•Obiano, Obaze, Nwoye, Chidoka, Ezeemo, others battle for votes amidst tight security today
BY WILLY EYA
Today, all eyes are on Anambra as People and residents of the state known as the “Light of the Nation” file out to vote for the governorship candidate of their choice for the next four years.
The election in the state, reputed to be the commercial nerve centre of the South East region of the country, has lived up to its billing and has all the usual trappings of a major political duel.
While some of the issues that had led to conflict in the state in the past are still much at play, new and perhaps more serious variables have been added to the mix. It is vintage Anambra and to say that tension is high is an understatement.
Among the people, nothing except the election matters at the moment and everybody has become a politician of sorts. For the power brokers who are not in short supply in the state, the poll provides another opportunity to test their popularity, influence and mastery of the power game. At least today, the voters are the beautiful brides of the power brokers.
Christian Nestell Bovee declares in his Intuitions and Summaries of Thought that: “Political aspirants make too much of the people before election, and, if successful, too much of themselves after it. They use the people when they want to rise, as we treat a spirited horse when we want to mount him;–for a time we pat the animal upon the neck, and speak to him softly; but once in the saddle, then come the whip and spur.”
The above quote notwithstanding, there is no sitting on the fence in today’s poll with many questions obviously resonating in the subconscious of every mind in the state.
They include: Will the people of Anambra re-elect Governor Willie Obiano of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) for another four years? Would they go for Oseloka Obaze of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr Tony Nwoye? Is it going to be a day for Osita Chidoka of the United Peoples Congress (UPP) or Godwin Ezeemo of the Progressive Peoples Alliance(PPA)? They are the five top contenders in the race.
While the answer to the puzzle nestles in the womb of time, what is not in doubt is that so many variables would count in determining the candidate that would sing victory songs to the Awka Government House.
For obvious reasons, Obiano as the incumbent governor is one of the heavyweight contenders in the race. One, he is from Anambra North which, based on the gentleman understanding in the state, is supposed to produce the governor to complete eight years of the zone in the office. Apart from that, the calculation is that as the sitting governor, he has a comfortable financial war chest to prosecute the election.
There are also those who strongly believe that Obiano’s making of former National Chairman of APGA, Chief Victor Umeh as his Director of Campaign was a masterstroke. He (Umeh) is believed to be a grassroots politician and strategist in winning elections in Anambra State. The former APGA boss has been central in the politics of the state for a long time and would bring his experience to bear on today’s election.
Added to that is the fact that having been in office for fours years, he has many projects to his credit that have endeared him to the people. Analysts believe that a large segment of the people of Anambra agree that Obiano’s performance is above average. For instance, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Professor Chukwuma Soludo, has been solidly behind Obiano and has never minced words in commending Obiano for consolidating on the achievements of the previous administrations, as well as paving the way for the continued growth of the state economy through the introduction of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) initiative.
Obiano’s chances also got a major boost with his open endorsement by the leadership of Anambra State Association of Town Unions (ASATU) which commands a lot of influence in the state. If the recent flamboyant ceremony at the Dr Alex Ekwueme Square, Awka where members of ASATU from the 179 communities in the 21 local government areas of the state converged to express their unalloyed support for the APGA-led administration can be used as a barometer for gauging the feeling of the people of the state, then Obiano is the man to beat in today’s battle.
But some believe that Obiano may have it hard enjoying the benefits of a bloc vote like in 2013 as two other candidates of the three major contending political parties in the state, Tony Nwoye of the APC and Oseloka Obaze of the PDP are from Anambra North.\
For followers of politics in Anambra State, there is no gainsaying that the former Secretary to the State Government is a major contender in the race. The thinking in many quarters is that Anambra is still a PDP state with majority of its members in the National Assembly and will use its structure to work very hard to win the election as part of its plan to bounce back to power before the 2019 general elections.
Apart from that, Obaze is seen to have been around in the state’s political turf and has the full backing of the former governor of the state, Mr Peter Obi, a major factor in the politics of the state.
Many believe that what the PDP candidate would enjoy most in this election is Peter Obi’s goodwill, which, he built during his eight -year tenure as governor of the state. The former governor is believed to have performed excellently well in office and has established a formidable political structure that would come in handy for Obaze in this election.
But one issue the former SSG and PDP candidate would contend with is the fact that he is coming much the same way as Obiano, with the shadow of Obi, the very same godfather. Obaze could be seen as a pawn in a proxy political chessboard.
During the primaries, a lot of people were surprised how the former SSG trounced established stalwarts in the PDP including Senator Stella Adaeze Oduah, Dr. Alex Obiogbolu, Dr. Ifeanyi Ubah and Prince John Emeka who had been in the party long before Obaze joined.
