Date Published: 10/08/09
Anambra State: Shame of the Nation? By Jideofor Adibe firstname.lastname@example.org
Anambra State has been very much in the national news even before the recent (ill-fated?) ward congress of the PDP to elect delegates for the party’s primaries for the February 2010 gubernatorial election in the state. Like some states in the country such as Oyo, Anambra’s political temperature, even in its former incarnation, has always been in treble digits. In the state, politicians are rarely accused of trying to ‘overheat the polity’ – because the polity appears to be constantly overheated. Besides being the unofficial kidnap capital of the country, some of the recent dramatic news from the state include the infamous abduction of a sitting governor and the ubiquity of godfathers and their antics. It is also perhaps only in Anambra state that over 40 candidates could each pay a whopping N5.25 million just to contest to become a party’s governorship flag bearer while those who contested at the wards just for the right to vote at the primaries were made to part with N10, 000 each. It is doubtful whether these huge sums could have been imposed on candidates in other states of the federation without courting a mini revolution or at least a national outcry.
Gabriel Suswam, Governor of the neighbouring Benue State, who headed the Congress Committee that oversaw the ward election in the state, captured the perception of Anambra state in the popular imagination: “Is it not a shame that I had to bring 326 people from Benue State to conduct ward congresses here? It is a shame for any person from Anambra. It is a big shame.”
But is Anambra state really the shame of the nation – despite the negative news flow? I beg to differ.
One, in many ways, Anambra state is the embodiment of the Igbo man’s famed aggressive competitive spirit and extreme republicanism (these attributes reinforce each other). While these facilitate the production of geniuses and great achievers in businesses and the professions, they also unfortunately equally help in creating uniquely endowed felons that operate from the other side of the moral divide. For instance while ingenuity enabled some entrepreneurs at Onitsha to re-invent the home video industry (which had been existing for ages in other parts of the country) and took it to lofty heights as Nollywood, some elements from the state, in a twisted display of the same ingenuity, also copied the art of kidnapping from the Niger Delta, and characteristically took it to the next level. Anambra state is thus a reinforcement of the belief that genius and madness are often neighbours or two sides of the same coin. While this is no excuse for mayhem and lawlessness, the point is that it will be an incomplete portraiture to abstract an aspect of the state and elevate it to its defining characteristic.
Two, while the extreme republicanism of the people and their morbid distaste for dynasties, (including a distrust of any one trying to dominate the public space for too long) appear to make Anambra a Hobbesian state of nature - a place where every man appears to be for himself and God for all - paradoxically, the same traits are often the surest bulwarks against tyranny. Therefore while it may be true that the state is driven by machine politics, the burn- rate of the drivers of this machine (the so called godfathers) is very high. It is perhaps for these that the state has never given any of its governors a second term in office and rarely allowed any godfather to control the political machine for long. An interesting development in the state in recent times is the rapid increase in the number of rich individuals either trying to be part of the group controlling this political machine or to prevent their rivals from doing so. One of the consequences is that the godfathers are beginning to cancel themselves out, and as they do so, they unwittingly open up the political space both for robust debate and for increased participation in the political process. If this trend continues, it could signal the end of machine politics and godfatherism in the state as the cost of being a godfather will become prohibitive. In other words, being linked to any godfather, will, if this trend continues, turn out to be an albatross for any candidate.
Three, often overlooked in the portraiture of the state is that despite its apparent chaos and anarchy, the quality of leadership has increased dramatically since Chris Ngige. It is generally believed that it is unlikely that the system will throw up again the likes of Dr Mbadinuju who allowed schools to be closed for one year or owed workers several months’ salary. Similarly, despite the apparent deification of wealth by the people and the fun poked at them as a nation of traders, the state has one of the highest literacy rates in the country and one of the highest number of JAMB candidates every year, suggesting that people in the state still appreciate the value of education. It also remains one of the richest states in the country. Anecdotal evidence in fact suggests that a majority of the Igbos owning choice property or businesses in places like Abuja, Lagos or Port Harcourt are from Anambra state. This raises an interesting question of whether the apparent anarchical tendencies of the people do in fact aid their individual successes.
Four, while their ‘can-do’ mentality has helped most people in the state to get basic education and avoid absolute poverty - despite the failure of the state over the years to fulfil its basic functions - it remains a matter of conjecture whether the people’s political behaviour will change if the current improvement in the quality of political leadership in the state since Ngige is sustained for a long time.
Five, the long-term implications of the rapid blurring of the age-old dichotomy between ‘Onitsha traders’ and the professionals in the state remain unknown. Several years ago, OMATA (the umbrella body of Onitsha market traders) was a derogatory term used to describe Onitsha traders and anyone deemed as not being sufficiently educated or polished. The traders were stereotyped as being ‘money miss roads’ who liked to hug the limelight at the launch of community projects while the professionals and civil servants were stereotyped as ‘polished but poor’, who could at best only offer ‘moral support’ at such events. These days however there is evidence of an increasing convergence: many educated people are no longer content to parade a long list of their academic and professional achievements but are also into trading and other ventures that will shore up their economic base. Similarly, many of the ‘traditional’ traders are becoming very educated and ‘polished’, with many either having university degrees or pursuing higher education. It is tempting to speculate on the long-term effects of the blurring of this dichotomy on the political behaviour of the state.
In summary, Anambra is a complex state - simultaneously notorious and a leading light. While most people from the state agree there is a lot to be done, I have never met anyone who is ashamed to be from the state.
Jideofor Adibe is editor of the multidisciplinary journal, African Renaissance and publisher of the London-based Adonis & Abbey Publishers Ltd (www.adonis-abbey.com).