay for hours.
Soludo, who voted at 5.10pm after waiting for almost six hours, said he had to remain in the queue for the women and the aged people to vote as soon as the BVAS started working.
After casting his vote, he commended INEC for its efforts to ensure a peaceful and smooth process, while thanking the people for being calm and peaceful in spite of the logistics challenges.
He said, “I voted after a long wait and there was no way I would jump the queue. My 90-year-old father was also in the queue, so allowing them to vote before me was the right thing to do. I believe the will of God will prevail no matter the delay.”
My intention is to become servant leader’
Speaking with journalists on Saturday after voting, Soludo said his people urged him to contest and that his aim was to win the election with a wide margin and be a servant leader.
He said, “I always say that I am an incredible optimist. When we were in court after the primaries, I did make a statement that the judiciary will always come through and that went to the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court. They actually came through.
“It is not just winning, but winning with a wide margin. I’m more interested in the legitimacy of the process, because for me the mandate I seek is people’s mandate to be their servant leader and that is satisfactory to me.”
Also, a former governor of the state, Mr Peter Obi, also said he was disappointed with the malfunctioning of the BVAS and delay in the commencement of voting.
Speaking with journalists after casting his vote at his Umudim Akasi ward 2, unit 019 in Agulu Community, Anaocha Local Government Area of the state, Obi stated, “It took a while for the exercise to start and when it did, the BVAS were not working, which shouldn’t be. I have also been getting calls from across the state.
“For most communities, the problem is the non-arrival of all voting materials and of course here (Agulu town), there was a delay, which shouldn’t be. I have voted and in this boot there is always voter turnout. My appeal is that no eligible voter should be allowed to go without voting.”
Meanwhile, counting of votes began in several polling units on Saturday evening, including Unit 002 Ward 01, Ekwulu Village Hall, Umuona and Units 004, 005, 006 and 007. Also at Units 014 and 013 Ward 001 in Community High School, Nanka in Orumba North Local Government, voting was still in progress as of 5pm.
INEC extends voting till Sunday
Meanwhile, INEC extended voting till Sunday in areas where voting could not be concluded on Saturday.
The state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Dr Nkwachukwu Orji, said at a press briefing at the commission’s headquarters in Awka, the state capital, on Saturday that the poll would open at 8.30am and close at 4pm on Sunday.
He said the revised closing time would apply to areas where polling units opened after 8.30am.
He said, “In line with existing regulations and guidelines of the commission, any intending voter who is in the queue by 4pm shall be allowed to vote. All Polling Units staff must comply with this directive.
“The time extension arose out of several field reports that voters had problems with accreditation. The commission is currently investigating the reason the accreditation devices, Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, worked perfectly in some polling units but not in others. In some of the cases, it would seem that this resulted from software glitches.
“Our technicians have already built an update for the device software to prevent further challenges. The update is currently being installed in the concerned BVAS and we request voters, candidates and agents to be patient and allow our technical staff to solve the problem.
“The commission wishes to reiterate that in cases of sustained malfunction of the BVAS, the Presiding Officer must inform the voters and polling agents that accreditation and voting for the affected polling unit shall continue tomorrow or at another time determined by the commission.”
The REC promised that no voter would be disenfranchised. He, however, lamented that some ad hoc staff and transporters contracted to move polling materials and personnel failed to show up.
He added, “Our deployment has also been adversely affected by transport challenges in some locations. It must be noted that on account of security concerns, some of the transporters that were mobilised and collected 50 per cent of their sign-on fee backed out at the last moment, leaving some of our ad hoc staff stranded.
“Also, some of the trained ad hoc staff backed out at the last moment. The commission is on top of these challenges and extant regulations and guidelines will be applied on a case-by-case basis.
“Consequently, we are harvesting areas where voting will realistically no longer take place today, including places where substantial disruption has occurred to enable a possible recommencement of voting at another time, in line with extant laws and the regulations and guidelines of the commission.
“We appeal to all voters, candidates, stakeholders, communities and political parties to remain calm and law-abiding. We assure you that the commission is determined to make all votes count.”
Security agents commended for tight security
Our correspondents observed that in spite of the apprehension over the election, the exercise was peaceful. Voters, party agents, candidates and other stakeholders commended the security agents for a peaceful poll. Security was tight in different parts of the state and at the polling units.
It was also observed that three policemen were assigned to each polling unit while soldiers and men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps patrolled the major highways and streets.
Also, INEC headquarters in the state where the final results would be announced was heavily guarded by policemen and soldiers as of the time of filing this report.
A resident, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noted that the presence of the security personnel helped to curb violence. “It is good that the many security personnel were brought to the state for this election. There was no problem and no violence was recorded,” he said.
As of 7.41pm, patrol teams were on the Onitsha/Enugu highway to ensure that the state remained peaceful. PUNCH