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Ihiala braves stacked odds to give Soludo diadem

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THE mood was intense suspense – marked, charged up by destabilising communication replete with everything but certainty. Three days to the Saturday, November 6, gubernatorial election, rumbles of heavy machine gun fire was erupting almost an hour intervals in several corners of Ihiala Local Government Area (LGA).

  Notable, among the quarters where the rattling gunshots hailed from where the Abbot Boys and St. Jude Secondary School axis in Okohia, Ihiala town where the army had a checkpoint along the Onitsha-Owerri expressway as well as the Orsumoghu and Lilu towns part of Ebonesie where, it is alleged that active cell of the Eastern Security Network (ESN) held sway.

It was an unrelenting frequency of guttural machine gun blasts. Some rounds of the gunfire blared for as long as five minutes only to pause awhile before the response from the opposing end takes the air. That was the regime, day and night as sleep and peace left beds and mats.

Ihiala was abuzz with a very vibrant propaganda mill of a very adamant anti-election horde unleashing rumours that were packaged, potently, to deter people from going out of their homes on the day of election, let alone attempting to exercise their civic responsibility of casting their vote.

     On that date, Saturday, it was only obvious that the land was not in good mood. Heading to the polling unit was only an extreme act of bravery which not many in the area were keen to embark on. Even the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and her staff were not eager to venture out.

    As at 2pm, there were only pockets of persons lurked under shades in the polling units visited. At 3pm, none of the polling stations had got either INEC Officials or voting materials.

   A trip to Ihiala L.G.A. headquarters and to the office of the Electoral Officer (EO) revealed a situation of confusion. Almost everybody, including the EO and his staff appeared overwhelmed. Political parties’ stalwarts and agents appeared rattled too. Inquiries made from the EO and other officials unearthed incoherent replies.

   A slim young lady spoke in high voice in both good English and Hausa almost at the same time marked by hysteric hand gestures. On several occasions that one tried to engage in a discussion with the EO – a relatively young man with a bandaged right forearm, the lady intruded with a frantic request which a harried male National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) member soon joined in making.

They forced themselves into main attention of the EO and the many persons in his office – some chatting in Hausa, some in Yoruba, some in English, some in Igbo. It was as noisy as an open market. Attention gained, the startled lady and the roughly bearded NYSC cop literally rapped their ease and demanded that all efforts should be committed to their matter.

Some ad hoc staff of INEC (all NYSC members) have been left behind in some polling units in Okija 1 and Ogboro area of Ihiala town. The man and the young woman wanted the EO to hurry and send some vehicles and security men over to the areas to ‘rescue’ them.

They informed that the ad hoc staffs were sent to the areas but when they got to the pooling stations, things were rowdy and intense and the policemen with their teams ordered immediate return to the LGA headquarters. In the rush, the NYSC members were not able to join the returning buses.

     As efforts to find vehicles to go to the reported scenes and get the remaining persons began, no driver was handy. The two found refused to go, reporting that they had not been paid since they commenced work for the day. Asked who was with the driver’s money, the EO said it was a certain head of police team in the operation. Efforts to fish out the “C.P.” in charge of the operation revealed that he had left the compound.

    As at 4:35pm he was yet to be found. No bus had gone to get the yet-to-return staff. Further interview of the EO revealed that as at the time election materials had only been taking to “about 12” of the well over 300 polling units in the LGA, …. All the teams deployed were “forced” to return to LGA Headquarters.

  It was gathered that the reason voters chased the INEC teams back to their base was mainly because they arrived late. The earliest delegation left the LGA headquarters at about 2pm. By the time they got to their fields of operation, voters kicked and zestfully complained against the time of arrival against the stated period of voting.

     Some political players however, claimed that the fact that there were no vehicles to take the materials and staff to the polling units was the main cause of the delay and eventual failure of the entire electoral exercise of the day. Some of the drivers, who said they were hired from Awka, Anambra State capital, claimed that they were not even given mobilisation fees as at the evening. Some other sources said that both the electoral and security officials were frightened by the repeated occasions of heavy gunshots in the area.

