In November 2013, I wrote an article on Zoning as Political inclusion, which was published by a national daily, few weeks preceding the election for successor to former Governor Peter Obi which was won by Dr Willie Obiano. Governor Obiano won the election on a single base of power provided by the very much loved then sitting Governor, Mr Peter Obi.
In the said article, I commented about the resilience of Mr Peter Obi ‘Okwute Ndi Igbo’ in reclaiming his then mandate through the legal and judicial means. Mr Obi survived the intriguing political development in the state which culminated in the removal of Senator Andy Ubah and his confirmation as the state’s helmsman. That incident and similar occurrences made Anambra and other states of Edo and Ondo, the few states where governorship elections come before the general elections. With such position of exceptionality occupied by these states, governorship elections will always attract nationwide attention and review. In view of the foregoing, the Anambra 2017 governorship election deserves a postmortem! My choice of word is illustrative of the nature of elections. Elections are timed events. When there is a recognized winner, that particular process dies, it ceases to exit, and it becomes a past. If it is contested in Court, it could either be upheld or in other case, annulled and a fresh election is ordered. So let us look at the election as being concluded and discuss emerging issues in a postmortem style. It is time to indulge in quick review, make proposals and then hope that an agenda can be set by re-elected Governor Obiano for the betterment of Ndi Anambra as he fondly calls our people.
In Nigeria and elsewhere, elections are about political parties and permutations. Hence focus in Nigeria remains candidacy and political aspiration based on political party structure at least till independence candidacy is approved. The former Governor of Anambra State, Mr Peter Obi clearly showed uncommon resilience in being part of the group that nurtured the All Progressives Grand Alliance ‘APGA’ as a party founded on philosophy of our eternal hero, the late Chief Odimegwu Ojukwu (Ikemba Nnewi). It became a party to reckon with especially in the Nigeria Eastern Region. Mr Obi played alongside Chief Chekwas Okorie and Chief Victor Umeh amongst others. APGA initially made inroads into the wider Eastern region and elsewhere in the north but the machinery was not oiled enough to gather the required momentum and growth. It has become a one state party. Anambra People have showed they liked it irrespective of lack of federal lining. So APGA is the party to beat in Anambra in another four or couple of years especially when it is likely that the marriage of convenience between the opposition parties will fizzle out soonest.
In terms of permutations and electoral prowess, Mr Obi and his comrades succeeded in 2013 in preaching the gospel of Zoning as a political ideology in Anambra State. The then governor showed resilience in pursuing the agenda of convincing the citizens of the state and other stakeholders that it was fair and equitable to have a person of Anambra North extraction as the next governor of the State. In his opinion which suddenly became the opinion of the party faithful in the state, zoning the governorship position to Anambra North will foster inclusion, take development to hitherto forgotten zone and eventually do Anambra well. In the opinion of the proponents then, it was the right to do. As I stated then, Zoning was attractive not neccesarily as a fair principle but as a matter of expediency. In developed democracies, the issue of zoning is irrelevant. I stated then and still maintain that merit, qualification, workable development plan and delivery of educational, social and economic impacting objectives should sway votes at all times.
I aligned with zoning as political ideology, at least because it would favour my senatorial Zone of Anambra North and it actually did, thanks to APGA and Peter Obi. Zoning has thus proved a workable approach. The construct of the Nigeria political firmament and glaring fault lines of ethnicity, religion and tribe and lately geographical location have made zoning, a fast rising political notion that cannot be ignored. It is no longer news that zoning has become a norm in the ever politically charged and divisive democratic atmosphere since 1999. Former President Obasanjo was elected on basis of zonal pacification. The three top most political positions of president, vice president and senate president in Nigeria are now considered on basis of zoning. Popular opinion and realities on ground in Anambra State supported it then hence powered it successfully for two terms inclusive of the current election. As I espoused in the earlier article, Nigeria stands as a nation today due to zoning explicitly or implicitly, it has become part of our laws such as elucidated in the Federal Character Commission Act. Nobody wants to listen to the idea or opinion nowadays that zoning encourages mediocrity and discrimination. For instance, brilliant Anambra pupils would have to miss slots in federal unity colleges because they are from Anambra (though with high marks) but Kebbi Pupils would have a go first on basis on zoning. Zoning seems now the practicable and alternative arrangement to crisis and is increasingly regarded as stabilization factor in the various fragile arrangements we have at all levels of governance and public service in the country. Zoning now means inclusion. It has been extended to social and economic arrangements. How a system now functions be it governance, economic etc are hinged on workable arrangement grounded on zoning principles of inclusion.
