Anambra is set, it appears, to act as dress rehearsal for Nigeria’s next round of general elections in 2015. For some inexplicable reason, the state’s political experience holds up a mirror to what used to be termed Nigeria’s “nascent democratic experiment.”
After more than fourteen years, that experiment is not so much nascent as nasty. Nor is it democratic by any respectable definition of the word. Anambra manages, somehow, to illustrate the gap between Nigeria’s profession of itself as a democracy and the sordid reality of a country run by an undemocratic, self-chosen and brainless cabal.
Anambra’s illustrative status is borne out by an inventory of some of the state’s political experiences. It was in this state and, later, in Oyo State that Nigerians first witnessed the workings of the most virulent species of godfatherism. The administration of former Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju was virtually stymied by the decrees of a man who relished being addressed as Sir Emeka Offor. An ill-educated businessman, Mr. Offor felt that his cash and political contacts had delivered the governorship to Mr. Mbadinuju. Consequently, the ostensible sponsor seemed to feel entitled to dictate how the governor ran the political shop. And when his gubernatorial ward began to balk at directions, Mr. Offor cracked the whip. For much of his term, Mr. Mbadinuju was preoccupied with fending off his godfather’s ghost, real and imaginary.
By 2003, Mr. Offor’s currency as godfather had run its course. He vacated the stage, yielding place to Chris Uba, estimated by some to be even less schooled. Emboldened by his direct access to then President Olusegun Obasanjo, Mr. Uba pulled off a rare political feat. He let it be known that he was a godfather extraordinaire. In the 2003 set of elections, the conventional wisdom was that he and he alone decided who got s/elected into every political post in Anambra, from municipal councillorship through seats in the state and national legislatures to the state governorship. Nigerians, nay the world, saw how one man and one man alone could negate and nullify the wishes of the people. The voters of Anambra had chosen Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) to govern them. But Mr. Uba wanted Chris Ngige, his godson and candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). It didn’t matter what the voters thought; Mr. Uba got his way. A godfather, first and foremost, has nothing but disdain for voters.
Mr. Uba was no believer in the gentleman’s code of shaking hands with his political progeny to seal agreements. During his reign as godfather, he insisted that Mr. Ngige and other acolytes show up in the dreaded forests of Okija shrine to swear oaths of allegiance to him.
When the governor he’d installed began to think that paying workers’ salaries trumped Mr. Uba’s insatiable appetite for cash, the latter as the Nigerian saying goes showed the governor pepper. A team of 200 police officers, led by an Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG), Ralph Ige, stormed the governor’s office. They abducted Mr. Ngige, extracted a forced resignation, and came close to effecting his dethronement.
When irate Nigerians demanded that Mr. Ige, Mr. Uba and other actors be arrested and tried for treason, then President Obasanjo offered the notorious opinion that what the rest of us regarded as a crime was no more than a small, normal quarrel within the PDP family.
In the ensuing months, Mr. Uba, his coterie and an Obasanjo who often behaved like a mischief-maker-in-chief, hatched other plans to unseat Mr. Ngige, their former ally turned obstinate foe. In November, 2004, thugs swept through Anambra State setting fire to numerous state-owned establishments. The fiery orgy went on for three days, carried out in daylight, the thugs sweeping across the state in many trucks. You’d think the police would have a field day arresting the gleeful arsonists. Instead, the police cheered the lawbreakers, escorting them from one location to another as if the torching of public property was a constitutionally-mandated task that had to be enforced. At any rate, police officers in Anambra knew that the destroyers had the blessings of the godfather and his enablers in Abuja, including then President Obasanjo. So the police did nothing to deter, much less stop, the criminals.
It is estimated that Anambra lost close to N20 billion in the assault. Not a single person was ever tried for the crime. It was for Mr. Obasanjo another occasion to offer the world a glimpse into the PDP’s peculiar way of handling a quarrel within the family.
The governorship of Anambra is about to become vacant. An election has been set in November to determine the next occupant of Government House, Awka. Once again, Anambra has taken the stage to give Nigerians a preview of what to expect for the general elections of 2015.
The prognosis is dire. First, the political parties set governorship nomination fees that are scandalously high. The PDP set an obscene sum of N10 million as the fee for any candidacy. Astonishingly, thirty or so members stepped forward with the cash.
It all points to one fact in Anambra and Nigerian politics: the illegal acquisition of wealth, not the rendering of service, is at the core of things. For one, an exorbitant price tag shuts off enlightened candidates with fresh, visionary ideas but little cash and no inclination to sell their political souls to a rustic godfather. In effect, such a price tag turns the race into a lottery for those with loads of illicit cash or those able to attract illicit-minded sponsors/godfathers determined to grab and pocket the resources of the state. It is the usual fare: a cash-and-carry system, the people be damned.
It is hardly surprising that there is little or no concern with issues in the process. No candidate or party has bothered to set out what he or she thinks are the main issues, much less to articulate a program of action. Instead, one has a sense that too many political interests are circling the state, like ravenous vultures, set to swoop down and doom the lives of its smitten, deprived, long-suffering people. APGA led the way in disqualifying some of the party’s most eloquent and promising candidates. The fresh-minted APC virtually anointed Mr. Ngige, showing little respect for the norms of internal democracy. The PDP, ever wedded to contempt for democratic rituals, ran two primaries with two sets of results.