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Nigeria’s Democracy, 20 Years After: Where lies the Hope of the Poor?

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Nigeria’s Democracy
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By Menyanga Abu

Democracy according to Yusuf Bangura ,is a system of government in which leaders periodically renew their mandates through free, fear and competitive elections. It is a system that acknowledges the right of expression, organization and collective actions of the populace.

These rights grant the citizens the powers to exercise political choice and
to hold leaders accountable for their actions, inactions, decisions and indecisions as the case may be. Democracy can only produce dividends for the poor masses if only citizens or political groups that have strong ties to the poor exhibit that capacity to mobilize and organize or reconcile internal divisions to create structural links with the policy makers. It is however very imperative to point out that in a situation where social movements or interest groups are weak coupled with defective and noncompetitive electoral system, the poor tends to surfer the more.

Democracy is considered as a powerful tool for meeting people’s aspirations as well as making them partners in decisions that affect their well-being. Functional and sincere democracy will alleviate poverty but where democracy becomes a charade – a capitalist tool or feudal instrument or an authoritarian institution, – it will end providing lip services.

That is a situation where overriding forces manning a sort of pseudo-democratic formations benefit themselves by exploiting the poor. No doubt, democracy in Nigeria has been elevated in public policy. I think we are yet to understand the type of politics and institutions that will make democracy to achieve growth and human wellbeing. Although our democratic process is participatory in outlook, it tends to be limited to few elected people without the involvement of such people like the informal workers, the artisans or the famers whose livelihood are directly  affected by many of the development policies.

For democracy to add values to the lives of the poor masses and economic growth, every democratic practice should put economic liberty and transparency on a par with every other democratic value such as regular elections, rule of law, human rights, freedom of association and speech. For the poor to feel the positive impacts and benefit from democracy, I appeal to the present administration and its agencies not to use superfluities and rhetoric of democracy as a façade while behind the scenes engaging in rent-seeking practices that can lead to systemic entrenchment of corruption as done by the past administrations.

The corrupt system will easily provide avenues for politicians to use political powers for economic gains and the economic gains could be used for buying political influence. In such a situation democratic dividends hardly reach the general populace.

This usually results in persistent poverty among a large percentage of the population coupled with poor social services in struggling and developing democracy like ours. The situation above can lead to declining in supports for democracy by the populace at large and may signify real threat to democracy because impoverished poor masses may not have the necessary tools to fight back and in most cases they are not familiar with/use to demanding government’s accountability and responses.

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Democracy can never be sustained without persistent efforts to eliminate poverty and vice versa. Strengthening democratic governance is an indispensable component of the efforts to alleviate poverty.

Poverty is a big threat to democracy as it tends to deprive people of their political voices, preventing them from holding their government accountable and responsive thus eroding public trust in democratic institutions. Democracy can deliver outcomes that will be beneficial to the poor only if,

(1) the rights of the people are institutionalized that will allow the poor to exercise political choice, build alliance with others and hold leaders to account

(2) groups with strong ties to the poor develop capacity for independent organization  and mobilization as well as reconciling horizontal decisions and establishing structural links with the policy makers – social pacts – and

(3) lastly if there is high likelihood that the sitting government may likely lose office which  can serve as incentives for redistribution. It is believed in some circles that electoral competitiveness can produce redistributive outcomes but competitiveness without effective organization and contestation may
produce weak redistributive outcomes.

Reducing poverty needs power relations at the nucleus of development, as such any strategy put in place to reduce poverty and inequality must consider tipping the balance of power. Eradicating poverty requires an expansion of the bargaining power of the poor masses and those who might represent them.

1999 marked the foundation of the longest continuous democratic governance in the history of Nigeria after her independence in 1960.

Democracy, as expected and believed by many Nigerians supposes to provide the citizens with that opportunity to participate in governance which in turn promotes development. But the said democratic government seems to be working against the aspirations and interests of the poor masses because of the way the democratic system is being operated coupled with corruption in this part of the world.

Take a survey of our National Assembly for example, the Assembly is a major democratic institution in any functional democratic setting, but today
our representatives are not reflecting our views, take less of reflecting our modest lifestyle who they claimed they are representing. Many of them own about four to seven exotic cars, each costing not less than twenty five  to two hundred and fifty million naira in a country where about 130  million people out of the estimated 180 million are living in abject poverty and misery.

