Anambra election and IPOB’s lockdown threat
Barely four days to its governorship polls, Anambra is at a crossroad – to either turn the corner of regional restiveness or slide into disastrous implosion. To make the right choice to safety is to eschew political hubris and demagogues orchestrating dissent to unsettle the region. And in that option abounds the wisdom for both the Federal Government and the aggrieved Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) to collectively embrace the democratic process, avail the environment for a free, fair and credible election, and begin a much-needed political solution for mutual benefit.
There are 18 candidates of as many parties lobbying for the hearts and votes of Anambra people in one of the most uncertain elections Nigeria has ever had in its six decades history. Though it is not on the ballot papers and neither a state actor, the IPOB hung a heavy cloud that threatens the entire gubernatorial election. Specifically, IPOB had ordered a “total lockdown” of the South Eastern states for five days, inclusive of the day of the Anambra election, unless its leader, Nnamdi Kanu is released unconditionally from his present incarceration.
Kanu is being tried on an amended seven-count charge of alleged treason, secession and terrorism for which he had pleaded “not guilty”; and trial at the Federal High Court in Abuja has been adjourned to November 10, 2021, when his lawyers will be expected to raise objections to the charges.
The IPOB declaration had, however, been widely interpreted to signify its opposition to the Anambra election; The organisation has since clarified its position to the effect that it had not called for the boycott of the election but is concerned with the Federal Government’s failure to release Mazi Nnamdi Kanu from detention. The IPOB Media and Publicity Secretary, Emma Powerful, said the group had neither made any official statement nor called for the boycott of the November 6, 2021, Anambra State governorship election, adding that speculation of falsehood was unnecessary.
Despite the clarification that its directive for lockdown from November 5 to November 10, 2021, has nothing to do with the election, but only for Kanu’s release, the political atmosphere is turbocharged. Both the electorates and those to be elected are in panic mode. The buildup is so ugly that even the candidates could not openly campaign or make promises – empty or of substance – to voters. A number of candidates had held electioneering campaigns in far-flung places like Lagos, hoping that the message travels over 407 kilometres to reach people in Awka and beyond. Such is the dark atmosphere in the “light of the nation,” the foremost political and economic capital of eastern Nigeria!
Nonetheless, a gubernatorial election is constitutionally guaranteed in a democracy with add-on benefits for the masses. Section 178 (2) of the Constitution, as amended and Section 25(8) of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended), have it that election into the office of governor shall be held not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days before the expiration of the terms of office of the last holder or outgoing governor. Given that the tenure of the sitting Anambra governor, Willie Obiano, will elapse on March 17, 2022, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is in order to have a fixed gubernatorial election for Anambra not earlier than 150 days to the expiration of Obiano’s tenure. Elections provide the all-important opportunity for the people to have a say in how they are governed and by whom for the next four years. The scheduled election in Anambra must necessarily be viewed in this context.
Significantly, the agitations and burning influence of IPOB cannot be palmed off at this crucial time, given that the IPOB conundrum has held the eastern region by the scruff of the neck in the past few years and has sought to discredit civil governance and authority in the entire region. This group of agitators, hastily proscribed as terrorists by the Federal Government, has consistently declared and enforced Mondays as a sit-at-home day in the entire region, in protest against the incarceration of Kanu. While some of the people deemed to have violated the directives were extra-judicially lynched and sometimes their properties vandalised, IPOB has seemingly gained followership and cowed others to compliance while governors appear helpless in the face of escalating tension and the reign of unknown gunmen.
Certainly, that is not a way to oil the wheels of progress. Now that IPOB has brazenly declared a week-long sit-at-home in the entire Southeast, beginning from November 5 eve of the gubernatorial election in Anambra, the situation is dire. The Federal Government’s response deploying 34,587 security personnel appeared to counter the envisaged aggression of IPOB and its militant arm, Eastern Security Network (ESN), is unlikely to provide succor to the people.
The tinderbox in Anambra is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. A militarised election day, either by IPOB’s roving gangsters or the repelling force of the states, is hardly the congenial atmosphere needed to conduct a free and fair election, nor is it in the interest of public good. The tense atmosphere stands to benefit dubious politicians that are waiting to prey on voters’ apathy to seize the entire process and foist unpopular candidature on the State. Also it sets a dangerous precedence for the entire region, pouring more fuel into the raging inferno. Neither IPOB nor the good people of Anambra should succumb to this backdoor attempt to set the State backwards.
Contrary to the blanket iron-fit approach of IPOB and its probable effect on the election, the group should subject its campaign for a fair deal for the Igbo Nation and Nnamdi Kanu within the Nigerian corporate existence to the judicial process for the sake of peace. Bloodletting and crude aggression are neither in the interest of the group nor of the region at large. IPOB and its loyalists should exact more caution and confidence in the judiciary as the last hope of the common man. A continuous siege on the people they have vowed to defend is already socially and economically counterproductive and the political turn of events is waiting to mangle the leftover of their beleaguered fortunes for the worst.
A governorship election supervised by over 30,000 officers depicts more of a war zone than a democratic carnival that modern election-day symbolises globally. More than going gung-ho into the threats of IPOB gang on Anambra elections, the Federal Government should deploy more discretion in finding a sustainable political solution to wriggle out of this protracted lock jam in the eastern region. While all parties should sheath their swords and allow peace to reign in Anambra, there should be a backchannel for the government that is armed with administrative sagacity, competence and good intention to explore and bring closure to this senseless conflict ravaging regional development. That will be more profitable for all than a violence-marred election or a state of emergency would do.