Sunday, February 7, 2010

Anambra as Litmus Test


By Biko Agozino

"But my fear is that the furore that has grown around the Anambra voters register may become a battle ground, with the corpses that we did not see on February 6 showing up on the streets soon enough when the Obi administration chooses to organise the pending local government council elections in the state." This was the conclusion to Ruben Abati's 'Hope Deferred' assessment of the governorship election in Anambra State but where is Dr. Abati expecting those corpses to come from, his own village? 

Let me start with a confession of a personal momentary dilemma on December 11, 2009, after the Africana Studies Program at Brown University-hosted Achebe Colloquium on Africa. The event gave me the opportunity of shaking hands on the same day and in the same hall with some of the greatest heroes of Nigeria - Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Emeka Ojukwu, and Peter Obi. My dilemma was similar to that of one of the characters in Ngugi’s latest novel, The Wizard of the Crow. In the novel, a business man, Titus Tajrika, refused to wash his subsequently smelly and gloved hand after shaking hands with the corrupt head of state. Oh yes, I have been washing my hands since the hands that I shook were clean hands while Tajrika may have stopped washing his hand to retain the odour of contamination because he shook an unclean hand.

Anambra State of Nigeria was pronounced the litmus test for the wobbly Nigerian democracy at that first Achebe Colloquium at Brown University, Rhode Island and Anambra people have managed to pass the test to the delight of many Nigerians. The election of February 6, 2010, was not perfect but the results reflected the wishes of the majority of the voters to see Governor Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) continue in office for a second term. Based on his track records, this was a deserved victory for which I join many Nigerians in congratulating him.

During the Achebe Colloquium, I was surprised that no Nigerian present could challenge the views of presenters like the former US Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Lyman (pronounced Lie-man) that Nigeria was becoming ‘worthless and irrelevant ‘to the outside world. Only after the moderator of that first panel, Professor Obiora Udechukwu, tried to prod the panel by asking if they could name any exemplary leader in present day Nigeria, did Professors Abiola Irele of Harvard and Richard Joseph of Northwestern suggest that Governor Tunde Fashola of Lagos State was their model leader.

I was surprised that no one mentioned Peter Obi, the governor whose state was the topic of the symposium, as an exemplary leader. So during question and comments, I told the colloquium that we should give credit to the people of Anambra state for producing some of the greatest achievers in Nigerian history. Without itemizing the giants that have emerged from that small geographical space called Anambra, I reminded the audience that the state has been offering a model of democratic leadership that the rest of the country should learn from.

Here was a state in which the mandate of the people was stolen and awarded to a medical doctor, Chris Ngige, mistaken for a stooge but who was later sabotaged when it turned out that he was out to satisfy such basic expectations as paying salaries on time and building roads rather than surrender the treasury to the self-styled godfather, Chris Ubah. He was kidnapped and the police withdrew security details from him but amazingly, he was not killed despite the destruction of government-owned properties valued at millions by those that Achebe called a clique formed for the destabilization of the state.

Meanwhile the actual winner of the 2003 election went to court rather than rent a crowd of thugs to kill and maim as is the practice in many parts of the country where elections are called do-or-die affairs and candidates are challenged to prove that they are ready to die for the positions that they seek. After one year of litigation, he won his mandate back through the rule of law and became the only minority party governor in the country with a State House of Assembly in which his party did not have a single member.

The question on many minds was how long he was going to last in office before the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) dominated house would impeach him. And right on cue, they impeached him and also tried to impeach his deputy apparently to make way for the PDP Speaker of the House to become the governor. They miscalculated because the deputy was not automatically impeached when a governor is impeached and so they inadvertently gave Nigerians our first ever female state governor in the person of Obi‘s deputy, Dame Virginia Etiaba. Once again, the elected governor Obi went back to court and once again won back his mandate without a single life being lost!

I told the colloquium that it did not end there. The PDP Federal Government was bent on taking over the state and so a former personal assistant to President Olusegun Obasanjo was dispatched to contest the governorship of the state under the flag of the ruling PDP in 2007. The incumbent governor went to court to challenge the election because his term in office started when he won his first court battle to reclaim his mandate and so there was no vacancy at the time of the 2007 election. The Independent National Election Commission (INEC) ignored the injunctions and conducted a fake election in which the candidate of the ruling PDP, Andy Ubah, was declared winner despite complaints that no election took place. The declared winner was sworn in as governor but the legitimate governor avoided a campaign of violence and went back to court and again won back his mandate through the rule of law and without any loss of blood.

