The Anambra State governorship poll scheduled for Saturday, November 6, 2021, is no longer just another off-season election for a new governor. It is effectively a test of Nigeria’s internal sovereignty and a contest of authority between the Nigerian state and a non-state actor, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Nigeria must come out on top.
If for any reason the election in Anambra is unable to hold as scheduled, or at a later date, it will mean that there is more than a constitutional crisis in state. It will amount to huge symbolic, moral and political victories for IPOB and its leaders and an embarrassment for the whole idea of One Nigeria. Moral and symbolic victories are often more important than victory in combat, hence they must be avoided by all means.
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It is commendable that the federal government appears alert to this renewed threat to Nigeria’s corporate existence as one indivisible country. Already, the police have reportedly deployed two Deputy Inspectors-General of Police (DIGs), five Assistant Inspectors-General (AIGs), 14 Commissioners of Police (CPs), 31 Deputy Commissioners of Police (DCPs) and 41 Assistant Commissioners of Police (ACPs) to secure the governorship election; that is 93 of the most senior police officers in Nigeria.
While this move is commendable, it may yet not be enough. Security is more than the use of force. Indeed, an array of senior police officers and thousands of men and women of the force may be a show of strength, but it may also be a demonstration of weakness on the part of government. When the state depends so much on the display and use of force to keep law and order and to discharge a constitutional duty such as conducting an election, then it means that its legitimacy – in the sense of general acceptance by a majority of the citizenry – is threatened.
The unfortunate reality is that the IPOB situation has already gone beyond what the use of force alone can contain. The threat is not confined to Anambra State, as it cuts across much of the South East. So, the contest of moral authority between the federal government and IPOB will not end after the Anambra election. Many more elections lie ahead soon enough throughout the South East.
How will the federal government keep security simultaneously in the five South East states and across the country during the 2023 general elections? Given that the military and the police, as well as other security agencies in the country, are already overstretched in the ever-daunting task of keeping internal security, where will the government find this number of senior police officers and men to deploy across the five states while at the same time doing same throughout Nigeria in a day?
We believe, therefore, that it is time the federal government also considers the use of what the American political scientist, Joseph Nye, calls “soft power”, by which he means the ability of the state or its agents to shape political preferences through attraction and appeal, rather than force. That is, for the state to co-opt, rather than coerce. As Nye puts it, “Seduction is always more effective than coercion, and many values like democracy, human rights and individual opportunities are deeply seductive.” His position is in the context of international relations, but the lessons apply just as much to internal politics of a country.
The federal government can borrow a leaf from Nye for the Anambra election and for the 2023 general elections. The government needs to work closely, and be seen to be working closely, with the state governors, politicians, traditional rulers, community leaders, youths, women groups and other stakeholders in the South East to identify and address any potential threat to the election. Also, the Anambra State Government and the governorship candidates of the political parties must rise to the occasion and work with the national government in ensuring that the election holds as scheduled.
The officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as well as the police and other security agencies deployed to the state, must also display the highest level of professionalism in their conduct throughout the election period. The security of life and property of Anambra voters, the sanctity of the election and the corporate existence of Nigeria as one indivisible country must be the goal all through the process.