Dr. Chidi Amuta is Executive Editor of USAfricaonline.com and USAfrica magazine (Houston) – since 1993.
Some Nigerians may feel that the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State do not concern them. But somehow, the polls are an all -Nigerian enterprise. This will be the first isolated state governorship election in Nigeria to be held literally in a state of undeclared nationwide war. The spate of insecurity all over the country has found a peculiar colour in Anambra state. Rival gunmen of unknown origins and unclear motives are feared to be parading the entire space. IPOB has declared a sit at home regime that is designed to sabotage the election. Contestants have literally been campaigning under a canopy of mortal fear of real danger of either being kidnapped or killed.
The federal authority has countered the threat of IPOB and other trouble makers with a stern re-assertion of its ultimate responsibility to guarantee security, law and order for this ritual of democracy to proceed unhindered. Over 35,000 police officers and a copious number of their big bosses decked in brass and medals are scheduled to protect the Anambra election process. The exact strength of the military, State Security goons and Civil Defense and other uniform wearing contingents is yet to be disclosed. From the projections, it promises to be one of the most garrisoned and regimented election in the nation’s recent history. Local and international election observers may have difficulty deciding whether indeed this was an election for civil voters or a roll call of military and police personnel in attendance. But the consolation is in the fact that the objective of this fortress corridor is to protect one of the cardinal rituals of democracy, the conduct of periodic elections to choose leaders.
In nearly every sense, the Anambra governorship election is a national contest. Nearly all the challenges confronting present day Nigeria are fully on display. A nation wracked by widespread insecurity and spiraling violence and uncertainty will need to prove itself a viable democracy. Nigeria’s ability to contain rival armed contestants for power prevalence will be tested in Anambra this Saturday.
Specifically, the capacity of the federal government to overwhelm the annoying affront of the IPOB secessionists will be on trial. There is an even trickier dimension; the government will have to demonstrate a precarious capacity to guarantee the security of voters, election officials as well as the entire electoral process to ensure it is credible, free and fair. It has to do all this while ensuring that the entire electoral process remains a civil undertaking in which ordinary people can freely go out to choose their leaders free from harassment and intimidation. How to present this veneer while retaining a solid core of real security is the challenge of the moment.
Therefore, we all in the diversity of our interests in the Nigerian undertaking have a stake in the Anambra elections. Those who insist that the existing state structure holds the promise of Nigeria’s future will be waiting to see how Anambra state holds out in stability after this election. Those like me who are unrepentant federalists are anxious to see how the federal behemoth defends its mandate over a vital part of the federation as a responsible and stout guarantor of national sovereignty. The diehard democrats in our midst will be waiting to see how the power of democracy prevails over the fears of mob fear and the stampede of garrison jackboots. Those who however believe in the rising power of regions and micro nationalities and self determination as a credible challenge to the overbearing will of the federal behemoth will obviously be interested in seeing how the braggadocio of IPOB fares in this psychological operation against the federal hegemon.
These contending high national ideals cannot however conceal the real local issues at stake in Anambra. The truism that all politics is first local will be tested in Anambra. There are strong local forces and peculiar tendencies at play which will condition the outcomes in the election and beyond. Since the return of democracy in 1999, the contest for the governorship of the state has been a series of pitched battles among unruly factions of desperate political hustlers. It has been a tale of high drama, crude machinations and the deployment of violence, even dark juju and cultic mindlessness. People have not yet forgotten the drama of the ‘civilian coup’ against former governor Chris Ngige who was temporarily overthrown by rival forces and held in detention for hours. Not to be easily forgotten is the tale of how Mr. Ngige was forcefully compelled to take an oath of allegiance before his sponsors in the unnerving presence of the famed Okija shrine.
Thereafter, political struggle in Anambra have progressed to more dastardly terrains. Rival political gangsters are known to engage the services of lethal thugs to intimidate and even kidnap their rivals. In the course of the current season, Mr. Charles Soludo, candidate of the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) was attacked by gunmen who killed his police security guards while he luckily escaped by the skin of his teeth. Other politically motivated attacks and assassinations have taken place just as major political actors have been found with frightening tranches of arms and ammunition. The sum of it all is that in the current Anambra scene, we are dealing with a highly dangerous political space in a state that should be one of our most enlightened and peaceful.