Before the February 2010 re-election of the highly achieving governor for a second term, the PDP candidate in the non-election of 2007 had gone to court to ask that he be declared governor in waiting and allowed to complete his term of office that was terminated when he was forced to hand over to the properly elected governor. The Supreme Court threw out the suit on the ground that governorship was not hereditary. By then he had lost the opportunity to contest the primaries of his party, PDP, for the 2010 election and true to character, PDP did not hold any primary elections but simply imposed a candidate on the party members. Two dozen other candidates who had bought primary elections nomination forms for millions of naira each but were denied an opportunity to contest the primaries went to court and won but a higher court over-ruled and said that the party had every right to select its candidate as it saw fit. Again, no one was killed even though the father of the imposed candidate was briefly kidnapped for ransom.

In the end, about two dozen candidates contested the 2010 governorship election with the PDP support split among the still relatively popular former governor (Ngige) who was rigged into office by godfathers but who chose to serve the people, the former governor who won a non-election (Andy Ubah) and the imposed party candidate (Soludo, a past governor of the Nigerian Central Bank) who won no primary election,  all representing three different parties, Action Congress, Labour Party and Peoples Democratic Party, respectively. I knew then that by splitting any support that PDP may have had that way, not to mention that the other two dozen candidates who had intended to contest the PDP primaries took their grievances into other parties and became their flag-bearers, the incumbent governor (Obi) was guaranteed a re-election on the platform of the APGA, despite a long-running split in the APGA party.

Once again, there was no loss of life, the election was said to have gone off peacefully, according to most observers. Some thugs were said to have snatched a few ballot boxes and many voters could not find their names on the inaccurate voters lists but the results reflected the wishes of the majority of the voters who cast votes. Governor Peter Obi gained over 90,000 votes for the APGA; Chris Ngige came second with over 60,000 votes for the AC and Charles Soludo came third with over 50,000 votes for the PDP. Andy Ubah, the Labour Party candidate, placed 4th with over 20,000 votes. If these three PDP candidates had combined their support, they could have defeated the incumbent governor but that is only a hypothetical if given that the PDP would probably not have received more votes no matter who their candidate was due to the scandals that have dogged the party at the national and the state levels.

Congratulations to the people of Anambra State for showing us a good example in which the votes of the people actually was made to count in an important election. Never mind that many of the over one million registered voters (with suspicious names like Nelson Mandela on some of the lists) did not get the chance to vote due to inaccurate voters lists. Those who did not win should do the honourable thing and congratulate the winner or go to court to challenge the results if they still want to waste the huge wealth that they were using to influence the results to no avail without accounting for the sources of the funds.

Dr. Ngige was later reported as intending to challenge the results in court due to failure to understand that when the constitution said that the winner must receive 25% of the votes cast in two-thirds of the local governments, the correct meaning is the valid votes since invalid votes are null and void and of no effects. But even if the invalid votes are included in the calculations, then all that was needed was to round up from 24.7% in one of the local governments to give Mr Obi the victory that he deserves.

For a people who are stereotyped as loving money more than anything, the people of Anambra state have demonstrated that as one of the best educated states in the country, democratic rights are not for sale to the highest bidder and that is good news for the whole of Africa - education, education, and more education! The embattled Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Professor Maurice Iwu, may have redeemed himself partially (after a court ruled that his organization was incompetent to run elections in a different state) with his innovation to announce the results at the polling stations to avoid the tendency for results to be inflated at the collation centers by electoral officers who may not be able to resist the inducement of large sums of money or just due to human error of the sort that reportedly gave Ngige additional 10,000 votes that he did not have which would place him third if deducted from his total.

All they needed to do was add the figure one in front of or a couple of zeroes behind the total votes for the rigging candidate to bring the total closer to the number of registered voters who may have been deliberately frustrated from voting to allow room for rigging. But such a plan, if that is what it was, failed this time partly due to the vigilance of the monitors and the people, the transparent service of National Youth Service Corps members as electoral officers, and the uneven efforts of the heavy police presence. The method of announcing results at source should be maintained while the voters lists should be cleaned and made more accurate as we wait for the big one next year. Meanwhile, all hands should be on deck to support Governor Peter Obi to consolidate his success during his well deserved second term.


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