CDD Sues for Peace Ahead of the November 6, 2021, Anambra State Governorship Election

Welcome remarks

Gentlemen and women of the press. On behalf of the Centre for Democracy and Development, I welcome you to this Press Briefing on the 2021 Anambra State governorship election.

Introduction

In the past few months, the upcoming Anambra state elections have captured national discourse, mostly because of what it represents at this moment of our nation’s history. Unravelling events gives strong indications that the conduct of the election in Anambra is an important litmus test for Nigeria’s democracy.

Foremost on our minds is the deteriorating security situation in the Southeast, with the escalation of unrests noted in Anambra state as an epicentre of sorts in the months ahead of the elections. We observed, with dismay, the emergence of the “unknown gunmen” phenomenon, and subsequent unrelenting attacks on the officials and installations of the police, the Nigerian Correctional Services, and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) across the state. These attacks have resulted in several casualties as well as the destruction of state properties and equipment.

Worryingly, this has also coincided with the seeming intensification of the agitations of separatist groups, with the most pronounced manifestation of this phenomenon being a series of largely successful sit-at-orders by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), demanding the release of their leader Mazi Nnamdi Kanu. Enforcement of these sit-at-home orders have not only deepened insecurity in the region but has also led to a crippling of economic activities, which places a further strain on the already burdened livelihoods of a region largely dependent on commerce.

Against this backdrop, an election that should ordinarily represent the celebration of a people’s democratic franchise, and an opportunity to determine the course of political events in their state has, for many, become a source of unrelenting anxiety. Apart from the impact that this has had on individual residents of the state, the institutional impact has been even more far-reaching. INEC, media organisations, political parties and even CSOs who are involved in the electioneering process have had to seriously adapt their activities. Voter education carried out by civil society organisations and INEC have largely been circumspect; INEC has had to depend on heavy security deployment for the most basic of their statutory activities and political campaigns by political parties with large local support bases have largely been online or held in surrogate states. This same dismal picture cuts across other elements of the electioneering process. The recent extension of the sit-at-home orders by IPOB to overlap with the election week further deepens the prevailing state of apprehension in the state.

Outlook

We note that the heavy security presence, particularly in Awka, the state capital, will likely ensure that elections in some form are held. 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 LGAs in the state where security deployments have been relatively scantier. While the extraordinary deployment of police and security agents to the state will likely maintain some modicum of stability, the intimidating security presence will add to the heightened state of unrest.

We also note an increased likelihood of an even higher level of voter apathy than has typically been witnessed in Anambra elections. Meanwhile, the usual, embarrassing intrigues that have marred candidate selection processes — including repeated suits and countersuits by rival candidates, forcing the court to pick the flagbearers of all the major parties — have done little to reassure voters that the election would be a worthwhile affair. In a state where low voter turnout has traditionally plagued the electoral process, the peculiar circumstances of this election have only deepened uncertainty about the extent to which voters will feel secure enough to leave their homes to cast their ballots.

There have nonetheless been some glimmers of hope in the lead up to the election. That the commission has affirmed its determination to hold the election despite the loss, due to the insecurity, of several offices and substantial amounts of equipment is worth commending. INEC’s addition of over a thousand new polling units has also literally brought democracy closer to home for a larger number of people, ensuring easier access for more voters and potentially reducing the length of queues on election day. Also worthy of note has been INEC’s increasing introduction of online processes in its preparations for elections — including online registration for voters, journalists, and elections observers.

The introduction of the Bi-Modal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), which makes use of both fingerprints and facial recognition to verify the identity of voters will likewise serve to improve the credibility of election results. However, we note that the perennial obstacles affecting voter education, as well as the particular challenges of this election have limited the extent to which citizens have been made aware of this innovation. We, therefore, call on INEC and concerned civic groups to intensify voter-education and engagement efforts in the period that remains before the polls open.

The fact of this being an off-cycle election has also made possible the substantial deployment of Civic and Election observer groups from elsewhere in the country, which will contribute to reinforcing the integrity of the result. While much work remains to be done in preparing stakeholders and voters for the election, many civil society groups have already made laudable efforts to support the successful conduct of the election, including mobilizing citizens to register to vote, engaging with the police, media, and other stakeholders to advocate for peaceful elections, and countering the spread of fake news through positive digital and traditional media campaigns. In addition to these activities, we at the CDD have continued to train local observers who will be deployed to the 21 local governments of the state to monitor developments and provide timely information about emerging issues on election day.

Conclusion

While the prevailing security situation and the perennial challenges of election security have necessitated the presence of the police and other agencies mandated to ensure public safety, we are also aware that the security agents have had an unfortunate record of heavy-handedness and have been used to intimidate voters and electoral officials in previous elections. Amid fulfilling their duty of protecting the democratic franchise, CDD therefore, calls on security personnel to respect human rights and standard rules of engagement while allowing INEC to conduct a credible poll and voters to exercise their franchise. Security agents must desist from engaging in acts of intimidation and targeting the election managers, party agents or the electorate. Security agents should also ensure that INEC staff and infrastructure are secured. As always, the world will be watching and taking records.

Finally, we sue for all actors to prioritize peace before, during, and after the polls. Noting that there can be no progress without peace, we affirm that the embrace of the armed opposition and the imposition of enforced restrictions on the constitutional right of citizens to choose their leaders will only serve as a further obstacle to the developmental aspirations of Anambra state, the Southeast, and Nigeria as a whole.

Ultimately, the task of ensuring that a peaceable and credible election takes place rests on the shoulders of Anambra voters. While remaining vigilant and keeping safe, we urge the electorate to not be intimidated by threats to their hard-fought democratic franchise. We also urge relevant state and civic actors to play their role in ensuring that the desires of the electorate are reflected in the ultimate outcome of the polls.

May we conclude by wholeheartedly wishing the good people of Anambra State a peaceful and credible governorship election. Thank you for your time and attention.

Recommendations:

  • We call on security agencies to respect human rights and standard rules of engagement and to secure voters as well as INEC staff and infrastructure.
  • We call on civic and pro-democracy groups to intensify voter education and civic and stakeholder engagement efforts in the remaining 48 hours ahead of the opening of the polls
  • We urge INEC and its officials to ensure timely deployment and the commencement of polling in good time, as well as the diligent accounting of votes.
  • We urge voters to come out and exercise their democratic franchise and not to be intimidated by threats from masked or identified actors.

Signed: 

Idayat Hassan
Director

Download CDD Press Statement on Anambra Elections

 

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