Tuesday, 09 November 2021 09:05

[OPINION] 2021 Anambra Governorship Election - Reuben Abati

 

The recent Governorship election in Anambra state, held on Saturday, November 6, 2021 was meant to be a major turning point for Nigeria. Most commentators said the election would be characterized by violence or that it would amount to a blow-out for Nigeria and the entire South East. Pundits told everyone to be careful. There were permutations about voter turn-out, the preparedness of the electoral umpire, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the character of the main gladiators in the contest and their supportive stakeholders, divided as they were and still are, along religious, ethnic, clannish and party lines. A few days to the 2021 Anambra Governorship election, indeed, every one prepared more or less for war, and bloodshed. The police deployed over 34, 500 personnel, 45 Commissioners of Police,48 ACPs, 2 DIGs, 5 AIGs, 3 Helicopters.  The Civil Defence Corps sent in over 20, 000 men.  The Department of State Security deployed its men and women. The Office of the National Security Adviser announced that any non-state actor who made any attempt to test the will of the state will be met with maximum force.

 

Previously, the President of Nigeria and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Muhammadu Buhari, had given clear directives to that effect. All of this is understandable. Anambra in the lead up to the election had proven to be a major security challenge, a hotbed of violence and grief, and a key spot for self-determination agitators, operating under the umbrella of the Indigenous Peoples Organisation of Biafra (IPOB) and the Eastern Security Network (ESN). We were faced with a test of wills, between the state and those non-state actors who were seemingly determined to use the November 6 election to humiliate the government of the day, in a spectacular manner. This was not, to borrow from the rich repertoire of Nigerian English, “a laughing matter”.  

 

I became part of that drama, in spite of myself when the Chairman of Arise News, Nduka Obaigbena decided to team up with the Chairman of Channels TV, John Momoh to do a joint Governorship candidate debate ahead of the election. Meetings were held on both sides and on a certain Wednesday, we were supposed to meet online and do so repeatedly to fine-tune the arrangements. At our end, we held a long meeting which involved policy, management, technical crew and operational persons. Yemi Ajayi, Director, News (Lagos) and I were mandated to meet with the Channels Team later in the day. And we did. Online. It wasn’t a very pleasant meeting.  The Channels Boys rejected every proposal that we made. They decreed that Anambra was too toxic and unsafe and on no condition would they ever risk anything to go there for a debate.

 

We argued that at Arise, we were determined to go in there to prove that an election was possible and that the security situation could be managed in a way to give confidence to the electorate. We were told to forget it. They gave us the option of a debate to be organized in Lagos or Abuja. Mr. Ajayi and I told them to check with their Chairman. They said they were “the Supreme Council” of Channels TV, and whatever decision they took was final. I found that curious. Then they made matters more complicated by pointing out that they did not want Reuben Abati as the moderator from Arise TV. They would prefer another co-moderator to join Seun Okinbaloye from Channels TV. I was left with no option but to state categorically that long before many of the persons from the other side joined Channels TV, I used to moderate interviews for Channels TV, and analyse elections for the same station and I have letters of appreciation and commendation to show for this, signed by the same Chairman they say has no say in anything decided by a “Supreme Council.” It was also useful to point out that I was the first and only mainstream journalist so far, at that time who had moderated a Governorship Manifesto Defence Debate in the Anambra 2021 election. On September 25, 2021, Arise TV had in fact organized a Governorship debate in Anambra State in collaboration with the Kwechiri Unity Forum, aired live on Arise TV, Anambra State Television, and Ogene FM. I was the main anchor. As it turned out, the proposed collaboration with Channels TV, which could have been a phenomenal demonstration of partnership, innovation and the pooling of talents from both sides, in a unique show of solidarity within the Nigerian media, did not happen. Arise TV decided to move ahead. And we did.          

