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Anambra Decides 2021: Security, economy, wit dominate guber debate

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As build up to the 2021 Anambra gubernatorial election moves to eleventh-hour, campaigns draw the curtain on the three-month-long exercise in a debate during which candidates present their closing statements to sign off. MATHEW ONWUASOANYA analyses views, reviews and comments on performances. Excerpt:

SECURITY and economic revival were major talking points at the Anambra State governorship election debate that was organised by Arise News Network in partnership with a non-governmental, social watch dog: Enough is Enough Initiative. Although this is hardly unsurprising given that Anambra, as the commercial hub of Nigeria’s South-East, is currently facing a spate of violence as ‘unknown’ criminal elements strive to upstage apple carts by unsettling social economic activities, candidates had no bigger stage to give their marshal plans in response to the new abnormality.

   There were equally wits and inter-personal jibes. It nearly degenerated to a session of tirade and tantrum but for timely intervention of the moderators.

  This is why most commentators said security and economy rightly dominated talking points of the debate that was moderated by Reuben Abati and and Ngozi Alaegbu.

  Among the candidates in attendance were Andy Uba of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chukwuma Soludo of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and Valentine Ozigbo of People’s Democratic Party (PDP).

  The session began with introduction of candidates which organisers said was done with transparency. This was followed by the recitation of Nigeria’s National Anthem before a minute’s silence in honour of Chike Akunyili, who was assassinated in September by gunmen after which each candidate got four minutes to give their opening remarkS. In alphabetical order of their political parties, Andy Uba opened the floor while Soludo and  Ozigbo followed.

  Kicking off almost on a fever pitch tone, because of what some people in the audience said arose from the 2021 debate being a battle of equals as opposed to 2017 edition in which Gov. Willie Obiano was towering over and above the five leading co-contestants in Emmaus House, Soludo in his opening remark said he was vying for the position as one who had sufficient experience in the public and private sectors.

  While Soludo accused Uba of complacency on the issue of insecurity prior to the election period and said PDP oversaw a government that institutionalised kidnapping in the state, his co-debaters vehemently rebuffed his claims. And on and on they continued on that note. But one thing that united the candidates is how they each intend to go about or cope with rising secessionist agitations. Hence, while all parties hinted their support for a dialogue, they disown Indigenous People of Biafra (IPoB)’s militant approach.

  He noted that he, having served under three Presidents including Olusegun Obasanjo, Musa Yar’adua and Muhammadu Buhari, he is the most competent hand among his co-contestants.

  But this drew Uba’s ire, leading to the APC candidate reeling out his political credentials as did PDP’s Ozigbo, who noted he was “the best of all candidates” in terms of having greatest passion for solving the state’s problems. From this point, the debate became quite heated between APC and APGA candidates, especially once questions on insecurity within the state were brought up. And exchange of potshots and brick bats followed.

For instance, when in response to the question of insecurity in the state, Soludo said the challenges were politically motivated and suggested that intelligence gathering was needed to be upped and in liaison with local vigilante groups was key in curbing the menace, Ozigbo said APGA and APC have failed Anambra people, as far as insecurity is concerned in the state. Soludo blamed Uba, saying he did not say anything about insecurity when he was in Senate for eight years. He also accused Uba of not engaging during the non-election season. Uba denied the accusations and said Soludo had no facts before the two men exchanged words briefly. Ozigbo quickly distanced himself from the traded words, saying his opponents are ‘The PDP of the past.’ He equally said if elected governor, he would encourage private sector to assist in building the dilapidated roads in Anambra state.

  Asked about the level of satisfaction he has on the preparation of the security operatives in the build up to the election, Ozigbo said he was satisfied but dissatisfied with how the security challenge has been left to fester for long. His short response triggered one of the moderators telling the candidates that each of them has three minutes to answer questions posed to them.

  Uba and Soludo each said he would declare a state of emergency on roads if he is elected governor. Ozigbo said Anambra deserves more than what the state was getting.

  Soludo concluded by saying he would not need a penny from the government of Anambra if elected governor, and that he wants to serve his people. “I am prepared to give it (my best) you,” he says. Uba signed off by saying he would build a coalition government if elected governor. He said Anambra needs to join the political party at the centre which is APC. Ozigbo said Anambra does not need those who have been part of a dysfunctional past. He says PDP is the right party for the state in the election. He says he is a Devine candidate who emerged through free and transparent primaries, unlike the candidates of APGA and the APC.

  The three candidates hugged each other, smiled and laughed when the debate came to an end.

  But many Nigerians, from within and outside the state, did not hesitate to come up with varying opinions on the competency of each candidate to deliver based on their policy declarations during the debate.  In all, these reactions largely reflected choice as to between substance rather than style of candidate which should carry the day.

  Baring his mind on the debate, a Senior Fellow of Nnamdi Azikiwe University Business School, Dr. Okey Ikechukwu said “overall, the candidates come off but comportment among them is still a far cry.”

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