Last week’s governorship election in Anambra State did not leave behind much surprise, because many already saw the outcome as a fait accompli. With a disorganised opposition, it was easy for analysts to predict incumbent Governor Willie Obiano’s victory. However, the outcome of the election has dealt a huge blow to some political actors in the state and placed others in vantage positions. While some of the political gladiators are still licking their wounds, others are basking in the euphoria of their new political status. The election also provided a glimpse into the likely pattern of voting in the state in 2019. Christopher Isiguzo, Onyebuchi Ezeigbo, Amby Nneze and David-Chyddy Eleke report
The November 18 Anambra State gubernatorial election may have come and gone, but the pre-election intrigues, clandestine maneuvering, underhand tactics and what eventually turned out to be the outcome of the election will continue to dominate discussions across party lines not just in Anambra State but in the entire country for some time.
Apart from the margin of Obiano’s victory, which was thought would be at worst, a three-horse race amongst the three dominant parties – APGA with Obiano, APC with Tony Nwoye and PDP with Oseloka Obaze – the peaceful conduct of the poll was the highlight of that election.
The election also witnessed an average turn out of voters, who clearly defied the call by a pro-Biafra group, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) for a boycott. The outcome of the election not only demystified some hitherto revered political actors, it also changed the state’s political matrix.
Winners and Losers…
When controversy was stirred by the withdrawal of his security details three days to the election, everybody had thought it was all over for him. But on the day of the election, he totally proved bookmakers wrong by winning in all the 21 council areas of the state.
When he was clearly abandoned by Mr. Peter Obi, his estranged godfather and former governor, Obiano was not disillusioned. Rather, he identified with the people of the state, who held him in high esteem. Perhaps, his performance in the critical areas of payment of salaries and pensions, and execution of people-oriented programmes got him back to the Government House. He is the principal winner.
The former National chairman of APGA and Director General of Obiano re-election campaign has clearly made himself a major force to be reckoned with in Anambra State, having led governorship campaigns for a record four times and won all. He stood by former Governor Peter Obi during the period of his political travails and ensured his party retained the governorship.
In the last governorship poll, he was the general that led the battle and from the onset, he was never distracted by the political intrigues. He was sure of his game and when it mattered most, he delivered the trophy.
Although dead, the former Biafran warlord still continued to dominate Anambra’s political landscape. His pictures were so conspicuous during the campaigns and the people of the state did not disappoint him. Even when his son, Emeka Ojukwu jnr., dumped APGA barely 72 hours to the election and pitched tent with APC, it did not change what was already destined. Even in death, Ojukwu was a winner in the just concluded poll.
The people of Anambra were unfazed by the tension that took over the state. They clearly understood the implications of not retaining the status quo and as such were not ready to gamble with it. Their political decision ensured that peace returned to the state after the election.
The PDP Defectors
They were not candidates in the election, but their political decision also changed the tide. Never in the history of the state has a party won election in all the 21 local government areas. The moment Ifeanyi Uba, Ken Emeakayi, Annie Okonkwo, Nicholas Ukachukwu and other PDP leaders pitched tent with Obiano, it narrowed the contest to a large extent. Had Obiano lost, it would have meant a death sentence on their political careers.
INEC and Buhari
Looking at the pre-election intrigues, it was thought by many that the electoral umpire had already compromised. But the commission and President Muhammadu Buhari finally delivered an election with minimal hitches. As it stands, all the gladiators, irrespective of political leanings, have declared the election as credible enough to the extent that none of the major actors has given any indication of any form of post-election litigation yet. Having been endorsed as the best election since the nation’s return to democracy, INEC and indeed the president that refused to influence the exercise are prime winners.
If the party had lost the election, it would have gone into extinction since Anambra is the only state it controls. With the victory, the party is now well positioned to possibly expand its territory.