The irony of the whole thing is that, back in their villages, their closest neighbours and relatives are struggling to get some pieces of tiny tilapia fish (ibobo) of barely one hundred naira (N100) per a set of three or four just to give taste to their soups and not enough to eat. Yet these are the honourable members representing our interest that most cases pay us money to vote them to serve us. Nobody is asking why they should pay us for them to offer us services.

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These show that these political elites have different motives that contradict the interests and aspirations of the general populace especially the poor masses. What I have observed in Nigeria today is that, that principle of value we cherished in the past no longer matter to our political elites as they can always use their ill-gotten money to get to public offices by buying the conscience of the poor masses. The highest bidders have takes on whatever is on the table.

The biggest enemy of democracy is poverty because when people are poor, they are in most cases reduced to destitute and a little money can change their minds. In such a situation that freedom of choice which is one of the beauties of democracy could be taken away from the poor masses by those who control the resources. Nigeria has no business with poverty because God has so blessed this nation with abundant resources.

We thought that with the advent of democracy in 1999, the gateway to development has been opened and bye to poverty sand misery. Little did we know that democracy as practiced in Nigeria is a gateway to corruption, individual enrichment resulting in abject poverty and misery instead of general development.

Democracy which is government of the people by the people for the people has tuned to government of the selected rich by the rich for the selected rich. Democracy to our political elites has come to mean government of the rich, making the rich richer and making the poor poorer. The permanent features of our democracy as experienced today are abject poverty and misery.

The first sixteen years of democratic governance in Nigeria was a complete
wastage though with some pockets of achievement that is nothing to write home about. Those years were marked with unprecedented corruption and wanton stealing of our common wealth by those entrusted with power. What we are experiencing today are no doubt the cumulative effects resulting from those years of mismanagement.

For example, sixteen billion dollars was said to have been spent on electricity provision, but where and what is the situation of power in Nigeria today and how was this huge amount spent, may be the details, as we are told are in a book written by one of our leaders. According to Brooking institute – 2018 world poverty clock – about 643 million people across the world are living in extreme poverty, which is below 1.9 dollars, about 540 naira per day. Out of this number, two third – about 428.7 million – of this population is from Africa.

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On 26th June 2018, CNN reported that Nigeria is the new poverty capital of the world after overtaking India with an estimated number of 87 million
Nigerians extremely poor. We all know that the divine forces that drive democratic government to deliver anti-poverty outcomes are complex, but that does not mean that a functional democratic government cannot dismantle these complexities to provide the dividends of democracy to the poor masses that are always at the receiving end.

But then this takes time. Let us support the present administration in the fight against corruption and other of its programmes to bring about even development. I want to point out here that our problem as a country is most times the illusionary belief that we could change Nigeria over night by simply voting a different president into power believing that our problems start and stop with the president.

We tend to think that if we could just have the right person in power, then all of a sudden our numerous problems and Nigeria will be transformed forgetting that the person we are bringing as a new president comes from within Nigerian society and not from the moon or another angelic world or outer-space.

Nigeria’s problem is not just only the man in power but all Nigerians, our shared values and mentalities. Systemic rot and Nigerians are Nigeria’s problems and any day we realize this, we will no doubt get closer to finding solution to our complex problems.

The increasing level of poverty witnessed in Nigeria today results from many-sided problems that are traceable to our political elites/past leaders as well as us the followers because a country cannot good better leaders until it has better people.

Democratization in this country is often contested by the rich who sees it as a process or an avenue for making/stealing money and not for general development. To them democracy is viewed as a battle not of parties but of class and struggle between property and mere numbers.

This phenomenon is making democratization to lose its links between the political parties and broad social movements that define the interest of the poor. Poverty is on the rise as a result of failure of developmentalism; development in democratic setting according to Yusuf Bangura requires high level of continuous mobilization by political elites with development project who are ready to embrace open-led strategies of industrialization.

Any democracy without concerns for the welfare/wellbeing of the poor masses can never be said to be quasi-democracy no matter the colouration of the electoral processes and procedures.

Poverty alleviation in a democratic setting requires expansion of the bargaining power of the poor and those that represent them.

Menyanga Abu, is an Abuja-based Health System and Development Consultant.