The 2017 Anambra Election shows that Zoning has come to stay till such time when our approach to governance and politics changes for better. So on basis of zoning, Dr Nkem Okeke from Anambra Central Senatorial Zone – the re-elected Deputy Governor to Dr. Willie Obiano (who could have become a staunch opposition candidate in same party to Chief Willie Obiano) proudly and tactically supported his boss in order not to truncate the balance. They won together on November 18 2017. The election has also taught us how not to practice or deploy zoning. When Dr Tony Nwoye (my foremost comrade and friend), a vibrant youth declared interest to contest the election and Mr Oseloka Obaze also declared his interest, both men are from the same Anambra North as Gov. Willie. The interests threw up a zoning predicament. What actually is zoning when two terms is involved. Is it a scenario or situation where the zoned two terms is carried out by same person from same zone (as represented by Governor Obiano) in the 2017 elections or two separate terms by two different persons (candidates) from same zone. The Anambra 2017 election has nailed it. For now, zoning means two terms for same office by same person from same zone irrespective of parties I assume too. General Muhammadu Buhari’s strategists should note this. My conclusion on zoning arrangement is based on reason and consultations. I spoke to a vibrant lawyer and social commentator from Anambra South days before the election. He made it clear that Anambra South would support Gov. Willie Obiano not on basis of performance (they feel ignored as a zone) but because the governorship seat is assured to leave Anambra North and rotate to South or Central after Willie’s second tenure. In his opinion and probably so many others, Dr. Nwoye or Mr Oseloka, who would go for another term after their initial tenure, giving Anambra North an unfair shot of sixteen years at a throttle. So Anambra embraced and has further defined zoning. The beauty of democracy was that other contestants like Ike Obosi Osita Chidoka (from Anambra Central) got about 8000 votes from a new class of voters who believed in quality and good manifesto. Zoning could be demystified but for now, Anambra election has reinforced it.
Another lesson or finding is that facts do not lie! I have attended a couple of fora during Gov. Willie’s tenure and campaign. I have listened to his accomplishments. Thus I am aware that the Governor embarked on projects such as the Aguleri-Iyiora Bridge (the longest in the state) and institutional building such as the establishment of Anambra Investment Agency – ANSIPPA and Anambra Small Business Agency – ASBA amongst others. But the facts seemed disappeared at the height of the campaigns. The opposition was quicker and smarter in pointing out what Chief Willie did not do than the Governor himself was able to marshal out. The facts of his infrastructural achievements were almost obliterated by opposition fictiveness.
The fact is that going by the outcome of the governorship debate, Chief Obiano would have lost the election not because he has not achieved much but because the facts were cluttered. Mr. Peter Obi further dealt a heavy blow to the aspiration of Chief Obiano when he granted an interview that succinctly unveiled his financial prudence that was not uncontroverted to a large extent. It almost hurt the re-election campaign. Also Oseloka and Chidoka’s proposed plans seemed well articulated and appreciated. But the Governor’s achievement in security structure was self-evident. Security would always be important to Anambra people due to their trading nature and communal life. It is a huge observation that facts will always count. As I lawyer I know that but as a nonpartisan politician, I will now hold it dear to the heart. Related to this development is the question of communal administration and governance embarked by Governor Obiano. It entails the use of Town Unions and traditional rulership to drive development at local levels. It became a viable tool in absence of local government systems (which is illegal though). This style of administration was carried over from Mr Peter Obi. Chief Willie Obiano embraced it but unlike his predecessor, it seemed Willie Obiano would dish the funds – like the N20m which he has given to all the communities in the State with promise to give again but forgets to monitor and supervise the projects effectively. It would have been easier to prepare a dossier of the projects which were directly executed by the communities and present them as verifiable facts and accomplishments. They are part of the government’s achievements. The approach to local and community governance and the impact of the projects can be assumed to be confirmed from the voice of the people in the re-election success. Facts are sacred – another crucial observation.