 

During the last weekend of the month of October, leading up to November 1, Arise News deployed personnel and materials to Awka for a Gubernatorial debate involving three of the leading adjudged candidates in the election, chosen across platforms by experts and pundits: Senator Andy Uba of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Professor Charles Soludo of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), and Mr Valentine Ozigbo of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in that alphabetical order. The debate was held at an undisclosed location, under tight security. Held in conjunction with a Civil Society Group, Enough is Enough (EiE) led by Yemi Adamolekun, the debate was broadcast live simultaneously on Arise TV, Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS) and Ogene Radio, 98.3 FM. I was co-moderator of the debate alongside award-winning Arise TV anchor, Ngozi Alaegbu.  I understand the debate was successful and memorable, and that is my own modest way of avoiding Agama-lizard-like self-praise. The three candidates provided both information and drama, exquisite television gold moments, and diverse, controversial feedback that set the tone within the days leading to the election. It was a notable demonstration of how the media can help set agenda, act as a catalyst for nation-building and peace-making, and help generate positive momentum in society. Those who said going to Anambra to do a debate would be suicidal missed the point. The debate was delivered without any untoward incident. We went into Anambra, with security arrangements provided by the Nigerian Army.  Nobody harassed us. Nobody intimidated us. For us, it was the first sign that the election will be held without tragedy and that enough effort had been put into preventing any calamity. In the weeks leading to the election, there had been killings in Anambra, attacks on jails and communities and tension at a higher degree that raised anxiety levels.

 

Of interest and relevance in this regard is the massive deployment of security personnel, the announcement by the Indigenous People’s Organisation of Biafra (IPOB) that it had suspended its proposed sit-at-home order originally scheduled for November 5 – 10 across the entire South East. IPOB not only withdrew the order, it became a mobilizing agent urging Ndi Anambra to turn out en masse to vote on November 6. IPOB had the support of traditional rulers, market women, mothers of Anambra, civil society groups. The Nigeria Police also became an arm of INEC. It placed enlightenment jingles in the media to mobilise voters. On Saturday, November 6, the scheduled election took place – in over 5, 000 polling units, 21 Local Government Areas, with 18 candidates in the race, thousands of election monitors and observers, with the international community watching. There were glitches during the election: late deployment of voting materials, malfunctioning of the Bi-modal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) -  a fingerprint and facial recognition device introduced by INEC to replace the Z-pad, lateness of officials in commencing accreditation, electoral malpractices including vote buying (even if in one polling area, Anambra women openly rejected monetary inducement!), disruptions in some registration areas – Idemili North, Idemili South, Aguata, Anambra West, conflict between Electoral Officer and Collation Officer in Orumba North, and generally a poor voter turn-out of between 10 and 15% in most of the polling units.

 

The big consolation was that the worst that was expected did not happen. Anambra did not become a killing field. The political parties and the politicians did not engage in bloodshed. Very few incidents of intimidation, violence and ballot snatching were reported. The surprising thing after a fashion is that when everyone writes off Nigeria and there are fears about Nigeria tottering at the edge of the precipice, about to tip over, this country always pulls back. It has happened before now during every election season. It has just happened again in Anambra state. The explanation for this must be an interesting subject for sociological inquiry into political behaviour and power negotiation systems. In Anambra: This is what happened - by 12: 20 am on November 8, 2021, the Returning Officer for the Anambra State Gubernatorial Election, Professor Florence Obi, Vice Chancellor of the University of Calabar, had announced results in 20 LGAs. The election in Ihiala LGA did not take place in all 20 Registration Areas due to the outbreak of violence in that border area of Anambra State (the border with Imo State), and on that basis alone, the Anambra Gubernatorial election of November 6, 2021 was declared inconclusive.

 

INEC has announced a supplementary election in the affected LGA to take place today, Tuesday, November 9, 2021. It would appear as if the election has been lost and won already but it is important that no local government area is excluded, and that nobody is willfully prevented from exercising his or her franchise. This is the point of the Ihiala Supplementary Election: inclusion, fairness, representation and legitimacy.  We do not look forward to any earth-shaking developments in Ihiala LGA today. Still, the security agents must remain vigilant. The political parties and the candidates must keep faith with the peace agreements that they signed ahead of the election: brokered by INEC and also, the National Peace Committee led by General Abdusalami Abubakar. Even with the results from 20 LGAs announced and published by the INEC, which shows the candidate of APGA in a firm leadership position, it would be to the eternal credit of all the candidates involved in the process that they and their supporters gave peace a chance and proved the bookmakers, naysayers and sooth-sayers wrong on Anambra election 2021 till the very last minute.

