At face value, the Anambra State governorship election 2021 is over, but the lessons have far broader implications that will endure. Beyond these lessons of what is considered the most consequential election in 2021, is the management of the people’s expectations and the governor-elect’s ability to fix the jigsaw puzzle of the many contradictions that Anambra State represents.
Let’s begin with the elections, context and lessons learnt. Anambra 2021 is an off-season election, and historically off-season elections are indicators of what to expect in coming general elections. As Dr Chidi Amuta had presented in his column elsewhere, Anambra is unique for many reasons and whatever happens in that state applies to other states in Nigeria, perhaps in different dimensions.
First, the contest of the election was defined by the peculiarities of insecurity in the state where non-state actors are contesting for power and are enjoying semi legitimacy because of the apparent support they are getting from locals. IPOB’s persistent sit-at-home regime preceding the election caused a low turnout of voters, and contestants campaigned under a canopy of mortal fear of real danger. The fear of unknown gunmen pervaded the entire space.
Second, the government demonstrated its powers to provide security to citizens of Anambra to participate in democracy’s most important ritual of casting votes against the afront of Unknown Gunmen, who threatened to unleash mayhem in the state against candidates and citizens who planned to participate in the election. Whether the relative peace enjoyed by citizens is a function of the deployment of massive security or the effect of the suspension of the sit-at-home order by IPOB will be an exciting study.
Third, the historical peculiarities of Anambra State gubernatorial elections that have seen a series of pitched battles among unruly factions of desperate political hustlers, high-level religious incursion into civil politics, a tale of high drama, crude machinations, and the deployment of violence, even ‘dark juju’, and cultic mindlessness. The governor’s power is the ultimate power in a state like Anambra, with more than the usual number of billionaires hustling to capture or possibly buy state power, not necessarily for the people’s good.
The November 6th and 9th elections came and passed with little sinister drama, as some pundits predicted. Anambra citizens defied all odds to heed the call to vote. Comparatively, INEC conducted a credible election by Nigerian standards and declared Prof Charles Soludo the governor-elect. INEC may indeed have fallen short of its benchmark, but yet Anambra 2021 represents hope.
In the circumstance of logistics challenge and the pervading threat of local militia, the Nigerian security agencies deployed to Anambra in their thousands also did a fantastic job of providing security and defied non-state actors who threatened to derail the electoral process. IPOB, in the last few days before the elections, called off the general sit-at-home in Anambra and other Southeast states, thereby reducing the tension in the polity.
Candidates for the governorship election were generally peaceful and resisted any tendencies for violence or encouraging their supporters to perpetrate electoral violence. Although there were alleged pockets of electoral malpractices here and there, there was no major incident of large-scale rigging reported in national media. Overall, the exercise was a success. That the election held and produced a winner is an incredible feat to accomplish, given the uncertainties and nature of events before the election.
There are so many lessons to draw from this election by Nigeria and Nigerians. The first is that when the Nigerian state decides to protect its interest and citizens against non-state actors, it goes out of its way to do that. The sheer massive deployment of security agents and the bravery with which they protected lives and property during the election is worthy of note. Such attitude and courage are needed to combat banditry and kidnapping in various parts of the country. Although the ‘militarisation’ of the election process is against democratic precepts, in this case, it was a welcome development. Nigerians should have hope that the Nigerian State cannot be held to ransom by non-state actors, no matter how legitimate their claims may be. The counter-argument is that this level of deployment is only possible because this is an off-season, isolated election. This advances the case for staggered elections.
The second lesson is the efficacy of technology deployment in election management. INEC showed great confidence in these technologies. Anambra elections allowed INEC the opportunity to test-run some of the recently added technology for conducting free and fair elections. Although a few glitches were recorded during the polls with the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS), INEC has reassured Nigerians of the importance of using this technology and hope to use it effectively and efficiently in subsequent elections.
The third lesson is that all politics is local. The people know what they want, given the right environment, they can express their preference for the kind of leadership they believe can help them fix their challenges and achieve their aspirations. The people of Anambra have consistently shown a preference for accomplished professionals, technocrats or intellectuals, and this latest election follows that trend. We expect a new renaissance in politics where young intellectuals and people from the private sector would take up politics and have a realistic expectation to win if there is a level playing field for all. Soludo signifies this ideal. His pedigree and knowledge in management and leadership excited many voters who feel that such knowledge and expertise will translate into good governance and development of the state. Other technocrats and citizens are watching to see how all of these play out and shape the future of politics in Southeast Nigeria.
