The November 6 governorship election in Anambra State hangs precariously on the edge. The outcome is unforeseeable. The credibility of the election depends on various factors. If voters are allowed to cast ballots freely without violence, threats or intimidation, and if political parties refrain from thumb-printing of ballot papers before the voting day, the election could be considered free, fair, credible and transparent. But we must not forget the central role played by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and security officers to ensure strict adherence to election rules. If they compromise their job, the integrity of the election would be shredded.
Within the Nigerian political space, gubernatorial elections are regarded as do-or-die or winner-takes-all contests. The weeks before, during and after the Anambra election will be crucial. Democratic governance will be on trial and that election will mark the beginning of that trial.
There are many forces weighing against the smooth conduct of the election. There are elements inside and outside of Anambra State who do not believe the election would enhance their socioeconomic conditions or lead to the fulfilment of their agitations for self-rule. However, as Charles Chukwuma Soludo, former Central Bank governor and one of the governorship candidates, has already cautioned, if Anambra voters boycott the election by sitting at home on the election day, or if only five voters manage to cast their ballot, INEC would still be compelled to announce a result.
Boycotting the election is the greatest danger that threatens the welfare of Anambra people, as well as improprieties that could undermine the validity of the election.
Abstaining from voting during the governorship election in Anambra State would be counterproductive. In other words, it would have the unexpected opposite effect. It would be a self-inflicted injury. When voters sit at home during an election, they relinquish their civic right to select their political leaders. No man or woman of goodwill would want in Anambra State a repeat of what happened in Imo State, a situation in which a defeated candidate was upgraded and fast-tracked mysteriously by the Supreme Court to become the election winner while the actual winner was dropped to an unfancied position of loser. That was a travesty of justice.
Anambra voters have an obligation to participate in the election to give themselves the chance to elect the right governorship candidate who will help to improve their economic status, as well as enhance their welfare, their security, and their wellbeing. The outcome of the election will determine whether people in Anambra State would live in peace or on crutches for the next four years.
Historically, Anambra State cuts the image of a child of adversity and a victim of greed by gangs of crooked politicians. Here is a bit of history to persuade everyone why they should vote during the November 6 election.
When Chinwoke Mbadinuju served as Anambra State governor between May 1999 and May 2003, he spent the better part of his tenure wrestling with his political sponsor, Emeka Offor. Midway into his four-year term, Anambra was turned into a wrestling arena in which the spectators, ordinary people of the state, suffered enormous economic and psychological damage, financial deprivations, and mental bruises. Teachers and public servants were owed many months of unpaid salaries. The exit of Mbadinuju and Offor in 2003 produced yet another incredible duo, Chris Ngige and his lawless godfather. For three years, Ngige and his godfather took their personal quarrels to the streets of Awka and a shrine in Okija, where their supporters engaged in regular shootouts.
When Ngige was ousted by an Appeal Court decision and Peter Obi was declared the rightful winner of the 2003 governorship election that Ngige had claimed wrongfully, everyone thought the drama in Anambra State had ended. But everyone was wrong. Hardly had Peter Obi settled down to serve his tenure than a band of legislators in the state House of Assembly impeached him. Like a child of fortune, Peter Obi was later restored to his job by an Appeal Court judgment.
None of the political gladiators contesting the governorship position in this year’s election could be said to have altruistic intentions for Anambra people. Each of the candidates believes he was anointed by God to lead the state. They claim they were endowed with magical powers that convert into gold anything they touch. But previous experiences recounted briefly above show, as William Shakespeare noted, that “all that glitters is not gold.”
That is, things that appear charming on the surface could be devious.
Voters now have a chance to use the November 6 election to send a clear message to all the governorship candidates. While money may buy votes easily in some states across the country, Anambra people will not abandon their voting rights on the basis of offers of temporary incentives waved at them by desperate politicians who are keen to govern the state by any means possible.
The idea that Anambra State has been reserved by the ruling party in Abuja as a farewell gift to their preferred candidate is an insult to the people of Anambra State. If leaders of the ruling party can single-handedly decide in advance who should be the governor of a state, why should the nation bother with the rituals of conducting elections? We might as well fold our arms and ask Aso Rock to appoint a governor for Anambra State, based on their wacky interpretation of what is best for the people of the state.
Governorship elections are designed to empower voters to exercise their free choice to select who should govern them. That opportunity should never be forfeited to other people who have no mandate to elect a governor. The plots and backroom deals that take place before and during elections should remind voters about the dangers of transferring their voting rights to despicable politicians.
Anambra people have every reason to fret about Abuja’s interest in the election. The APC-led government believes it could always deploy fully armed soldiers and police, as well as INEC leaders that will create the ground for the manufacture of the election results that would appeal to the government. But all hope is not lost. The APC tried everything to win the Edo State governorship election and to sully the image of Governor Godwin Obaseki. When voting ended, the APC failed and Obaseki won because voters could see through the gimmick.
In Nigerian politics, what counts during an election is not rule of law or integrity but the ability to “capture” states governed by the opposition. Winning at all costs counts more than anything else.
Anambra voters cannot carry this moral burden into the November 6 governorship election. A rigged governorship election in Anambra should not be perceived as a broken bottle that cannot be mended. Unfortunately, INEC, the agency that is expected to oversee the conduct of fair, free and credible elections, is prejudiced. It is not independent, not unbiased, and tends to be easily influenced.
What we have as an autonomous election umpire is, sadly, an odd adjudicator that is equivalent to an Ostrich. In Nigerian elections, INEC has proved to be the true symbol of the three monkeys that pretend to see no evil, hear no evil, feel no evil, and choose to speak no evil. INEC’s leadership is, by its own conceited, iniquitous, deceptive and pretentious behaviour, a lily-livered referee that is so fainthearted that it overlooks blatant infringements of the election rules.