The party and its leaders had made frantic efforts to possibly penetrate the South-east through Anambra State in readiness for the 2019 election. That desire still remains a pipe-dream But the election has brightened the future of APC in the South-east. The party came second, far ahed of PDP, which is the dominant party in the zone. Before the Anambra election, nobody would have thought that APC could do better than PDP in an election in Anambra State., particularly with the growing opposition to the APC-led federal government and the protests that trailed Operation Python Dance II in the zone.
Four years ago, Nwoye, who was then the PDP governorship candidate lost to Obiano, ended up as the first runner up. Again, he ended up as the first runner up in last weekend’s election won again by Obiano. Nwoye, who from the face value had everything going for him – the presidency, security, 24 state governors etc – is indeed a major loser in the election, though he has since returned to the Green Chamber of the National Assembly, where he is representing his federal constituency
With support from eleven governors elected on PDP platform, a former president and being a candidate of PDP in dire need of a comeback ahead of the 2019 general election, Obaze, a renowned technocrat and former Secretary to Anambra State Government under Obiano is a big loser.
His victory during the PDP primary election over pre-primary favourites like Ifeanyi Uba, Obi Ogbolu, Stella Oduah and Linda Ikpeazu among others had made him a force ahead of the election but he ‘collapsed’ like a pack of cards on the day of the election, picking a distant third position.
Osita Chidoka and 33 others
The former Aviation Minister had shone like a bright star during the political debate organised by Channels Television to the extent that he became the favourite of many. But last weekend, Chidoka and 33 other candidates could not garner up to 20,000 votes despite their efforts, financial commitments, campaigns etc. They lost even though Chidoka was the first to concede defeat.
Four years ago, he singlehandedly made Obiano governor. But, that was then. Everything changed in the build-up to the November 18 election. He was in charge, dictating the pace to the point that the election became more like a do-or-die project. He took Obiano, his one-time godson to the cleaners during the campaigns, staking all he had in the process. But, on election day, he could not even deliver his Anaocha local government to his candidate.
Twice has he invested heavily in Tony Nwoye and twice he failed. The billionaire businessman is indeed a major loser in the election. Not only did he lose in his local government, Arthur Eze threw everything into the ring but failed to deliver when it mattered most, his huge investments notwithstanding. Like Obi, Eze is also a major loser
The former governor, former Senator and now, Minister of Labour, failed to deliver his Idemili North to his party, the APC, which had reposed so much confidence in him. Four years ago, he lost as a candidate, coming third having run on the platform of the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). This time again, as the Director General of the Tony Nwoye campaign, Ngige lost.
The Road to 2019
Like it or not, the outcome of penultimate Saturday’s governorship election in Anambra State would tell on the 2019 general election. The lessons it portends for political stakeholders and Nigerians remain very critical as the nation navigates towards the 2019 general election.. Both in terms of participation by political parties and the electorate, the election was the most competitive of all elections so far conducted after the 2015 elections.
It recorded the highest number of governorship candidates– 37 of them – and just as the votes have shown, there was a major improvement in the number of votes cast as against the general apathy that normally characterises such an exercise.
For the politicians, political parties and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the Anambra governorship election presented an opportunity for them to test their readiness for the 2019 poll.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had been telling anyone, who cared to listen that it was developing a new model for organising elections in a painstaking and seamless manner. It recently released its timetable for the 2019 general election well in advance, setting out dates for the presidential, governorship and National Assembly elections in the country. Part of the new thinking by the new leadership at INEC is that planning and preparations for elections should be done in good time and with high level of commitment.
The commission had given early notification for the Anambra governorship election, providing adequate timelines for all activities leading to the main event, including registration of new voters through the continuous voter registration exercise. From all indications, the electoral body has been able to carry out all the activities marked out for the Anambra election without any major hindrance.
In terms of preparations, the commission was able to distribute its sensitive materials in record time. At least, there was little or no incidence of late arrival of materials and officials to polling booths on election day. The commission also seems to be getting better with the often troublesome card reader machine to the extent that the incidence of card reader problems was reduced significantly.
If there was any area where INEC recorded significant improvement in the electoral conduct, it was on the election security. Before the election, most people believed that security would be let loose and that the threat by the aggrieved members of the now proscribed Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) was going to lead to violent crisis.
