Mobilizing Cult Groups for the 2007 Elections
The 2007 polls were an especially high-stakes affair in Anambra because the PDP candidate for governor, Andy Uba, reportedly enjoyed the strong political backing of President Obasanjo. Andy Uba had served as an influential Special Advisor to Obasanjo for most of his eight years as president. Voicing a common complaint among many activists and community leaders in Anambra, one member of the state’s Elders Forum alleged that Obasanjo “wants to award Andy Uba the governorship of Anambra for having served him well for 7 ½ years” whether the people of Anambra wanted him or not.257
Andy Uba is the brother of Chris Uba, and his designs on the governor’s office caused a rift between the two. Andy Uba took over the Anambra State PDP in a move Chris Uba described as a “coup” and installed Tony Nwoye, a former student union leader, as state chairman of the party.258 In interviews with Human Rights Watch, numerous sources including police officials, a spokesman for Governor Peter Obi, opposition politicians and cult members identified Nwoye as a prominent member of the Black Axe cult.
According to press reports, opposition complaints and police sources in Anambra, Andy Uba’s campaign appeared to be unusually well-funded, and Nwoye immediately set about mobilizing funds to recruit thugs to ensure Andy Uba’s victory in the PDP primaries in December 2006.259 Human Rights Watch interviewed several cult members who were described how they were paid to rig the primaries in Uba’s favor by stuffing ballot boxes and chasing off legitimate voters. For example, one member of the Buccaneers cult described how he, along with other Buccaneers and members of other cult groups were actively involved in voter intimidation: “In the primaries we carried axes and machetes and chased away any voters that came near while we were voting.”260 Uba won the PDP nomination after being awarded 97 percent of all votes cast.261
Nwoye did not introduce the problem of cultism into Anambra politics; there are many cult groups active in the state, and several civil society activists allege that several members of the State House of Assembly who predated Nwoye’s tenure were cult members.262 Under Nwoye, however, PDP sponsorship of cult groups has become extremely brazen; one leading anti-cult activist complained to Human Rights Watch that “they have made PDP a cult affair.”263
Opposition figures, community leaders, and even members of the PDP alleged to Human Rights Watch that Andy Uba’s campaign used its capacity to mobilize violence to stifle any opposition to Uba’s eventual election.
At a January 2007 meeting called by the state PDP at the Parktonian Hotel in Awka, two men stood up and complained that they had been robbed of victory in the party primaries even though they had paid Tony Nwoye money in return for the promise of an “automatic ticket.” According to a state legislator and another PDP member who were present at the meeting, Nwoye responded by ordering several thugs who were standing nearby to “beat them to a pulp.”264 “They started slapping and beating them,” the legislator said. “One man, his clothing was torn to shreds and no one ordered them to stop…Andy Uba was there and said nothing.”265
Fighting Over the Spoils
According to police, cults, and other sources, after the PDP primaries Nwoye began channeling funds into the hands of members of his own Black Axe cult to the exclusion of other cult groups in the state.266 Several cult groups including the Vikings and the Buccaneers saw this as deeply unfair and reacted violently. Some also complained that they were not paid in full for working on behalf of Andy Uba’s campaign during the primaries.267
Human Rights Watch interviewed several cult members in Anambra in February 2007, two months before the April elections. According to then-Police Commissioner Haruna John and to cult members themselves, at least seven people were killed in a series of tit-for-tat assassinations between Black Axe and other cult members in the week prior to those interviews alone. Several of those killed had been gunned down in the streets of Awka, and the violence had the effect of terrorizing local residents.268
Two members of the Vikings cult who had been involved in planning the February 2007 wave of violence compared Andy Uba’s gubernatorial campaign to an “oil well” whose revenues they should be entitled to share. 269 One of them explained:
In our tertiary institutions we have a lot of secret cult families. The politicians use the secret cults. The problem [now] is other families are fighting the Black Axe so that we can come in and get work. Tony [Nwoye] is hijacking everything for the Black Axe because he is Black Axe. Other families are asking questions—why is the money meant for use in Anambra being hijacked for use only by this other group? That money is what they want to eat alone without sharing with other groups.270
The Vikings members were under the impression that Nwoye had recently distributed N10 million ($77,000) to Black Axe members to the exclusion of all other cult groups. Faced with this unacceptable situation, one of them said, “Either we attack them, to get Andy’s attention, or we go to another party.”271
While police sources told Human Rights Watch that they were very much aware of the causes of the wave of cult violence ahead of the elections, they said that they were unlikely to carry out any criminal investigation implicating prominent members of the PDP “because we would not want to be kicked out [of the police force] or transferred or forcibly retired.”272
The 2007 Elections and their Aftermath
By the time Election Day arrived, Andy Uba was facing only weak and fragmented opposition. INEC had eliminated his two most prominent opponents, Governor Peter Obi and Chris Ngige from the ballot.273 Nonetheless the elections were meticulously rigged in Uba’s favor.
Human Rights Watch observed the gubernatorial elections in Anambra and corroborated the reports of other observers. Voting did not even take place across much of Anambra State, leaving out any possibility of unexpected developments at the polling stations. Human Rights Watch witnessed widespread evidence of the intimidation of would-be voters, fraud and the fabrication of results by electoral officials and members of the PDP.274 In most cases, polling stations across several different communities visited by Human Rights Watch simply did not open at all, with no officials and no voting materials present.275 Other independent election observers in Anambra reached the same conclusions and witnessed the same widespread fraud during the Presidential polls there one week later.276
Protest riots ensued in some areas as angry would-be voters and opposition supporters burned down government buildings, INEC offices and burned tires in the streets, but the heavy-handed efforts of the PDP to rig the election appeared to yield dividends. The official results indicated a crushing victory for Andy Uba as Governor and fabricated voter turnout figures far higher than anything observed by credible observers in any part of the state.277
When Human Rights Watch went to the INEC office on the morning after the gubernatorial polls to seek an official copy of the results, staff suggested the INEC officials with access to the results could be found at the Grand Hotel in Awka, where Andy Uba’s campaign was holding its victory party. At the hotel, no one had any idea of the results, but the victory party was in full swing as armed men and uniformed police mingled by the pool drinking champagne.
Uba’s celebration was short-lived, however. Months prior to the elections Governor Peter Obi had filed a lawsuit arguing that he had been robbed of his term in office because of the years-long delay in declaring him the winner of the 2003 election. Days after Uba was sworn in as governor, Nigeria’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of Obi in that case, granting Obi the right to serve a full four years in office. Uba’s election was null and void, and gubernatorial elections will not be held in Anambra State until 2010.
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH.
TWO VIOLENT MEN: NWOYE AND CHUMA NZERIBE