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The Curse of Strong Men, Weak Institutions

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By Onikepo Braithwaite: The Advocate

Dr Olusola Saraki Memorial Lecture

I attended late Dr Abubakar Olusola Saraki’s 10th Year Anniversary Memorial Lecture in Abuja last Monday. The theme of the Lecture was “The Leadership and Followership Debate”; and the Guest Lecturer was Professor Patrick Lumumba, former Director of the Kenyan Anti-Corruption Commission; Director of the The Kenya School of Law. He talked about our African leaders of old – Chief Obafemi Awolowo, SAN; Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe; the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello; President Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. How the last two leaders, left office with the equivalent of only $4,000 & $8,000 in their personal accounts! A look at most African countries and their condition today, 60 years or more after independence, shows how badly most subsequent African leaders have done.

Even South Africa which used to be the Europe of Africa, is now experiencing regular power cuts. Meanwhile, many of our African leaders have been quite successful at one thing – enriching themselves and their cohorts, while making the gap between the rich and the poor wider.

A Bad Report: Weakened Institutions

Shining the light on our own country Nigeria particularly, it is obvious that most of the institutions that the British colonialists and our founding Fathers left behind, have been systematically eroded and destroyed by their successors in leadership. Chief Awolowo would be turning in his grave, if he could see what their Free Education Scheme of the 1950s has turned to today (I must also recognise Professor Stephen Awokoya as being part of the origin of the Scheme as well)!  As imperfect as the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended)(the Constitution) is, its Section 18 provides for equal and adequate educational opportunities at all levels. However, successive leadership has destroyed our educational system with corruption, quota system, federal character etc. Additionally, while our supposedly free education is not entirely free, the quality has become rather inadequate and low. While Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was Governor of Edo State, it was common knowledge that he caught out a Primary School Teacher who could barely read! The Governor who was shocked, apparently asked the Teacher what she taught the children, and what she wrote on the blackboard if she couldn’t read! What kind of recruitment process was used, to the extent that an almost-illiterate was employed as a Teacher?

Most of our institutions have also been destroyed; we now have weak institutions and strong personalities. The output of our shaky institutions, therefore depends largely on the character and intellect (or lack of it) of the person-in-charge. If not that a country like USA has strong institutions, an unstable person like President Trump would have done irreparable damage to it.

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For example, on January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order prohibiting the entry of immigrants and non-immigrants for 90 days from certain countries from the date of the Order, citing protection of the American people from terrorist attacks by nationals of the banned countries as his reason. Though the Acting US Attorney-General at the time, Sally Yates was sacked by Trump as a result of her advice to the Justice Department not to implement the travel ban because it was unclear if the ban was legally defensible, a U.S. Federal Judge in Seattle issued a restraining order ordering a nationwide suspension of President Trump’s Executive Order, thereby reopening US borders to the seven countries mentioned in the Executive Order. Again, Trump tried every trick in the book to ensure that he got a second term, including inciting violence. Having failed to prove his spurious electoral malpractice allegations in any court of law because the Judiciary would not cooperate with his nonsense, Trump then tried to truncate the Congressional session headed by Vice President Pence to certify Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as the winners of the 2020 election. Some saw it as a failed coup attempt. Either way, Trump didn’t succeed, because America obviously has strong institutions; institutions that are stronger than any incumbent President. For one, the courts wouldn’t just find in favour of Trump, simply because he was the President. Can we confidently beat our chests, and attest to the fact that this is how it happens in Nigeria? I think not.

While the American Judiciary is obviously not perfect and they also have their bad eggs too, it is for the better part of it made up of fine, mostly qualified jurists. While a good number of our jurists may be top notch, can we say all of them are, when even the recruitment exercises into their positions are usually fraught with controversy?

Sometime between 2020 and 2021, during the recruitment exercise of Court of Appeal Justices, the former NBA President, Olumide Akpata revealed that some of the shortlisted candidates for the job were not familiar with the basic legal concept of ‘Lis Pendens’, and they were told that they would learn on the job! Is the Court of Appeal a Law Faculty or the Law School? Is it then shocking that there are conflicting judgements delivered at that level, when not all those being recruited to the Court even know the basics? How do you then apply what you do not know? Those who are placed in institutions which they are not qualified to be in, can only do one thing – weaken, and maybe even destroy the institution.

