What is the relationship between destruction of campaign billboards in Anambra and Governor Chukwuma Soludo’s call for release of Nnamdi Kanu? Two things that happened last week in Awka signposted a second Soludo assault against the presidential aspiration of Peter Obi.
How are both events linked to Gov. Soludo’s opposition to his kinsman, Obi, whose popularity has catapulted Labour Party to a major candidate in public consciousness? First, Soludo publicly called for the release of Nnamdi Kanu. To add a bit of drama to his unsolicited quest, the governor undertook to stand surety for him to be released. This was quickly followed by an Anambra outdoor advertising regulation agency’s dismantling and removal of campaign posters of Labour Party candidates. The agency accused Labour Party of not paying “campaign tax,” which it imposed on candidates contesting in the 2023 general election. Obi’s right hand man and former APGA chair, Sen. Victor Umeh, was a direct target as his campaign boardings were summarily removed.
So, where is the link, since, on the surface, both actions appear justified?
Who faults the decision of Soludo to call for Kanu’s release in the heat of a national election campaign? The release of Kanu became an issue when a court of law freed him from the charges for which he is standing trial. In deliberate disobedience to the court ruling, the federal government is doing everything it can to continue with Kanu’s incarceration. So, what makes it improper or wrong to request for the release of the Biafran agitator?
The time factor
On the face of it, Soludo has made a noble call. But it does appear that there is more to this than meets the eye, especially in the matter of timing. The last time that the Kanu matter was exploited in news circles was several months ago. The 2023 electioneering successfully supplanted the issue, buried it the same way that the Rev. Fr. Mbaka issue went off the radar after he was bundled to a monastery. Today, it is trumped up APC acolytes are doing their best to de-market Peter Obi by attempting to link him with the Biafran agitation. In social media posts, articles and commentaries, they strive to cast Obi as a Biafran agitator and friend of Kanu. Their obvious goal is to successfully market Obi as “a Biafran agitator” and archetype “Igbo candidate.” This, they hope, will stoke the fears of the rest of the country on the prospects of Obi’s ascendency to the Presidency.
If the issue of bail – and the court case itself – is on the front-burner right now, Soludo’s call will be in order. But the issue has become cold, relegated, while issues of national survival took centre stage among the candidates and voters. None of the presidential candidates has addressed Kanu’s matter in their campaigns, not even when they mounted the soapbox in the South East. Gov. Bola Tinubu (APC) did not mention Kanu’s name in his South East campaign appearances. Neither has Vice President Atiku Abubakar (PDP). Not even Kanu’s friend, Omoyele Sowore, has remembered Kanu in his messages. APGA, Soludo’s party, has a presidential candidate that has not been heard on anything so far.
By resurrecting the “cold” issue of Kanu’s release, what makes Soludo’s action different from the efforts of other e-rats de-marketing Obi?
Bill the boards
Similarly, the removal of billboards by Anambra candidates yet to pay “campaign tax” is a natural follow-up action after series of warnings to do so. The Anambra Signage and Advertising Agency (ANSSAA) claims to have given a first warning to outdoor advertising agencies to pay “campaign fee” for all billboards they erect. Soludo allegedly issued the order and instructed ANSSAA to enforce it. The agency denied the allegation but did more than enforcement – it issued new rules, including slamming a N10 million levy for presidential candidates if they wish to solicit votes through advertising in the state. A week ago, the agency warned those yet to comply with the levy to do so and followed soon with the actions against Labour Party adverts.
No other political party has publicly complained about its boards being pulled down. It is, therefore, either that the parties, save for Labour, complied or that Labour Party is the target.
Whatever may be the truth, one thing is clear. Soludo’s APGA is not in competition with the Labour Party. The Anambra party has not crossed the boundary to reach other South East states. Neither is it reckoned with as a big player in next month’s election. So, what is the fight and antagonism for? It is needless and pointless and can only happen if Soludo were to feel threatened by Obi’s candidacy based on his future ambition, or on the prompting of a candidate that he may be surreptitiously supporting.
Soludo’s Angst, Part II
Both actions, therefore, represent what may be recorded in history as Part II of Soludo’s angst. They are aimed at both the larger Nigerian voter and the Anambra voter.
For the Nigerian voter, the appeal for the release of Kanu will play big among those who hate the guts of the Biafran agitator. These are the people who prefer to call what Nnamdi Kanu is doing an Igbo agitation, as if the majority of Igbo is invested in this agitation. Most Igbo are not. They are invested in agitating for a peaceful Nigeria where access to opportunities are not dependent on where citizens come from or where they worship. Ndigbo prefer to be a small fish in a big Nigerian pond than a big fish in a tiny Biafra pond.
A small fish in a big pond has greater territory to play with in its search for nourishment. A big fish in the small pond will sooner choke to death in a lowered water level with associated higher demand for fish food. Only a minority of Ndigbo, therefore, campaigns for restoration of a phantom republic crushed and obliterated over half a century ago. The irony is that most Nigerians know this for a fact. However, it is electioneering that makes desperate and drowning candidates to clutch at straws. Else they would have known that it is a strawman argument to claim that Ndigbo are agitating for Biafra. This, regrettably, is what the chief executive of an A-State in the South East has indirectly presented to the Nigerian people at this time. It is both unfortunate and regrettable.
There are two consolations. The Nigerian economy has successfully positioned the 2023 election as a struggle for survival that transcends ethnoreligious loyalties. Secondly, campaign billboards, like radio and television jingles, do not win elections. Apart from ethnoreligious issues that will be defeated in most of their traditional strongholds, election success is a factor of superb ground game, spiced with manual and digital fraud. The candidates are aware of this, which is why they are not injecting ethnoreligious issues in campaign rhetoric. Only the good professor appears oblivious.