HEAVILY armed troops of the Nigerian Army and men of the Nigerian Police Force are patrolling the streets of Awka and other parts of Anambra State ahead of the November 6 governorship election.
The ICIR observed that armed security agents were positioned in strategic locations in different parts of the south-eastern state.
The governorship poll is holding amid threats posed by pro-Biafra separatists who have declared an intention to stop the Nigerian government from conducting elections in territories of the defunct Republic of Biafra.
A pro-Biafra group the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has threatened to lock down Anambra and other parts of the South-East by ordering a sit-at-home for six days – including the day of the election – if its detained leader Nnamdi Kanu is not released.
It is unlikely that the Nigerian government will release Kanu, and there are concerns that the secessionists may attempt to disrupt the election by attacking voters and electoral officials.
The Nigerian government has vowed to go ahead with the election with President Muhammadu Buhari ordering heads of the country’s security agencies to ensure the success of the poll at all costs.
The ICIR learnt that the strategy adopted by Nigeria’s military and Police authorities towards ensuring the success of the election included deployment of an ‘overwhelming’ number of heavily armed security personnel in Anambra State.
The Nigerian Police said they had deployed over 34,000 officers for the poll.
In Awka on November 3, The ICIR observed that heavily armed security operatives were controlling traffic at some busy locations in the state capital.
While their armed colleagues directed vehicular movement, combat-ready soldiers and policemen stood on the alert with their hands on the trigger of their guns.
In an apparent show of force, mobile units of the Army and the Police were conducting a ’round the clock’ patrol of Awka and other parts of Anambra.
Siren-blaring patrol vans loaded with heavily armed troops and policemen were touring the state.
* Anxiety grips residents
However, despite the threat of violence hanging over the election, The ICIR observed on November 3 that residents of Awka were moving about their normal activities.
Offices, shops and markets were open, and private and commercial vehicles plied the streets.
Large numbers of residents were seen at busy locations such as Aroma Junction and Unizik Junction.
Major markets in Onitsha and Nnewi were also open.
But The ICIR also observed that some residents were worried about the election.
A number of residents who spoke with The ICIR said they were worried over the safety of their lives and property should violence rock the state on election day.
“For now everything is fine, but we don’t know what will happen on the day of the election,” a shopkeeper, who identified himself as Ekene, told The ICIR at Aroma Junction.
Another resident, Magnus Oye, said ‘everything’ depended on the readiness of the separatists to defy the Nigerian Army and the Police.
“There is security at every corner, but you can’t tell how these boys (separatists) are going to react. Everything will depend on them. Will they dare the Army and the Police? If they do that, there will be bloodbath and innocent people may be affected,” Oye said.
Oye, like some other residents who spoke with The ICIR, had not made up his mind about voting in the election.
“I will stay in my house and observe the situation first before deciding what to do,” he said when asked if he would vote.
A student, Cynthia, said she was considering relocating temporarily to Enugu until after the election.
“I am afraid because of this election,” she told The ICIR, adding that she was thinking of leaving Anambra for Enugu on November 4.
For Sunday Ede, a trader, the election day was to be spent resting at home.
“Violence or no violence I am not going out to vote,” Ede said in an curt tone when The ICIR asked if he would vote on election day.
But a commercial tricycle or Keke rider, Chukwudi, vowed that he must vote on election day – no matter the situation.
Chukwudi’s Keke was adorned with a poster of one of the leading candidates in the election.
“Nothing dey happen. As you see me so I don vote already, I must come out that day and vote. No shaking, (Nothing will happen. I must come out and vote),” the exuberant tricyclist declared in an encounter with The ICIR.
* Police plan lockdown of Anambra
Meanwhile the Anambra State Police Command has announced plans to lock down the state from Friday in a bid to forestall a breakdown of law and order on election day.
“We intend to have a lockdown to enable us control access into the state to ensure people don’t come in to foment trouble,” Commissioner of Police Echeng Echeng said at a meeting in Awka.
The Anambra Police chief said helicopters and marine boats would be deployed to ensure security during the election.
* Obiano declares work-free days
Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano has declared Thursday November 4 and Friday November 5 as work-free days.
The governor, who made the announcement during the 2021 Public Service Day Celebration in Awka on November 3, said the work-free days would enable residents to prepare for the election on November 6.
“I call on workers to mobilise their neighbours because the election must hold,” the governor said.