By Ikechukwu Amaechi
DISCERNING political observers know that the 2023 election stakes are quite high, particularly as a result of the dramatic outcomes of the presidential primary elections of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. The shenanigans which preceded the primary season led to PDP bizarrely disavowing the principle of rotation enshrined in its own constitution.
But those who hatched the plot didn’t reckon with the consequences. Former governor of Anambra State and vice presidential candidate of the PDP in the 2019 elections, Mr. Peter Obi, who had already obtained the party’s presidential nomination form, having paid N40 million, pulled out a few days before the primaries and joined the Labour Party. All hell broke loose. Suddenly, the idea of a competitive “third force” as a counterpoise to the two political behemoths – PDP and APC – which many had romanticised all along but which seemed far-fetched and unrealistic started looking like a possibility.
Many who hitherto paid no attention to what was happening in the political circles suddenly woke up from their slumber and political lethargy gave way to unprecedented enthusiasm, particularly among Ndigbo. Before now, calls for registration of eligible voters and collection of Permanent Voter Cards, PVCs, by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, went unheeded. When INEC flagged off the quarterly Continuous Voters Registration, CVR, exercise on June 28, 2021, in a bid to update the voter register used for the 2019 elections that had 84,004,084 registrants, the exercise cut no ice in the Southeast.
Statistics revealed that the zone had the lowest percentage of respondents who knew about the CVR.
The primaries and political realignments they engendered have changed all that. And not known as a people who do things in half measures, Ndigbo are pulling out all the stops to ensure that their voices are heard, and loudly too, through their votes in the 2023 elections. The result is that those who hitherto mocked the Igbos as being electorally inconsequential are beginning to have a rethink, seeing the unprecedented surge in the quest for PVCs all over Nigeria. Right now, Ndigbo are on fire and their detractors are back to their old vile disenfranchisement playbook. That was exactly what happened in Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos last week.
For those who may not know, here is the story. Traders in the popular Alaba International Market, arguably the biggest electronics market in sub-Saharan Africa, shut down their businesses on Thursday, June 9, to register and collect their PVCs. Shutting down the market for a whole day is a big deal.
In his 2017 TED talk on Igbo apprenticeship system, Robert Neuwirth, an American journalist, author, and investigative reporter, said Alaba Market generates $4 billion annually. That approximates to $10.8 million daily. Agreeing voluntarily to let such humungous amount of money slip off their fingers not only puts a lie to the derisive insinuation that the only thing that matters to Ndigbo is money but also underscores the existential threat they perceive in the unfolding political augury. Having agreed on a course of action, the market leadership passed the information through a circular by the Alaba Amalgamated Union.
On Tuesday, the market leadership through a town-crier announced to the traders that PVC possession was compulsory.
“On Thursday, next tomorrow, there will be a total lockdown everywhere Igbos are doing business at Alaba International so that everybody will go and collect his/her PVC. If you have an apprentice in your shop who is 17 years and above or you have a secretary in your shop who is over 17 years old, all of them must have a PVC,” the man announced in a video that has since gone viral. “Starting from Monday next week, we will start a patrol called Operation Show Your PVC. If they come to your shop and you don’t show your PVC, know that you have broken the (market) union’s law.
If your secretary doesn’t show hers, she has also broken the law. If your apprentice doesn’t have it, he has broken the law.”
This is revolutionary. But it frightened those who think that Ndigbo should only be seen and not heard in their own country and they sent their thugs to attack the traders at the Ojo secretariat, venue of the registration. As it is usually the case, some people are blaming the victims and making excuses for the villains.
Sundry questions have been asked: Why did they go there in their numbers? Why was the market closure not phased? Why do Igbos want to vote in Lagos and not their states? But nobody is asking who the hoodlums that launched the attack were and the purpose of the attack. Were they sponsored or came on their own? The authorities have not bothered asking, probably because they know the answer to the questions.
As I write, no one has been arrested for trying to stop fellow citizens from registering for their voter cards and collecting their PVCs. But it is all déjà vu. On February 23, 2019, thugs invaded polling booths in Okota, a Lagos suburb and maimed Igbo voters after making a bonfire of ballot boxes, result sheets and other vital INEC documents in the full glare of the camera. It was unprecedented.
The thugs set ablaze ballot boxes at Polling Unit 18 located at the junction of Ohafia/Ago Palace Way, Okota, disrupted voting at Polling Units 23 located on Baba-Ewe Street/Ago Place Way, 035 and 036 located at Adeneken Street/Alhaji Olusesi Street Junction and Adeneken Street/ Ago Palace Way, after they tried unsuccessfully to force voters to vote for a particular party.
They did all this without any restraint from security agents attached to the polling units. Nobody was arrested. Nobody was prosecuted. And three years after, nobody is serving time for the heinous crime. Why were those areas targeted for attacks? Simple! Both Oshodi and Okota are the strongholds of the PDP. In 2015, the APC lost all legislative elections in Okota and Oshodi to the PDP, and that was recorded as a crime against Ndigbo in Lagos.
So, what happened to the Alaba traders in Ojo last week was not mere happenstance. It was orchestrated by the same malcontents behind the attacks in Oshodi and Okota in 2019. Having vanquished Ndigbo at the primaries, or so they thought, they still don’t want them to vote in the general election. But how mistaken they are.
Ndigbo are fired up. They are inflamed with anger at the betrayals of fellow citizens in the primaries and enthusiasm at the promises of 2023. No-matter the circumstance, come 2023 elections, Ndigbo will vote in their numbers and their votes will count.