Anxiety had been building over the upcoming Anambra governorship polls scheduled for November 6, as violence by unknown gunmen, whose avowed objective may be to scuttle the election, continued to cast doubt on the possibility of a peaceful transition of power in the state; which has raised a spectre of constitutional crisis.
Although the question of how to salvage the situation had been on the minds of many people, the threat by Mr. Abubakar Malami, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, that state of emergency is one of the cards on the table has drawn loud condemnation from across sections of Nigerians, who wondered why it is the best option.
Malami who spoke on Wednesday after the federal executive council meeting, has been of the receiving end of the issue as most Nigerians especially in the southern part and Middle Belt have read sinister and discriminatory motives into the assertion given the north west, particularly Zamfara and Kaduna, have been theatres of banditry with little response from government.
But an election is due in Anambra state in a month and a faceless group is bent on stopping it. The leading agitating group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which had continued to campaign for election boycott in the zone, as a way of driving home its point, have since vowed that there would be election in Anambra.
The separatist group’s leadership, interestingly, appears to have lost hold of its would be foot soldiers. While, for instance, the leadership has repeatedly cancelled its Monday sit-at-home, hoodlums continue to enforce same with violence. And while it has also maintained its innocence in the violence in Anambra, well-armed gunmen have continued to impose order in its name.
“We the great family of the Indigenous People of Biafra …have no hands in the political killings going on in Biafra land. We have at several times raised the alarm that some cruel politicians are hiding under the cloak of the situation in Biafra land to eliminate their political enemies and blame it on IPOB, IPOB spokesperson, Emma Powerful said last week.
“We also wish to clarify that IPOB has never issued an official statement that there would be no governorship election in Anambra State. Those peddling such rumour are not our members and should be ignored. Our position on the Anambra election will be made public at the right time through our normal channels of information dissemination. Anything to the contrary should be disregarded.”
In the lead of to the last general election in 2019, IPOB leader, Nnamdi Kanu, had insisted that there would be no election in the Southeast, his so called “Biafra land” until his demand for referendum is met. He encouraged his supporters to boycott the polls, insisting that “No Referendum, No Election.”
Days before the election, however, he backtracked and asked those who wished to vote to do so, as he was now certain that referendum would be granted. Buhari, the incumbent president and candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC), eventually won the election, though his opponent, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) insisted the polls were rigged and challenged in court.
Southeast, a stronghold of the opposition party, which had in more recent elections, witnessed low turnout of voters, saw even a historic low turnout, what some blamed on Kanu’s order.
It’s been more than two years since the 2019 polls, the IPOB leader’s referendum, whoever promised him, has not been granted. The demand for referendum has increasingly gone mainstream, and Kanu, before his latest incarceration, had vowed that there would be no election in Anambra in November, and no election in “Biafra land” in 2023 if referendum is not granted.
“In November, there will not be any election in Anambra State, instead heaven will fall. We are going to put on television for you people to watch,” Kanu had declared in his live broadcast on June 1st.
In earlier threat, he had perhaps, hoped to enforce by getting his followers to boycott the polls, but this time, attacks on politicians and facilities of INEC in the Anambra suggest that there is a plan to prevent the polls from being held altogether, a development many say is deeply worrying, even if it won’t eventually lead to an emergency, as the federal government would then have to appoint an administrator to run the state.
“It’s a concern. I wouldn’t know who is destroying INEC facilities in the Southeast, whether it’s IPOB or ESN or unknown gunmen. I don’t know what they want to achieve. But the development is very worrisome,” said Mr. Collins Okeke, head, public sector practice group at Olisa Agbakoba Legal.
“We are still better off with the representatives that are elected. I don’t understand the thinking behind that position. But I’m hopeful that election will hold. I have a feeling that with time, reason will prevail and people will understand why it is better to engage in dialogue instead of this violence.”
With campaign vehicles and politicians continuing to be attacked by armed hoodlums determined to enthrone anarchy, a state of emergency looked like a likely outcome.
“Many people have been killed,” lamented Senator Ifeanyi Ubah, one of the leading candidates for November poll. “In Nnewi, our brother, Eze B was killed. There are many others. Nobody knows why they are killing people. But we hear that they are saying they don’t want election in Anambra.”
In Anambra today, driving a decent vehicle makes one a target. Having a police or military officer in the vehicle, or being in branded campaign vehicles, is death sentence. Candidates of some leading political parties such as PDP and APC have been forced to suspend campaigns, while APGA is managing to campaign amid tight security.
On Tuesday fortnight ago, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu repeated the commission’s concerns at an emergency meeting of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) in Abuja.
Yakubu said that during the last ICCES quarterly meeting on Sept. 9, major concern was raised by the committee on the security situation in Anambra and the adjoining states, noting that concern was raised on how the situation might affect preparations and possibly the conduct of the Anambra election, but that unfortunately, the situation had deteriorated since the last meeting, as many innocent lives had been lost and property destroyed in the state.
