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Anambra 2010 as window to 2011

December 13, 2009

Image removed.Nigeria’s preeminent novelist Chinua Achebe is, in manner, soft-spoken and gentle. In fact, Achebe has been described as self-effacing. Seldom does his voice rise. But those who know him best recognize that, beneath that genteel exterior, there is a steely core to the man. Achebe is the master of economy in expression, a man who manages the magic – rare in our world – of not expending one careless or superfluous word when he speaks.

Given Achebe’s demure nature, it’s significant that a certain impatience, even stridency, has in recent years crept into his voice. In several recent interviews or statements, Achebe – who just accepted a prestigious position as the David and Mariana Fisher University Professor at Brown University – has not tried to mask a deep disappointment with the desultory way that his (nearly) fifty-year-old nation continues to carry on. Some two months ago, the author even used the word “revolution” in speaking about what it would take for Nigerians to reclaim their country.
In 2004, Achebe’s rejection of what was touted as a national honor – the bestowal of the Commander of the Federal Republic by the Olusegun Obasanjo administration – became a classic of conscientious censure. The Obasanjo government’s announcement of the award came at a time of the regime’s ill-veiled sponsorship of mayhem in Anambra, Achebe’s home state.
In a letter that was as brief as its moral force was stupendous, Achebe conveyed utter outrage. He wrote to Mr. Obasanjo: “For some time now I have watched events in Nigeria with alarm and dismay. I have watched particularly the chaos in my own state of Anambra where a small clique of renegades, openly boasting its connections in high places, seems determined to turn my homeland into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom. I am appalled by the brazenness of this clique and the silence, if not connivance, of the Presidency.”
In those few words, Achebe not only captured the remaking of his home state into a state of anarchy but also struck at a fundamental truth about the character of the Obasanjo presidency: a tragic investment, not in nation-building but nation-wrecking, and a willingness to be wedded to criminal elements and projects.
It was not, properly speaking, honor that Achebe rejected; a government that lacked honor could not confer on anybody what it didn’t have. A dishonorable regime such as Obasanjo’s was capable, in the final analysis, only of dispensing dishonor. That presidency, like the “leaders” before him, had emptied national honors of any real moral content or social prestige. I wrote a column that lauded the novelist for his principled rejection of impunity and iniquity. The column was appropriately titled “Achebe’s repudiation of horror.” For it was clear to me that, had Achebe accepted the tainted honorific, he would have left his admirers, in Nigeria and outside, horrified.
Achebe deserves more fame for what strikes me as a highly intuitive insight into his country’s political drama. The man’s antenna seem adept at detecting those moments when his nation is poised on the edge of a terrible chasm.
The publication (but not the writing) of his A Man of the People – a novel that ends with a coup d’etat and predicts a succession of other coups – almost coincided with Nigeria’s first military intervention. The closeness of the fictional “prediction” to the real coup earned Achebe the unwelcome attention of the soldiers who planned and executed a counter-coup at the end of July 1966.
In 1984, Achebe published The Trouble with Nigeria, a treatise that has since become arguably the most widely read social and political analysis of Nigeria. The book’s importance, in sheer volume of sales as well as the frequency with which it’s quoted, belies its critical reception. Some haughty social scientists, anxious to protect their professional turf, had sought to pooh-pooh Achebe’s insights. A few of them even charged him with a lack of analytic rigor.
Today, many scholars examining the factors that precipitated the collapse of the Shehu Shagari administration routinely acknowledge The Trouble with Nigeria as a vivid portrait of the time and an illuminating study of Nigeria’s enduring malady. In some way, the book x-rays the corruption, dearth of vision and depth of rot that spelt doom not only for Shagari and his cohorts, but also (on an even profounder level) for the Nigerian citizenry.
The point is that Achebe’s instincts about his troubled, troubling country are so excellent. Achebe’s decision, then, to convene an international colloquium on Nigerian elections resonated both with many Nigerians as well as Nigerianists – my term for those deeply focused on Nigeria, whether they are diplomats or scholars. The colloquium took place last Friday, December 11, at the Westin Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island – a shout away from Achebe’s new academic address.
A throng of Nigerians attended the colloquium. The familiar faces included Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, Achebe, Dim Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Governor Peter Obi, Professor A.B.C. Nwosu, Professor Abiola Irele, Senator Ken Nnamani, Senator Ben Obi, Mr. Emeka Izeze (a top executive of The Guardian), Mr. Sonala Olumhense (a columnist at The Guardian), and Sowore Omoyele (of The team of Nigerianists included three former US ambassadors to Nigeria, Walter Carrington, John Campbell, and Princeton Lyman. Nigerians will remember Carrington for his clashes with the Sani Abacha dictatorship, often triggered by the ambassador’s identification with Nigeria’s democratic forces in their war against the bespectacled military ruler.
The colloquium achieved consensus on two linked questions. One: that the February 6, 2010 governorship election in Anambra will serve as a preview and dress rehearsal for the 2011 general elections. Two: that Nigeria may be hard put to it to survive another fraudulent polls, and certainly not one rigged on the scale of the 2007 “elections,” notoriously named as one of the worst in history.
Considering that so much rides on the Anambra governorship election, it’s nothing short of scandalous that Maurice Iwu will be permitted to conduct it. As chairman of the (misnamed) Independent National Electoral Commission, Mr. Iwu has established a distinction for incompetence, perfidy, and shamelessness. Here’s an electoral umpire who seems to think it’s up to him to award offices, to divest voters of their constitutional right to determine the outcome of polls.
The signs are there – writ large – that Iwu’s INEC is set to turn Anambra into its latest site for a tragic miscarriage of an election. Iwu has been on a media blitz lately; he’s up to his usual game of exhibiting a contrived tone of earnestness in insisting that his commission will deliver a credible election. Perhaps, he manages to believe himself. Nigerians know better. They know that he has a candidate in the race, and that candidate’s name is Nnamdi (Andy) Uba. Besides, Nigerians have seen the same empty strutting and grandstanding by Iwu just before the electoral heists in Adamawa and Ekiti. Nigerians realize that the real Iwu is not the one who makes high-minded speeches, but the one who operates crudely, in secret, only to emerge with bizarre electoral results.
Most of the men and women gathered at Achebe’s colloquium in Providence were in no doubt that the INEC headed by Iwu has an insurmountable credibility deficit. But they also realized that the time is ripe to mount a multi-pronged assault on the culture of fraud that keeps Nigeria in the grips of its least enlightened, morally bankrupt elements. Anambra will be a testing ground.
A politically naïve and confused Atiku Abubakar let INEC and the ruling party to get away with the Adamawa rig fest. The electoral umpire in Ekiti found a way to silence her conscience, and made another questionable call. Still, the mood in Nigeria and among the participants in the colloquium suggests that the days of unchallenged electoral impunity may be numbered.
Here’s my prediction: if INEC screws up the Anambra election, it’s likely to be the last election Iwu misconducts. 

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