In many respects, Anambra is in a unique position. Experts regard my home state as an economic force being the African epi-centre for manufacturing and trade and the home of most number of documented billionaires in Nigeria. It is also reckoned as the home of some of the greatest intellectual giants on the globe like the late celebrated novelist and champion for social justice, Chinua Achebe. Our legacy of academic excellence continues to be written by the performance of our children in JAMB and WAEC standardized examinations.
My southeastern home is also a political force in Nigeria. The first-ever Igbo Vice-President of Nigeria, the late Dr Alex Ekwueme was a son of Anambra of whom we are deeply proud. There are many other instructive examples. From legacies of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, the driving force behind Nigeria’s independence and the first President of Nigeria, to that of Chimamanda Adichie, an internationally acclaimed author.
In Anambra, the contest for the governorship has historically been one of the most dramatic, glamorous, and tension-soaked and for obvious reasons. Historically speaking, the high profile of our political aspirants, the intensity of the campaigns, the legal tussle before, during, and after the gubernatorial polls are legendary. All of these political battles play out with the entire country fixated on Anambra as ours is the only Igbo State with a different election cycle.
We have become the political heartbeat of Igboland, and I believe strongly, that what happens in Anambra reverberates across the entire South East and impacts the Igbo nation in profound ways. These are why it has always been essential to shape the socio-political constructions of our state consciously, and I believe it is now more urgent than ever.
Some would say that in July 2020, it is too early to begin intense politicking for an election that will most likely hold in November 2021. For some Nigerian states, this may be true; however, in Anambra the political tension is already red hot. I have observed with regret that so far, the petty politics of mudslinging, character assassination, and divisions, has begun to manifest. These are a manifestation of the struggle for power emanating from a prism of an unhealthy battle.
It is essential to state, at this point, that politicians who are in the practice of acquisition of power as an end in itself, rather than a means to an end are not exclusive to Anambra. This retrogressive approach appears to be the dominant one in Nigerian politics, in fact, the entire continent.
Even as it is comfortable to say that political season berth early in Anambra, we must note that the Igbo nation – at home and abroad – are watching the developments keenly. Several analysts have predicted a repeat of the political bloodbath that has been the main attraction of the race for the governorship of my home State. But, we don’t have to fulfil those prophecies of doom. We can chart a new path.
There is the natural inclination in such circumstance to stand aloof and hearken to the dictates of the age-long ‘silence is golden’ metaphor. This reaction is also understandable. Because of the beholden nature of power, the autonomic response, especially of the elite is to identify these attacks for what they are – the manifestation of deep-seated insecurities, and then ignore them.
I believe that this is no time to continue to do what we have always done, to take a spot in the shadows, to watch the bloodbath play out, to watch the destruction of our best, while we declare, “Let this election come and pass so we can return to normal!” This is a wrong approach, as it were because by so doing, we have collectively inadvertently normalized destruction politics.
In this quest, we have seen that silence can be as deadly as violence,” former US President Jimmy Carter, aptly noted in the wake of the trending movement for racial justice in his country. Keeping silent in the face of inanities is a costly pastime. This is not a time to shrink; this is a time to stand in our power. This is not a time to be silent, but to speak up against evil. This is not a time for divisions; rather it is a time to unify behind a common purpose for good.
This is why I have decided to step into the political arena at this time. My burning desire is to unify where we have been divided, to heal where we have been wounded, to lift up where we have been cast down. Essentially, to unify Ndi Anambra behind an agenda of shared prosperity.
In charting a path to the governorship, I intend to play in the arena of ideas for good governance, for growth, and for giving back to our people. I intend to articulate my policy prescriptions for meaningful and sustainable change. And I entirely reject the approach of making undeliverable promises and wild accusations against my opponents.
We don’t have to adopt an absolutist approach to politics. The ‘either my way or the highway’ philosophy is redundant and we can retire it. The new way is of co-operation in place of competition. I believe that we can all disagree with one another within the boundary of political decency with increasing coarsening of debates.
I have watched in recent weeks, the unfortunate increasing attack on the reputation of our former governor, Peter Obi. By any measure, this is one of the most credible persons to lead Anambra State. This is an evidence-based claim. His record of performance in office as governor for 8 years has been well documented and acknowledged by independent and international development institutions. Despite these commendable facts, some persons have decided to use social media platforms as a springboard to launch politically motivated character assassination attacks against former Governor Obi. To make it worse, the venerable Professor Ben Nwabueze has been dragged into the nefarious plot. These attacks are condemnable in every way.
This, is one of many instances, where I stand for something glaringly different. Anybody who knows Obi will attest that he is not transactional in his politics. Destroying anyone of us, as Ndi Anambra, is the destruction of all of us. All of us should reject spurious allegations against any one of us. We must protect and cherish our leaders, our heroes, and our legacies. Our political leaders who have made great sacrifices to lift up our communities, to elevate our schools, fix our healthcare system, and keep our people safe ought to be cherished, appreciated, and celebrated.
The first president of Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, a playwright-turned politician famously wrote, “Democracy is about giving power to the powerless. While an election is supposed to provide legitimacy to those who win, in a free and fair election, everyone wins, even the vanquished because an election is not a game of winner takes all, but about the people’s victory.”
This summarises the shift in paradigm that is urgently needed in Anambra politics and I wish to call the leaders of my party, the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. Leaders like High Chief Ben Obi, Chief Linus Ukachukwu, Chief Chris Uba, Prof ABC Nwosu, Senator Stella Oduah, past political office holders, and all other leaders who may be contending for positions of leadership in the party or political candidacy of the PDP to come together and unify behind a higher vision for our people. I commend all these leaders, along with former Governor Peter Obi for their strong leadership and sacrifices, which has made PDP the largest party in Anambra today.
Quoting from the Holy Bible, “There is a time for everything under the sun”. I believe that this is the time for us in the PDP to look beyond trivial issues that divide us and rather get fixated on the bigger picture. It is time for us forgive one another, unite ourselves, and forge a common front as we plunge into the 2021 governorship election. We should do this for the overall interest of all of us, as brothers and sisters under the big umbrella. The time is always right to do what is right. My fellow members of PDP the time is now for us to do what is right, unify ourselves, and when we win the governorship, unify Ndi Anambra.
I dream of a political season where we don’t relive the dysfunction of our past, instead we come together to build a coalition for positive change. I believe we can take on the pressing issues that will dominate the political conversations in the months to come from an elevate platform. Together, we can rally around a vision that will lift Anambra to its place of genuine pride for all.
Our differences in approach to solving the problems of healthcare, infrastructure, education, and social safety nets for our most vulnerable don’t have to divide us. When one of us is dehumanized, we diminish our collective humanity. I totally reject the politics of yesterday and embrace a new unified future.
I am hoping to be that bridge-builder our people are yearning for. That is the essence of my political aspiration.
Valentine Ozigbo is a Nigerian business leader and philanthropist who is the immediate past President and Group CEO of Transcorp Plc. He is also the founder of Valentine Chineto Ozigbo (VCO) Foundation, which is focused on youth and women empowerment and entrepreneurial development. He tweets from @ValentineOzigbo.