By Obi Nwakanma
Let me first make a quick comment on the recent controversy regarding the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC’s) distribution of the Permanent Voter Cards, and the larger implication for protecting the right of suffrage for Nigerians. Voting in elections is both a right and an obligation for citizens of any nation under democratic rule, and it is incumbent on both the citizens and the state to protect that process.
A key challenge for Nigeria is how to keep efficient public records, including the records of its citizens. This should long have been dealt with by the establishment of a National Citizens Registration Board with offices in every local government Headquarter in Nigeria under the statutory oversight of a properly constituted Federal Ministry of Labour and Establishment.
It should long have been a law requiring mandatory birth and death registration down to the community level, and using contemporary tools in Information Technology, to capture the biodata of Nigerians, including the data of eligible voters, whose only requirement to vote would be to present electronically verifiable National Identity Cards that allows them to vote, for as long as they are 18 and meet the necessary terms of eligibility.
It is a waste of time and resources, and it indeed complicates matters unnecessarily, printing Voters Registration Cards, when there is a National Citizens Card that should be tied to the electoral process. We cannot re-invent the wheel, and we do not need to be stuck in the pre-digital age with all its lugubrious tendencies. Nigeria needs not continue to proliferate inefficiency: it is costly, and it leads to needless crisis. And having put it all there, I should then advert my mind, as I meant to all the time, to the elections. Next week, Nigerians go to the polls.
The streets are agog and tense with politicking; time ticks too, and two particular elections highlight, in my mind, the measure of things, as we must expect the South to go, and that is, if the general election itself does not eventually go south altogether.
Lagos, where PDP’s Jimi Agbaje is showing surprising strength, and according to some flash polls may have pulled ahead and may upstage the APC applecart in Lagos, one of APC’s beachhead states. Support for Agbaje is coming mostly from a mix of resident urbanites whose base is swollen mostly by voters with traditional roots in the South East and South-South, who have settled in large and growing numbers in this behemoth cosmopolis in the last thirty-five years.
They are likely to change the electoral colours of Lagos permanently. The other election with intriguing prospects is the election for Governor in Imo State. Intriguing because of the characters, and the forces at play. The election in Imo feels like a three-way tussle. The incumbent governor Rochas Anayo Okorocha is a foundational figure in the APC, whose electoral victory four years ago came from a groundswell of public disenchantment that threw out the PDP administration of Ikedi Ohakim.
Okorocha rode on the wings of mass public support and frankly on the coat-tails of the APGA with the luminous figure of the late Odumegwu-Ojukwu like a halo behind it. Things have since changed quite a bit since then. First, Okorocha jumped ship from the APGA and allied with the new alliance, the APC. Okorocha’s administration has reeled from one controversy to the other: from a yet to be resolved contract scandal that saw the ouster of his former Deputy, to unresolved political assassinations and disappearances, to the suppression of Local Government Administration and the appropriation of local government funds of which he is yet to give full account.
Supporters of Okorocha’s administration however point to a number of public works undertaken under his term, including some road constructions that have opened up more access and link roads in Owerri, Orlu and Okigwe; construction of new blocks of primary school classrooms, the Owerri Convention Center, the Ecumenical Center for which the city library in downtown Owerri was destroyed, the Odumegwu-Ojukwu Square, and the regular payment of state employees, especially teachers, as evidence of Okorocha’s achievement. But his critics see all these and still note very low-level, and poor quality of work that highlight Okorocha’s rather ersatz style.
The governor is seen indeed as very busy doing mostly nothing. “The more you hear of it, the less you see,” one Okorocha critic says. Yet, going into this election, Okorocha’s populist style and programs (the much vaunted “free education”) for instance, seemed still to have traction, and his election for a while seemed all but in the kitty. But more recent indicators show that the grounds have shifted radically beneath his feet with a forceful challenge from Emeka Ihedioha, former Majority Whip in the Federal House of Representatives, and quondam Deputy Speaker of that House. In 2013, during the burial of Chinua Achebe, Emeka graciously gave me a ride from Ogidi to Owerri, and it was then he told me about his interest in running for the Governorship of Imo.
I remember saying, of course, “it’s an open field.” And it was borne from my own skepticism. Two interesting factors drive the Ihedioha challenge: first is the growing public disenchantment with Okorocha’s real performance, and the increasing feeling that much of the hoary achievement he claims is fragile, plastic, and on the surface; ancillary to this is also the wide and increasingly successful campaign that paints his party affiliation – the APC – as a “Boko Haram Party” – a clear shot in the feet in a state that is overwhelming Christian, and many of them conservative and even fundamentalist.
Other factors of course have to do with Ihedioha’s rather critical capacity as a political operator. Going into this election, his opponents painted him as “aloof and arrogant.” He lacked the common touch. Those who know Ihedioha more personally however, speak of a warm and sensitive person beneath the aloof exterior, who sets his own goals and gets to it.
There are indications in Ihedioha of a quick, and very shrewd political mind, and a capable political operator and negotiator. As a member of the House of Representatives, Ihedioha brought the pork home to his constituency, and there is evidence of this, his supporters say. He brings with him a formidable legislative experience – with his past as the PDP whip and Deputy Speaker of the HOR; and this will serve him well as governor in a state like Imo.
Ihedioha also brings with him the Mbaise factor: easily the most populous group in Imo, the election of Ihedioha will assuage the longstanding feeing by the Mbaise of political neglect. With the highest national literacy level and arguably one of the highest unemployment levels nationally, Imo voters deserve a governor who can muster and work with a broad network of highly skilled expertise of which Imo has an abundance globally, to recreate the quality of the Mbakwe-era administration.
But of course, all these may be torpedoed with the presence of the Emekuku-born Captain Emma Iheanacho, shipping magnate, former Minister of the Interior, and the APGA candidate on the ballot, whom some have described as the “best candidate at the wrong time.” Imo is set for a surprise, and Iheanacho may pull the surprise of the underdog still. Next week is all the time we need: but if I were a betting man, I’ll call it now for Emeka Ihedioha.