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ANAMBRA : The challenge of violence-free polls

By Lanre Arogundade

The civil war had come and gone by the   mid-seventies when our generation got introduced  to Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ in  secondary school. It was (and still is) such an epic creative narrative that first brought the rich Igbo culture into our world-view – the names, the language, the food, the proverbs and the heroism. If Anambra is on the world-map today, Achebe, an accomplished indigene, could be credited with a significant part of the feat; ‘Things Fall Apart’ having been translated into more than forty languages world-wide and read by millions.

The catch-phrase’ Anambra is on the world map’, has been playing on the lips of many, especially civil society activists and groups, as Anambrarians head to the polls to elect a civilian  governor on February 6. The irony today, however, is that if you ask any young Nigerian about what puts the state   on the world map, he would probably reel out the negative factors – kidnapping, violence, oath taking, and god-fatherism.

More than these challenges, however, it is the forthcoming election that has returned Anambra to the world stage. Last Tuesday, for example, six of the candidates were on hand at Emmaus House, Awka, to partake in a political debate organized by the civil society coalition called ‘Anambra rebirth’, whose vision is a state “where the citizens have 21st century survival skill; and are politically relevant in choosing their leaders”.

The event was beamed live on major television channels,  locally and internationally; a fact that the moderator, Rueben Abati of the Guardian, never ceased to reiterate especially when there was a mild incident involving some candidates who apparently disagreed with the criteria used by the organizers to exclude them from the debate.

If the winner of the guber-poll would emerge from the candidates that stayed glued to the podium to dramatise their programs, then Anambra should soon become a Nigerian el-Dorado.  Chukwuma Soludo of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would build Anambra as African Dubai and Taiwan; Nicholas Ukachukwu of Hope Democratic Party (HDP) would create four hundred thousand jobs; Andy Uba of the Labour Party (LP) would launch an  agricultural revolution and provide jobs for thousands; Okey Nwosu of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) would embark on unprecedented human capital development; Peter Obi of All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) would unleash his master plan as a sequel to having made all Anambra schools Microsoft compliant and Chris Ngige of Action Congress (AC) would demonstrate how much he means business this second time around by sanitizing Onitsha, the gateway to the state and turning it from a city that seems inhabited by mad people to one where sane human beings live. Indeed all the candidates would as  governor banish insecurity and bring back home all run-away peoples and businesses.

Yet if the tape were to be rolled back to 1999, 2003 and 2007, the citizens would easily recall having heard similar promises that like elsewhere in the country, largely remain unfulfilled. Nigeria’s capitalist politicians would surely make the Guinness book of records for the twin ability to promise heaven for all when seeking the votes – which usually never brought them into power anyway– and looting the people into hellish life, once they capture it. If a striking example is needed for the emergence of a genuine working peoples’ party that would mobilise mass democratic participation in deciding how the abundant resources in the county would be used for the collective benefit of all, Anambra qualifies as a perfect one.

As we daily shuttle between our base in Asaba and various destinations in Anambra State as ActionAid-Nigeria (AAN) field officers, we are witnesses to the neglect that Anambra has suffered: erosion tears away farmlands, bad roads wear off vehicles, and poverty draws tears from the eye.

But as it intervenes in the election,  he expectation of ActionAid, actively supported by the Department for International Development (DFID), according to Gbenro Olajuyigbe,  coordinator of the initiative, is that the February 6 poll would be violence-free so that the people can at least make their choice fearlessly, freely and fairly. That, AAN believes, might at least mark some new beginning.

Pursuant to the realization of this objective, the body has therefore been engaging with major stakeholders – the political parties and candidates, INEC, the security agencies, the media, the opinions leaders, etc –emphasising how important their roles are in making the poll violence free. The engagements have been quite revealing to the extent that the stakeholders have been opportune to speak on their respective challenges. For example, the state police commissioner, Philemon   Leha, said the command would do all it could to enforce law and order by stationing five policemen in each polling unit but pointed out that the real problems lie with politicians, accusing them of not fundamentally believing in the sanctity of the ballot.

INEC said it is prepared but the political parties and candidates complain about inflated voters’ register. A traditional ruler said his community’s population could not be more than three thousand but INEC has registered about triple the figure. In the three senatorial districts,  the ordinary people expressed loss of faith in the political class but hope to exercise their voting right if the atmosphere permits. They alleged arms stock piling, purchase of voters’ cards and money sharing by some candidates.

AAN’s intervention has been helped by the efforts of the likes of ‘Anambra Rebirth’, Justice, Development and
Peace Commission (JDPC), market associations, transport unions and like-minded organizations that have embarked on considerable voters’ education.  As ballot beckons, they will soon wind up their series of engagements and see how the people decide. Whatever the outcome, they will look back and say they at least did their best; much like the proverbial  lizard in Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart”, which having successfully leapt from the high Iroko tree to the ground, looked here and there, took some bows and said it would praise itself, even if no one else did.

*Arogundade is the Director of International Press Centre (IPC), Lagos-Nigeria.


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