Anambra governorship election: Say ‘yes’ to zoning!

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has fixed the Anambra State Governorship Election for November 6, 2021. And the raging debate among Anambrarians on the place of zoning in the scheme of things has since ratcheted up.

The first democratically elected civilian governor of Anambra, after the carving out of Enugu state, was Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) from Anambra South. His tenure (January 1992 – November 1993) was truncated by late Gen. Sani Abacha. At the beginning of the fourth Republic, Dr. Chinwoke Oderaa Mbadinuju, also from Anambra South, swore the oath of office as governor, on the ticket of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), on May 29, 1999. After falling out with some super influential party chieftains, the PDP cavalierly stymied his second term ambition. He consequently defected to the Alliance for Democracy (AD), and was defeated in the 2003 governorship poll.

Mbadinuju’s successor was PDP’s Dr. Chris Ngige from Anambra Central. He took the oath of office on May 29, 2003. However, Ngige was forced to vacate office on March 17, 2006 after the election tribunals declared the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), Peter Obi, the authentic winner of the 2003 election. Obi, also from Anambra Central, took the oath of office on March 17, 2006 and governed for a total of seven years and nine months, excluding about three months his erstwhile deputy, Dame Virginia Etiaba, from Anambra South, occupied the position after Obi was impeached by the PDP-dominated state legislature – an impeachment subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court.

It’s crystal-clear from the foregoing narrative that Anambra South has produced two elected governors for a combined tenure of about five years, Anambra Central has similarly produced two governors for a combined period of ten and half years, and – until the coming of Willie Obiano – it was zero on both accounts for Anambra North! By the time Obiano leaves office on 17th March, 2022, the zone would’ve held the governorship position for eight years.

Towards the end of his second term, Obi started sensitizing Anambrarians on the imperative of redressing a grave travesty of justice by ceding the 2014 governorship slot to Anambra North. He contended that it was incumbent upon APGA, in particular, to blaze the trail in order to remain true to its motto of “Onye aghana nwanne ya” (Be your brother’s keeper).

Quite expectedly, the other major political parties saw things very differently. The candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and PDP were Chris Ngige (Anambra Central) and Nicholas Ukachukwu (Anambra South), respectively. But Obi didn’t earn the moniker of “Okwute” (a hard rock) for nothing – even it’s literally the Igbo word for the Greek meaning of Peter. In the end, he single handedly made Obiano – an Executive Director at Fidelity Bank when Obi served as Chairman of the Board of Directors – his successor!

Somewhere and somehow, Obiano and his erstwhile political godfather, Obi, became estranged. It isn’t unlikely that by choosing to defect to the PDP, Obi – as the “uncommon defector” – intended to teach his uppity mentee that, as the trite saying goes, “He who has the power to give, equally has the power to take back.” Though unplanned, all three major parties nevertheless acted in manner that seemed like they reached a mutual agreement to cede the governorship to Anambra North: APC – Dr. Tony Nwoye, APGA – Gov. Willie Obiano, and PDP – Dr. Eseloka Obaze.

But – the mother of all wonders – Obiano conjured a victory unparalleled in the history of Anambra Governorship polls by winning all the 21 local government areas, including those of Obi, Nwoye, and Obaze – garnering the sobriquets of ’21/21′ and ‘giant killer’ in the process!

It is in the light of the foregoing that I register my displeasure and disgust with the stance of the chairman of the state chapter of the PDP, Ndubuisi Nwobu, on power rotation. He was reported to have said that zoning “negates the constitutional rights of aspirants for the governorship seat of state.” Makes one wonder if man was created for the benefit of the constitution or the constitution was created for the benefit of man!

What bothers me most about Nwobu’s verbal diarrhea is that it is exactly the same justification northern politicians mealy-mouth for holding tight to the reins of power at the federal level. I can only hope that Nwobu spoke in his personal, not official, capacity.

Necessity, it is said, is the mother of invention. When then-President Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to drastically reduce the monthly allocations from the Federation Account to some states in the Niger Delta on the basis of the constitutional definition of the nation’s continental shelf, the parties involved were able to eke out an out-of-court “political solution.”

Similarly, when President Umaru Yar’Adua’s medical condition made him comatose without having transmitted a letter to the Senate in line with constitutional proviso, the National Assembly resolved the constitutional crisis by creatively invoking the ‘Doctrine of Necessity’ to declare Vice President Goodluck Jonathan Acting President. So, what’s the state PDP chairman really talking about?

Is it that Nwobu doesn’t appreciate the relative peace the ceding of the governorship to Anambra North – even if by default – engendered in a state hitherto notorious as a hotbed of the worst genre of adversarial politicking in the entire country? Isn’t it better to water the seed that has been planted in order to reap a bumper harvest of sustainable peace needed for progressive development by maintaining the zoning policy for a little while longer?

The most logical reason why party leaders would talk down the unifying principle of zoning is so they can indulge themselves in auction bazaars where the highest bidder is king. This is the only way they will maximally line their private pockets with loads of easy cash by extorting a much wider field of aspirants!

There’s now a clarion call for the presidency to be zoned to the Southeast in 2023 since Ndigbo also have an equal stake in the Nigerian project. Because charity must begin at home, it would be the epitome of repugnant hypocrisy and amount to sending out the wrong signal, if we jettison the same concept and principle in our own backyard.

There are two governorship models operating in Nigeria today. One is predicated on selfishness and the maxim that might is always right, while the other crystallises good neighbourliness and peaceful cohabitation.

The first model is seen in states such as Benue and Rivers where the dominant ethnic nationality sees the governorship as its entitlement, while the second is showcased in Delta State where then-Governor James Ibori moved mountains to facilitate a zoning policy that has brought relative peace to a state previously buffeted by inter-ethnic wars. What the latter requires is a selfless and visionary leadership that can successfully enlighten the followership about its long-lasting benefits.

Coming from Anambra Central, conventional wisdom dictates that I should be rooting for the governorship to perpetually remain an all-comers’ affair for reasons that should be crystal-clear. But a monopolistic – or even oligopolistic – control of power, at any level of the society, invariably foments suspicion, distrust, bitterness and disunity. Anambra leaders of thought, traditional rulers, clerics, and the political elite must, therefore, opt for a 20/20 vision that demonstrates the ability to plan the future of Anambra with great imagination and intelligence by retaining zoning for an agreed period of time.

It isn’t a mere coincidence that with the completion of the first zoning cycle, the zone posting the least mileage on the governorship odometre, and where it all started – Anambra South – is set to kick-start a second cycle. No one can reasonably claim that an area bubbling with the likes of Professor Chukwuma Soludo, Senators Andy Uba, Ifeanyi Ubah, and Nicholas Ukachukwu, among others, cannot produce a first-eleven governor for Anambra.

But I want to recommend a very important amendment to the zoning policy. While the concept and practice of power rotation remain sacrosanct, there would be no guaranteed second term for an incumbent generally adjudged, by a panel representing major shades of opinion in the state, to have underperformed in office.

Moreover, the zone that produced him/her – regardless of the political party – would suffer the sanction of missing out on a second term. This would enhance the dynamics of internal competitiveness, and ensure that zones are committed to producing the best of their bests to make Anambra the model of good governance and exemplary performance in Africa.

— Okoye, a Boston University (USA) Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow, wrote in from Abuja

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