By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
The dream of nationwide credible elections in Nigeria will get its acid test through the November 18 Anambra State gubernatorial election. It is as though the future of Nigerian democracy rests on the showcasing of a free and fair election in Anambra State. Well over 30 gubernatorial candidates have thrown their hats into the ring in the keen contest to try their luck against incumbent Governor Willie Obiano of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA).
It is the prescient duty of the Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, to provide a level playing field for all parties. Incidentally, Governor Obiano has met with President Muhammad Buhari in the drive to ensure free and fair polls on November 18.
It has to be stressed that for much of the dispensation of civil rule since 1999, Anambra State represented all that has been wrong in Nigerian democracy.
It was the only state in which a then incumbent governor in 2003, Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, was refused a second term by his party, the then ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP). During the selfsame 2003 elections, Anambra Senatorial and House of Representatives candidates who had been duly declared winners by the INEC were replaced with names of people who never contested the elections as a result of what was termed “orders from above”.
It all climaxed with the abduction of then Governor Chris Ngige by forces loyal to his self-advertised godfather, Chief Chris Uba. Ngige miraculously survived the abduction, and it came into public knowledge that his godfather and his cohorts had taken him to the dreaded Okija shrine and made him swear to sign over the treasury of the state to them at gunpoint.
Instead of being arrested for their nefarious deeds the Anambra goons got away with then President Olusegun Obasanjo dismissing it all as “a family affair!” Obasanjo also revealed that Chris Uba once brought Ngige to him to inform that the Anambra governorship election was rigged in favour of Ngige without the then governor knowing how it was done. In the end, Ngige had to leave office when the election tribunal ruled that it was Peter Obi of APGA who actually won the election.
Before the pristine APGA Governor could settle into proper governance he was impeached, and had to go back to court to reclaim his mandate. Then the 2007 election was afoot and the powers-that-be refused to put his name and that of Ngige on the ballot. Peter Obi once more went back to court to determine the actual tenure of his mandate.
Meantime, Obasanjo’s erstwhile Presidential Assistant Andy Uba was declared winner of the Anambra State governorship election. Uba was only in power for 17 odd days before the Supreme Court sacked him by declaring that Peter Obi’s tenure had not expired.
The landmark judgment has led to the staggering of Nigerian elections; whence the coming of the Anambra gubernatorial election before all the others. It is against this gripping background that it stands to reason that if the Anambra election fails, then 2019 is all but damned. This will indeed be a fatal blow to Nigerian democracy.
INEC Chairman Prof Yakubu urgently needs to prove doubters wrong by using the Anambra State gubernatorial polls as a watershed of free and fair elections. The police should ensure adequate security during the polls. The will of the people must not be thwarted this time around in the larger interest of the survival of democracy.
The Obasanjo-Yar’Adua-Jonathan-Buhari 18-year span represents the longest time that the country has practised democracy. It bears reiterating that all the elections since 1999, except for the 2011 and 2015 polls, had not won the respect of the international community.
The 2003 and 2007 polls were actually panned across the globe as exercises on how not to conduct elections. President Buhari keeps harping on his desire to for once give the country credible polls. The Anambra election should prove to be the penultimate test pending the 2019 presidential polls.
The INEC should ensure free access to local and international monitors to observe the elections. This is one clear way for the elections to earn the respect of much of the civilized world. Democracy will not be worth its name without credible elections. INEC made a remarkable impression in the 2011 and 2015 elections by initiating the decentralization of the announcement of election results at the polling stations.
It had been a regular pattern in the past that the ballots were taken to the local government headquarters for the announcement of results. This almost always led to the snatching of ballot boxes and the announcement of fake results. INEC equally made the promise then of promptly announcing election results within 48 hours. This has been observed largely in the breach.
Once INEC gets its wheels to work properly towards guaranteeing credible elections in Anambra State, it is incumbent on the voters to file out in large numbers to determine who to give the mandate. Let the ground-breaking conduct of the Anambra election serve as a pointer for good to all future elections in Nigeria.