With the supplementary poll in the Anambra State governorship election holding Monday in Ihiala Local Government Area, attention has shifted to the council area, just as interests have heightened among the various stakeholders.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has, in line with extant rules and regulations, announced a slight adjustment to the commencement and closing time for the supplementary election. INEC said polling would now commence at 10am and end at 4pm.
The commission had on Sunday declared the November 6 off-time governorship election in Anambra State inconclusive owing to the suspension of voting in Ihiala Local Government Area on account of alleged irregularities.
But the All Progressives Congress (APC) accused the candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Professor Chukwuma Soludo, and fellow party man and incumbent governor of the state, Willie Obiano, of rigging the election.
However, the state government appealed to the people of Ihiala to come out en masse today to cast their votes, assuring them of adequate security.
Meanwhile, CLEEN Foundation said there was need for INEC to improve on logistics and operational challenges associated with the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) to deliver more transparent and credible elections.
Ahead of today’s voting, prominent sons and daughters of Ihiala had mobilise indigenes of the area at home and in the diaspora to vote in today’s supplementary election.
Last Saturday’s governorship election was declared inconclusive after the exercise was cancelled in Ihiala. Though, Soludo had crossed the threshold requirement for victory after winning 18 out of the 21 local governments areas in the state.
Despite the fact that Soludo was in apparent victory, the situation in Ihiala necessitated a supplementary poll to avoid disenfranchising the area’s huge voting population of over 148, 000.
Announcing the adjustment to the voting timeline for Ihiala, INEC said, in a statement by its National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, “We urge political parties, voters, election duty officials, election observers, the media and the general public to note this slight modification. We also appeal to citizens to conduct themselves in an orderly manner to ensure that the election is brought to a peaceful conclusion.”
However, Chairman of APC in the state, Basil Ejidike, accused Soludo and Obiano of rigging while rejecting the results so far declared by INEC. It vowed to contest the results to the Supreme Court, if INEC went ahead to declare Soludo winner of the election.
Ejidike said APC would never accept the election’s outcome. He called for cancellation of the election.
He stated, “We want the whole world to hear our voice that we will never accept the outcome of the Anambra gubernatorial election. The candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and the sitting Governor, Willie Obiano, manipulated the whole electoral system and we will stand to resist it.
“We virtually won in all the local governments, but Willie Obiano and Charles Soludo, through instrumentality, corrupt-minded INEC officers, subverted the whole process in favour of APGA.
“But if INEC goes ahead to announce the results, we will definitely challenge the election process at the court of law, up to Supreme Court. Nobody can intimidate us.”
Ejidike also addressed a press conference in Awka. He said despite the party’s protests, there were no truth in some press statements attributed to the party, and being circulated in the media.
He said, “There have been too many information ascribed to us that is not true. Some people wrote whatever they liked and credited it to the party, when it didn’t come from the party. One of them was the one that said APC has denounced the exercise, and called for cancellation, and the other was that we said we were heading to court to challenge the election.
“There is another one that said that I collapsed, after hearing the result of my ward, where they claimed I lost. I want to make it clear that they were false information. None of them emanated from us.
“The picture saying that I collapsed is false. My polling unit 002 bridgehead market, Onitsha, was won by APC. I had 95 per cent in the unit and even in my ward. If you look at the picture they are circulating, you will know that it has no resemblance of my person at all. Please, discard the information.”
But the state government assured the people of security through a public announcement by the Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Solo Chukwulobelu.
Chukwulobelu announced, “This is to inform the public, particularly, residents and voters in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has fixed Tuesday, 9th November, 2021 as the date for the 2021 Anambra Gubernatorial supplementary election for Ihiala local government area only.
“Anambra State Government, working with relevant security agencies, hereby assure Ndi Ihiala that adequate security arrangements have been made to protect life and property during the election. All are encouraged to come out and vote for the candidate of their choice.
“As Ndi Ihiala may have observed, elections were successfully and peacefully held in the other 20 local government areas of Anambra State and INEC has duly announced the results. No incidence of violence or voter molestation was recorded in the Anambra gubernatorial election, which held on Saturday, 6th November 2021.
