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Oh Anambra ! The politics, its crises and 2010 governorship tussle

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Anambra State, as part of old Eastern Nigeria had always had its flavour of tussle over sundry issues, particularly land.  Discovering that political power is the root of all authority, the state has been turned into a theatre of the absurd since 1999 as a result of the contest for power.

Next February has been fixed for the governorship elections in the state and the contest gets fiercer by the day.  This report attempts to deconstruct the many pockets of conflicts arising from the jostle for political power and concludes that whereas there ought to be one chief and many Indians, Anambra as a political entity suffers this aphorism in the breach rather than the observance, thereby creating a situation where everybody in Anambra is a chief.

By Jide Ajani

TUESDAY, September 24, 2002. President Matthew Okikiolakan Aremu Olusegun Obasanjo was obviously livid with anger, his voice, threatening.  He had just got a security briefing from a team monitoring events in Anambra State.  Obasanjo, dressed in a pale-coloured night gown, was in an interview session with this writer.

It was at the height of the impeachment saga mounted by the House of Representatives, led by Speaker Ghali Umar Na’Abba.  Once Obasanjo got the briefing, he requested that a telephone call be placed to the then Governor of Anambra State, Chinwoke Mbadinuju.

Once the  call came through, an enraged Obasanjo shouted: “Governor Anambra, I have directed that those people should come into your state and I don’t want you to disturb them.  Let them do their work” At the other end, Mbadinuju was apparently attempting to find out the rationale behind sending a huge contingent of mobile policemen to Anambra State to keep peace when he as governor had not made such a request.

Obasanjo’s response was simple and clear: “Governor Anambra, I have told you not to disturb those people.  They have orders to do what you have refused to do.  Do not disturb them in the discharge of their responsibilities.  If you disturb them they will disturb you.  I repeat, Governor Anambra, do not disturb them; they have their orders to keep the peace”.

This was Tuesday, September 24, 2002. That encounter between Obasanjo and Mbadinuju came on the heels of several failed peace meetings between the then Anambra State governor and his godfather, Sir Emeka Offor, a friend of the Federal Government of Nigeria and an Obasanjo apologist.

This was also a time when schools in the state had been shut for about a year. At one of the meetings between the Mbadinuju group and the Offor group, Obasanjo had publicly admonished Offor to allow Governor Mbadinuju govern Anambra State, remonstrating that Offor’s conduct in the Anambra saga is  tantamount  to a hunter carrying a big elephant on his head and yet, using his foot to search for cricket in the sand.

But the many peace meetings did not yield peace in Anambra as the state governor attempted to also demonstrate that he was in charge with the introduction of the Bakassi Boys, a vigilante outfit which was to later constitute a dangerous nuisance to the people of the state.

Mbadinuju eventually did not get the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, gubernatorial ticket to run for a second term, even as a new godfather, in the person of Chris Uba, happened on the scene.  Mbadinuju moved to the Alliance for Democracy, AD, on which platform he contested but lost.

Enter a new era in Anambra politics which featured the fractured story of two Chrises – Uba and Ngige, the Lilliputian governor whose election was nullified by the election petition tribunal.  Whether it is Christopher or Christian, the godfather and his godson went to war early in the life of the administration.  But before the dramatization of stupidity which the Anambra polity was turned into, something instructive happened.

Just before the swearing-in of Ngige as Anambra State governor, the leadership of PDP in the state visited Chief Anthony Anenih, the man variously described as The Leader and Mr. Fix It.

The meeting was in Anenih’s then Ministers’ Quarters.  The Anambra State chapter of PDP had come to pay homage to The Leader.  While introducing their team leader, Chris Uba (and not Governor-elect, Ngige), effusive obeisance was paid on Uba.  After the theatrics, Anenih requested to know why the group visited. The response was that they had come to pay homage to The Leader.

As a respected elder, Anenih made it known to the politicians from Anambra that in his time, even a local government chapter leadership of a party could not have been so lowly represented.  And then the overkill: Anenih told the visitors that they needed to manage their relationship very well.

fact, he disclosed to them that one of three things would likely lead to the collapse of the PDP in Anambra State.  He said they needed to watch the triple evils of money, appointment to offices and award of contracts; that one of the three would likely bring about crisis amongst and between all of them.  Anenih was prophetic.

Hardly had the Governor Ngige administration spent one year in office, he was abducted and forced to resign from office. That fiasco enraged right-thinking members of the public.  But Ngige survived and with that survival, came sordid tales of oath-taking at the Okija shrine and other such ridiculous involvement of the governor, like the signing of an irrevocable standing payment order, ISPO, on a contract for a public building.

And at a time when Ngige lost out at the tribunal, it was expected that the emergence of Peter Obi, the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, candidate at the polls would breath an air of freshness in the state, matters got to a head with, first, the platform for his emergence which is the party, and, secondly, the state house of assembly dominated by the PDP.