The cause is inherent in the nature of current Anambra society. Nowhere else in Nigeria are we likely to find big money in the hands of such a large number of relatively young citizens. Recent surveys by valuation agencies suggest that the total value of real estate in terms of palatial private country homes, factories, hotels, resorts, hospitals and community buildings in Anambra state is perhaps only next to Lagos and Abuja.
The cash component of that huge quantum of wealth is now threatening to procure state power with nearly as much vicious ferocity as some of the unprintable sources of the money itself. Anambra people are among the most hard working, creative, enterprising and wealthiest Nigerians you can find today. They are unstoppable engineers of wealth both at home and in the diaspora. A large portion of Nigeria’s diaspora home annual remittance of $35 billion is coming from Anambra indigenes in the diaspora especially those in private business all over the world. Try a random sampling of Nigerians living in Houston Texas and measure the percentage of Anambra people among Nigeria’s demographics of over over 250,000 in the Houston area alone. Most of them own and run multi million dollar businesses in all fields.
A combination of a long tradition of entrepreneurship and aggressive sense of business conquest and achievement motivation has made the acquisition of humongous wealth a religion among these people. The strange combination of such aggressive entrepreneurship in a state dominated by a Roman Catholic ethos is a curious and interesting part of the Anambra phenomenon which requires closer study. The conventional wisdom in studies of the religious basis of capitalism used to be that a protestant Puritan work ethic was the most fertile ground for the emergence of a wild entrepreneurial spirit and restless innovation.
From my private research, I reckon that Anambra state has the highest number of billionaires per square kilometer of territory in today’s Nigeria. A great deal of this money is ironically held and controlled mostly by young citizens who are not the most enlightened or educated people. Even if he has college education, the average Anambra trader/billionaire imbibes a certain mentality that sees money as the ultimate enabler of all human actions. Nearly everything has a price tag and can be purchased. Since political power confers the ultimate power of life and death on the governor, money can be deployed to secure it. If human life stands in the way of the money man who wants power, he can hire hit men to do the needful. All is fair in this war! In this atmosphere, nearly everything can be purchased. Politics becomes first and foremost a transactional undertaking. The person who has political influence but little money can trade some of his power to secure sponsorship at election time. In some instances, elaborate Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) are sighed between politicians and their big money God Fathers. Such documents specify the terms of repayment of return on investment, appointments to key government postions to be reserved for nominees of the God Father, juicy contracts to be ceded to the financier/God Father. To renege on the terms of these agreements is to invite the anger of the witness deity as well as the ire of the gangster money man which takes various forms. These range from assassination plots to instigations of unrest and other elaborate blackmail schemes. This feature is not localized to Anambra alone. It describes a prevalent Nigerian political aberration.
Yet Anambra ought to be one of the most politically sophisticated, enlightened and refined states in the federation. It is equipped with a long tradition of illustrious political pioneers, intellectuals, bureaucrats and technocratic pathfinders. This is the home of the legendary Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nwafor Orizu, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, Alex Ekwueme, Chuba Okadigbo, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Chinwoke Mbadinuju, Peter Obi etc. In business, the state boasts some of the most illustrious names in original Nigerian entrepreneurship: Sir Louis Ojukwu, Chief Augustine Ilodibe, Mr. Innocent Chukwuma, Cosmas Maduka, Emeka Offor, Arthur Eze etc. In Nigerian art and culture, Anambra has blazed the trail in the life of Nigerian letters and the plastic arts, giving us Chinua Achebe, Christopher Okigbo, Ben Enwonwu, Cyprian Ekwensi, Onuora Nzekwu, Ossie Enekwe, Chimamanda Adichie, Okey Ndibe etc. Among the leading lights of Nigeria’s new generation of world class technocrats, Anambra has more than its fair share of bright stars: Charles Soludo, Obiageli Ezekwesili, late Dora Akunyili, Kingsley Moghalu and many others.