“As a reminder, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had previously cancelled the sit-at-home order earlier announced and encouraged Ndi Anambra to come out and vote. Anambra will continue to remain the light of the nation.”
CLEEN Foundation said there was need for INEC to improve logistics and address operational challenges associated with the BVAS. The Non-governmental Organisation (NGO) noted that the election was visibly marred by logistics and operational challenges with regard to the distribution of election materials and late arrival of INEC officials at many of the polling units.
The foundation stated that the challenges led to late opening of polling in some units, the extension of the polls from 2.30pm to 4.30pm, and subsequent disenfranchisement of some eligible voters due to unavailability of election materials and INEC officials.
In a statement by Acting Executive Director, CLEEN Foundation, Ruth Olofin, the foundation recommended that INEC should conduct more voter awareness on the BVAS machine.
CLEEN said, “INEC result portal should be improved for more transparency and accountability through automation of the sum of votes received by political parties at the polling units; INEC should prosecute electoral offenders to serve as deterrent to others;
“INEC should provide enough sensitive materials, such as Braille for voters with visual impairment; the commission should train and retrain electoral officers and ad-hoc staff to enable them meet with the changing needs of the electorate in Nigeria.”
In related development, THISDAY gathered that prominent indigenes of Ihiala, who began mobilising to ensure large turn out of voters on Tuesday included Mr. Ernest Obiejesi, popularly known as Obijackson; chairman of Air Peace Airline, Allen Onyema; and Chairman of Seplat Oil, Dr. ABC Orjiakor, among others.
Ihiala is reputed as the local government with the highest concentration of billionaires in Anambra State, after Nnewi, and it also boasts the second largest voting strength in the state, after Idemili North Local Government Area.
The local government will today decide the fate of the major candidates in the governorship race, as 148,000 voters in the area go to the poll.
Sources told THISDAY that the major candidates in the Anambra governorship election had shifted their attention to Ihiala, pressing to mobilise voters for themselves. It was further gathered that many voters from Ihiala, who resided in other towns, had been coming home since noon yesterday, in preparation for today’s poll.
“Some of our brothers, who live in Lagos and Abuja, have already arrived by air, on the sponsorship of some of our billionaires,” a source said.
Obiano, too, was alleged to be pressing some of the notable figures in the state to work for APGA and ensure that Soludo won the election.
Soludo is currently leading with about 45,000 votes, but with 148,000 votes still up for grabs, if the Ihiala people decide to favour PDP’s candidate, Mr. Valentine Ozigbo or APC’s Senator Andy Uba, they could comfortably make anyone of them the next governor of the state.
But a source said Onyema was already working hard to ensure Soludo emerged victorious.
Not unexpectedly, the governorship candidate of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Nze Akachukwu Nwankpo, has withdrawn from the race and thrown his weight behind Soludo. Nwankpo, after allegedly consulting with his party leadership, elected to support Soludo.
The ADC candidate said, “Today, by 18.46 pm, I and my wife, Bar. Obiageli Nwankpo, spoke with Prof. Chukwuma Charles Soludo, the gubernatorial candidate of APGA and congratulated him for a hard fought election and, in fact, conceded to him the title of the next governor of Anambra State.
“My dear friend and brother, I have studied the trend of this election and seen clearly that the people of Anambra State want you to lead a deep seated effort to reform and rebuild our state. Anambra State must now become a state run on the basis of the will and desire of our people. I add my voice in calling the people of Ihiala Local Government to rise up and resoundingly end this election by massively voting for Soludo.
“Let there be no doubt that Ihiala LGA stands where the rest of Anambra State stands. I further advise you to mount the horse of great leadership and reach out to other candidates with humility and respect so that together we can all stop pressure-cooking Anambra State and start rebuilding.
“Reach to Val Ozigbo, who is much loved, and to Dr. Andy Uba, who has equally fought a hard campaign. Let us, together, build a state, where all men of faith can find comfort and partnership in Christ.
Chuks Okocha in Abuja and David-Chyddy Eleke in Awka