By Ifeanyi Afuba
A new Anambra State is in the making. It is an evolving society in which the government-citizen pact is growing roots. The cultivation of this social progressive force reached a new height with the resolution of the November 18, 2017 governorship poll. Some say the journey started with the revolt of the Chris Ngige regime shortly after it came to office in 2003. I disagree.
Yes, there was an attempt at a new consciousness but it was circumstantial, narrow in objective and largely driven by sentiment. The radical shift came with the reclamation of Peter Obi’s stolen 2003 governorship mandate. That democratic empowerment ushered in the season of citizen-centred governance. But, after eight years of this wind of change, the road of renewal ran into fresh challenges from both predictable and unexpected quarters. Governor Willie Obiano’s programme of consolidation and expansion soon met with opposition from not just the old order, but foundation members of the movement. Consequently, the November 18, 2017 poll effectively became the plebiscite on which road to travel.
But, Willie Obiano had so distinguished himself in piloting the affairs of the state that his candidacy became synonymous with stability, a strong economy and improved social services. The state’s economy was rebounding with huge investment inflow and increasing job opportunities.
A remarkable road maintenance service was in swing, shoring up the functionality of ageing and poorly constructed roads in past dispensations but perhaps more significantly, instilling in the public consciousness the value of maintenance culture. In less than two years, the profile of Awka, the capital city, had changed from spatial anonymity to a landscape of landmarks.
Social welfare schemes ranging from subsidized mass transportation, suspension of school and market levies, to pay rise for workers gave a human face to governance. Under Obiano, the people acquired a sense of security, not just from the significant reduction in crime rate but from responsive leadership. Many still marvel at the seeming ease with which Obiano achieved the relocation of Boko Haram suspects from Ekwulobia Prison under trying political circumstances. Today, suspects in the Ozubulu killings are on trial as promised. This leadership delivery inevitably translated into APGA’s fortunes.
APGA, it is to be remembered, has been in government in Anambra State in the past twelve years. And, even the most uncharitable critic concedes that in that short stretch of Nigeria’s political economy, Anambra transited from the fringes of a failing State to the frontline of development. This phenomenal leap did not occur in a vacuum and continues to be forged in the framework of the APGA model. As a movement, APGA is concerned about giving a voice to the voiceless; revisiting the plight of the marginalised; and charting an inclusive process for creating a stable political union in the country. Given this progressive agenda, it is easy to see how the APGA mission of social reconstruction cannot be divorced from economic empowerment.
However, in the true dynamism of people and society, the old order that held down the state with transactional politics in the past had not actually given up. Though ousted from government, it was able to still retain vestiges of power because of the quasi unitary structure of the Nigerian state – a system that potentially makes the 36 small states of the federation vulnerable to the exercise of federal authority. In the past one and a half decades, this neo-oligarchic club was beaten but not bowed; and bidding it’s time to stage a comeback to governmental influence. And, an opening occurred in the primaries of the APC where a well known political contractor backed Tony Nwoye to clinch the ticket of the party. The sponsor had an unflattering history of meddling in governments, especially during military rule; and the people still recall with regret that this era was the most wasteful years of government in the State. Adding the brash youthfulness and inexperience of the candidate to the bargain was a burden Ndi Anambra were not prepared to accept.
The breakaway fraction of APGA that eventually produced the candidate of the PDP presented no better alternative. With a great record as former Governor of Anambra State and pathfinder in Anambra’s democratic struggle, Mr Peter Obi stood a good chance of offering a new direction in Anambra’s journey. But he had soon set many minds wondering with the media attacks against Governor Obiano which the people could not justify in the face of the evidence before them.
The doubts graduated into disapproval with Obi’s indiscreet personalisation of the state’s politics. The notion of I enthroned, I am dethroning and will re-enthrone was a sharp statement which Ndi Anambra in all their fickle mindedness could not ignore. A suggestion of return to any form of behind-the-scene-Governor in the running of the State was disappointing. It was particularly disappointing coming from those perceived as heroes of the State’s democratic struggle. It was an objectionable scheme, an overreach doomed to failure in the face of the Obiano trends.
On a much lesser scale, the zoning factor came into play in the November 2017 election. In spite of earlier pronouncements by the party leaders that no zoning policy was in force, as apparently indicated in the inclusion of aspirants from other zones in their primaries, the APC and PDP each came up with candidates who hailed from the north senatorial zone as Obiano! An interesting coincidence! For the APC as for the PDP, the nomination was a crunch exercise to slice out a piece of the zoning meat. But the zoning bit only made sense in terms of Obiano’s continuation. In the gentleman zoning ‘agreement’, the Governorship was to rotate among senatorial districts every eight years. It was, therefore, easy to see the deception in the candidates pledging to do single tenure of four years! And, credit goes to Mr Peter Obi for proposing the APGA zoning policy in 2009 when he sought a second term ticket. The underlying principle was that four years was not enough to achieve optimal result.
In the end, the people found the canvassers for change in Anambra State overflowing with grandstanding but lacking in the specifics. We did not hear a word on how to reduce dependence on federal revenue allocation. There was no word on how to handle agitations for wage increase. There was no word on the means of funding a thousand campaign promises in the face of declining oil revenue.