Many believe that after polling a total of 672 votes of the delegates to beat Obiogbolu and Uba, who had 190 and 94 respectively, only the hand of a godfather could have lifted the new comer higher than the old members.
In the race, one name that one ignores at one’s peril is Tony Nwoye who is flying the flag of the APC. Arguably, he is the most grassroots-oriented politician among the top five candidates. Though one of the youngest, he has wormed his way into the hearts of many in the state.
Also, one of the advantages he would enjoy in the battle is that he belongs to the party at the centre and would have the paraphernalia of the Federal Government at his disposal to prosecute the election. The funds to execute the election may also not be a problem as many APC governors would rally round him to make a statement ahead of the 2019 general election. Added to all those facts is also his connection with one of the most sought-after godfathers in the state, Arthur Eze. Many believe that the oil magnate and philanthropist would be a major boost to his financial war chest.
However, the major challenge to Nwoye is that the APC has the burden of perception to contend with in the entire South East. Again, Nwoye is perceived to be a creation of the Uba dynasty in Anambra, who, many believe, have a questionable influence in the politics of the state. The feeling is that Nwoye was assisted to mount the saddle as President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and while engaged in Aluta struggles and politics, through the help of Andy Uba, he attended the National Political Conference and became chairman of Anambra State chapter of PDP.
His alleged roles in the destruction of government property in Anambra during the administration of Dr. Chris Ngige, as well as, the fact that he is being propelled by a godfather, are some of the perceived minuses of his candidacy.
Among critical observers, the former Aviation Minister is one of the best candidates for today’s Anambra governorship election. In the build-up to the election which climaxed in the live Anambra governorship debate organized by Channels Television, he exhibited outstanding understanding of the state’s governance issues. He appeals to the elite in the state who see him as a leader in the making.
Among the masses of the state, he also garnered a lot of support from traders and was endorsed by traditional rulers and a number of clergymen.
Before today, thousands of traders in the densely populated Onitsha Main Market in Anambra State rallied support for Chidoka, whose support base continued to swell due to his pro-people plans and programmes. In addition, his stance on the defence of the interest of the masses has endeared him to the people, even as he has cashed in on the Igbo sentiment during his campaigns. For instance, when UPP chose the site of the defunct Biafra Airport to commence its governorship campaign, many people saw it as a smart move. The entire area was packed full with people and they saw the event as an opportunity to visit one of the last places in Biafra before the departure of its leader, Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu to Ivory Coast in 1970.
Though young and likeable, his major problem is being a candidate outside Anambra North which is favoured to produce the governor of the state in the next four years. Many also feel that he lacks the backing of strong power brokers.
The PPA candidate also enjoys some advantages as he is no more new in the politics of the state. He contested in the 2014 governorship election in Anambra and lost to Obiano. Analysts believe that what would count for Ezeemo is that he is still close to the grassroots who may throw their weight behind him today. During the campaigns, he enjoyed the endorsement of over 10,000 devotees of the Catholic Adoration Ministry of the Holy Spirit, Uli. The worshippers declared their unalloyed support for Ezeemo as the next governor of the state. This was after an interactive session with them during their routine adoration night programme, where Ezeemo exposed the ills of the current political system and how it had hitherto kept the people stuck in the viscous cycle of poverty in all its ramifications.
What may count against him is that he does not have prominent politicians who have the potential to turn the table when push comes to shove.
Factors that will determine winner
Apart from the individual qualities of the major candidates, many believe that many variables would determine where the pendulum swings today. For those who understand the dynamics of Anambra politics, any candidate who ignores any of the factors would do that at his own peril. The factors include but not limited to:
Any candidate who wants to win the governorship seat in Anambra must court the womenfolk because of not only their number, but their political consciousness. At every political rally in Anambra, women arguably always constitute the greater percentage of participants. So, whoever would smile home after today’s election must have the blessing of the women of the state.
The Catholic/Anglican Churches
Religion is one factor that would definitely influence the decision of the voters. The people of the state are predominantly Christians with majority of them in the two major denominations. Analysts believe that the winner of the exercise must enjoy the endorsement of particularly the Catholic church and possibly the Anglican denomination.
Anambra is a state known for producing many godfathers and moneybags. Critical observers are in agreement that it would be preposterous to downplay the influence of these men of power and means in the politics of the state. Many of the voters in making their choices among the top contenders would definitely have the interest of the godfathers in mind.
Though dead, the memory of the late Biafran leader has refused to leave the people of the state and that would come into play in the choice of some voters today. When alive, he was the face of APGA especially in Anambra and some expect that his interest would still be an issue in the poll.
Even though it is not part of the nation’s constitution, Nigerians seem to have imbibed it (zoning) to ensure equity in power distribution. In the politics of Anambra State, the understanding is that Anambra North has been marginalized in the power equation, hence the next four years would be an opportunity to redress the situation.
