There was palpable anxiety in Awka and other parts of Anambra State yesterday as time ticked for the governorship election in the state today.

The fear and anxiety among the populace was provoked mainly by sustained threats by members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to disrupt the election.

The heavy presence of soldiers and other security operatives deployed for the election also heightened fear among the electorate, especially after the just concluded military exercise code named Operation Python Dance II (Egwu Eke II).

Our investigation revealed that barely 24 hours to the commencement of the election, a large number of registered voters were yet to collect their permanent voter cards (PVC), an indication that they might not vote during the election.

An official of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), who craved anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, told our correspondent that about 35 per cent of registered voters across the state had not collected their PVCs.

He attributed the development to lack of interest in the exercise, which he said was caused largely by the campaign by IPOB that the election should be boycotted.

In Onitsha, for instance, IPOB members have intensified their campaign against the election by distributing handbills containing unprintable anti-government slogans from house to house.

They have also been spreading the rumour that the voting ink that would be used for the election has been poisoned and intended to kill those that will vote in the election.

Truckloads of fierce looking soldiers and Mobile Policemen have also thrown the people into panic.

An Igbo leader and member of the Board of Trustees (BoT) of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka, yesterday condemned the massive deployment of security operatives for the election, saying that it would scare the voters away.

He said: “The heavy presence of soldiers on the streets will certainly scare the voters away.

“Most of them will prefer to remain indoors, in the safety of their homes rather than take the risk to walk to the polling units only to be harassed by soldiers.

“We are not in a war situation to necessitate such heavy deployment of soldiers.”

Also expressing worries over alleged militarization of the election, the South-East Chairman of the Campaign for Democracy (CD), Uzor A Uzor, said the development would drastically reduce the number of voters that would participate in the election.

According to him, IPOB and other separatist groups who have been canvassing for election boycott have leveraged on the heavy presence of soldiers on the streets to instil more fear in the minds of voters.

Uzor, who disclosed that CD had embarked on series of awareness campaigns on radio to encourage the people to ignore the IPOB threat and come out to cast their votes during the election, chided the National Orientation Agency (NOA) and INEC for not doing enough to allay voters’ fears through awareness campaigns and sensitization workshops.

The police yesterday read the riot act to troublemakers in the state, vowing to deal decisively with anyone who attempted to disrupt today’s governorship election in the state.

For several months, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had been issuing threats that there would be no election in Anambra State.

A video also circulated online, warning voters to “vote and die”.

But the police reassured voters yesterday that there was no cause for alarm.

Along with other security agencies, they embarked on a show of force around the state, telling residents there was nothing to fear.

The police said it had deployed 21,084 men from various states for the exercise, in addition to other security agents already in the state.

Members of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), including the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, among others, have also deployed their men.

This is as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) gave assurances that the election would be hitch-free, free and fair.

At the state police and INEC headquarters, armoured personnel careers were stationed. Sniffer dogs were seen patrolling the commission’s premises. Adjourning roads were restricted to only those on official duties.

Sensitive materials were collected from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and distributed on Thursday.

The Deputy Inspector-General of Police (DIG) Joshak Habila, in charge of the election, said adequate security arrangements had been made.

On possible threats, he said: “We did a threat analysis a long time ago. We did physical threat analysis. Some possible security challenges and threats were analysed. We came to the conclusion that we need to watch the 4,680 polling units closely.

“We’ll also pay close attention to the 326 wards and local government collation centres, the INEC headquarters and other places. We’ve already deployed security to those places. We have a standby unit.”

Habila said all the officers have been deployed, with allowances paid upfront to keep the men motivated.

“Even those who are to secure the Awka polling units have all gone. The sensitive materials have been successfully distributed.

“I assure voters that the directive given to me by the Inspector-General of Police is that we should be transparent and create a level playing ground in terms of security.

“He also directed us to deal with any situation that tends to dent the image or compromise the process of this election; that we should address that squarely, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

The police chief said all black spots have been identified and would be well policed.

He urged voters to ignore IPOB’s threats, saying they were empty bullying.

Habila said: “We have held a meeting with the ICCES. We are working with some of the templates that they have developed. We have gone on a show of force. The military came out in large numbers. We asked them to lead. We all followed.

“We dominated Onitsha and we assured the public that it is very, very safe, and they should come out and exercise their franchise. We went to Nnewi and other places.

“They will vote and live. You will vote and live to reap the dividends of democracy. We’ve changed the ‘vote and die’ threat to ‘vote and live’. And I see no threats at all,” he said.

According to him, the police were determined to get it right.

“This election is standing alone. It will be used to assess the performance of the police in terms of security provision across board. We’ll not compromise. We’ll follow the rules of the game.

“We’ll provide a conducive atmosphere for people to cast their votes. We’ll ensure security of materials and of the officials, observers, and the electorate. We’ll demonstrate that responsibility on Saturday (today).”

On the welfare of his men, Habila said the officers deployed for election duties had been paid up front.

Addressing a reserve team of hundreds of officers at the State Police Command Headquarters in Awka on Thursday night, he had asked those who were yet to receive alerts to raise their hands. Only a few did.

“Among the reserve at the headquarters, only three or four raised their hands to say they had not received an alert. It’s possible they supplied a wrong number or there are issues with their alert system.

“Everyone else confirmed that allowances had been paid and that their money had ‘dropped’,” he said.

He urged the officers to be responsible and not harass innocent voters.

Addressing them, he said: “We don’t want you to go and take igbo (Marijuana) or burukutu (a local liquor). Don’t harass any voter. If you see innocent persons and you fire them, you will also be dealt with.

“But if you see anybody armed and going around to cause trouble, demobilise the person.”

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