Prior to the Governorship election in Anambra State, there was widespread apprehension prompted by factors such as the security situation in the South East and the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) readiness for the election especially with the controversy generated by its decision to deploy technology in the conduct of the election and the transmission of its results.
There were, actually, calls for the postponement of the election because it was assumed that the pervasive threats by secessionist elements within the region will make its conduct ill-advised. In a daring move, almost all the stakeholders in the zone, including the government and civil society organisations, pulled every stop to ensure that the election held.
Political analysts explain what happened in Anambra state as a victory for democracy and a demonstration of willpower by all concerned which was channeled to a cause that would have embarrassed the nation if non-state actors had been allowed to actualise their threats to disrupt the exercise.
More than anything else, the security situation created a siege mentality among the people who were scared of taking a bold step forward to perform their civic duty. This state of mind on the part of the people was exacerbated by the presence of the security agencies which were on orders to dominate their environment. Many among the indigenes of the state did not want to be caught in the crossfire. Not a few, under the prevailing circumstance at the time, wondered if the election will hold at all. INEC, undaunted by the palpable state of anxiety and the near overwhelming challenge of having to provide some of the most basic infrastructure it needed, put its act together and successfully conducted the election.
The nation heaved a sigh of relief as the worst that was feared did not happen. Expectedly, however, there was a low voter turnout. But that common feature of polls in the South East generally, at the best of times, did not vitiate the credibility and integrity of the process and its outcome, or, for that matter, the determination of the electoral commission to carry out its assigned duties not minding the intervening odds.
Were there lessons to learn from the situation before, during and after the Anambra polls and their implication for future exercises? The Commission was the first to admit that it was not unaware of the issues raised about the performance of the new technology deployed for voter accreditation, for instance. It averred that the deployment of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) in the Anambra governorship election was the second pilot test and it was intended to achieve two objectives. First, INEC explained, is voter accreditation to replace the Smart Card Reader. The second is the uploading of polling unit result to the INEC Result Viewing (IReV) portal to replace the z-pad. BVAS performed optimally in its opinion, by uploading results to the IReV portal, but there were the usual challenges associated with the pilot of a new technology in a major election.
Assessing itself further, INEC pointed out that much of the glitches encountered on election day in Anambra State had little to do with the machines but more with the operators of the system. According to it, the extraordinarily difficult circumstances under which the election was held meant that some of the better trained ad hoc staff withdrew at the 11th hour. As if that was not bad enough, some critical service providers such as vehicle owners also withdrew, thereby severely affecting plans for rapid response by technicians – the Registration Area Technical (RATECH) staff. Still on that self-assessment, the electoral body noted that in spite of the glitches, BVAS justified the determination by the commission to deepen the deployment of technology in the electoral process.
In the opinion of this newspaper, and regardless of the perceived inefficiency of this new technology, it has strengthened the belief in the public space that even the minimal introduction of technology in voter accreditation is better than the best manual process. This has also justified the hope of citizens across the country that the deployment of more appropriate technology is essential to electoral integrity in Nigeria.
INEC wants Nigerians to be assured that it has learnt vital lessons from the Anambra pilot. It also pledged that there will be remarkable improvement in the next major election which is the end-of-tenure Area Council election in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) schedule to hold in three months on 12th February 2022.
While we commend INEC for the outcome of the Anambra election, it is pertinent to call its attention to the tendency, on its part, to be over-confident in its preparations preceding the exercise proper. This was one of the major issues raised by observers as reports started filtering in about disappointments by critical service providers and ad hoc staff. Given the security situation in the South East, INEC ought to have anticipated those and put in place a contingency plan. Still, we believe that the Anambra election, with all its challenges and lessons, was a good outing for INEC and an affirmation of the viability of democracy in the country.