Skip to main content

Hope and (some) fear in Anambra

November 16, 2009

Image removed.Friday, November 13, will be remembered as a day of hope for the people of Anambra State, nay Nigerians. That day, the Enugu Division of the Court of Appeal dismissed a misconceived lawsuit by Emmanuel Nnamdi Uba – widely known as Andy Uba – seeking to be foisted, via judicial fiat, as the governor of Anambra. The court’s five justices unanimously refused to grant what Justice Sylvester Nwani Ngwuta aptly described as “judicial blunder.”
Had Uba succeeded – God forbid! – he and his coterie would certainly have assaulted logic and sought to give God a bad name by categorizing their triumph as ordained by divinity. They would have staged a fiesta of carefully orchestrated celebration to leave the impression that Mr. Uba’s ascendancy had popular appeal.

Instead, the justices did not just decide to rain on the parade; they chose to send Mr. Uba’s paid puppeteers and hired jesters home. Ngwuta struck a powerful note when he declared that the effect of obliging Uba’s petition would be “too disastrous to contemplate.” The reason, said the judge, is that the April 14, 2007 election that purportedly elected Uba “was not conducted in accordance with the supreme law of the land.” Therefore, to grant Uba’s prayer to be established in Government House, Awka effective March 17, 2010 (when the tenure of incumbent Governor Peter Obi will run out) would be, in Ngwuta’s pertinent metaphor, to “bury the rights of Anambra State people.”
Beyond the death knell to Uba’s dreams to sneak into power by any means, last Friday’s verdict also held out other judicial, moral and political lessons. The universal spree of celebration that attended the judgment demonstrated Nigerians’ desire to achieve nobility. All too often, I encounter Nigerians who believe that there’s no hope for their country. They insist, for example, that every Nigerian, given the opportunity, would steal or cheat.
This brand of despair is fertilized, one realizes, when too many public officials leave office with wealth they cannot account for – and nobody makes an attempt to investigate, much less prosecute, them. Negative attitudes about Nigeria and Nigerians fester when the electoral commission proclaims clear losers in an election as the winners. Nigerians cannot help thinking the worst of themselves and their fellows when craven or corrupt judges, sitting on electoral tribunals, shamelessly validate beneficiaries of stolen political offices.

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('content1'); });

There’s nothing worse than a judiciary that is perceived as open to accepting cash inducement in exchange for bizarre or patently illogical verdicts. But last week, we saw a panel of judges who spoke clearly, boldly, and fearlessly. Even better, their pronouncement was in consonance with what the Nigerian public, including lawyers, recognized as the right – if not inevitable – conclusion.

That verdict had an electrifying effect. In Anambra, Enugu and elsewhere in Nigeria, millions of people heaved a sigh of relief. There was widespread boisterous celebration. I got calls from friends, relatives and even total strangers from different parts of the world – Sweden, England, Nigeria. Each caller bore witness to a sense of hope, an expectation of greater things to come.

Let’s be clear: Nigeria has spent close to fifty years slipping into a crisis that is, properly speaking, a profound morass. Nigerians who are under thirty years of age may not know that there was a time when embezzlement or kickback on contract was at the level of five percent. Today’s going rate of embezzlement hovers around eighty percent. Many young Nigerians would not know that there was a time when students were a veritable force for positive change in society, instead of the situation today when student cult groups seek distinction in savagery and self-indulgent debauchery. There was a time when student unionists sought to give a headache to Nigeria’s dictators and traitors, in uniform or agbada. Today, many student unionists merely seek a seat at the dinner tables of “thieftains.”

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('content2'); });

My point is this: it will take a while to rescue the country from the mire of social and political dysfunction and economic stagnation. The Nigerian judiciary exists within the same disordered space in which moral and ethical considerations are besieged, even often erased. The same system that enabled Andy Uba to accumulate inexplicable wealth after eight years in a fairly low-level political post has given birth to magistrates and judges who sell their bench.
Even so, Nigeria cannot – should not – be reduced to its lowliest elements. It is, we must remember, a nation of intelligent, sagacious and morally exemplary heroes, living and dead. Far from being only the country of crude, venal and grasping parasites, Nigeria also boasts many proud and productive people in all fields – from the mechanic to the medical scientist – who do the right thing daily and expect the best from themselves and their fellows.
Last Friday’s verdict against Uba no doubt dismayed those who profit from corruption and iniquity, the shameless men and women who thrive in the culture of impunity. But the verdict, above all, buoyed the vast majority of Nigerians who dream, and work, to achieve a Nigeria where sanity reigns, where all citizens are deemed and treated as equal, where no occupant of a political post may help himself to the public treasury and then get away with it.
Uba’s defeat translates into the legal and political burial of part of Obasanjo’s reprehensible legacy. I predict that, in time, Nigerians will demand that Mr. Obasanjo be compelled to answer for the manifold crimes committed during the eight years he occupied (and tainted) the office of President of Nigeria.

Many of those crimes were committed against the interests and people of Anambra State. The most egregious was the November 2004 destruction of public property by hoodlums who stormed the state in many trucks. As these hired wreckers went from one government-owned installation to another, setting things on fire, they were escorted – cheered on – by police officers. The bonfire, which was broadcast on Nigerian television, saddled Anambra with a price tag estimated at N30 billion.

Obasanjo was not bothered a bit – as if Anambra were not part of the space he swore on the constitution to govern. He never saw fit to issue a query to the then Anambra Commissioner of Police. This nonchalance led many to suspect that the mayhem had the tacit blessing of a president who desperately wanted an occasion to declare a state of emergency in order to remove then Governor Chris Ngige. The ruling party had imposed Ngige as governor. But when the man balked at orders to hand over the state’s treasury to the president’s closest friends, his erstwhile sponsors came up with depraved plots to remove him. But the battle against Ngige soon became a war on the assets of Anambra. The campaign essayed to remake Anambra into a state of anarchy.

Anambra has paid a steep price as the theatre of political perfidy. The challenge – now that the Uba specter has been decisively expunged – is to ensure that the state achieves a different, salutary distinction. It would be fitting, then, if the state’s forthcoming governorship election (scheduled for February 6, 2010) sets a standard for transparency and credibility. That would send a clear message that Nigerians want to reclaim their nation and their lives from the hands of mindless, self-serving politicians. 

My fear is that, everything considered, this might prove a difficult dream. One good reason for anxiety is that the electoral commission under Maurice Iwu has seemed all-too willing to act less as an impartial umpire than an arm of the PDP. Truth is that, with Iwu running the election, many voters are apt to write it off as another ruined opportunity. There’s little or no prospect of persuading Iwu to step aside. Having survived Obasanjo and Uba, the people of Anambra ought to cultivate the art of political vigilance. They should be on guard against any and all predators and parasites, and use every means to protect their sovereignty.

([email protected])

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('comments'); });