However, through a combination of proactive engagement of the political stakeholders and good security arrangement, the commission was able to conduct the election in a relatively peaceful environment. But this is not to say that the Anambra governorship election did not have its flaws and low points. There were reported attempts by thugs to rig the election by trying to hijack ballot boxes or smuggle in ballot papers, which were thwarted by security agents and vigilant electorate. With these, it may well be said that INEC is somewhat ready for the bigger challenge, moving forward.
The Political Parties
Before the governorship election in Anambra State, APC and other frontline parties were embroiled in controversies over allegations and counter-allegations of plots to rig the election. Although the party is in government in Imo State, it still does not have a good following in the South-east and during the 2015 elections, it failed to register any appreciable impact in the elections.
But a lot has happened since the outing in 2015 and APC has successfully attracted some political bigwigs, who defected from other parties. These political gladiators were assembled by APC to help give the final push to earn it victory in the governorship contest. Also, President Muhammadu Buhari and other governors from the party’s platform were drafted to Awka to help boost the fortunes of the APC candidate, Tony Nwoye, during the last lap of his campaign.
Other parties especially APGA, party of the incumbent Governor Willie Ôbiano, had accused the APC candidate of hoping to rely on federal might to actualise his governorship dream. But in the end, the election went smoothly with Obiano winning with a landslide.
In his reaction to the outcome of the election, the national chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, said despite losing the election, the party has posted an impressive performance. He said the party’s performance clearly showed that progress was being made in terms of its appeal and inroads in the South-east. His remarks, however, summed up the thinking of the APC about the implication of the Anambra experience with regards to the electoral chances of the party in the South-east as the 2019 general election draws close.
If the APC was pleased with its performance in the Anambra governorship election, the PDP certainly will be bemoaning its lackluster performance in a state, where it hitherto held sway. The Spokesman of the party, Dayo Adeyeye, confirmed this position when he lamented that APGA won the election due to protest votes it garnered from aggrieved PDP members and their supporters.
However, Adeyeye refused to align with the position that such self-inflicted injury must have arisen from the shoddy primaries and it’s poorly managed backlash. Rather, he was of the view that irrespective of the perfections or imperfections of the PDP primaries, the party members in Anambra had developed conflicting mindsets. “We did our best to bring all under one Caretaker Committee, hoping that things will work out well”.
Another party that has reacted to the outcome of the governorship election in Anambra is the United Peoples Party (UPP). The party and its candidate, Osita Chidoka, were aggrieved by what they described as a dangerous trend in the electoral process as the nation looks forward to the 2019 general election. UPP’s major grouse was the alleged incidence of vote-buying said to have been perpetrated by its opponents during the election.
National chairman of the party, Chief Chekwas Okorie, addressed a press conference on Wednesday in Abuja, where he lamented the increasing influence of money in determining the outcome elections in the country. The party regretted that the governorship election was characterised by incidences of vote-buying.
UPP therefore alerted INEC, the National Assembly, the Presidency and the general public to what it described as unsavory dimension the nation’s democracy has assumed, adding that if such acts are not nipped in the bud it is capable of giving a completely new definition to democracy as it is being practiced in Nigeria.
No doubt, the outcome of the Anambra governorship election has proved to a large extent how tough the 2019 general election could be. A close observer of the activities leading to the final day of the election will notice that it was a keen contest with each of the political parties throwing all they had into the ring. It also shows how a highly mobilised and enlightened electorate could be an important determinant of electoral outcome.
Another salient point from the outcome of the Anambra poll was that Nigerians are beginning to take participation in election very seriously and that popularity at the grassroots is the key to electoral success. It might also be taken for granted that the electoral umpire is beginning to assert itself and fast learning to resist influences, no matter where it is coming from by ensuring that the process is transparent.
Also, the performance of the security agencies during the election was a clear departure from the ignoble role some of its men played in aiding and abetting election rigging in the past. Although still very fluid, certainly, the path to 2019 is beginning to form its own shape, the Anambra election being a major case study.