Rejecting The Hypothesis: An Analysis Of The 2017 Anambra Election As A Referendum – By Ugorji O. Ugorji
Operation Python Dance 11 (OPD) was a security operation carried out by the Nigerian armed forces from September 15 to October 14, 2017, which left in its wake damages to property and loss of lives, mainly in Abia State. The operation was mainly in response to security challenges in the East occasioned by restiveness among young people in that part of the country frustrated about perceived inequities in the governance and structure of the Nigerian nation-state, as well as the remarkable level of underdevelopment and poverty in the country. Some of those activities adopted the theme of self-determination that gave them the hue of ethnic separatism. Abia State, which was the main theater of OPD-11 is the home state of Nnamdi Kanu who was (or still is) the leader of one of the two wings of the now proscribed group that called itself the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
On November 15, 2017 I wrote an article in which I set out to test a hypothesis. The locker room and intellectual market place discussions among many who were concerned about the Nigerian government’s Operation Python Dance in the Eastern part of Nigeria threw up the sentiment that the action was “anti-Igbo,” and “genocidal.” As the elections for governor in Anambra State of Nigeria approached, I posited that if that belief was indeed the general, prevailing sentiment in the East, then the voters in Anambra State will exert electoral punishment on those perceived to be associated with the operation. However, if that sentiment by some people has been inaccurately generalized to approximate the sentiments of the Igbo people or if the Igbo people accept or view Operation Python Dance (with its collateral damages) as having been conducted in the best interest of the Nigerian nation-state as whole, then voters in Anambra State will reward or ignore it altogether.
In this current essay, I discuss the results of the gubernatorial election in Anambra State that took place on November 18, 2017. Herein is an analysis of the results as they relate to only the hypothesis. If the analysis appears narrow and even shallow, it is only because of the specific focus of analysis. What do the results tell us about the voters and political actors in Anambra State? How does the outcome reflect on the political consciousness of the Igbo ethnic group, and what does it portend for the Nigerian state moving forward?
The Significant Players
Over 20 candidates (nominees) representing as many political parties, participated in the November 18, 2017 election for governor in Anambra State, Nigeria. However, several factors combined to produce only 4 serious and significant players who were perceived generally and by this writer to have had good chances of winning. Those players are presented again below.
President Buhari/Dr. Tony Nwoye and the All Progressives Congress (APC)
In the essay referenced above, I identified several political actors and entities that can reasonably be associated with Operation Python Dance. The first and most important was President Muhammadu Buhari who is the Command-in-Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, and under whose orders and approval Operation Python Dance took place. It should be pointed out that the Nigerian Army, which carried out the order, stated before and during the action that its mission was simply to “check criminality and threats to the nation-state” on several fronts in that part of the country at that time, just as it has done and continues to do in other parts of the country, including but not limited to the Northeast. The Army (and the Presidency) denied that their action was genocidal or even anti-Igbo, and pointed to the Army’s charge given by an elected civilian president as reason to consider it within the confines of the experimental and still developing democratic order in the country. The hypothesis posited that voters in Anambra State will punish the APC and its candidate for governor, Dr. Tony Nwoye.
Governor Obiano and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA)
The second most significant actor relative to Operation Python Dance was the incumbent governor of Anambra State, Mr. William Obiano. It was he, along with his brother governors in the East, who banned IPOB from the region, even before the federal government issued its own proscription. The hypothesis posited that the voters in Anambra State would punish Obiano and his party, APGA, in the 2017 election where the incumbent was seeking reelection.
Mr. Obaze and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP)
The urbane Oseluka Obaze flew the flag of the PDP, albeit while fracturing the party between the “indigenes” of the party and the “settlers” from APGA and other entities. Among the governors of the East who at least acquiesced to Operation Python Dance, three are PDP members and leaders – Ifeanyi Ugwuonye of Enugu State, Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, and David Umahi of Ebonyi State. The hypothesis therefore posited that voters in Anambra State will punish the PDP and its candidate in the just concluded elections, for the physical and psychological “damages” of Operation Python Dance.