His platform, APGA, went to town with a leadership crisis which made no sense and which could have been avoided.  Victor Umeh chose to lead a faction of the party while Chekwas Okorie, whose name is engraved in stone on the party constitution as chairman, led another faction. Then came the members of the state house of assembly asserting their own authority.

The courts over-turned Obi’s impeachment by the house just as the election organised in April 2007 by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, was deemed not to have held by the Supreme Court which insisted that Obi must serve out his four-year tenure. Hanging in the cold was Andy Uba, an Obasanjo aide, who had become lord unto himself in Anambra State and who insisted that he won the April elections which the Supreme Court nullified. As things are today, Anambra State remains a metaphor for the craze for power which Nigeria’s polity has been turned into.

PDP chairman Vincent Ogbulafor; Prof.  Chukwuma Soludo and Senator  Annie Okonkwo
PDP chairman Vincent Ogbulafor; Prof. Chukwuma Soludo and Senator Annie Okonkwo

Screening committee
More pitiable is the way the PDP has reduced the race for Government House, Awka. There are some 48 aspirants who have picked the forms for the race. Some 45 are said to have returned their forms while the screening committee of the party is about pruning down the number.

But historically, Anambra has been a state fraught with battles over land. The topography is such that arable land had almost always been a matter of disputation between communities in times past.  Today, realising the new wisdom that political power guarantees economic and social uplifting, the turf battle is now on the political arena. Is it APGA, or the ruling PDP? All is not well.

Worse still, there is no visible solution in sight. And whereas some politicians who ought to know better are spoiling for a show down in Anambra, there are clear and present dangers ahead the 2010 gubernatorial elections. For instance, during all the bye-elections in Anambra State since 1999, the voter attendance has been just about 10 per cent. The about 90 per cent of the voting population withdrew and stayed back in bewilderment.

Anambra State, today, is an APGA state. The Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA, has attempted severally to cash in on the situation in APGA but PPA seems to be having problems of its own which it has not been able to come out of.

For APGA, the May 14, decision of the Independent national Electoral Commission, INEC, reversing the authenticity of leadership of APGA to the Chekwas Okorie-led group, remains a watershed in the on-going struggle to recapture the soul of APGA. But Governor Peter Obi has already picked the governorship ticket of the Umeh faction of APGA. And whereas that faction says Obi would be its sole candidate, some are questioning the wisdom in that decision as it may bar other aspirants from seeking the ticket of the party.

In the build up that is going on now, it would interest Nigerians to know that there are some powerful politicians in PDP who, decidedly, went ahead to buy the gubernatorial tickets for some other aspirants just to block some people from the contest. Out of the 49 aspirants who have picked tickets, only one would emerge as the candidate of the PDP.

When that person emerges as the party candidate, the 48 others would come out forcefully to demonstrate that they, too, are very strong and may likely attempt to disrupt whatever progress PDP intends to make at the polls. For, instance, Andy Uba, is alleged to be ready to block the guber ticket of Labour Party, LP, in the hope that should the PDP misbehave, as the party is wont to do, he would simply move into LP.

The reason Andy Uba is not particularly impressed with his PDP, relates to the decision of the party not to support him in his bid to force the hands of the Supreme Court to countenance the voting of April 2007 as valid, pending the determination of Peter Obi’s tenure as governor of Anambra State.

But more interesting things are happening. Already, a group, which has tagged itself “Association for Good Governance in Anambra State”, said last week that it was organizing a one-day prayer to ensure a successful election in the state. Speaking with Journalists in Abuja, Leader of the group and first civilian governor of the state, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, stressed that the organisation had already invited all the political parties, civil society organizations, town union bodies, professional and trade union bodies to the event.

In a related development, the Anambra Youth Alliance, ANYA, has said that certification from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, should be a criteria for the screening of aspirants of all the political parties with plans to field candidates in the election.

Ahead of the primaries for emergence of the governorship candidate of the PDP, the chairman, Ward Congresses Committee and Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswan, has called on the aspirants and people of the state to carry out their assignments.

Speaking with Journalists in Abuja when he paid a courtesy call on the National Chairman of PDP, Prince Vincent Ogbulafor and members of the National Working Committee(NWC),Suswan  who appealed to Anambra PDP members and the governorship aspirants to cooperate with the committees geared towards conducting free and fair  primaries and that which will be acceptable to all, said, “All I can appeal to them is that let them for the first time cooperate with us so that they can by the grace of God have something credible.

On whether he was not intimidated by the history of Anambra politics and the number of aspirants contesting for just one slot, the Benue State governor said, “No I am not. Anambra people are Nigerians who in the past years have contributed immensely to the development of the nation and the party. Other committee members have since Tuesday relocated to Anambra.

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