By Anthony Akaeze, Newswatch
All is now set for the gubernatorial election in Anambra State taking place February 6
They spent the last moments of the event smiling and exchanging banters as if they are the best of friends. They are not. They are but rivals in search of a diadem. And each one of them had, in the last few months, traversed the state to canvass for votes as the Febuary 6, 2010 governorship election in Anambra State approaches.
Tagged the “Anambra Great Debate,” the event, which held in Awka January 26, was organised by The Anambra Rebirth and Anambra State Good Governance Forum for the purpose of familiarising Anambra indigenes at home and abroad, and Nigerians in general with the governorship candidates in the state and letting them know their manifestos for the state. By the time the debate ended, some people probably had changed or made up their mind on whom to vote for, as each of the six candidates separately took his turn at the forum to once more appeal to the people of the state for support to enable him clinch the governorship slot in the February 6, election.
The debate, in many ways, marked the beginning of the end of political campaigns in the state, which for many of the candidates, began many months ago.
It was billed to host seven candidates but only six turned up. They include Peter Obi, the incumbent governor of Anambra State who will run on the ticket of the All Progressives People’s Grand Alliance, APGA; Chukwuma Soludo of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP; Andy Uba of the Labour Party, LP; Nicholas Ukachukwu of the Hope Democratic Party, Chris Ngige of the Action Congress, AC, and Okey Nwosu of African Democratic Congress, ADC. Uche Ekwunife, the candidate of the Progressive People’s Alliance, PPA, was absent. Her media aide said she went on a campaign tour to a community in the state and could not attend the debate because the timing clashed with her political programmes which involved many of her supporters at the grassroots level. “She went on a community tour of Awada Obosi. The appointment had been fixed and had previously been shifted twice. The truth is that she has a high regard for the organisers of the debate and would have been part of it but for the fact that it conflicted with the community tour,” said Clem Aguiyi, her media assistant.
The seven candidates were chosen out of a motley 25 who registered for the election. The organisers considered them the front runners or serious contenders. But the decision did not go down well with the excluded candidates and they sought to make a show of it.
Midway into the programme which lasted two hours, a mild drama ensued when two of the excluded candidates walked up to the podium to apparently register their displeasure and protest their non inclusion. But an official came up and pushed them away. Soon, mobile policemen mounted the stage to prevent any trouble and possible disruption of the programme. For about ten minutes, the hall became rowdy, leading Reuben Abati, one of the three panelists, to appeal for calm.
But that incident did not take away the shine nor distract the contestants from further appealing to the consciousness of Anambra people.
Nwosu insisted that his decision to run for governor was borne out of the poor leadership the state has witnessed. “The biggest problem in Anambra State is that of leadership. Those who claim to lead us have failed us,” he said. According to him, rather than offer service to the people, past and present leaders of the state had drained the state’s scarce resources. He promised to provide the right leadership if elected governor.
Soludo also pooh-poohed the poor quality leadership in the state as the reason why he chose to join the gubernatorial race. Saying that his state had suffered from poor leadership since its creation, the former Central Bank governor reiterated his desire to utilise the resources of the state and turn it into a model for others. He promised to deploy every mechanism, “both formal and informal,” to create wealth through micro-credit schemes and agriculture. But his manifesto, he insisted, would be anchored on security which he described as the “bedrock of my programme and masterplan for a new beginning.”
Andy Uba said part of his plan would be to turn Anambra State into a food basket. Anambra State, he said, is blessed with fertile lands but these have not been harnessed because “there’s no system and infrastructure to assist the local people to bring their food into other parts of Nigeria.”
For Ukachukwu, the task of governing Anambra requires someone with a track record of achievement and experience. He said he loves taking on challanges and that was what has motivated him to offer himself for service. If voted into office, he would create jobs and wealth for Anambra people and provide effective leadership.
Ngige said he was inspired by the need to make a difference. Just as in previous electioneering campaigns, Ngige, a former governor of the state, said he was seeking to return to government house Awka to consolidate on his previous achievements. Part of his mission, this time, he said, would be to transform Onitsha, the commercial town, into a beautiful city that people would be proud of. Politics to him, is “not a means for personal aggrandisement" but for service to the people.
Obi, the incumbent governor, believes that his government, since the past few years has come to represent the new face of Anambra State. Apart from his achievements in the various sectors which he believes are enough to earn him a second term, Obi, who also blamed his predecessor for contributing to the state of insecurity in the state through the kidnapping saga involving him and his erstwhile godfather, noted that his government had been able to entrench credibility in the system, such that “the best people and right role models are celebrated” as against the previous system where people of questionable character, were the role models.
While the men were busy appealing for votes at the Emmaus House, venue of the event, Ekwunife was out in the streets canvassing for hers. She told her supporters at the Obosi rally that she would make the difference in government if elected into office. Her views that day were not different from what she told Newswatch in Awka the week before. “The issue at stake is not about gender, age or religion but about somebody with the confidence and capacity, who understands and can govern the state. We will make the people proud once they trust us with their mandate,” she said, adding that “in Igbo land, we say that when things go wrong, we usually look for a woman. So the time has come when we should think of supporting a woman. When you talk of proper change, changing from one man to another is not real change. Let’s change from man to woman.”
Anambra State has never had a more robust, if not competitive political run. What the people want to see now is a free and fair election. But some people already have their doubt about the capacity of INEC (The Independent National Electoral Commission), to conduct a free and fair election. Ndu Nnatuanya, a resident of Awka, is one of such pessimists. He told Newswatch in Awka two weeks ago that “the problem is that INEC has shown that it cannot guarantee a free and fair election. For example, seventy percent of the people have no voters card. INEC did not inform the people when the voters registration was going on. They said the exercise would last one month, but they only informed the people two weeks before the expiration. Even then, people that went to register could not find INEC. I didn’t see INEC at Ugbugbankwa or Amikwo where they were supposed to be registering people. The exercise has since ended. I don’t see how they can conduct free and fair election since many people couldn’t register and as such are ineligible to vote.”
That is not the only source of worry. Recently, there were reports in the newspapers that some electoral materials meant for the Anambra election were intercepted at Ihiala by policemen. This further raised fears as to whether there would be a credible election devoid of rigging. Such fears are not out of place. But Maurice Iwu, the chairman of INEC, told Newswatch, last week, that INEC has put in place the necessary machinery to conduct a free and fair election in Anambra on February 6. He said: “We have done all the necessary preparations to have a hitch-free election. We have done the voters registration. We have displayed the voters register, made the corrections and we have distributed the register to all the parties concerned. We have also followed the timetable we laid out. There is no date that we have missed.