Everywhere you go, everyone you speak with, there is a growing nervousness about the possibility that this month’s governorship election in Anambra State would be undermined either through voter absence or through extraordinary violence. The anxiety is being fuelled by frequent exchange of insults by the gubernatorial candidates and their supporters.
As the election date approaches, the political atmosphere in the state is filled with apocalyptic predictions. It is not only the level of interest shown by the major political parties and their supporters that has given the governorship election a note of unpredictability. The election is also seen as a test of popularity of various political parties in the state. The governorship election is widely seen as a major test of how popular or infamous the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has become in the South East following rising feelings of marginalisation by the people in the region and, above all, the massacre of innocent citizens, in particular, members of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), by soldiers whose mandate appeared to be to eliminate any moving object that stood on their way as they hunted the leader of IPOB and his supporters.
The governorship election in Anambra State constitutes a major test for Buhari, who has not hidden his prejudices against Igbo people in the South East in his two major speeches since he returned from his long medical vacation in London. If the first address Buhari gave to the nation following his return from London was designed to show his contempt for the Igbo, his Independence Day broadcast exposed the level of bitterness he harbours in his mind against the Igbo. It would, therefore, be interesting to see whether people in the South East have forgotten so soon the insult that was heaped on the region by the Federal Government through the use of unprecedented military force to put down the agitations by IPOB. Unfortunately, not only were IPOB members razed to the ground by soldiers’ bullets, innocent citizens also lost their lives. Till date, no one in Buhari’s government has seen reason to apologise, at least, for the death of innocent citizens.
In the past two months, there has been a sudden increase in the number of newspaper articles written by partisan authors who advanced reasons why their preferred candidates should win the governorship election in Anambra State. It is this unprecedented and unusually high level of interest shown by the candidates, their political parties and their supporters in the forthcoming election that gives the impression that it would be a do-or-die contest. In their campaigns, the governorship candidates have been outlining reasons (some of them designed to mislead citizens) why they should be seen as the best candidate who would improve the socio-economic conditions of ordinary citizens. Unfortunately, some of the promises made today will never be remembered or implemented after the election.
In an environment in which the candidates and their parties have assumed they would emerge triumphant, you can expect a torrent of petitions to follow the official release of the results. Once the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declares a candidate the winner of the election, no one can predict how the public would react. I am persuaded to believe that, in line with the history of previous elections in Nigeria, the candidates who lose the election will inundate the election petition tribunal with protests about how the election was not free and fair, how it was compromised in various ways, how it was rigged, how ballot boxes were snatched from polling stations by thuggish elements, how under-aged people were allowed to cast ballots, how the voters’ register was populated with fictitious names and fake addresses, and how some election officials connived with the successful candidate to alter the results of the election.
There will be no shortage of complaints after the election. We live in interesting times. Appeals to be lodged with the election petition tribunal will make for interesting reading essentially because of the spurious nature of many of the grievances. I have always been puzzled by the whingeing that emerges from candidates who believe they were denied victory by crooked election officials who acted in concert with opponents to invent evil ways of twisting election results. This is because every political party believes it has to rig an election to win.
So far, every contestant is campaigning vigorously on the ground that he has the best manifesto constructed in the best interest of voters. Some candidates claim a higher moral ground over other contestants on the platform of the faith they have placed on the people. Yet others say they are contesting the election on the basis of their track record of achievements in public and private spheres. Incidentally, all candidates claim they have a clear and unimpeachable understanding of the needs of the ordinary people in the state.
Whether voters are listening to all these claims, whether voters really believe the politicians would deliver on their high-flying promises or whether voters would be persuaded to vote for the candidate who offers money and food in these difficult economic times (something that has been baptised as “stomach infrastructure”) remains unknown.
The winner-take-all manner in which the contestants are viewing the big prize, as well as the decadent language being hurled by the contestants pose a major threat to the stability of Anambra State. A governorship election in Anambra marred by violence will set a dangerous tone for other elections leading up to the national elections in 2019. Politicians and political parties must allow voters to decide who should govern them in Anambra State. We have an opportunity now to show the world whether we prefer political intimidation and chicanery or whether we cherish freedom in our election decision-making process. Voters in Anambra State must exercise that choice.
The sudden surge in interest in the governorship election in Anambra State should suggest to everyone that politicians do not normally rush to participate in elections in which they are expected to give and give without an opportunity to enrich themselves. Politicians have long discovered that the position of a state governor is more like a pot of gold waiting to be exploited and appropriated.
Despite all the noise and speeches about the sincerity of the governorship candidates, voters in Anambra State have the ultimate power to determine the outcome of the election. They can exercise that power by refusing to be manipulated by politicians, by refusing to sell their voter cards, and by scrutinising the contestants to compel them to unpack how they plan to transform and improve the living conditions of the people. To trust politicians on account of their promises during election campaigns is to place your life in the hands of seasoned swindlers. At the moment, Anambra State represents that beautiful bride that is being courted by many dodgy political suitors.