Presently, there is another exercise to fill up vacancies at the Court of Appeal. The President of the Court of Appeal invited prospective candidates to participate in a Computer Based Test last Friday, with a request that they bring their laptops or IPads to sit the test. We understand that such a computer based test, was successfully used to recruit Federal High Court Judges. Due to a protest by some people at a prior meeting that some candidates are not computer literate, the test was cancelled. Pray tell, what are people who are not computer literate  in 2022, in the age of virtual hearings, electronic law, intellectual property etc; who are unable to carry out research by themselves at the drop of a hat on the internet, doing in such a crucial position as Court of Appeal Justice, when by now, we should be moving away from the outdated manual longhand court system to the computerised? If prospective Court of Appeal Justices do not understand basic legal concepts, nor are they computer literate, nor can they even access LPELR etc for themselves to look up the subject-matter or authorities on matters which are presently before them, or peruse law journals on the internet, then how properly equipped are they, to be in that role?

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This is just another example of not putting our brightest and our best forward, whether it be in our institutions, judicial and executive offices, educational sector or even elective positions.

Politicians/Ministers etc were very much present at the Memorial Lecture. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, when someone pointed out one of the Government bigwigs to me, and said the person’s nickname in University was the translation of dullard in their language! While I cannot speak authoritatively for other African countries, I think I can safely say that our founding Fathers would be rather disappointed with what Nigeria and her institutions have become today.

“Those of us placed in a position of leadership must be prepared to grasp the nettle if we unite in doing so, and if, in addition, we set a worthy example and a Marat on pace in probity, unselfishness and self-sacrifice, the people will follow, all too readily, in our footsteps.” – Obafemi Awolowo. Unfortunately, our successive leaders have done quite the opposite instead, and set an unworthy example of corruption, kleptomania, greed, selfishness, self-centredness, ineptitude and partiality, amongst many other evils; and sadly, this disgracefully bad example, has been followed by many. Both the leadership and the followership would require something akin to positive brainwashing, to get back on the right track.

Criminal Defamation

As is typical of Nigeria, moving from one drama to another, the other day, I read that a young man, Aminu Adamu, who allegedly defamed/libelled the First Lady of Nigeria, had been arrested. I wrote about Libel and Slander a few weeks ago, and so my interest was piqued.

As I said on this page on November 8, 2022, defamation of character or an allegation of it is a Tort. In Oruwari v Osler 2013 5 N.W.L.R. Part 1348 Page 535 at 556 per Chukwuma-Eneh JSC, the Supreme court held thus: “Defamation as a tort, whether as libel or slander, has been judicially defined to encompass imputation which tends to lower a person defamed in the estimation of right thinking members of society generally, and thus, expose the person so disparaged (the Plaintiff) to hatred, opprobrium, odium, contempt or ridicule”.

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However, Section 391 of the Penal Code (applicable in Northern Nigeria and Abuja) and Section 375 of the Criminal Code (applicable in Southern Nigeria) also provide for the offence of defamation of character, which is punishable by fine or imprisonment or both. Aminu Adamu was charged under Section 391 of the Penal Code.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between the definitions of civil and criminal  defamation of character; and, while it is trite law that where a matter has civil and criminal aspects, the criminal matter should be handled first, in the case of civil and criminal defamation, it is unclear as to the elements which qualify a defamatory utterance to be civil or criminal. It has been argued by some that where the matter is between individuals or companies, it should be civil matter; but, when it involves an individual and the State, then it should be criminal defamation. If this is so, then Aminu Adamu should not have been charged under Section 391 of the Penal Code, but it should have been a civil matter, seeing as the First Lady is not the State.

However, in a country where there are not too many hard and fast rules, it seems that it may be up to the Complainant to decide which one he/she wants to pursue, that is, civil or criminal. So, for example, if I was defamed by a billionaire, my best line of action would be to pursue a civil case to try to recover juicy damages (monetary), while if it is someone who lacks the financial muscle to compensate me, I would go for criminal defamation, so that he/she at least suffers in prison if convicted.

