Reflections on the Anambra State Elections

The February 6, 2010 gubernatorial election in Anambra state has come and gone. Governor Peter Obi has been announced winner of the election. Several candidates in the election, while condemning the irregularities in the poll, indicated that they had no plans to challenge its outcome at the election tribunals. Chukwuma Soludo, the PDP candidate, was the first to congratulate Peter Obi, but later recanted. Chris Ngige, the AC candidate, has indicated he will challenge INEC’s declaration of Obi as the winner, arguing that the APGA candidate did not fulfil the constitutional requirement that a candidate must secure 25 percent of the total votes cast in at least two-thirds of the local government areas in the state. Obi insisted that he did. As victory sinks in, and with it triumphalism and its repercussions, it is not clear whether others that had earlier accepted the announced outcome of the election will change their mind.

There are several observations about the election:

One, the conduct of the campaigns was issues-based, with little of the mudslinging, violence and the use of thugs, which appear to have become part of the country’s political culture. This could in part be because of the quality and maturity of the candidates, and in part because all the candidates were conscious that too many eyes were on them. We must not forget the tolerance and civility that characterised much of the campaign – irrespective of any post election dispute that may arise.

Two, the election showed that many people, including this writer, may have grossly underestimated Peter Obi’s political skills. For instance, some people are beginning to suspect that the persona Obi projects into the public space – that of a naïve administrator with little political skills- may be a deliberate mask to hide his shrewdness and goad his opponents into underestimating him. This could be akin to the way Obasanjo had for years successfully used his dour personality and temper to camouflage his smartness, extreme cunning and political calculations. His opponents who fell for the decoy have lived to regret it. In Obi’s case, his projected public persona, accentuated by his simple dressing, funny voice, and reported tightfistedness, feeds into a narrative that he is not a traditional politician (he never wears the red cap or ‘agbada’ for instance), and by innuendo, more honest than other politicians. This public persona means that given the level of voter disenfranchisement at the election, only his emergence as the Governor from the exercise would have made the outcome acceptable because the general perception is that he is too morally-driven and too naïve to be involved in election manipulation.

Obi’s public persona also means that, like Obasanjo, his opponents are sometimes unable to see the political plots in some of his moves. For instance when he made town unions the fourth tier of government early in the life of his regime, very few people foresaw that he was building a ‘partnership’ with the town unions, perhaps with an eye for his re-election campaign. It will not come as a surprise if the ‘apolitical’ Obi, who once indicated he would not seek re-election, and who remained unruffled at criticisms that he was doing nothing to build APGA as the party to beat in the state, uses his second term in office to plot for a higher political outing for himself.

Three, there were several reasons why, based on the announced results, the PDP performed as poorly as it did. Apart from the internal crisis in the party and its fallouts, the suspicion that Soludo was being prepared to run for the presidency which under the PDP’s zoning arrangement, would be zoned to the South in 2015, was an invisible hurdle. It is suspected that many potential rivals from the same party, both from the South East and the South South, did every thing behind the scene to frustrate his candidacy while publicly pledging their support – pretty much the way NPN did in 1983 with Dim Ojukwu when he ran for the Senate. Yaradua’s AWOL and the politics surrounding his failure to transmit a letter to the National Assembly to enable Jonathan assume the position of Acting President also fed into an already negative image of the PDP across the country. While Soludo’s handlers sought to distinguish their platform by calling it the ‘New PDP’ this was apparently not sufficiently and convincingly marketed.

There were other strategic mistakes by Soludo’s handlers. It was perhaps a mistake to market him on the basis of his brilliance instead of projecting him as a humble, down-to-earth and humane guy next door. Unlike companies, making a person’s obvious personal attribute the person’s unique selling point is often counter productive. A very pretty woman for instance enhances her perception of beauty by deliberately downplaying it rather than flaunting it. Similarly, Soludo’s image as a technocrat would have been accentuated if he had avoided the regalia of traditional politicians, including the red cap (preferably showing up in campaigns with his sleeves rolled up). Additionally, his promise of turning Anambra state into African Dubai Taiwan could have connected more with the common people if it was simply presented as urban renewal, city redevelopment or even the development of new cities. No one doubts that Anambra state seriously yearns for a well-planned city.

Four, the election perhaps handed a world record, albeit a notorious one, to Anambra state. According to the International IDEA Voter Turnout Website, (www.idea.int/vt) which contains the most comprehensive global collection of voter turnout statistics available for presidential and parliamentary elections since 1945, Mali has the world record for the lowest voter turnout (the number of registered voters who came out to vote). Mali’s average of 21.3% turnout in two elections since 1992 has now been worsted by the 17% ‘turnout’ in Anambra state. We will of course never know the actual voter turnout given the suspected high percentage of disenfranchisement (i.e. the number of voters who registered, turned out to vote but were unable to do so). It is germane to note that even in countries like USA where voter apathy has been a major source of concern (apart from the last Presidential election), turnout has always been over 40 percent (the global average turnout is above 60 percent). For instance 47% percent of the voting age population participated in the 1996 presidential election in the US, which had a remarkably low turnout. Out of this turnout, President Clinton received 49% of the votes – or 23% of the eligible voters – far more than the percentage of registered voters, which voted in the Anambra election.

Five, people calling on aggrieved candidates not to take their case to the election tribunal are not helping the course of our democracy. Our democracy can only be deepened if contentious aspects of it are subjected to legal challenge rather than people bottling up their grievances and unleashing violence through proxies. Besides, if part of Peter Obi’s appeal to some people was based on the way he doggedly fought to reclaim his mandate at the courts, over three years; it will appear as blackmail to prevent similarly aggrieved candidates from seeking redress in the courts. Additionally, while disenfranchisement cannot be completely avoided in any election, it may well be worth a judicial pronouncement on whether there is a level of disenfranchisement that will render an election null and void.

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