Late last week, a gory video showing two freshly murdered corpses, which a narrator identified as an official of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and his police orderly murdered by some unknown gunmen working to ensure that Saturday’s governorship election in Anambra State doesn’t hold, went viral on social media, along with another video of a certain self declared General Innocent Orji, leader of a new armed separatist group, Biafra National Guard (BNG), announcing that in line with the declaration of the detained leader of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Anambra poll cannot be allowed to hold.
Days before the election, its fate is ever more uncertain as gunmen whose long stated objective is to ensure that the people of the state state do not elect new leadership have declared war against security agencies and intending voters, in what is a security challenge assuming worrying dimensions in the country’s Southeast where the ever present agitation a separate state of Biafra has grown increasingly violent.
Only last week, at least eight people were killed in the state, following confrontations between soldiers and the said gunmen.
In a statement at the weekend, Army spokesperson, Brig Gen. Onyema Nwachukwu, said troops killed four members of the Eastern Security Network (ESN), a militant wing of IPOB during an exchange of gunfire in the state.
“Troops of 82 Division Nigerian Army conducting Exercise GOLDEN DAWN have neutralised four gunmen of the proscribed Indigenous Peoples of Biafra/ Eastern Security Network (IPOB/ESN) in a fierce encounter at Nnobi Junction, Idemili South Local Government Area on Friday 29 October 2021. This followed the assailants’ armed attack on personnel of security agencies deployed at Ekwulobia Round About in Aguata Local Government Area of Anambra State, during which troops swiftly mobilised to the scene and subsequently embarked on pursuit of the criminals along Nnewi – Nnobi road,” Nwachukwu had said.
“Troops made contact with the fleeing gunmen and engaged them in a fire fight, neutralising four of the criminals. The gallant troops also recovered two AK-47 Rifles, one GALIL Ace 5.56 x 45 Iwi Gun, one Avofeng Hand held radio and one Black Highlander jeep. Sadly, a personnel of one of the security agencies paid the supreme price.
“In a separate operation, troops have foiled another attack by IPOB/ESN gunmen at Umunze Checkpoint, in Orumba South Local Government Area. The vigilant troops overwhelmed the attackers in the shootout that ensued, forcing them to take to their heels, abandoning, one Pump Action gun with nine cartridges, one dark blue Ford and four motorcycles, which the troops have recovered.
“The Nigerian Army notes that the recent attacks are part of proscribed IPOB/ESN plan to instil fear into the public and sabotage forthcoming Anambra State Governorship Election. Members of the public are reassured that the Nigerian Army, sister services and other security agencies will not relent in resolutely confronting all criminals intents against the citizenry and national interest. Law abiding citizens are enjoined to continue to go about their daily activities without any fear. They are also encouraged to report any unusual activity observed across Anambra State to the nearest security post.”
It’s an unfolding mayhem. The brutal, murder, weeks ago, of Dr. Chike Akunyili, husband of late Prof Dora Akunyili, brought more attention to what had been weeks of series of killings in the state as gunmen, comprising of cult groups, pro Biafra agitators and political thugs continue to unleash mayhem.
With Saturday’s election in view, pro Biafra militants who are determined to ensure that the election does not hold, have declared war against just anyone seen to be working to ensure that the polls hold, including politicians, officials of INEC, and security agencies who have continued to respond in kind. The atmosphere is ever more intense and may residents of the state say they’d rather stay indoors than take the risk being killed trying to vote on election day.
“For me, I have seen and heard enough,” said Mr. Oliver Nwafor, a business owner in Awka. “I have no intention of going out to vote on Saturday. I cannot risk my life. The truth is that the election is at risk. People will not go out that day, because nobody wants to die.”
In Awka, Nwafor’s sentiments is widely shared. Many people spoken to say they would rather stay away from the polling boots than risk being killed by gunmen.
Fortnight ago, IPOB, through its spokesman, Emma Powerful, threatened to lock down the entire Southeast for one week, from November 5, a day to the election, if President Muhammadu Buhari does not release its leader, Kanu from the custody of the Department of State Services (DSS) on or before November 4, in an apparent attempt to use the election as bargaining chip.