But, looking at Aminu Adamu’s case, assuming without conceding that it qualified as criminal defamation, should he not have been charged under Section 15(1)(a) & (b) of the Cybercrime Act 2015 (CCA) instead of Section 391 of the Penal Code, since his offensive publication about the First Lady was by way of Twitter, that is, electronic communication, which is more specifically covered by the CCA? If found guilty under the CCA, the Defendant would be liable upon conviction to pay a fine of not less than N2 million, or be imprisoned for a period of not less than a year,  or both. Thankfully, the charge against 24 year old Aminu Adamu has been withdrawn.

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Ndigbo: What If Peter Obi Does Not Win the 2023 Presidential Election?

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By Ugo Chukwuka

Ndigbo in Nigeria owe to themselves a sincere and unemotional answer to this question before it is too late: what if Peter Obi does not win the 2023 presidential election? This is precisely the question the governor of Anambra state, Professor Chukwuma Soludo, courageously confronted in his piece which he titled, ‘History Beckons and I will not be Silent (Part 1)’. But rather than sit back and ponder over the strong possibility of Obi not emerging and the attendant implication for Ndigbo, the issue was treated with sentiment driven by media frenzy and attacks.

The emotional outbursts that greeted Soludo’s timely intervention can be summarized as an insinuation that the governor of Anambra state does not want Peter Obi to become President of Nigeria. Such outbursts remain a classic case of ad hominem – insulting and making insults against the person while ignoring the issues put forth.

When people abandon the message to attack the messenger, it becomes dangerously diversionary and this is now a rising political culture that is further alienating Ndigbo from mainstream politics in Nigeria. This was the aim of those who pushed the narrative that Soludo does not want Peter Obi to become president of Nigeria and drove the media razzmatazz to an attempt to drown out the real issues contained in the erudite professor’s well-thought-out treatise and advice to Peter Obi in particular and Ndigbo in general.

Nonetheless, truth is both eternal and sacred. Though Peter Obi has managed to thrust himself forth as one of the four contenders to the office of the president of Nigeria, it is still obvious that he is the one playing catch-up and hasn’t quite reached the level where he and his Labour party can be rationally evaluated as having developed the capacity already possessed by the ruling APC, and the main opposition PDP.

The capacity in question is what the two behemoth political parties (PDP and APC) gained from their inception and experience in the field since 1998. (Note that APC is as old as PDP because the legacy political blocks that formed the APC are as old as the PDP and like the PDP, PAC has held the office of the President, State governors, and LG Chairmen. Yes, PDP and APC have produced Governors, Senators, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House of Reps/members, State assembly members, and Local government chairmen. Labour has not).

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Sadly, Nigerians keep hearing the Labour party and its candidate shouting at every turn, ‘people are the structure’. This claim is not only fallacious but also smacks of deep ignorance of party democracy as well as how political parties function in an election. By their admission, by the time Peter Obi joined the Labour party, the party was adjudged as not being present in up to 10% of Nigeria, particularly in the Wards and Polling units where voting and initial coalition take place.

Today, barely 70 days to the presidential election, Labour though has made some progress and inroads, evidently has not advanced beyond 30% in covering the wards and polling units in Nigeria, whereas up to 80% of the grounds needed to be covered effectively by any political party that hopes to produce the president of Nigeria. Confirmatory of this position is that days ago, an open appeal by the Labour party for volunteers as LG Ward and Polling units’ coordinators for the party surfaced online.

So, when Soludo says that Peter Obi is not positioned or primed to win, he is right and knows what he is talking about. Peter Obi is without a doubt popular, particularly in the Southern part of Nigeria. But the core north, which controls over 40% of the votes, has not heard much of Peter Obi. A few who have heard are not likely to abandon their regional strategic interests to support a Peter Obi presidency that has not shown how such interests would be protected. What is more, Obi and Labour are not reaching out enough or negotiating enough with the critical stakeholders. They rely on the social media-generated frenzy to create the false impression that an Obi victory is already fait accompli.

Ndigbo, including Soludo, genuinely want Peter Obi to win. But the question – what if Obi does not win? – must not also be swept under the carpet. Unless they have completely been misled and lost their way in Nigerian politics, there are very existential conditions, which Ndigbo must put in perspective while taking political decisions at this moment. These are issues that shape their very existence and impact their future. Being emotional about such a lifesaving decision can only exacerbate an already bad situation and make the future bleaker, as happened to Ndigbo in 2015 and 2019 when Ohanaeze led the Igbo people to shut the door against President Muhammadu Buhari.