After November 9th, Governor-elect Soludo will notice that a governor by appointment and another by-election are two different scenarios with no meeting point. The meaning of words and concepts are different and new realities will replace old ones. Pre-election truth will substantially differ from post-election truth. Intellectualising governance and leadership are more straightforward than practising it. If academic brilliance makes for good governance, Ashraf Ghani could have delivered in Afghanistan. Being a state governor is not an easy task much more, being a governor of Anambra State with its convoluted contradictions. A state where high net worth individuals and non-state actors clamour to capture or influence leadership structures and processes, sometimes at all costs. A state with a relatively thriving economy based on industrialisation and enterprise and massive potential for growth – a state of the likes of Azikiwe’s, Ekwueme’s, Ojukwu’s, and more recently, Peter Obi’s.
The people’s expectations of governor-elect, Prof Soludo, is very high. It is very high not only because he ran an eloquent campaign on ‘Solutions’ to Anambra problems and made several promises on how to tackle most of the problems bedevilling the growth of the state, but his pedigree as an intellectual, technocrat and one of the best minds Anambra produced in recent times imbued in people high hopes that he will perform well as a governor.
The enormity of expectation is seen in the reactions of Nigerians, both home and abroad, to his election. Some are seeing him as the pivot of Nigeria’s turnaround to the path of progress on all fronts because they believe a man with a “good head” will run Anambra State, and by extension, other states will emulate Anambra in voting incredible candidates given how good Prof Soludo will be as a governor. Some even believe that the emergence of Soludo could open up a new vista of leadership quality upgrade in the country.
During his campaign, he highlighted that he would improve education, increase local and foreign direct investment, increase internally generated revenue, provide about 130,000 jobs, and create 1,000 millionaires annually. It is one thing to inspire people to dream big, share a vision, and aspire to great heights, and another to design the “How” to bring the vision to life. The common assumption is that the people of Anambra voted for Soludo because he is a man of ideas, a proven technocrat and intellectual per excellence. I hope that these exceptional qualities that stand him out will manifest in his delivery of good governance.
There is no doubt that many are rooting for him to succeed, and he will enjoy the support of many in his bid to grow Anambra State. In his acceptance speech, he declared, “My role will be that of your chief servant, and I will work every minute of the day with you to make you profoundly proud. I will need the guidance, advice and contribution of everyone to succeed”. He will need to rally every citizen of Anambra State to work with him to achieve these expectations.
I implore him to start on time to manage people’s expectations and be realistic about his potentials and limitations in providing solutions to the myriads of problems of Anambra people. He should always carry people along to understand his vision, agenda, strategy, and policies. This action is essential because rising expectations sometimes lead to increasing frustrations. Even when working hard and putting his best in leading Anambra, if people expect Eldorado and expect it pronto, whatever effort and accomplishments he may have made will be seen from a narrow prism.
There are three main areas Anambra people will expect the governor-elect to focus on immediately he takes over the state. One is tackling the debilitating insecurity in the state. Through dialogue or use of force, the governor must confront insecurity in Anambra, deal with IPOB and the agitation for Biafra, deal with rising cases of kidnapping, criminality and killings, especially politically motivated ones. He and other southeast governors must work together to bring sanity and peace to the SouthEast.
The second area is infrastructural development. Lack of infrastructure is the bane of Nigeria. At the state level, infrastructural development will open the state’s economy and provide high standard of living for residents. The people of Anambra are known for their entrepreneurial spirit. All they need is the right environment to evolve to a modern-day industrial hub.
The last is human capital development. The governor must come up with a way of harnessing these entrepreneurial skills and spirit for the good of all. He must work “hand in gloves” with the private sector to create businesses and jobs for the residents whilst upskilling them through the provision of high-quality education and professional training.
Like him or loath him, Prof Soludo is the governor-elect of Anambra State. And come March 2022, he will become the next executive governor of the state, barring any legal manoeuvrings. He is riding on great populism based on his antecedents and pedigree. This has brought huge expectations from most Nigerians, especially given that he symbolised the incursion into politics by technocrats and intellectuals who usually would rather stay aloof before now. He is a game-changer.
Whilst managing these huge expectations, he must develop a great strategy to accomplish great things in Anambra and make Igbos proud. He is the only governor from APGA, and he must think deeply about the future of the party and whether to expand and go national or remain local. He will be compared with his predecessors, and he must not pale in comparison. He must not fail. My advice to the governor-elect is “focus on the people! Power belongs to God and the people”.