     Elections eventually did not hold in the entire Ihiala on that Saturday, November, 6. But something funny almost happened. At night, noise emanated from the office of the EO located on the top floor of one of the one-floor buildings in the LGA headquarters. Involved in the heated altercation were some of the frontline politicians from the LGA. The politicians yelled at the EO, accusing him of trying to work on the scripts of the election to favour a certain political party against the other 17 in the Anambra 2021 Gubernatorial Election.

  According to the Deputy Speaker of Anambra State House of Assembly, Paschal Agbodike, who hails from the LGA and leads the campaign team of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the area, the row came up after he and some other politicians from other political parties happened upon the EO writing results for the “unheld election in Ihiala LGA in favour of” one “political party” (name withheld).

  “Can you believe it? We got hint that he was writing the result. We got there and caught him, ‘red handed’. He was hiding in one corner in his office and writing the result for the election that did not hold. Imagine that! We refused. We got him on camera”, said Dr Agbodike.

     However, Sunday, November 7, returning officer of the Anambra 2021 gubernatorial election, Prof. Florence Obi announced that there was no election in Ihiala LGA. Hence, INEC scheduled Tuesday, November 9, for a supplementary election in the area.

    The sophomore event was a different kettle of fish. From security to logistics, to the mode of operation of political parties and the social mood of the entire local council – the particulars were not similar.

     Indeed, there was still the general atmosphere of fear and apathy to the election but, the fact that there were polls in other local council in Anambra apart from Ihiala made some people relax their apprehension to the exercise through the eve of the supplementary poll being a Monday – the usual sit-at-home day proclaimed by IPOB – dried up the streets and increased the ranks of sceptics.

     The heavier presence of military men and armoury along with increased number of police cops emboldened those who understood that they were there for citizen’s safety on one end whilst discouraging sceptics from walking outdoor on the excuse that “the army have come to kill us”, as some put it. Also, the absence of the machine gun ‘sessions’ that marked the preceding days to the earlier election date made some persons embrace the November 9 polls. But the calmness of the situation along with the fact that the results of elections in the 20 other LGAs of Anambra State have been known made politicians more desperate to plot ways to gain the situation. Given that results of 20 LGAs have been declared with APGA winning 18 of them while Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Young Peoples Party (YPP) got one local council each, politicians of the other 16 parties except the two top-contending ones, (APGA and PDP) found an opportunity to exploit the duo. Some stakeholders of the other 16 parties and voters even went to both APGA and PDP promoters to get hand-outs and made the same pledge to support them only to go to the ballots and do different things.

  The political pulsation rose higher overnight when news emerged that the gubernatorial candidate of PDP, Val Ozigbo was in Ihiala on the eve of the election. When rumours begin to fly everywhere that there appears to be more goodies in the PDP camp, including packs of noodles, some of the other parties’ followers and undecided voter who had the guts returned for ‘better negotiations’.

On the ‘D-Day’ of the conclusion election, the weather was clement and a more encouraging numbers of voters turned up at the polling stations. Even as the electoral materials did not arrive the polling units early, when they did, the voters flung into action eagerly and promptly.

  Arrival of some frontline members of APGA into Ihiala raised the morale of the party’s followers on the day of the supplementary election. At the wards and polling units, electoral activities held in very orderly manner but in pubs and common grounds, it was a lot of horse-trading as the people cracked all manner of jokes on the two frontline parties while some “who don’t mind finding trouble” poked fun on candidates who “spent money in millions” but reaped votes in paltry scores.

  Ihiala election was as much hell as it was fun. Somehow, the ‘joy content’ appears more. This was manifest when it emerged late, last Tuesday night that Ihiala LGA eventually delivered a resounding victory for the APGA candidate, Prof. Chukwuma Charles Soludo, ahead Mr Ozigbo among others. The mood across Ihiala after the declaration of results was high. Long-standing APGA member, from Ubuluisiuzo, Pee Muo said: “I’m very, very happy we delivered… in  big way, no matter what.”

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