My fear for Saturday’s Anambra governorship election

In 2017, a former gubernatorial aspirant in Imo State, Sir Ziggy Azike, told me that there were three states that had got their leadership selection process right: Anambra, Lagos and Kano. He said that the three states had exemplary and seamless transition systems that would not allow a strange character to emerge as governor. The legal leading light and Life Bencher added that any governor of these three states had no choice than to succeed, having seen the foundations laid by his predecessors.

However, it is doubtful if this week’s election in Anambra State will follow that same pattern and produce the same result which late Sir Ziggy Azike spoke of. The reason is that some unforeseen circumstances or factors have arisen in Anambra recently. Fear-driven insecurity is at the heart of all these circumstances and factors. Anambra used to be one of the safest states in Nigeria until this year when the violent activities of an unidentified group named “unknown gunmen” started. They have been attacking security operatives like police officers and soldiers, killing them and burning their offices. They have also attacked prisons and set prisoners free. They also attacked other government agencies like the Independent National Electoral Commission, Federal Road Safety Corps, etc, and set them ablaze. In addition, the homes of individuals have been set ablaze and people killed. The argument of those who defend the violent activities of the unknown gunmen but also claim not to know those behind the unknown gunmen was that soldiers and police had been killing innocent people, especially members of the Indigenous People of Biafra. Since the violence erupted in Anambra, the people are no longer at ease in the home state of Chinua Achebe, the author of No Longer at Ease and other novels.

Some ten years ago, Anambra emerged from a period of a different type of insecurity. Around 2009, kidnapping for ransom became a big challenge in the state. This scared many people away from the state. Even some cultural events like marriages that should traditionally hold in the bride’s ancestral home were moved to other cities outside the Southeast. It became a kind of embarrassment. The state government and the different community associations pulled resources together to bring calm to the state. By the end of 2011, the kidnapping monster had been defeated in the state. Most of the kidnappers and their agents were either dead or in detention. Those who survived the onslaught were on the run. From that 2011 to 2021, Anambra was a safe place to move around by the day or at night. Social and business activities flourished. Anambra was rated to have the most effective community policing system: the Anambra Vigilante Services. Each community had its own community security outfit supported by the state government.

Then in 2021 attacks by unknown gunmen destroyed the peace in Anambra. The Nigerian security agencies and the separatist Indigenous People of Biafra have been trading accusations over who is behind the attacks. While these accusations are flying around, the attacks on individuals, groups and communities have continued to occur. Lives are being lost. Property is being destroyed. Fear has taken over the communities.

The situation has not been helped by the frequent sit-at-home orders issued by IPOB in the Southeast since the abduction of its leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, in Kenya in July. Even when IPOB has said it has cancelled some of the sit-at-home orders, some people have continued to violently enforce them, burning vehicles seen on the road on such days or attacking schools were school children were trying to take exams.

Not long ago, IPOB had issued an order that if Kanu was not released by November 4, there would be a sit-at-home in the South-East from November 5 to 10. People interpreted this as an attempt by IPOB to indirectly scuttle the Anambra gubernatorial election scheduled to hold this week on November 6. IPOB came out to clarify that it never asked that the Anambra gubernatorial election be boycotted. It said inter alia:

“The global movement and family of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) ably led by our great and indefatigable leader Mazi Nnamdi KANU wish to clarify that contrary to speculations and blackmail, IPOB has never made any official statement or called for the boycott of Anambra State gubernatorial election coming on November 6 2021.

“It will therefore be wrong for people to speculate or peddle falsehood against us when there is no basis for such.

“For the sake of clarity, what we said was that the entire Biafra land would be locked down from November 5 to November 10, 2021 if by November 4 the federal government fails to release our leader, Mazi Nnamdi Kanu, unconditionally.

“Our position has nothing to do with the Anambra election. All we need is our leader’s release who committed no crime to be held perpetually in custody. We have gathered through intelligence the plot by Nigeria Government to keep our leader in detention perpetually through frivolous court adjournments.”

This has been interpreted as one trying to hide behind a finger. How could a group issue an order for residents of Anambra State and other Southeast states not to come out for a week, one of which is the election day in Anambra State, and still say that it is not against the election in Anambra?

The import of this order is that the turnout of those who will want to vote in the Anambra election this Saturday will be low. Security has been beefed up in Anambra. Even though political leaders and security heads have urged people of the state to feel secure and come out on November 6 to exercise their franchise, many people will still be afraid to come out.

Luckily, most of the polling units are within the communities – either within church premises or school premises. That may encourage people to come out on November 6 to vote. Their comfort will be that they are close to home and among their kith and kin. If there is any fear of insecurity, they can easily run back home.

The implication is that the next governor of Anambra State may not emerge through popular votes. The insecurity in the state will disenfranchise many, leading the emergence of an unpopular person as the governor with low votes. That is a challenge facing the state.

Anambra State has been a state whose indigenes are passionate about its development through individual and group efforts. Consequently, its indigenes who live within Nigeria and those who live outside Nigeria never fail to visit home and participate in communal development projects. It is a state that has ranked high in all sectors, especially in commerce, education, and industrialisation. Insecurity is, therefore, one menace the state can ill afford.

However, the words of Sir Ziggy Azike may still hold true in Anambra. Just as Anambra defeated kidnappers in 2011, it also defeated armed robbers in 2000 when it invited the unconventional crime-fighting group known as Bakassi Boys. The Anambra spirit of resilience and innovation may come to the rescue in finding an answer to the insecurity bedevilling the state now.

About Author
Azuka Onwuka
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