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Recall that Ohanaeze leadership in 2014 under its former President General Chief Garry Igariwey and former Ohanaeze Ndigbo Secretary General, Dr. Joe Nworgu openly rejected the request by General Muhammadu Buhari to hold a meeting with the apex Igbo body. Ohanaeze’s leadership refused to engage, accusing Buhari of marginalizing the South-East as the Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) chairman set up by the Sani Abacha regime. Ohanaeze sentimentally also noted they would not engage with Buhari because when Shehu Shagari was overthrown in 1983, Shagari, the number one person in that toppled civilian administration, was placed under house arrest while Ekwueme, the number two, who had no constitutional functions, was imprisoned.

Ohanaeze by taking this hard stand inadvertently declared Buhari an enemy of Ndigbo despite Buhari being a frontrunner and possible winner for the office of the President of Nigeria. The Igbo ethnic group thus refused to present their demands to the APC candidate who later won and turned his back also on Ndigbo. It is an impolitic move that the Igbo people later regrettably paid for and still pay dearly for.

As if that was not enough, again in 2019, Ohanaeze under Nnia Nwodo as President General did not only endorse the Atiku/Obi ticket of the PDP but again refused to give Buhari an audience despite being an incumbent president seeking reelection. Buhari was supposed to engage Ohanaeze the day he came down to Anambra state to commission Zik’s Mausoleum, which he completed.

Strangely, Ohanaeze PG rather than receive Buhari as a co-host to the historic moment, was at Nike Resorts in Enugu, endorsing Atiku Abubakar and Peter Obi’s ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Nnia Nwodo said then that after a critical and dispassionate appraisal of the issues and the visible fault lines in our polity, including the analysis of the election manifestos of the various contesting parties, especially with regards to the restructuring of the federation and continued relevance of the Ndigbo in the Nigerian geopolitical space, Ohanaeze resolved to endorse the Atiku/Obi ticket. Furthermore, PDP nominated an Igbo son, Peter Obi, as the vice presidential candidate to give Ndigbo an opportunity for inclusivity.

Ohanaeze as a socio-cultural organization has no business endorsing candidates. Whenever the Igbo apex body does that, it sends the message that Ndigbo do not want anything to do with other presidential candidates. This is very wrong and has contributed to the quagmire Ndigbo have found themselves in the current democratic dispensation.

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This needless and provocative endorsement is repeating itself in 2022. Ohanaeze led by Prof. George Obiozor has just endorsed Peter Obi and is urging Ndigbo not to support any other presidential candidate. This is yet another strategic blunder given the fact both Atiku and Tinubu stand stronger chances of winning in the 2023 presidential election when the critical factors that combine to produce Nigeria’s president are dispassionately factored into the equation.

So, the nagging question again: in the likely event that Peter Obi does not win, what then will be the fate of Ndigbo in post-2023 Nigeria given the fact that the major ethnic group is not engaging and has indeed foreclosed engaging the two likely presidents of Nigeria, Atiku, and Tinubu? The ominous consequences of Atiku or Tinubu emerging with the impression that Ndigbo shut him out may continue the Buhari/APC policy of Igbo marginalization and exclusion, which as shown, is a self-inflicted injury.

Zik’s way remains the best way for Ndigbo. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s politics of diplomacy and compromise fetched the Old Eastern Region positions in the powerful executive, legislative, judicial, bureaucratic, and defence positions in the First Republic. The approach also secured the Southeast positions of the Vice President and Speaker of the House of Reps less than a decade after the civil war as well as several plum positions that ensured visibility and full representation of Ndigbo in the scheme of things as well as being the springboard for region-wide development.

All Igbo patriots should be extremely worried about the currently raging ‘nzogbu-nzogbu’ (do-or-die) mentality, which seems to have displaced the time-honoured Igbo culture of political engagement, consensus building, and common sense. There is an urgent need to turn away from the politics of self-adulation, uncritical echo chamber, and herd mentality and re-embrace once again the politics of dialogue and robust debate.

Igbo political leaders must back Soludo’s intervention and engage by opening up negotiations with the PDP and APC presidential candidates to ensure the Igbo pride of place and relevance in the coming government. This is the way to also ensure the youth restiveness, separatist agitations, and insecurity that has bedeviled the South-East of late is stopped from escalating beyond 2023.

