Numerous political pundits stipulated that the recent governorship election in Anambra would serve as a gauge of things to come in the 2015 general elections. Anambra, these pundits suggested, would have a lot to say about the place and direction of Nigeria. If that projection was sound, then we have many reasons to be uneasy.
Last week’s declaration of Willie Obiano of the All Peoples Grand Alliance (APGA) as the governor-elect was, in the end, beside the point. Regardless of the outcome of the election, I believe that the process itself was deeply flawed. It left me disheartened.
It may well be that Mr. Obiano would still have emerged victorious in an election that was unquestionably transparent and technically efficient. In that event, he is entitled to a sense of outrage that the election was attended by significant irregularities. Any candidate in a major political race deserves the sense of legitimacy that comes from a process that is glitch-free. It is hard to claim that the Anambra governorship contest met that standard.
The governor-elect’s luck – if luck be the word – is that he operates in a Nigerian system where ever-elastic allowances are made for procedural impropriety. In 2001, George W. Bush became the 43rd president of the United States of America after a majority of US Supreme Court justices handed him victory in a ruling that many viewed as ill-considered at best or even a scandal of judicial overreach. Throughout his first term in office – and for much of the second as well – Mr. Bush labored under a sometimes debilitating cloud. Many of his liberal critics cast question marks on his legitimacy.
As I argued two weeks ago, INEC’s performance in the Anambra governorship election was deplorable. Despite the dramatic build-up to the election, voter turnout was embarrassingly low. Many voters discovered their names missing from voter registers. Electoral documents arrived terribly late, and sometimes not at all, in many polling centers. In much of Idemili, where voting did not hold at all, INEC sustained a black eye. Last weekend’s supplementary election was a poor palliative for a veritable fiasco.
Looking at what transpired in Anambra, Nigerians who hold out hope for credible elections in 2015 ought to be afraid, very afraid. If INEC could not acquit itself creditably in Anambra, if INEC officials were unable to handle the logistics of a governorship in just one of Nigeria’s 36 states, then the prospects of the commission conducting credible elections all over the country in 2015 are suspect, to speak in mild terms.
The full meaning of what happened in Anambra’s November polls won’t become clear for some time. Some of the losing candidates have alleged that what took place was a case of “high-tech” rigging. Some defenders of the outcome have countered that the criticisms exemplify an inelegant habit of being sour losers. Other apologists suggest that all the major political parties were implicated in rigging, and that the final result merely reflected the victorious party’s dominance in a widely practiced art.
Each contention is disturbing. Any form of rigging, low- or hi-tech, ought to give us pause. Let’s never forget that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Nigerians perished in the struggle to enthrone voting as the default mode for choice of public office holders. Why, in the name of decency, do we accept malpractices that bastardize elections?
Some Nigerians rationalize electoral fraud by asserting that no system is perfect. They forget that the argument is hardly ever about perfection. It is about grave, glaring defects that are deliberately built in, designed to thwart voters’ will. It’s doubtful that any Nigerian election since 1999 has passed muster. It’s often hard to look at any occupant of political office in Nigeria and assert, with a degree of confidence, that s/he won in a clean way.
The argument that all political parties are invested in rigging is just as tenuous. It’s an argument calculated to perpetuate the political party with control of the machineries of state power. Rigging anywhere is wrong. Yet, the reason critics often focus on and flay the PDP’s rigging is that the ruling party is able to commandeer the coercive powers of the state to aid its candidates. The party of the Nigerian president often marshals soldiers, the police, officers of the State Security Service (SSS), and even INEC officials as agents of rigging. The rigging system is decisively rigged for the ruling party.
The stakes in the Anambra governorship had national repercussions. It was the first time that the APC, through its candidate Chris Ngige, tested out its viability in a high-profile electoral contest. Without question, President Goodluck Jonathan’s ambition for re-election in 2015 was a potent factor in the election. Mr. Jonathan and the PDP’s singular interest in the Anambra election was to ensure that the APC’s Mr. Ngige did not win. In that respect, the PDP’s mission intersected with that of APGA.
Like most elections in Nigeria, the Anambra governorship campaign was bereft of ideas. In the end, the candidates, their sponsors and champions mostly traded slurs. Substantive issues pertaining to strategies for addressing the state’s myriad crises were given short shrift. The voter who sought illumination of the central issues that bear on Anambra’s problems and problems was abandoned to his fog. There is no reason to expect that ideas will suddenly become important in 2015.
With the deepening fissure in the PDP, Mr. Jonathan must scavenge for a formula to win the 2015 election. With an achievement profile that is evidently unimpressive, the Nigerian president has no choice other than deploying the apparati of state power. How much of the mess in Anambra’s election was a product of such manipulation, and how much a demonstration of INEC’s sheer incompetence?
Mr. Obiano is bound to face extensive legal challenge. If he triumphs – and the history of judicial rulings place the odds in his favor – then he faces the much tougher test of governance. Anambra has been terribly unlucky in its governors. The sordid shape of Awka, the state capital, continues to serve as a symbol of the mediocrity of the state’s leadership. One of the incoming governor’s most pressing tasks is to commence the urgent job of cleaning up the eyesore that is the Anambra State capital. And that governor must tackle insecurity, unemployment, and education.
My novel, Foreign Gods, Inc. will be published on January 14, 2014. Please follow me on twitter @ okeyndibe