For those with a mindset fixated on ethnic stereotypes, there is a sense in which Anambra furnishes the readiest material for profiling the Igbos in Nigeria. Such unproductive stereotyping is ultimately counter productive because it merely fails to give the wider national society the benefit of harnessing the strengths of our diversity to grow the nation. Anambra and its gifts belong to Nigeria. It is what it is. It is at once the home of cultural accomplishment and intellectual sophistication as well as a rough jungle of untamed capitalist energy waiting to be galvanized into a modern potential.
In its present state of mind and material culture, Anambra risks degenerating into a bedeviled hellhole of violence and fruitless recriminations if not checked. Like all mercantilist enclaves of old, it could be commandeered by gangs of gangster families only intent on mutual self destruction. I fear that if not saved from itself, Anambra could degenerate into early Sicily in the heydays of the crime family war lords and the birth of the Mafia, the infamous Cosa Nostra. The streets of its towns could become more unsafe. Its palatial country homes could become deserted and its city neighbourhoods rendered dangerous as rival gangs clash over control of government patronage, sharing formulas of proceeds of bad trade and the monopoly of profitable nefarious enterprises abroad. Before the IPOB menace, some of the patterns of murders in Anambra looked like reprints of early Mafia senseless killings.
Onitsha is the unscripted canvas of both the past and the future of Anambra. The cacophony of Upper Iweka, the unplanned streets and multi -storey monstrosities of a city with neither sewage nor drainage, This is the signature tune of a disaster waiting to happen. It is the blighted past and the promise of the future shining city by the banks of the River Niger. It is the promise of prosperity waiting to be rescued with a modern plan for urban renewal so that this jungle of brick and mortar can become a reservoir of future wealth. It can be made attractive to millions of commercial visitors intent on exploring opportunities in a new African miracle commercial city. Its wealth and that of the state would come from the synergy of a market surrounded by satellite manufacturing towns and villages.
Dubai was a desert a short while ago which has been converted into a modern jungle of skyscrapers and modern infrastructure with an economy that boasts cutting edge applications and systems. Anambra is, on the other hand, a different jungle of often misdirected energy and untamed decoration mistaken for investment, crying for a direction informed by modern economics and the laws of science and technology. In order to advance and take Nigeria with it, Anambra needs to undertake a rapid political baptism of fire. Its big money population needs to be taught to waste less money and effort announcing to Nigeria that it has arrived. Adopting the wasteful culture of old Nigeria will not bring the development Anambra needs. The young money people of Anambra need to learn new investment strategies and the wisdom of more modest homes and life styles. No one is impressed by how many carats of gold bedeck the casket of your dead parents or how many barrels of champagne you drown the rest of Nigeria in just to announce your arrival.
The profile of Anambra has simplified the task and the choice of the next governor it needs. How do we rescue the old glory of an enlightened state? How do we transform entrepreneurial energy into sustainable development? How do we point Nigeria in the direction of modern economic development using local wealth as core content? How do we rescue the politics of state governance from ‘any how’ to ‘know how’? These are the questions on the table in Anambra this Saturday.
I am not from Anambra state. I do not belong to any political party neither do I know any of the contestants in person except by reputation. But from everything I know and have read about the key contestants and their track records, it seems to me that Charles Soludo is about the only one on this ballot who is equipped to answer the urgent questions that trouble Anambra. He has the economic literacy and global exposure to understand how best to galvanize the potentials of Anambra into a bursting modern potential for Nigeria. His track record of beneficial innovation as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria attest to a tested hand and a clear head to tame the wild dragon of Anambra’s more prodigal recent departures. I am casting a voice vote from a distance, not just for Charles Soludo but for the real reasons for this election. It is a referendum, a choice between noisy stagnation and purposeful modernization.
Above everything else, this Saturday’s election is a contest for Nigeria rising: above violence, disorder, divisiveness and looming anarchy. The Anambra election is about Nigeria facing hope founded on democracy and true justice.