The possibility of Buhari ordering Kanu’s release from custody does not exist. His case remains in court and he is detained on the order of the court. The IPOB, may indeed carry out its threat, not minding the continued protestations of Ohanaeze Ndigbo and other interested groups against the move. Since the group began declaring sit-at-home protest following the arrest of Kanu, it’s foot soldiers have been ruthlessly enforcing same, compelling residents to stay at home every Monday, even when it’s leadership had repeatedly cancelled the Monday sit-at-home directive. Many have been attacked; sometimes murdered, and numerous businesses have been destroyed by hoodlums enforcing the sit-at-home order.
The proscribed group has particularly warned Anambra residents not to risk going out the during of the order, one many say they will obey despite heavy deployment of security agencies by federal government for the election.
At a special consultative meeting with political parties in Abuja on Friday, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, assured that the election will hold as planned, but that the commission will not be deploying electoral materials and personnel in 86 of the 5,720 polling units, as there are yet no registered voters at the affected units.
Mahmood hinged his confidence on the report he received from the security agency in the state, particularly the state Commissioner of Police as well as the Resident Electoral Commissioner.
Over the past few days, the Inspector General of Police, IGP Usman Alkali Baba, has adopted series of security measures to ensure that the election is held despite the threat posed by the rampaging gunmen.
On October 14, he ordered the mobilization and deployment of a total of 34,587 police personnel, three Police Helicopters, technical capabilities of the Police Airwing, the Force Marine and the Force Animal Branch, and other operational assets for the election.
Last week, the IGP, deployed selected seasoned Strategic Commanders from the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police and above to the state for effective supervision of security personnel and operations during the elections.
In particular, the IGP deployed Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Joseph Egbunike to coordinate security for the polls.
Similarly, the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), deployed 20, 000 officers and men to complement sister-security agencies, while troops of the 82 Division, Nigeria Army currently conducting Exercise Golden Dawn in the state and rest of the Southeast, are battling to contain rampaging gunmen.
But residents say they have not seen enough to convince them that it would be safe to step out on Saturday.
“I won’t be going out on Saturday,” declared Chidi Okeke, a tailor in Amawbia. “Yes, the police and Army have been deployed, but people can still be attacked. The state government has now adopted Saturday as school day because they cannot protect students on Mondays. How can they protect everyone on election day?”
Early last month, following the killing of Dr. Akunyili, among others, Mr. Abubakar Malami, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, threatened that a state of emergency could be a possibility in the state, a threat which triggered generated outrage, forcing the government to backtrack.
Buhari has since directed the Armed Forces and other security agencies to ensure that nothing stops the election, and with effort being put in place by INEC, the election is certain to hold. But voter apathy is sure to greet the polls, which for many, will play into the hands of the country’s party, the All Progressive Congress (APC).
Indeed, the party’s candidate, Senator Andy Uba, despite being unpopular among the electorate, is now considered very much a front runner, with the potential to put an end to the almost two decades rule of the All Progressive Grand Alliance in the state.
“If election holds and people go out to vote, Andy Uba cannot win,” said Chidi Nwafor, political observer in Awka. “If there is an election, APGA or PDP will win. Uba cannot win. APC is not liked here, and Uba is very unpopular, even in his home town, forget social media propaganda.
“But as it stands, people will not come out to vote, and that will enable him to use federal might to rig the election. They might repeat what they did in Imo State. But unlike Imo, they may not wait to go to court, they may take the state by force and ask you to go to court.”
The threat of violence could be the major deciding factor. Candidates had been forced to suspend campaigns, and while APGA’s candidate, former governor of the Central Bank, had stood out as the favorite candidate and the most likely to win, as shown by a survey by our correspondents, followed in that order by PDP’s Mr. Valentine Ozigbo, the outcome of the election may ultimately be decided by the other intervening variables rather than popularity of candidates.
“APGA has not been able to campaign because of the violence. The party has not been able to campaign in up to three local governments. Everyone is afraid,” Nwafor said. “People will not come out to vote, unless IPOB declares that the election should hold. Otherwise, they would be too afraid to go out to vote.”