No major ethnic group in Nigeria carries all its eggs in one basket or forecloses negotiations in an election where there is no clear likely winner. A word, they say, is enough for the wise.

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Perspective

The Continuing Quest of Okun for Kogi Governorship

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By Tunde Olusunle 

Select leaders and sociocultural groupings from the *Okun* country in Kogi State have once again, commenced fervid advocacy in the continuing quest for the governorship slot of the multicultural middle belt state. The state is host to the intersection of two of Nigeria’s largest rivers, the Niger and the Benue, which can be gleaned from ample elevations in the state capital, Lokoja and its environs. The Okun quest has become a regular refrain, since the emplacement of the state on August 27, 1991, by the administration of Nigeria’s erstwhile military President, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. For the purposes of elucidation, the Okun nationality comprises of the Okun-Yoruba speaking peoples of six out of seven local government areas, (LGAs), in Kogi West senatorial zone in Kogi State. Okun people are to be found in: Yagba East, Yagba West, Mopamuro, Ijumu, Kabba-Bunu, and the Oworo district in Lokoja LGA.

Okunland is the fountain of several revered scholars, technocrats, bureaucrats, businessmen, military top brass, legal luminaries, among several other specialists.

It has been postulated that Okunland alone, has the highest percentage per square metre of professors in Nigeria, over and above the numbers posted by any other state within similar geophysical boundaries. Five hundred and fifty, (550),  professors have been documented thus far from the area, while other Okun intellectuals are regularly joining the topmost rungs of academic attainments. The distribution of doctorate degrees is almost per household. There are two in my family for instance, while three are in the mint. Over a dozen legal luminaries of the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria, (SAN) are identifiable from the same catchment. Okunland is home to Africa’s largest cement plant, the Dangote Obajana Cement Complex, in Lokoja LGA. A second such industry being driven by Mangal Nigeria Ltd, is getting off the ground in Ijumu LGA. 

The population of Okun people is approximately 800,000. This indeed is bigger than the numerical size of some countries in the world. Guyana, Western Sahara, Barbados, Malta, Macau, Sao Tome and Principe, among others, are indeed by size and population, smaller than contemporary Okunland. The preceding attributes of the sub-nationality, attest to the quantum and quality of the human and mineral resource base of Okunland. Despite these mouthwatering attractions and endowments of Okunland, however, it has been regularly and deliberately undermined, even spited, in the quest for the Number One office in the state, over time. No Okun person has been substantive chief executive of Kogi State. 

Ahead of the off-season gubernatorial election in the state which is scheduled for the last quarter of 2023, agitations have begun from various ethnicities and senatorial zones, for the top job. Hitherto, the predominantly  Igala speaking Kogi East, had exercised virtual monopoly of the office. Beginning from the pioneer civilian administration of Abubakar Audu between January 2, 1992 to November 1993, Kogi East has maintained a stranglehold on the office. With the dawn of democratic governance in 1999, Audu, a seasoned bank executive who flew the flag of the now defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, (ANPP), returned to  Lugard House.

Government House, Lokoja is so called because it was christened after the British Governor-General of Nigeria, Frederick Lugard, who once lived in the town. Lugard reportedly oversaw the amalgamation of the northern and southern Nigerian protectorates, into what stands as Nigeria today. He was also pioneer Governor-General of the new creation. In a very rare appearance of an Okun personality on the gubernatorial ballot in Kogi State, Stephen Olorunfemi, a successful architect and businessman, of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, (PDP), sparred with Audu in the 1999 polls. 

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Audu, however, lost his reelection bid in 2003, to Ibrahim Idris, who is also from *Igalaland.* Idris was to savour a two-term ticket which kept him in office for eight years. Indeed, he stayed in office a few months beyond the eight years because his reelection in 2007 was challenged in court by Audu his serial co-competitor. A rerun was subsequently ordered by the Independent National Electoral Commission, (INEC), about six months into Idris’ second term. Idris vacated office for a few months, to allow for the conduct of a fresh election which he won. During the interregnum, Clarence Olafemi, Speaker of the Kogi State House of Assembly, (KSHA), stood in as Acting Governor. Idris won the election and returned to office for a fresh run of four years. 

