'This victory belongs to the wheelbarrow pushers and the Okada riders who have clearly seen in our recent political experience, a glimmer of light in the horizon...this sweet victory belongs to Ndi Anambra.'
The words of the recently re-elected Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra state remind us that indeed, elections are upon us.
For many, Willie Obiano won the election before voting began. Unlike previous elections, there are fewer questions about the legitimacy of his win. In fact, there have been no reports of any of the other 36 candidates challenging the election results in court. Despite reports of attempted rigging, the electoral process seems to have been satisfactory to most stakeholders.
Tentatively, we can conclude that Ndi Anambra gave a strong account of itself and Nigeria's budding democracy.
However, the question that lingers is what this says about 2019. As the political season dawns on us, we ask, "Does Anambra give us any clue to how 2019 might be?"
Man of the People
The first question around 2019 is whether we will properly hear from our candidates. Nigerians love to argue, but we have rarely demanded that our aspiring leaders publicly debate their policies. The last two winners of the Nigerian Presidential election in 2015 and 2011 did not debate the runners-up or candidates of the other parties with a chance at the presidency.
But debates are becoming more frequent, as seen in the Edo and Ondo Gubernatorial races. Although we still have candidates who skip debates and still get elected, like in Ondo, we may be reaching an idea-driven conversation during elections.
Do these debates affect the polls? That remains to be seen. In Anambra, Obiano gave a good account of himself, but public consensus flagged either UPP's Chidoka or the PDP's Obaze as the winner. Yet Obiano won when it mattered most. Though there is no clear reason why, the answer could lie in whether the viewers of the debate were the same ones allowed to vote in the election or just the Diaspora and non-Anambrians with access to a live stream.
The centre cannot hold
For all the preparation and rhetoric ahead of 2019, the two largest parties in the country failed to challenge the incumbent State Governor in Anambra. This reminds us of the power of Nigerian incumbency.
In Anambra, both the PDP and APC fielded candidates that received 40% of the total votes cast, less than the APGA candidate who received 55% alone. So the party controlling the centre does not necessarily dominate the states. In fact, the last time that the party in control of Awka, Anambra, was also in charge in Abuja, was when the PDP held sway in 2006.
Could it be that the two dominant parties were not effective in building an Anambra base? Again, that question has no satisfactory answer.
We could say that Nigerians are now ready to reward perceived good governance over strong political clout. After all, PDP's Obaze was the secretary to the state government under the APGA administrations of both Peter Obi and Willie Obiano. Similarly, APC's Nwoye, is a member of the House of Representatives, former Governorship aspirant and state chairman of the PDP. But, while both have at some point enjoyed the support of the state, both candidates were emphatically rejected by voters in favour of the incumbent Governor.
We could yet argue that state contests are a good litmus test for national moods, and big states can swing elections. We saw this when Kwankwaso moved Kano state from PDP to the APC in 2015, beginning the end of the PDP administration. But, Anambra is not Kano.
No longer at ease
For all the discussion about elections, the major concern for any participant remains hope in a fair process. More elections have been rigged than free and fair.
Unfortunately, even Anambra did not entirely escape this trend. The winner, Governor Obiano, was accused of breaking the electoral act by campaigning at a polling centre on election day. Other stories emerged of parties accusing others of paying for votes, while the DSS arrested a suspect.
There are obvious risks that arise from using one election as a barometer for the country. Things will definitely change between now and 2019. After all, before the election, there were concerns that the IPOB threat would affect turnout, and while it was an important part of the election, it did not dominate the polls as expected.
So while Ekiti and Osun in 2018 provide more opportunities to test our theories, Anambra has played its part in a thriving democracy. And with more progress on the ballot, we may finally be able to deserve the leaders we need.