Nigeria’s Anambra State election will show where 2023 winds blowing

By Nwokoye Mpi
Posted on Monday, 17 May 2021 12:22

In this 28 May 2017, file photo, members of the Biafran separatist movement gather during an event in Umuahia, Nigeria. (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi, File)

As gangs blast their way into prisons and kill police officers in the region, south-east Nigeria is gearing up for an election that could be a bellwether for the presidential poll in 2023.

When the people of Anambra State go to the polls on 6 November to elect a new governor, they will be also be dragged into a political battle over the presidential elections in 2023.

Activists believe that the turmoil sweeping through Anambra and the south-east region over the last six months is linked to the race for the presidency.

Some are convinced that the series of attacks on security agents, including the bombing of police headquarters and organised escape of over 1900 prisoners from the neighbouring Imo State, are intended to portray the south-east as an irredeemably secessionist region, incapable of putting up a qualified presidential candidate.

Others argue that it is a part of a wider plan to show how important the region is to the federation. They liken it to the violent campaigns in the south-west and south-south that ended up propelling candidates to the presidency.

I am from Anambra, I was born here, attended schools in this state, and I work here. One thing I can tell you is that the Anambra election is hardly predictable,” said Chris Ejiofor, a public affairs analyst.

Government security officials in Abuja blame the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Eastern Security Network (ESN), a regional vigilante group, for the attacks. IPOB’s mercurial leader Nnamdi Kanu, said to be in exile in Europe or the United States, denies the group’s involvement and accuses all mainstream politicians of being complicit in the oppression of the south-east.

IPOB’s growing popularity in the region is sending a strong message to all parties competing in the Anambra gubernatorials (the state serves as the unofficial headquarters of IPOB). Kanu comes from the neighbouring Abia State and called for a boycott of the last elections in Anambra.

No one knows how that will affect turnout in the state elections this year or the national elections in 2023; but the number of registered voters and is lower in the south-east than other regions. This complicates the efforts of south-eastern politicians to stake a claim to the presidential ticket.

It is the only region in the country not to have held the post of executive head of state. Although veteran Igbo politician Nnamdi Azikiwe was president from 1963-66, it was largely a ceremonial position at the time.

The other complicating factor in Anambra is that it has become a bastion of the All Progressives’ Grand Alliance (APGA), the only party besides the national juggernauts – the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) – to control a state.

Against the backdrop of the Anambra election exists crushing poverty and insecurity in the southeast, and these factors, according to APGA officials, will be an advantage for the party.

“We have seen what the APC is doing at the national level and even in neighbouring Imo State, and you still think Anambra will vote for them?” said Obi Francis Nwaka, an aide to the governor, Willie Obiano.

On return to civil rule in 1999, the PDP won control of Anambra State, home to the Onitsha Main Market – the largest market in West Africa – which shares River Niger with the oil-rich Delta State.

But in 2006, a supreme court ruling overturned the governorship election results in which PDP had again emerged victorious. APGA now had a chance to secure the governor position.

At the time, the governor – Chris Ngige – was a loyal member of the PDP. He has since crossed over to the APC and is now a minister in the federal government under President Muhammadu Buhari.

Home of godfathers

The term ‘godfather’ crept into Nigeria’s political lexicon between 1999 and 2003 when the then governor, Chinwoke Mbadinuju and his godfather, Emeka Offor, ran the state aground. Things took a violent turn with governor Ngige and his estranged godfather Chris Uba. Analysts say that era belongs in the past, but godfathers and kingmakers remain influential in the state.

For example, Peter Obi, governor from 2006 to 2014, helped Obiano get elected. The two have since fallen out and Obi defected to the PDP where he was the running mate to presidential candidate Atiku Abubakar in the 2019 presidential election.

Today, those three politicians – Ngige, Obi, and Obiano – are now the leaders of the three frontline parties in the state elections: APC, PDP, and APGA.

Some think the race is wide open and that has led to a crowded race for the party tickets. There are nine contenders, at least, for the APGA; more than 10 for the APC; and 16 for the PDP.

The contenders include:

  • Charles Soludo, a former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria;
  • Obiora Nwankwo, the chairman of United Nigeria Airline; Uche Ekwunife and Andy Uba, both serving senators;
  • Chidi Onyemelukwe, daughter of former Vice President Alex Ekwueme;
  • Valentine Ozigbo, the immediate past president of Transnational Corporation of Nigeria; and
  • George Moghalu, the head of Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority.

Another popular name but outside the three big parties, is Ifeanyi Ubah, a billionaire businessman and a member of the Young Progressives Party. He is a serving senator and a former governorship contender.

But AGPA is the party to beat. It was founded by Biafran leader Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu and is largely known as the party of the Igbos, a major ethnic group in the south-east. With the mantra Nke a bu nke anyi, which translates to ‘this belongs to us’, the party often panders to ethnic sentiments during campaigns to win over voters.

Although the APC is perceived as a ‘northerners’ party under President Buhari, supporters say its access to federal funding would boost development projects in the state.

Few are confident about the outcome of November’s vote. “I am from Anambra, I was born here, attended schools in this state, and I work here. One thing I can tell you is that the Anambra election is hardly predictable,” said Chris Ejiofor, a public affairs analyst.

“Even the APC which people are shouting that it […] may still win the governorship election. They have quality aspirants that have no taint at all, just like other parties. I think we should just keep our fingers crossed and let this electoral season teach us more about Anambra State and her style of politics.”

The PDP’s 1999-2003 governance record in the state was that it was the worst administration since its creation in 1991. Persistent bickering within the PDP has damaged its chances of returning to power.

“Anambra will not even vote for PDP because memories of the destruction of Anambra public properties are still in our minds before you talk of APC. APGA is the party here and whoever wins the primary election in APGA will win Anambra,” Nwaka said.

The IPOB factor

IPOB’s influence over the elections is the wildest card. Although proscribed by the Nigerian government in 2017, it retains serious influence in the region.

Should the group call for a boycott of the elections again, and try to enforce it through violent means, this would pit it against the police.

Anthony Uchechukwu, a lawyer and businessman, said IPOB should not victimise “their own people.” “I have heard of IPOB’s threat, but I do not think Anambra is the reason why they have not achieved Biafra, so my advice to them is to channel their grouse to the complaints and agitations appropriately,” he said.

Even though IPOB has not claimed responsibility, cases of gunmen attacking police and other security agencies in Anambra and other south-eastern states reached a climax over the past few weeks. However, most commentators downplay the threat of violence in the elections.

“If you go back to any other previous elections, there is none without such threat,” said Soludo, the leading APGA contender who has been endorsed by Governor Obiano. “Elections have been held in Boko Haram dominated parts of the country, states that are literarily at war, let alone in this particular case.”

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options