Mr. Chidoka and the United Progressives Party (UPP)
The UPP struck a pose in the election that was remarkably different from all the other players identified above. Its candidate, Osita Chidoka, not only adopted the party’s call for “referendum” and “self-determination,” he had the distinction of driving Nnamdi Kanu away from the court premises upon his (Kanu’s) release from detention following the granting of his application for bail. The hypothesis posited that all things being equal, and if indeed voters in Anambra State (most of whom are Igbo) viewed Operation Python Dance negatively, then Chidoka and the UPP will be rewarded as a message to those who ordered and/or acquiesced to the military action.
As reported by various news outlets, Obiano, who defeated his opponents in all 21 Local Government Areas, garnered about 234,072 votes, while Nwoye of the APC received 98,752 votes to place second. Obaze of the PDP polled 70,293 in a third place finish, while Chidoka of the UPP received 7,903 votes.
According to Nigeria’s Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), 448,771 people voted in the Anambra State election for governor on November 18, 2017, out of which 422,314 were certified to be valid votes. The INEC reports this as a 22% turnout rate in the just concluded election.
The National Chairman of the UPP, Chief Chekwas Okorie, however asserted in a press release following the election, that INEC’s report of 22% turnout rate was flawed. According to him, while there were about 2 Million registered voters in Anambra State as of the date of the election, only about 800,000 of them had the Permanent Voters Card (PVC). Therefore, Okorie and the UPP asserted that only 800,000 people could have legitimately voted if there was a 100% turnout rate. The 448,771 voters who voted, amounted to over 50% turnout rate, according to Okorie, based on the number of PVCs held.
The Call for Boycott of the Election Failed
When compared to INEC’s report of a 24% turnout rate in the Anambra State election four years prior, there was no significant difference in the turnout rate between 2014 and 2017. However, if one accepts the UPP’s report, the electorate in Anambra State was so energized, so mobilized, and so enthusiastic that the turnout rate in 2017 more than doubled that of 2014.
Did some people stay home on November 18, 2017 either out of fear of violence or in demonstration of the consciousness surrounding the call to boycott the election? Probably. However, after the miles have been counted following the race (as Nigerians would say), the only credible conclusion is that the call for boycott by IPOB failed and/or was ignored by voters in Anambra State (an overwhelming majority of whom were Igbo).
The Igbo tell us that Surugede is a dance of the spirits. The swearing-in of any governor or president is akin to the initiation of a masquerade. Among the Igbo, the spirits come to dance as masquerades.
In what is now viewed as a remarkable election in Anambra State, not only did the incumbent governor, Obiano, win the contest, he did it in a fashion that stunned and sent clear messages, with implications for the hypothesis. Governor Obiano defeated his opponents in all 21 Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Anambra State. Not even the “moonslide” accomplishment of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) in 1983, or Ronald Reagan’s win of 49 out of 50 states in the US presidential election of 1984 comes close in comparison to what Obiano apparently accomplished in Anambra State on November 18, 2017.
With respect to the hypothesis surrounding Operation Python Dance, the only conclusion to be drawn is that voters in Anambra State (most of whom are Igbo), chose not to punish Obiano’s perceived role in the event. In fact, Obiano’s victory is so complete and profound, that it can be concluded that voters in Anambra rewarded Obiano’s performance to date, including his participation in Operation Python Dance and the banning of IPOB in Anambra State.
Nwoye and APC’s Second Placement
The perception before the Anambra State election of 2017 was that the APC as a party is loathed in the East and among the Igbo people of Nigeria, Governor Rochas Okorocha’s 2015 electoral victory in Imo State notwithstanding. When one adds the perceived injustice of Operation Python Dance, the expectation was that APC would be humiliated in Anambra State. While a loss can still be considered a loss, the fact that Nwoye and the APC came second (albeit a distant second) is remarkable in light of the hypothesis under review. Unlike APGA and the PDP that had produced governors in the state since 1999 when the current democratic experiment commenced, the relatively new APC has not had the privilege of winning such an election in Anambra State. Therefore, it can be concluded that voters in Anambra State (an overwhelming majority of whom are Igbo) did not punish the APC for Operation Python Dance (not if the party came second).
Obaze and PDP’s Third Placement
The last election pitted a former Main Masquerade-turned godfather (former Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State) against the incumbent Main Masquerade (Obiano, whom Obi had helped install in 2014), with Oseloka Obaze as the tip of the spear for Obi. As already reported, the PDP governors in the East participated in the banning of IPOB in the East and played significant roles in Operation Python Dance. Obaze’s (and the PDP’s) third place finishing is significant only when compared to the fourth place finishing of the UPP and its candidate, Chidoka. The fact that PDP finished ahead of UPP (which had staked its chances on channeling the aspirations and promises of “referendum” and “self-determination”) suggests that the PDP was not punished either, for its governors’ roles in Operation Python Dance.
