By: Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy and Development, FENRAD.
Aba North/South Federal Constituency is a creation of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as a federal constituency upon the return to democracy in 1999. It has been represented by many elected representatives since. Following the death of its current representative, Honourable Ossy Prestige, a by-election, as is the law, was scheduled to hold by Saturday, March 27, 2021 to replace the deceased lawmaker by INEC.
The election which held across 609 polling units, two Registration Areas, with many political parties contesting was manned by a little over 2,900 staff and ad-hoc staff of the electoral body – INEC.
Carved out in 1999 with return to democracy during the fourth republic, Aba North/South Federal Constituency is one of the eight constituencies delineated for effective representative government at the Federal House of Representatives. The constituency has two local councils to boot – Aba North and South Local Councils. This very constituency, it should be known, covers the entire Aba city, the commercial nerve centre of the Southeast.
Currently, the constituency has 498,390 registered voters, 609 polling units and two Registration Areas across which elections are held. With a population of 1,114, 000 (one million, one hundred and fourteen thousand) constituents, Aba is represented at the federal House of Representatives by one Honourable Member while at the Senate it is under the Abia South Senatorial Zone.
INEC PREPAREDNESS FOR MARCH 27 BY-ELECTION:
The electoral commission, INEC, had announced its preparedness for the by-election slated to hold on March 27, 2021. Speaking to newsmen, the commission’s National Commissioner and Chairman Information and Voter Education, Mr. Festus Okoye, hinted that the commission had trained its personnel and was willing to deploy them for the purpose of the election. According to him, all sensitive materials had been despatched to the Central Bank of Nigeria, Umuahia and will be inspected on March 25, 2021 before being sent to the two council offices of the commission.
Mr. Okoye who also mentioned that all non-sensitive materials had been despatched to the local councils said the commission was ready to give Aba a free, credible and hitch-free election. Mr. Okoye revealed the timetable for the election. According to him, official notification of election would be published by on Monday, March 1, 2021 while party primaries were expected to happen between March 4 and 10 with parties expected to submit names of nominated candidates on or before 6:00pm of March 16.
Also speaking when members of the clergy visited him, the state Resident Electoral Commissioner, REC, Dr. Joseph Ilo said the commission, under him, will deliver a peaceful election as is the requirement according to the Electoral Act.
As is its mandate and civic duty, the Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy and Development, FENRAD, observed and monitored the election across the two councils of the constituency. In most of the electoral wards covered, there were issues of late arrival of logistics leading to late commencement of election. Aba South Ward 9, for example, had not begun election by 10:am as against the stipulated time. Also, the issue of nonfunctioning of smart card readers was noted in Umuola Ward 8, Aba North.
Apathy was also visible given that in most of the polling units monitored by FENRAD, voters did not turn out by up to 20% for the most part. In Ward 8, Aba North, out of 1344 registered voters, less than a hundred voters had turned out. In many other places, INEC staff were seen almost idling away as voters were coming in small trickles. The statewide ban on movement placed by the state government on vehicular movement might have been the cause and also the fact that many of the registered voters actually registered at their workplaces than at their residences meant it would be difficult for these persons to access their polling units. Also, being that elections usually are work-free days, the situation could not get any better.
Under the prevailing condition, it was not difficult to assess issues and questions of rights. Women voted but where low in number against expectation and the worrisome trend was that none of the so-called major political parties featured a woman as its candidate. Since apathy was markedly pronounced, it was almost a walk in the park for voters to exercise their civic duty as crowd was relatively low. But youth turnout was poor given that the youth make up the 60% of the voters were not seen mobilising for election even during the campaigns.
Although relatively peaceful, the atmosphere witnessed a security threat when bomb explosion was heard at Umuola sending voters away some of who who later returned to their units to exercise their franchise. The conduct of the security agencies was topnotch in some cases as most of the security personnel did not in any way interfere with voting and were seen within the units lawfully conducting themselves. But in some cases the security agents could not stop some irregularities like vote buying perpetrated by all the political parties. Voting and election became almost an enterprise with parties wooing voters with monetary inducement. In Ward 11 of Aba North, a woman was seen sharing money among INEC’s ad-hoc staff and had claimed it was their allowances when accosted. The security agencies stationed thereto did not do much to either stop this or get the woman apprehended. INEC, it should be stated, does not have any provision for paying personnel at the field.
Also in Ward 9, Aba South, vote buying was massive as many voters received money in the neighbourhood of ₦1000.00 and in some cases ₦500.00! A certain artisan whose business did not operate on the election date was seen telling residents to go and collect their own ‘share’. This vote buying was also observed by FENRAD in Ward 8, Aba South. Security agencies, in certain cases, saw this happen and did not do much to forestall same. Party agents milling around the polling units dolled out cash and were giving some to voters in broad daylight.
The highpoint of security breach occasioned by the election was perhaps the kidnapping of Campaign Officer to All Progressives Congress, APC candidate, Engr. Mike Ozoemena by men in white Hilux at his ward, Industrial Ward 2, Aba North. Not much has been heard about him or his whereabouts as at the evening of Saturday, March 27, 2021.
The election results are expected to be in as soon as collation ends. FENRAD would be following all the happenings in this regard and would be making a more voluminous report thereafter.
Signed Comrade Nelson Nnanna Nwafor
Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy & Development