Another lesson and deciding factor is that a motivated Civil Service is a huge critical electoral mass. The Anambra Civil Servants proved their mettle in the election. I have had arguments about Chief Willie Obiano eulogizing the payment of salaries as an achievement. A blogger even asked whether the salaries were not being paid with Anambra monies and savings. The truth is that salaries are paid by the state but some past governors of the state (not Mr Peter Obi) simply refused or neglected to pay in the past. Salaries and Wages are component of every society’s economic fabric. It is an indicator or gauge in economic sustainability and public welfare which forms part of governance. A civil service should be timely and appropriately remunerated. Delay and impromptu salary payments were possibly part of the reasons Governor Mbadinugu lost his re-election bid. In the last 3 and half years, Dr Willie Obiano became known as the ‘Alert Governor’ because while an APC governor somewhere was busy erecting statues of credible and incredulous world leaders, Chief Willie’s salary, pensions and gratuity alerts were hitting the mobile phone screens of ndi Anambra. They have rewarded him in style and the re-elected governor was quick to acknowledge the role of the civil servants in the process of his re-election in his acceptance speech. From the 2017 Anambra election, it is now crystal clear and fundamentally reinforced that wages and salaries are the roads to the heart of civil and public servants and anyone else. Ironically, the wages of non-payment of salaries and pensions will be electoral loss for an elected official.
In general, there were hitches observed during the elections such as the malfunctioning of card readers (which should now be legalized and incorporated into Section 47 of the current electoral Act under than being mere administrative tool) as it has proved effective, delayed start in some areas due to challenges of electoral logistics and mapping. But in all, the election has been adjudged free and fair. The enabling factors in the successful Anambra election are obvious. They include an assertive, revived and efficient INEC, a non-aligned Federal Power (including President Buhari and numerous APC Governors who campaigned for Dr. Nwoye but allowed the Anambra electorates to have their way), a trained Ad hoc staff mostly the recent graduates under the NYSC-INEC scheme, the ever vibrant Civil Society Forum and credible election monitors such as Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Election Monitor and Inter Party Advisory Council (IPAC). Facts emerging from the election also showed a marginal increase of about 35,000 votes signifying increase in voters despite the IPOB boycott and other challenges. The populace is thrilled by the reactions of Dr Nwoye and Mr Obaze on the outcome of the election. It has been exemplary and clearly showed that Peace tastes better than Victory. It is a huge lesson for aspiring politicians. Anambra will always be proud of the other contestants and there will always be another opportunity for these great guys.
It may be worth the while to add a philosophical not to conclude my review. Our leaders and office holders must imbibe the principle that Power is short lived but Service is eternal. We still hear of Premier Okpara of Eastern Region, Former Governor Mbakwe of Imo State and recently Mr Peter Obi of Anambra State for what they did at different times and era in terms of critical development. The outcome of the election has shown to all and in the context of Anambra State Mr. Peter Obi that service to the people is all that matters. Mr Obi knows that. In terms of power and all that comes with it, he witnessed a measured rise and eventually decline even if it is for a while. But despite the outcome of this election, Anambra would not forget former Governor Peter Obi for his excellence, his dedication, service and financial prudence. Anambra North will never forget him. Bearing this in mind and brushing aside the bitter contest, Governor Willie Obiano (the working governor) must hit the ground running. The Governor already knows that Anambra deserves a great deal. The state which cannot be ignored in economic and political equation of Nigeria has all it takes – people with determination and resilience, abundant natural resource, geographical advantage to reclaim or continue to occupy its prime position in Nigeria. It is the duty of the Governor to assemble the right people and galvanize all the crucial factors for accelerated development of the state. Even though this is the last term for the Governor, he should always remember that People are watching and his legacy will determine his position in history profile of Anambra State.
VICTOR AKAZUE NWAKASI
VICTOR AKAZUE NWAKASI is a Lagos based Lawyer and Development Consultant.