Last week, I had an interesting conversation with a friend, who lives in Awka, the capital of Anambra State, and is a senior civil servant in the state.
Midway through the conversation, I asked what he thought about the governorship race, shaping up in our state.
Instantly he exploded in prolonged laughter, as if my question somehow reminded him of something altogether ludicrous. When he finally calmed down, he gave an intriguing – and deeply disturbing – response to my question.
“They,” he began, “have eliminated the best candidates from the game, leaving only half-baked material. And they have said to the people of Anambra, ‘You’re free to go ahead to choose from any of these.’ That’s the kind of democracy we have in this country.”
He didn’t specify who he meant by “they” – and it would have been silly of me, if not downright ignorant, to ask that he spell out what or who “they” were.
Nigeria is in the grip of a cabal, at once visible and invisible, that assiduously designs a country guaranteed to achieve two seemingly paradoxical goals. The first goal is to generate huge, unearned profit for the few members of this cabal; the second, to ensure that Nigeria is a disaster for the rest of us.
Each state is in the hands of its own cabal and each political party is shaped by one. Public life in Nigeria – the question of who gets elected or appointed into any significant post or the way public funds are disbursed/stolen – is dominated by the greed, the grubby interests of this cabal.
In Anambra, the machinations of several sectors of this cabal have left voters with an unsavory set of choices. In a state that produced some of Nigeria’s most enlightened citizens and towering intellectual or ethical figures – Nnamdi Azikiwe, Chinua Achebe, Pius Okigbo, Christopher Okigbo, Oyibo Odinamadu, Mokwugo Okoye – at least three of the prominent candidates in the November 16 governorship election (Ifeanyi Uba of Labor Party as well as Tony Nwoye and Andy Uba, candidates of two factions of the PDP) never earned a bachelors degree or a polytechnic diploma. Of course, the Nigerian constitution stipulates that a secondary school education is a minimum requirement for the governorship seat, so the unlettered candidates are qualified.
Still, there’s something curious – and in a lot of ways instructive – about a governorship race in which the odds might appear stacked in favour of the least schooled.
As my friend in Awka suggested, it was as if the powers-that-be in each political party – the putative cabal – took care to expunge those, who, on the face of things, at least, would seem to be superior candidates.
In a stunning move, the leadership of All Progresives Grand Alliance, APGA, disqualified such aspirants as Chukwuma Charles Soludo, a former Governor of the Central Bank and an undeniably brilliant professor of economics, and Oseloka Obaze, an attorney by training, an aesthete and a retired senior employee of the United Nations in New York.
I have been critical of Mr. Soludo in the past but there’s no question that he’s possessed of the intellectual acumen, political and professional experience as well as vision to be an attractive candidate. The same case could be made for the genial Obaze, a fine man, who radiated winsome moderation. Sadly, APGA rusticated both candidates on grounds that struck many as suspect if not spurious.
APGA’s eventual candidate, Willie Obiano, is a retired bank executive with a reputation for being gregarious, a man reportedly fascinated by ceremoniousness and the trappings of traditional institutions. It remains to be seen whether his common touch is wedded to a transformative vision of the possibilities of governance.
Chris Ngige, the candidate of the APC, easily the most popular politician in Anambra State. He earned this appeal by repudiating an evil deal he struck with Chris Uba, a one-time hectoring godfather of Anambra politics.
He then consolidated his popularity by defying Mr. Uba and former president Olusegun Obasanjo, who tried several illicit tactics, including the use of thugs to destroy public property in Anambra and make the state ungovernable – all in a bid to remove him. When he made a point of paying salaries regularly and built roads in different parts of the state, a people that had long groaned under the misrule of a succession of vicious parasites and their insatiable sponsors came close to canonising him.
Mr. Ngige benefited as much from the incompetence and greed of his predecessors as from a culture of low expectations where the payment of salaries or the provision of roads is rated an amazing achievement. But there’s no question that his image has lost much of its glitter in the last two years or so.
After a bruising battle to claim his Senate seat from Dora Akunyili, Mr. Ngige, a medical doctor by training, seemed to have gone to sleep. If there was any significant bill he sponsored or co-sponsored in the Senate or any legislative step he took to boost the lives of his constituents, he and his handlers must have worked hard to conceal it from the public. He has been, quite simply, a mediocre, underwhelming senator. Given his self-inflicted injuries as a weak senator, the question is whether he has the residual goodwill to pull off victory in a governorship election where he’s almost certain to be outspent by his other opponents and their backers.
The PDP poses a unique threat, not just to the people of Anambra but to the idea of credible polls. In a reprise of the senatorial race that put Andy Uba in the National Assembly, the party appears set to have two candidates on the governorship roster.
The party’s national headquarters recognises Mr. Nwoye, as its legitimate candidate, but the electoral commission has Mr. Uba, as their man. This anomalous situation arose from a long-running fission in the party’s Anambra chapter. In 2011, both Mr. Uba and Nicholas Ukachukwu went around, campaigning as senatorial candidates for the same seat.
Both men encouraged their supporters to go out and vote, each man assuring that he would claim the seat in the end. As it turned out, the courts upheld Andy Uba as the rightful claimant.
In the November election, the PDP must be denied this advantage of putting two dogs in the fight when other parties have one each. It’s a veritable form of rigging, for the party is then able to draw voters towards two candidates, not one. If the party cannot quite decide who its candidate is, then it should be disqualified from participating in the election.
Beyond that issue, the voters of Anambra ought to take serious stock of the two candidates, representing the PDP’s rival factions. One, Mr. Nwoye, reportedly had his medical studies aborted when the authorities of the University of Nigeria sent him packing. Does he have the ethical and intellectual resources to govern a state beset by myriads of crises?
The other, Mr. Uba, long passed himself off as the holder of a doctorate degree. It took enterprising Internet investigators to expose the fact that he never earned a degree. He too, like Mr. Ngige, has done little for Anambra from his senatorial perch. US authorities once fined him $26,000 for failure to declare cash of $170,000, which he brought into New York City aboard a presidential jet.
That fine raises ethical clouds that Mr. Uba must address. Where did that cash come from? And how is he going to inspire confidence that he would be a disciplined custodian of public funds if he becomes governor?
Mr. Ifeanyi Ubah, the candidate of the Labour Party, is a major player in the downstream sector of the Nigerian oil industry. Like the other Uba, he is far from lettered, even though he has never sought to mask his deficiency by wearing any false academic gowns.
Yet, I’m told that the Labour Party’s Uba appears to believe that a gubernatorial race is all about excessive self-aggrandisement. He zips across the state in convoy of many cars. He reportedly doles out cash, cars and other gifts to traditional rulers and other so-called stakeholders.
Leadership is – should be – about service. Why then is this businessman spending so profligately for an opportunity to serve? Does it not follow that, if he becomes governor, his first order of business would be to recoup all that cash he spewed – and more?
If he’s motivated by a desire to change the state for the better, why has he failed so far to articulate a coherent vision, to disclose what he understands to be the state’s central problems and stipulate his proposals for addressing them?
Mr. Ubah’s extravagant style becomes curiouser in light of allegations that he’s heavily indebted to banks. Last week, the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON) announced its seizure of Mr. Uba’s Capital Oil for two years. Why should the people of Anambra entrust their state in the hands of a man, who owes too much money to creditors to be permitted to run his own business?
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