So, the calculation is that some voters may also consider the issue of zoning in casting their ballot. The importance of zoning in the election is underscored by the fact that all the candidates of the three major contending political parties in the state – Mr. Obiano, Tony Nwoye of the and Obaze are from Anambra North district.
The only other notable contender for the position of governor who is not from Anambra North, is Osita Chidoka, the candidate for the newly formed UPP. He is from Anambra Central district.
The issue of zoning became a major political determinant in the state at the twilight of the tenure of the former governor of the state, Peter Obi.
Records show that of the three senatorial districts in the state, Anambra South has produced four governors – Chukwuemeka Ezeife (1992-1993), Chinwoke Mbadinuju (1999 to 2003), Dame Virginia Etiaba (November 2006 to February 2007) and Andy Uba (2007). Anambra Central district has produced two governors – Chris Ngige (2003 -2006) and Mr. Obi (2006 -2013).
The first governor to come from Anambra North district is the incumbent, Willie Obiano, who is also contesting for a second term in office.
Security and IPOB threat
Beyond factors that would determine victory, a major issue in today’s election is security and that is for obvious reasons. Before now, the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) had asked people of the state to boycott the exercise. They took the argument to a ridiculous level by saying that anybody who participates in the election would die.
Following that, the Federal Government did not take the threat by IPOB lightly. On ground in Anambra today are 26,000 police personnel, sniffer dogs, gun boats, helicopters and Armoured Personnel Carriers. The police also deployed men from Special Police Forces, Police Mobile Force, Specially Trained Counter Terrorism Unit, other Intelligent and Tactical Squads to deal decisively with the IPOB threat.
For the Anambra poll, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, has deployed a Deputy Inspector General of Police in charge of Operation to handle the security arrangement before and during the exercise. The DIG (Operations) is being assisted by an Assistant Inspector General of Police in the zone and three state commissioners of police, who will each coordinate security arrangement in each of the senatorial districts in the state.
Idris, who directed that a robust and elaborate security arrangement be implemented in the state to ensure a very secure environment for the conduct of a peaceful, credible, free and fair election, said the officers are to coordinate the security operations and supervise the deployment of personnel for the elections throughout the state.
The police boss, in a statement released Sunday evening by the Force Public Relations Officer, Jimoh Moshood, also directed deployment of additional 26,000 police personnel to the state in order to ensure adequate security and safety of lives and property before, during and after the elections. The personnel, according to the statement, comprises those from the Police Special Forces, Police Mobile Force, the Counter Terrorism Unit, CTU, Special Protection Unit, SPU, the Anti Bomb Squad, EOD, the Force Marine Police, Conventional Policemen, the Force Armament Unit, personnel from Force Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Department, FCIID, Mounted Troops, the attack and Sniffer Dogs Section, Police Gun Boats, Police helicopters and Armoured Personnel Carriers, APC to the state.
The deployed personnel, the statement disclosed, are already on ground. The statement equally said three police Aerial/Surveillance Helicopters, 10 gun boats, 15 Armoured Personnel Carriers and 303 police patrol vehicles have been deployed for the operations to cover the entire state including the riverine areas and difficult terrains.
The statement added: “Other security and safety agencies who are members of Inter Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES) in the state are also deployed to complement the personnel of the Nigeria Police Force during the election.
“Four Policemen are deployed to each polling unit along with personnel of other security and safety agencies. No armed security personnel will be allowed within the polling units. Armed police detachments on patrol vehicles are going to patrol the streets and other locations throughout the state to prevent crime and intervene to quell any violence that may occur during the election.”
Preparedness of INEC
The Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Mahmood Yakubu, has assured Nigerians that the Anambra election will be conducted free of any hitches.
Mr. Yakubu gave the assurance while briefing the Senate committee on INEC on its preparations ahead of today’s exercise.
Mr. Yakubu said 37 political parties will contest the election for which the commission will engage over 23, 000 ad-hoc staff.
He told the lawmakers that INEC has made improvements on the electronic card reader to ease accreditation in the Anambra election.
“For Anambra election, we will deploy the existing card readers in terms of management, but in terms of technological enhancement of the card reader, we will make sure that the processes are involved. We are working seriously to improve the card readers not only to make accreditation faster, but to also enable us translate results electronically from the polling units.
“Sometimes, the issues about card readers are not technological. They have to do with the training of staff. There are places we have up to 92 per cent success of the use and there are other places where we have difficulties. This boils down in most cases to the staff who handle this machine. When the commission deployed this machine in 2015, there wasn’t so much training and voters’ education on its use. So, the interface between man and machine wasn’t as it is today.”