UPP’s Tigeritude and Chidoka’s Leap
Professor Wole Soyinka once reportedly told us that a tiger does not have to proclaim its tigritude – it just pounces. Chidoka and the UPP channeled the aspirations and promises of “referendum” and “self-determination” in a manner that was unambiguous. They saw an opportunity in the restiveness in the East and sought legitimately to take advantage of it, with the hopes of eventually mitigating it using the powers, resources and bully pulpit of a governor. Chidoka’s presentation during the debate among the candidates was stellar, but even more significant was its philosophical rooting in Igbo-centeredness. However, not only did he and the UPP fail in the tiger’s leap at the polls, they did so with remarkable flying colors. And herein lies perhaps the most important lesson from the Anambra State election of 2017.
Chidoka and the UPP told us during the campaign and after the election that they put together the most robust election campaign in the history of Anambra State. In other words, in terms of their chosen strategy and tactics, they were happy and satisfied with the technology-driven and door-to-door effort they made. As such, it can be said that their message of support for “referendum” and “self-determination” was adequately propagated by them during the campaign. If that is the case (and I take them at their self-evaluation), then the only conclusion from their distant fourth place finish is that there was a clear and unambiguous rejection of their message.
Implications of the Anambra 2017 Election Results
Before discussing the implications of the 2017 Anambra State election for governor, the important question of whether the election was free and fair needs to be addressed. The INEC believes the election was free and fair and has so stated. The reported neutrality of the Nigerian presidency and President Buhari in the election is also pointed to as a data point of fairness and freedom during the elections. Obiono himself and his party, APGA, have said as much.
While APC’s Nwoye complained about some of his operatives being selectively arrested and removed from the election theaters, he nonetheless accepted the outcome and said that he (as an individual) will not challenge the outcome. The PDP’s Obaze complained about the voting pattern and wondered about the “aberration” of Obiano winning in all 21 LGAs, but he had before the election pledged to accept the outcome of the lection (win or lose). The UPP’s and Chidoka’s only complaint about the election was that it was a “bazar” wherein the party with the most money to buy votes and that opted to engage in the purchase of votes ultimately prevailed. Obiano, who was playing with house money, outbid and out-purchased every other candidate on the ballot, it is alleged. Yet Chidoka has accepted the outcome of the election and congratulated Obiano on his reelection. We can therefore conclude that by Nigerian standards (and international standards), the 2017 Anambra election for governor was generally free and fair, even if the financial playing field was not equal.
The Tactic of Boycott is no Substitute for Strategic Thinking
Mbonu Ojike (May his soul rest in peace) was the great one who called on Nigerians to “boycott all boycottables” in furtherance of the peoples’ pursuit of political independence from Britain. As I have stated in other fora, Ojike did not tell us to boycott everything. Inherent in his prescription was the idea that not all things are boycottable, at least not as far as the collective interest of the people is concerned. IPOB’s call for a boycott of the Anambra State election was all tactics and no strategy – and an ill-advised and ill-fated tactic at that.
The claim by some that IPOB and sympathy for the group is “radical” notwithstanding, there was nothing novel in IPOB’s approach and stated mission. Ralph Uwazurike and MASSOB have done all that and been there. Yet, while Uwazurike and MASSOB had vision, strategy, tactics, plans of action, and a calendar of expected outcomes (even if all of these were ill-fated and ill-advised), Kanu’s wing of IPOB was all tactics. Any movement or action, no matter how ill-advised, that has the potential of placing innocent people as cannon-fodders against an expectedly reactive nation-state, must be handled with a lot more thought, care and humanity than went into the call for a boycott of the 2017 election for governor in Anambra State.
A Two-Party Democratic Culture is Solidifying
Obiano’s reelection on the platform of APGA notwithstanding, the Anambra State election in 2017 suggests that a two-party system, which President Ibrahim Babangida had sought to decree in 1990/91, is gradually taken shape in Nigeria. APGA, with its sentiment of “Nke a bu nke anyi” (this one is ours), is the only other party in Nigeria (apart from the APC and the PDP) with gubernatorial electoral successes in the country currently. The APC’s and PDP’s second and third place finishes respectively suggest that when the incumbent factor is neutralized in the next election as Obiano’s two-term limit arrives, one of the two major parties will mostly likely take over in Anambra State.
