Some weeks ago, Verbatim magazine published a cover story on the Anambra State governorship election entitled “Battle of Billionaires”. It was a near-correct analysis of the situation in a part of the south-east where money is presumed to be the only thing that matters. Anambra may be the state with the least incidence of poverty in the country, but poor people are still not scarce there. However, it is not occupied by money-mongers alone; it is the home of giants like the Azikiwes, the Achebes, the Ojukwus, the Emeagwalis, the Anyaokus, the Ekwuemes, the Okigbos and the Okadigbos. Those who fixed the governorship election on Zik’s 109th birthday – November 16 – clearly wanted voters to remember the great sage on their way to the polling booths.
I will not be voting on Saturday but I know that many eligible voters have not yet made up their minds about whom to vote for. I have learned, also, that the leading candidates so far are Dr Chris Nwabueze Ngige of the APC, Ifeanyi Uba of the Labour Party, Willie Obiano of the APGA and Tony Nwoye of the PDP. It will therefore be a four-way contest: each of them has a chance to get elected. And that’s where the big question arises: Will electoral vampires and their co-conspirators permit Anambra people to freely elect their governor?
In Nigeria, having a free and fair poll has become almost impossible. And all of the Anambra candidates know it. That’s why each is not just waiting for the people to speak through the ballot. Were people’s votes to count, however, APC’s Ngige would be all smiles. I say this based on the feelers I’ve got from the grass roots, not from the packaged falsehood displayed on television and other mass media. It’s true that political opponents have done a lot of damage to his candidacy through the Lagos “deportation” saga and now the Uke “massacre” which they blame on his supporters. But these scandals are not likely to cost him substantial votes. While false rumours are being spread in every corner of the state, the actual voters have not forgotten his great performance as governor between 2003 and 2006. As we have learned from experience, rumours are often spread by politicians hoping to justify the rigging they will do on Election Day.
APGA candidate Obiano’s best credential is that he comes from Anambra North senatorial district which has not produced a governor of the state for the first time. Handpicked by the incumbent governor Peter Obi from his own bank, Obiano is running for this office with Obi’s baggage. After almost eight years as governor, Obi has not won many hearts by his performance. Unluckily for the APGA candidate this time, Dim Emeka Ojukwu that was the real foundation of the party has joined his ancestors and has not been on the campaign train. None of Ojukwu’s children has been accepted as a substitute for the Eze Igbo gburugburu.
As I said, I don’t doubt the strengths of the two other candidates as well. Uba of LP and Nwoye of the PDP have supporters across the state. Loyalty to party, cash for vote and certain other interests may count in their favour on Saturday. The PDP crises, especially the one that delayed the emergence of the Anambra governorship candidate until 10 days to Election Day, will surely work against Nwoye; rejected PDP aspirants are not likely to queue behind him.
Ultimately, the “winner” of the November 16 poll will be determined by vote thieves. Several INEC officials and security agents will return from Anambra with incredible amounts of money hidden in their bank accounts and Ghana-must-go bags. After selling their consciences to the highest bidders, these supposed agents of the law will not be concerned with the sanctity of the election. By Thursday or Friday night, result sheets may be filled out inside hotel rooms, bedrooms, shrines, forests and other unusual places. There may therefore be a “peaceful”, “orderly” and “well organised” election on Saturday, but the results to be announced may not reflect the wishes of the people. And few people will be willing to fight for justice.
I wish this prophecy won’t come true in Anambra. But those hoping to ride on the wings of the electorate would do well to do the needful (thank you, Minister Oduah, for that word). Running for office in Nigeria requires that you build a solid base from the ward level. You must have supporters in every polling booth – and they must be willing to die fighting against election fraud. They must examine electoral documents closely and ensure that the result sheets are not fake or missing. They must be able to stop non-eligible voters and ensure that the correct results are entered (in ink, not erasable pencil mark). They must keep a watchful eye on, and follow, the ballot box to the collation centres. With their GSM handsets, they should be able to transmit the results from their polling booths within a few minutes after counting. Any security operative or INEC official found abetting electoral fraud ought to be hanged in a market square.
Such steps are necessary to prevent any candidate from crying foul after the thieves have escaped. Going to court to contest election results is very expensive and often unhelpful. It is not easy to prove rigging “beyond all reasonable doubts”.
Many young and old Nigerians are happy today. More of them were happy yesterday. But most of them were happy on Friday. I’m sure everybody knows why: the Golden Eaglets’ victory over the Mexican team in the final match of the Under-17 World Cup tournament. Nigeria has won the cup for a record fourth time, starting from1985, I think.
Anything that can make my fellow compatriots happy at this time is welcome. My prayer is that such a thing does not become ephemeral like sports. Drinking joints were packed full of soccer lovers, some declaring free drinks to celebrate the Eaglets’ triumph, on Friday. Newsrooms were not left out of the celebration. But the happiness started disappearing with the next meal time. Young people especially had, by yesterday, realised that victory in soccer did not bring food or jobs.
For my part, I lost enthusiasm in sports as far back as 1976. As a boy, I had followed the activities of Power Mike (Mike Okpala), the then world heavyweight wrestling champion. It was in November and December of 1975 that he had his last fights with Ali Baba of Egypt. During the November encounter, Ali Baba threw professionalism to the winds when he hurled seats at Power Mike. In December, Power Mike had to knock him out! He retired soon after – in 1976. In those days, I also followed the journeys of Rangers International Football Club of Enugu. [When they won a match, Radio Nigeria called the team Rangers of Nigeria, but when they lost they became Rangers of Enugu!] Rangers, ICC Shooting Stars of Ibadan and one other Nigerian team made me sick in those days.
They used to win several matches only to lose in the finals. To cure my distress, I thought: What’s in it for me? What would I gain if they won or lost? I gradually began to lose interest in all sports until, at last, there was little interest left. I’m happier today than some football freaks. Many have died watching matches on TV, perhaps because the suspense and anxiety shot up their blood pressure or triggered a heart attack.
All the same, I rejoice with all Nigerians at this time. Mercifully, nobody gives the credit of the Eaglets’ victory to any politician. That is how it should be. Those who failed in their own assignment should not hijack the success of another.