No to Return of Gangster Politics in Anambra State

Silhouette of gangsters

By C. Don Adinuba

On Saturday, February 5, 2021, an ominous event occurred in Anambra State. A pavilion set up by someone who wants to contest the November 6 gubernatorial vote in the state, Mr Valentine Ozigbo, was vandalized by thugs, with a stern warning to the rookie politician not to ever visit Nnewi to campaign for public office. The pavilion was not set up for a political campaign or rally but for a walk to keep fit by his supporters in the industrial town of Nnewi. Ozigbo’s opponents feared that the walk-for-life could well be a subtle campaign for Ozigbo to become known. Mr Ozigbo is a hardly known quantity in Anambra State.

     The thugs who vandalized Ozigbo’s pavilion and warned him and his supporters never to visit Nnewi on a campaign are suspected to be members of his own Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who were acting on the instructions of certain members of the party who want to contest for the PDP gubernatorial ticket with him.

     This act of irresponsible behaviour is a clear deviation from the new norm in Anambra State politics. The state has in the last six years built a reputation for a high level of solidarity and social harmony. It has held two major elections since 2017 without one single incident of violence.

      There was no violence during the 2017 gubernatorial vote which the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) won overwhelmingly in each of the 21 local government areas in the state. In fact, during the re-inauguration of Governor Willie Obiano in March, 2018, people from various parties, including the very candidates who ran against him, were present in flesh and blood. No other state in Nigeria has to this record of solidarity to this day. We remember with pride that there was no violence during the 2019 general vote in the state. And the six members of the so-called opposition in the Anambra State House of Assembly work in harmony with the 24 APGA members. Of course, the six legislators have a fantastic relationship with the executive arm of government, all for peace, stability and progress in Anambra State.

      Against this background, the vandalism against Val Ozigbo’s pavilion in Nnewi and the subsequent warning meant to intimidate and cow him are a most ominous development. If a mere subtle campaign by Ozigbo to create awareness about himself and his interest to participate in the PDP primaries in June could attract so much hostility, we can imagine the extent some desperate politicians can go to silence their opponents when the campaign for primaries starts formally. The politicians are likely to become desperadoes when the campaign for the governorship election reaches its climax later in the year.

      It is regrettable that certain PDP chieftains are determined to take Anambra State back to the dark era, the years which the locusts consumed. Anambra people thought with the ouster of the PDP from the state in 2006 that the era of gangster politics in the state was over, but it seems our people rejoiced too soon.

     Between 1999, when it assumed the reins of power following the return of democratic rule in Nigeria, and 2006, when it was flushed out of power, the PDP unleashed so much chaos on the state. Even before the State House of Assembly could be inaugurated, self-declared godfathers had begun to plot the impeachment of the newly elected governor.  The majority of the members-elect were taken to neighbouring Enugu State where they were, for all practical purposes, quarantined to carry out the impeachment plans unhinged.

    To make peace with the legislators-elect and the so-called godfathers, the governor had to make all manner of concessions to them. The concessions included allowing the godfathers to nominate the Commissioner for Works and the Commissioner for Finance, among other key appointments. Worse, the governor conceded to irrevocable standing payment orders (ISPOs), that is, an instruction by the state government to the Central Bank of Nigeria to pay the godfathers from the state’s monthly share from the federation account, regardless of the extent of work purportedly done in their capacity as state government contractors. In other words, they were paid before the government could pay civil servants and teachers.

    These unconscionable deals resulted in the nonpayment of government employees for almost one year. Schools were closed for a long time. Both teachers and civil servants became beggars.

  To exacerbate the situation, the PDP chieftains raped the Anambra people by rigging the 2003 general election in the most brazen manner possible. The courts were to overturn many of them a few years later.

  PDP chiefs unleashed physical violence on the state and even on themselves. When a peace meeting was called at Emmaus House in Awka to resolve the question of grave factionalization within the party, members threw chairs at former Vice President Alex Ekwueme, the very person whose leadership of the party at inception made it a national movement before the party lost it. The grand old man had to scurry away to save his life.

 It is regrettable that PDP leaders went into paroxysms of mayhem against Anambra people, using thousands of thugs to destroy in broad daylight such institutions and facilities as the Governor’s Lodge in Onitsha, Government House in Awka, Judicial Complex in Awka, House of Assembly Complex in Awka and Anambra Broadcasting Service in both Awka and Onitsha. They kidnapped the governor, forged his resignation letter and falsely announced his resignation. They had earlier taken him to a notorious shrine in the dead of the night to swear an oath of uncritical and eternal allegiance to the so-called godfathers who would milk the cow of the state dry while he held it for them. There cannot be a better example of state capture than the PDP era of 1999 -2006.

 The government and people of Anambra State are, therefore, understandably worried at the determination of members of this particular political party to return the state to the days of intolerance, violence and chaos arising from a desperate desire to capture the resources of the state. The Anambra State government wishes to assure the people that it will not relent in its determination to provide a level playing field for all aspirants, candidates and political parties in the forthcoming gubernatorial election, including Mr Valentine Ozigbo. The government guarantees all and sundry their fundamental rights, including the freedom of association. Therefore, it will not tolerate any kind of intimidation and lawlessness. The government assures all our people of their safety.

God bless Anambra State, the Light of the Nation.

-C. Don Adinuba, is the Commissioner for Information & Public Enlightenment.