The Shared Political Niche of APGA and UPP
Barring any splits in the APC and the PDP, the only serious challenge to the emerging two-party dynamics lies in the political niche that APGA’s roaster used to occupy alone, but in which the UPP’s tiger now prowls. When one notes that both parties have the same paternity, it is not surprising that both lay claim to the “nke a bu nke anyi” (this one is ours) sentiment. The two parties have two real paths to survival and triumph – merge with either APC or PDP, or merge with each other to solidify the aspirational and inspired “third leg.” The need for the second option (the merger of APGA and UPP) was emphasized by the likes of Professor MAC Odu during the “Conference on Progressivism in Nigerian Politics,” which was held at the Imo Concorde Hotel, Owerri on May 27, 2017.
Meanwhile, APGA’s 2017 victory in Anambra State has at least provided some comfort in the desire for “self-determination” by suggesting that the voters in Anambra State took control of their political destiny, away from the juggernauts of APC and PDP (both of which are perceived to be controlled by forces outside Igbodom).
Operation Python Dance Was not “Anti-Igbo” or “Genocidal”
As I stated in the essay referenced at the beginning of this current article, I do not accept that the governors of the Nigerian states in the East were “blackmailed” into acquiescing to Operation Python Dance. As “security chiefs” in the region, I am convinced that they all acted believing that Operation Python Dance (at that time) was in the best interest of the nation and the region. My limited knowledge of security considerations informs me that the Nigerian state would have delayed or aborted Operation Python Dance if it was faced with a unified message from the 5 (or 7, if you count Delta and Rivers states) Igbo governors not to proceed. Why? Because one of the considerations in the planning and execution of a military operation is the calculated or estimated support or lack of support of the local population and the potency and unity of the region’s political leadership. Given that politics is inherently selfish, I also believe the governors acted to preserve and protect their own political standings and interests.
A fair interpretation of the results in the 2017 Anambra State election for governor would suggest, among other things, that the generality of the constituency saw the actions of the Igbo governors in relation to Operation Python Dance as appropriate or of negligible consequence – an interpretation that is supported by the fact that one of them, Obiano, was handed a thundering reward and the mother-of-all mandates by voters in Anambra State (an absolute majority of whom are Igbo).
The hypothesis that Operation Python Dance was “anti-Igbo” or “genocidal” can therefore be rejected, at least within the narrow confines of this analysis. The military operation was targeted not at “the Igbo” per se, but at activists whose challenge to the sovereignty of the existing nation-state had raised concerns for escalation and danger to lives and property. The history of the Nigerian nation is laden with examples of where the nation-state has taken similar or even more deadly stern measures to quell challenges to its sovereignty.
One of the lessons in that operation was that you don’t bring a bandana to a “gun fight.” Any serious challenge to the sovereignty of any nation-state in the current world order must be considered by all parties to be ultimately a “gun fight,” even if it never gets to that. For each nation-state, the strategic goal in responding to a challenge to its sovereignty is to end or neutralize the threat. The methods the nation-state uses to reach that ultimate strategic goal are matters of tactics, which can differ from nation-state to nation-state, and can vary even within the same nation-state from situation to situation. Another lesson is that the energy and sacrifices exerted on quixotic pursuits can best be used in economic and political capacity building and the pursuit of equity and justice for all of Africa’s peoples.
The election in Anambra State that took place on November 18, 2017 was indeed a referendum with several messages, the most important of which is this: The Igbo, by their own votes, as manifested in Anambra State, are not going away from the current nation-state.
This article is a highly abbreviated excerpt from a manuscript for a book that Dr. Ugorji O. Ugorji is currently working on, tentatively titled A Dancing Python, A Funky Drummer, and a Masquerade. The book, scheduled to be released next year, will be a security and political analysis of the 2017 election for governor in Anambra State of Nigeria and its political implications for the Igbo, Nigeria, and Africa. The writer, who is the Executive Director of the Princeton-based African Writers Endowment, Inc. is involved in graduate studies of Homeland Security at the George Washington University, Washington, DC. He can be reached at Africanwriters@gmail.com.