 

Already, Professor Charles Soludo of APGA, has been reported as winner in 18 LGAs of the state, including Aguata where he and the two other leading candidates hail from and the strongholds of some prominent politicians in the state – Anaocha, Orumba South, Idemili and Njikoka. Soludo is unlikely to repeat the “21- over-21-feat” of the incumbent Governor Willie Obiano in the 2017 election, but he is comfortably in the lead with over 50, 000 votes. Nnewi North was declared for Senator Ifeanyi Ubah (candidate of the YPP- Young Progressives Party) and Ogbaru for Valentine Ozigbo of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Soludo has also won the mandatory two thirds of the votes across the local government areas. Ihiala, the only remaining LGA has a registered voter number of about 148, 000. It will be a battle ground, but with voter turn-out estimated between 10 to 15%, even a 100% turn out may not change the existing reality. Soludo seems set to become the next Governor of Anambra State. If and when his victory is affirmed by the INEC, he would be the second former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria to emerge as Governor of a State. Before him there was, Clement Nyong Isong (1920 – 2000), Governor of the Central Bank (1967 -1975) and Governor of Cross River State (1979 – 1983).

 

Soludo, a First Class Honours graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (1984) and Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (2004 – 2009) is a Professor of Economics.  He will be a welcome addition to the growing list of Nigerian technocrats who defy the characterization of the political arena as a dirty space that should be left to those who brand themselves as professional politicians, the majority of whom are in actual fact, hustlers, political parasites, national cake hunters and former henchmen and touts who managed to legitimize themselves. The best and the brightest in Nigeria should be the ones to occupy leadership positions, but as we have seen in Mexico, raw intelligence is however, never enough, not even technocratic brilliance is a perfect proposition. For about two decades, technocrats led Mexico substantially: Miguel de la Madrid (1982 -88), Carlos Salinas (1988 – 1994) and Ernesto Zedillo (1994 – 2000). China is another country where the technocratic stereotype holds sway. In Nigeria, we see a growing trend in that direction. I consider technocrats a positive presence in democracy and politics, a country should not be run by dinosaurs and speculators, expertise helps, but technocrats in politics must also have a high dose of emotional intelligence to be able to walk the tightrope of patron-client relationships. The technocratic elite in a political position carries a heavier burden: and if it fails, the regret is double-fold.                     

 

However, without prejudice to the eventual outcome of the Anambra Gubernatorial election 2021, given that the responsibility for making an affirmative announcement is that of the electoral commission, whoever becomes the next Governor of Anambra State has his job cut out for him. He must be a bridge-builder and the Governor of everyone. Anambra is sharply divided along clannish and religious lines. This is one state in Nigeria where it means a lot whether you are Catholic or Anglican or Pentecostal, or what part of the state you hail from. The next Governor of Anambra State must therefore promote unity and consensus. Security is also a major challenge. Anambra is often projected as the headquarters of the separatist IPOB group, and the hotbed of agitations. Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, the head of IPOB, is not even from Anambra. He is from Abia State. But it is the youths of Anambra who are carrying Biafra on their heads like the load of Sisyphus. And you may well argue that Anambra is the spiritual source of the idea of Biafra. The next Governor cannot ignore the security implications. Roads. Infrastructure. Direct investment, local and foreign. Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). Debt burden. Economic promotion: gas, rice, innovation. He must hit the ground running.

 

INEC has been put through the test in Anambra with electronic transmission of results and BVAS. It has lessons to learn. The security agencies have done well so far in managing the Anambra situation. They must not mess up as INEC conducts the supplementary elections today. The Anambra process should be a wake-up call for the South East leadership elite.          

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