CONCERNS over voter apathy heightened on the eve of the Anambra State governorship election as residents stayed indoors despite the cancellation of the sit-at-home order issued by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
The IPOB had threatened to lockdown Anambra and other parts of the South-East for six days – including the day of the election – if its detained leader Nnamdi Kanu was not released by the Nigerian government.
It was widely believed that the planned six-day sit-at-home was aimed at stopping the Anambra governorship poll in line with the declaration by pro-Biafra separatists that the Nigerian government would not be allowed to conduct elections in territories of the defunct Republic of Biafra.
The sit-at-home order was eventually called off on November 4 – about 48 hours to the election.
While announcing the cancellation of the order, IPOB urged the people of Anambra to turn out enmasse and vote in the election.
But The ICIR observed in Awka, Anambra State capital, and other parts of the state that most residents stayed indoors on November 5.
Only a handful of residents came out of their homes as most of the major streets and roads were empty.
Although commercial vehicles, including buses and tricycles otherwise known as Keke, plied the roads, few passengers were available.
Traffic was light in different parts of the state but vehicles were able to move about freely without any hindrance or molestation.
The ICIR also observed that a handful of shops also opened for business.
The shops operated freely – there were no reports of any attempt by hoodlums to stop anybody from doing business.
Residents who ventured out of their houses to attend to different private or commercial engagements also moved about freely.
But some shops which opened for business closed early due to little or no patronage as most residents remained indoors.
Heavily armed soldiers and policemen continued to patrol major streets and roads in the state.
The prevailing situation heightened concerns that voter apathy would mar the governorship poll.
Further checks by The ICIR revealed that most residents were not aware that the sit-at-home order had been cancelled.
As at noon on November 5, many people were yet to learn that the order had been reversed.
The ICIR observed that residents had engaged in last-minute shopping in the evening of November 4 to prepare for the proposed six-day sit-at-home.
The announcement of the cancellation of the order came late on November 4 and it was not until late on November 5 that the information went round.
Also, many residents who heard the news expressed doubts over its authenticity.
Even as reports of the cancellation of the sit-at-home order was making the rounds, rumours of counter orders were also spreading, adding to the confusion.
“The people don’t know what to believe again – there are so many stories out there,” Vitalis Ikenna, a manager of a hotel in Awka, said.
Ikenna informed The ICIR that before the cancellation of the sit-at-home order, a voice note, which went viral on WhatsApp, had warned hoteliers, shopkeepers and proprietors of petrol filling stations, among others, not to open for business from November 5.
The voice note warned of severe consequences for defaulters.
A resident who identified himself as Joseph informed The ICIR that even with the cancellation of the sit-at-home order, people were not feeling safe and as a result would rather remain indoors.
He pointed out that people were attacked in the past for not complying with the order even after IPOB announced that it was not enforcing the sit-at-home.
“It is a delicate situation,” Joseph observed.
The ICIR also learnt that some residents, especially students of higher institutions, had already planned how to spend the six-day sit-at-home exercise.
Ekene Okigbo, an undergraduate, told The ICIR that students enjoyed the freedom from academic activities occasioned by the sit-at-home exercise.
The mass exodus of residents in the days leading to the election was another reason for the low turnout of residents in the streets of Awka and other parts of Anambra even after the reversal of the sit-at-home order.
The ICIR had observed that several residents trooped out of town to avoid falling victim to the violence expected during the governorship poll.
“So many people have left town already and it is going to affect the turnout of voters in the election,” an Anambra-based journalist, who did not wish to be named, said.
Besides indications that the election would be characterised by voter apathy, The ICIR also observed that the political parties and the candidates had not been engaging in campaign activities in Awka, the state capital.
On the eve of voting, the mood in Awka did not appear like election season.
Apart from the huge security deployment at the state head office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and some other strategic locations, and the continuous patrol of the city by troops and policemen, there were few signs to show that a governorship election was taking place in just a few hours.