“From reports that we have received, the stated goal of many of the attackers is that the governorship election scheduled for Nov. 6 must not hold, he said. “This is worrisome for the commission. We are deeply concerned that specific electoral facilities and materials could once more become targets of attack.”
He added that the commission’s store, collation centre and the main office building were either totally or substantially damaged, while INEC also lost several vehicles billed for the election.
State of Emergency
Last week, Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Abubakar Malami, escalated the debate by threatening Anambra with a state of emergency ahead of the state’s governorship election, a threat that has attracted outrage, perhaps rightly so, from lawyers, concerned citizens and the state government.
“No possibility is ruled out by government in terms of ensuring the sanctity of our democratic order, in terms of ensuring that our elections in Anambra hold.”
He continued by pointing out that “You cannot rule out the possibility of declaration of state of emergency where it is established, in essence, that there is a failure on the part of the state government to ensure the sanctity of security of lives, properties and democratic order.”
Malami’s threat expectedly infuriated many, including the state government which quickly went up in arms, as Governor Willie Obiano hurried to Abuja for an Audience with President Buhari, who he said assured him of nothing in that regard. But for a number of observers, the threat may have been well calculated.
Particularly noteworthy in Malami’s remarks, is his deliberate transfer to the state government, of the responsibility of maintaining law and order in a country where all instruments of violence is controlled by the federal government, in whose table therefore, the buck stops.
“When this whole crisis started, we knew it was leading to a state of emergency because it’s orchestrated to achieve that outcome,” alleged Mr. James Ezike, Associate of American Bar Association.
“The other day there was an attack in a village next to mine, and the people who witnessed the attack said the people who carried it out were soldiers.”
In a spirited push back, the state’s commissioner for information and public enlightenment, C. Don Adinuba, wondered why the Attorney General would threaten Anambra with state of emergency when states in the North, such as Zamfara, Kaduna, Borno, Sokoto, Katsina, among others, battling far worse security challenges, amid onslaught by terrorist groups and bandits, have not been so threatened.
For Adinuba, who spoke on Channels TV show, ‘Politics Today,’ on Wednesday night, the threat could only have been politically motivated; a ploy by the government and ruling party to take over the state for its candidate, Senator Andy Uba.
“Since the renewed violence in Anambra State which we believe is politically motivated, not more than 15 persons have been killed. How many persons have died in Borno, Niger, Kaduna, Yobe, Zamfara, even Imo, which is APC-controlled, (and) Ebonyi, which is APC-controlled?” Adinuba wondered. “Has anybody threatened emergency rule in any of these states?”
Many others have also waded into the threat, even as it has continued to attract condemnation.
“Declaring state of emergency is equivalent to war,” Ezike said. “If it ever happens in Anambra, it would be the second civil war.”
Similarly, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Paul Ananaba, argued that the insecurity experienced in Anambra has not degenerated into the declaration of an emergency rule.
“Section 305 has made it clear that at the actual break down of law and order, there is no actual breakdown of law and order in Anambra State – schools are in session, banks are working, markets and all. There is violence but it has not gotten to the declaration of a State of Emergency.”
On Thursday, the state governor, Willie Obiano, headed to Abuja to meet Buhari over the threat, and after conferring with the president, said the threat was never his idea, but Malami’s.
Obiano who spoke to state house correspondents after meeting with president in the Presidential Villa, Abuja, described the threat of emergency rule as unfortunate and wondered why the minister had not contemplated the imposition of emergency rule in states where there had been a lot of killings.
“That’s a very unfortunate comment by the Attorney-General Malami, very unfortunate. I also reported that to the President and this is not in the books of the President because he knows that Anambra has been the safest state in Nigeria for seven years plus,” he said.
But the federal government has since backed Malami, describing IPOB as a bigger threat than bandits.
Lai Mohammed, Minister of Information and Culture who conveyed the government’s position, brushed off criticisms of the move, claiming that the threats posed by separatist agitators like IPOB were more grievous than those of bandits in northern states.
“In the last couple of weeks, IPOB had imposed sit-at-home on the citizens, they did not allow people to go to schools, markets and there are also high profile killings.
“The AGF said yesterday that the government will do whatever it takes to restore law and order in Anambra and the entire South East to ensure that symbols and pillars of democracy are not tampered with.
“The forthcoming election in the state is one of the pillars of democracy. Those who are criticising the AGF on this, have they thought for one minute what will happen if the election does not take place in Anambra State on Nov. 6?” Mr. Mohammed asked.
“It is a disingenuous argument to say that they have killed more people in Katsina, Zamfara and Kaduna than they killed in Anambra. What is happening in Katsina, Zamfara, Kaduna and Niger is criminality and the government will not condone it.”
The minister added that if there is any need to declare a state of emergency in Zamfara, Katsina and Kaduna States, the government would not hesitate to do so.
Amid the back and forth, the electorate in Anambra await, scared. And while the violence may not ultimately stop the election from being held, it’s almost certain to scare many away from the polling booths.