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Lessons for Nigeria from Anambra


Governor Willie Obiano celebrating his victory.

So very often in Nigeria, things do not obey any rules or logic. And there is no where this is more evident than in politics. Elsewhere in the World, it may be easy to predict electoral results, but not so easy in Nigeria. This is because the most popular candidate may never win, the richest candidate who spends most may never win and sometimes the candidate chosen by the majority of the people may never win.

That is how effervescent, political contestations can be in Nigeria, so much so that when an intending gubernatorial candidate asked me what were the most deciding factors for winning elections in Nigeria, I had problem volunteering opinion. But an experienced political pugilist in our company quickly intervened: Plenty of cash to buy votes and INEC and plenty of propaganda to demonize your opponents!
That immediately instigated an argument. How much is plenty of cash? Enough cash to out bid all other contestants! Is it really possible to buy all the votes? It depends on your structure and your agents, because many agents are not honest. Some discount the money and others just collect the money and head for the hotel while others simply vanish into thin air. That was what happened to Jonathan, most of his co-ordinators and agents collected money and went home to sleep. But how do you really guarantee that those who collect money (full or discounted) will vote for you? Well some are taken to the shrine to swear while some are monitored by the agents. The argument went on and on until, we all came to the conclusion that money is not just all. It is important, it is critical but it is not all.

The just concluded gubernatorial elections in Anambra State that returned Willie Obiano for a second term disproved many things while proving few others. First, Willie won in all the 21 local government areas of the state with very significant margins. This is an unusual development. To see a contestant win the highest votes in all the local councils and essentially in all communities including those from where his opponents come from shows that it is possible for Nigerians to rise above ethnic and parochial considerations to overwhelmly vote a candidate. Tribal, ethnic and other parochial considerations are critical factors in Nigeria’s electoral history. The voters in Anambra have proven that we can rise above these petty considerations and vote for a candidate. This is an important lesson for Nigeria.
The second lesson is that performance counts. No matter what anybody may say to the contrary, working Willie worked. He certainly followed the foot-steps of his mentor, Peter Obi who indeed was the real game changer in Anambra governance. He may not have bettered or even equalled Obi’s records but only the blind would have failed to see Willie’s prodigious accomplishments. I have always insisted that the most critical and reliable way to predict what a man can do in future is to look at what he had done in the past. The people of Anambra saw the much Obiano had done and concluded that he could do better if given another opportunity. So all those politicians in Nigeria who are looking for another term come 2019, must work harder now to show results, otherwise relying largely on propaganda will no longer work.
Thirdly and related to the second is that Willie connected to the grass roots. He was at every community event and he danced. His love for the culture of Ndi Anambra was palpable. People could say he was cocky or arrogant, but arrogant people don’t easily dance in the public square. He capped his community consciousness with the 181 community projects- a novelty community Development program that allowed each community to chose a project critical to their community and then were given the funds to implement the projects themselves. That is taking governance and its dividends to the grass root. I believe this innovation truly endeared Willie to all the communities culminating in his electoral victory in all the LGAs. So all those politicians who remain aloof and hold their communities in disdain need to learn a lesson or two from Willie. You can hardly go wrong if you remain with the people. Ayo Fayose of Ekiti State had previously taught this lesson with his doctrine of “stomach infrastructure.” Willie was at peace with his state workers (paid salaries regularly), traditional rulers, religious leaders, community leaders, business leaders and women.
Fourthly, campaign for serious political office must not be something for the short run. A few months to an election, you begin to set up structures and then begin to run from pillar to post, criss-crossing the constituency with music and dance, hiring crowd. Obiano began the campaign for his second term from his first day in office. He was methodical and systematic. Every time I saw him at an event in Anambra, Lagos, Enugu, Abuja or else where I was impressed with his strategic marketing skills and I knew he was executing a long campaign strategy. He maintained good communications and adroit visibility. He knew that he became governor on a platter of gold, riding on the wings and goodwill of Obi and he seemed certain that he would run for his second term purely on his own terms and credentials. And as his relationship with his benefactor seemed to strain, the more he evolved his long campaign strategy. The results showed, hence he was able to dust all those who came into the race only a few months ago.
Fifth, de-marketing and demonisation of incumbents do not always work. APC thoroughly demonised and de-marketed Jonathan, so much so that even his staunch supporters began to doubt themselves. Much of the same tactics were used against Willie in Anambra but here this seemed to have failed. Why? His closeness to the grassroots, and very effective communication and counter communication helped so much. But he was also helped by the sixth lesson. Learn to cut deals! It is obvious to me that Obiano cut plenty of deals. Rob my back and let me rob yours, help me and I will help you! Evidence was the unusual support and commitment of very key political figures in Anambra State. People like Ezeife and Soludo campaigned much more than they did when they themselves ran for office. I do not know details of all the deals but they sure worked. I pray he exhibits fidelity!
Seventh, it had been the hallmark of Nigerian politics that no one loses an election clean and square. They were always cheated and rigged out. That’s why post election litigation in Nigeria is an industry that creates legal and judicial billionaires. But here within 24 hours of the declaration of the final results of the election, all the candidates called to congratulate Obiano. They certainly did not do so out of fear of the possible break down of law and order and the soaking of Monkeys and Baboons in their blood as Jonathan did in 2015. They did so in my view, because INEC conducted a free and fair election. The contestants saw that despite the sometimes objectionable methods of inducing the voters, and a few standard electoral logistics challenges, that they lost neat and clear. The powers in Abuja allowed the best candidate to win. So the lesson is that Nigerian elections can end at the ballot rather than in the Supreme Court if the powers that be allow the people to freely make their choices.
Finally, let us end as we started. Was money an issue in the Anambra elections? You bet, big big time. O yes, lot of trading even while on the voting queue. Was it the decisive issue? Certainly not, though some contestants like Osita Chidoka would insist. Eight lesson therefore which is fairly universal but much more poignant in Nigerian political firmament: Without money, there is no way (efe adiro, kosi eno, ba gashi).
 Mazi Ohuabunwa, OFR

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Willie Obiano
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