With the just-concluded election in Anambra State, which was won by Willie Obiano, the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, Nigeria may have restored confidence in the broached integrity of her electoral process. The last three elections in Bayelsa, Edo and Ondo respectively, had stunted thresholds on the credibility graph, when compared with what happened in Anambra. The former had records of violence and in the case of Bayelsa, the result was declared inconclusive.
This must have resulted from the desperation that is increasing being deployed to seeking public offices in Nigeria. While it is not deplorable, when done in accordance with the law, African states must strive to ensure that democratic ethics are maintained at all times. This will definitely encourage the brightest minds to offer themselves for governance, thereby improving governance and democracy.
Being of the opinion that what pre-dates the election is equally as important as the election, time may be ripe now to put the entire process that happened in Anambra in a Petri dish for interrogative scrutiny. It is pertinent to point out the election that took place in Anambra was keenly contested, and could pass as one of the toughest in recent times. Three political parties, APGA, PDP and APC had equal chances of clinching the victory from available polls on the ground prior to the elections. The results, which showed the ruling APGA winning in all the 21 Local Government Councils, may dispute this today. The reality, however is that sentiments swayed the voters as the Election Day drew closer. Sentiments could be drawn from what the major actors said or failed to say.
This brings us to an important component of that election. The Campaign! What did APGA say? What did APC fail to say? What did the PDP do? What did UPP and PPA fail to do? Finding the answers to these questions will unveil how victory came the way it did in that election. The ruling APGA obviously campaigned vigorously for the election, using all available spaces in the state to drive home their point, which is to situate the party as the heritage of the people of Anambra. They called it…Nkea bu Nke Anyi.
At their various rallies across the state, they were warm and generous to the electorate giving out gift items and sometimes money to cover at least the transport fares of the people. PDP on the other hand had the poorest of the rallies amongst the top political parties in the contest. Their campaigns were marred with stories of a few people taking what should have been apportioned to everyone. The APC on the other hand saved their resources for the last days. Initially, their campaigns were dry but towards the last days, they seemed to have opened their vaults to pander to guests at their rallies. People are able to have a pulse of their various rallies, because the same set of crowds usually thronged to the campaigns of the various political parties. In all honesty, these are bad practices in democracy and should be condemned in Nigeria. This is why the UPP should be extolled for running an ideas-based campaign. But how many of the people are able to relate with the ideals of the party, at this stage of Nigeria’s democratic journey? Obviously, only the elites, who neither attend such rallies nor vote.
Tracking the media-traditional and social- also presented an interesting spectacle. It was a harvest of promises from the parties in opposition to praises by the party in power. Worrisome indeed was the series of invectives being exchanged by the major contenders.
Beginning with the traditional media, one would notice a domination of the campaign promises of the ruling party on the state-owned media-The Anambra Broadcasting Service. For the four months leading to the election, most of their programmes were tailored towards harping on the achievements of the ruling party. Seldom would they talk about the other parties, who however found solace in the privately-owned stations abound in the state. This trend portends danger for state-owned media and should be discouraged by drawing a line between state matters and politics. But politician like to use all the arsenals in their care to pursue their ambition. The downside of this trend can be imagined if the party the state media is supporting fails to clinch power after the process. It could bring about unnecessary disruptions in the management style.
The state newspaper, called National Light, presented a political neutrality that is above board according to journalistic practices. In most of their reports, during the campaign, one would notice that while pandering to the ruling party, the paper deliberately avoided issues about the other candidates in their reportage. However, they never descended low to pour invectives on the other candidates.
The group that constituted the Independent Media Support Organisation will obviously come to mind when the 2017 Anambra election is mentioned. Branding itself as ‘independent’, they were far from what name connotes, and may have conned a lot of the electorate who may have absorbed their messages as ‘independent’. It was not difficult for discerning minds to know that the group literally became the potent attack dogs of the APGA candidate, and no week will pass without the group setting agenda that will dominate the political discourse in the state. Effectively using the newspapers and social media, the group, it was, that launched the assault about the former governor, Peter Obi demanding money from Governor Obiano. This impression evoked a lot of sentiments in the voters. The group also presented a book, Portrait of Performance about the ruling administration to the media and from time to time, they would latch on this project to launder the image of the APGA candidate in the newspapers. They were also behind such politically damaging headlines about the PDP candidate having a psychiatric case in the US, while Peter Obi was painted as the enemy of the people for abandoning the Igbo dream due to his personal ambition to become the SGF. At some point they shifted their invectives to the APC candidate by presenting him as a rogue godson, who dropped out of school, and meaning to empty the vaults of the state to his greedy godfather’. And these were packaged as posts on the various social media platforms. Literally a thorn in the flesh of other candidates, the only person they spared of their verbal assault online was the UPP candidate, whom they however dismissed as one trying to alter the working power rotation module the state was enjoying.
That was dangerous politics, one that leads to violence, assassinations or at the least litigations. That none has happened is proof that Anambra is not only egalitarian in wealth creation, but in politics as well. On several occasions the group got cross with the media teams of the contending candidates, who would respond with equal verve and acidity against the candidate of the ruling APGA, but they were only reacting to a group that is on its own, as it claims.
While this is new to politics in Nigeria, it proved to be innovative in the Anambra space and chances are that it will be adopted in subsequent elections. The danger is that when politicians in their desperation get hold of more groups like this, more damage would be done on the polity as the major strategy employed here is whipping up sentiments against opponents using the language of the electorate, which is usually abusive.
The success of the ruling party APGA in convincing the people of Anambra that APGA was theirs, and should they allow it lose, the Igbo identity will be lost as well, gave the party the victory. The last minute withdrawal of the security details of the governor also heightened the persecution syndrome of the voters who came out to speak with their votes. One week before the election, many people had decided they would not vote but with the visit of the President to the South East, a region he had not visited and serially denied of key appointments in his cabinet, Anambra people felt there was nothing else to do than defending their own, this exacerbated the sentiments to vote for APGA. The reaction is this overwhelming victory.
But the performance of the governor in this second tenure will determine how well APGA will do in subsequent elections. That is why he must retool his strategy towards sustaining the party by diligently serving his people. This is a golden chance to bring APGA to the fore in the south east zone. The governor of Anambra, Willie Obiano should see his mandate beyond Anambra. If the chance slips, he will pay dearly with his political career, if not his image amongst the people.
Going forward one will expect electioneering campaigns driven by ideas, communicating the strategies of the political parties in revenue generation, health, employment, and education.
(Kojo James is a freelance researcher for Democracy Institute, Washington)