Preparatory to the completion of Idris’ second term, the ruling PDP in 2011, conducted a gubernatorial primary to elect a flagbearer. It has been advanced that 2011 remained the best chance of Okunland to produce a governor, a brilliant and competent one at that. Okun achievers like: Bayo Ojo, SAN, CON, (former attorney-general and justice minister); Olusola Akanmode, (former chief of staff to the Vice President) and Clarence Olafemi, erstwhile Speaker of KSHA, all contested the primary. Idris’ longserving finance commissioner, Biodun Ojo; telecommunications businessman, Dehinde Abolarin, and former military officer, Bello Fadile, also threw their hats in the ring.

While Okun contestants shredded the delegates’ votes which they should have harnessed into a single pot, it was easy for Idris in furtherance of the Igala agenda, to settle for Jibrin Isah, a bank executive. Even when the primary was cancelled and a rerun ordered by INEC, Idris who had fallen out with Isah, installed yet another kinsman and favourite, Idris Wada, an aviator, consistent with Nigeria’s nepotistic democratic model. Wada led the state from January 2012 to January 2016. The late Abubakar Audu who ran against Wada on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, (APC), was coasting to victory during the October 2015 governorship election, when he died in very mysterious circumstances. 

Instructively, there was an attempt in the aftermath of the 2015 general elections, to forge rapprochement between Kogi West and Kogi Central, for the mutual benefit of both zones. The results of the presidential election for that year, showed that the votes from both zones, far outweighed the tally from Kogi East. The West and Central therefore reignited their age-old political homogeneity, which had both zones together in the former Kwara State, before the 1991 states creation exercise. Both zones believed that if they stuck together and worked as a monolithic bloc, they could neutralise Kogi East. Former health minister, Eyitayo Lambo, (emeritus professor), was one of the prime movers of the initiative.

In a curious manifestation of novel legal gymnastics, Yahaya Bello, an *Ebira* from Kogi Central who posted second place at the APC governorship primary which produced Audu, was assigned the votes garnered by Audu and returned as governor! The maverick *afrobeat* musician, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti would have described that as “government magic…where red is turned into blue!” There is as yet no such precedence in Nigeria’s staccato democratic experience, beginning from the first republic in the 1960s. Bello who has administered the state with legendary malevolence and cold-bloodedness since January 2016, appropriated to himself a second term in office beginning from January 2020, specifically by the barrel of the gun. Bello’s electoral ingenuity inspired the release of the hit “musical track and music video,” ta-ta-ta-ta-ta.

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With the rapid onset of the completion of Bello’s second term, the political air in Kogi State is abuzz, expectedly. The space is dominated by discussions and postulations about where the governorship pendulum should swing, come January 2024. Between Audu, Idris and Wada, the Igala in Kogi East, grossed a minimum of 18 years at the helm in Lugard House. By the time Bello concludes his second term in office in 2024, the Ebira of Kogi Central, would have logged eight years in the same office. In a rational, free and fair political situation, Okunland should automatically and unanimously produce Bello’s successor. 

Kogi is not the only state which is home to divergent cultures and ethnicities. Elsewhere, seamless rotation has been perfected to accord every segment of the various states a sense of belonging. Beginning in 1999 with an Urhobo governor in James Ibori, other ethnicities are taking their turns in Delta State. Emmanuel Uduaghan, (2007 to 2015) and Ifeanyi Okowa, (2015 to the present), have flown the flags of the *Itsekiris* and *Aniomas* respectively. Rotation has also been perfected in states like Cross River, where all three governors since 1999- Donald Duke, Liyel Imoke and the incumbent Ben Ayade- come from different senatorial zones in the state. The same obtains even in culturally homogenous entities like Enugu, Bayelsa, Anambra and so on. 

Against the background of the serial marginalisation of Okunland from the political scheme in Kogi State, leaders from the area have on several occasions, canvassed the creation of an *Okun State.* The initiative is intended to accommodate Okun people in Kwara, Ekiti and Ondo states respectively, bound together by the same sociology, culture, tongues and worldview. Submissions to this effect have been made to the “2014 National Conference,” set up by former president, Goodluck Jonathan, and relevant committees of the national assembly. This explains the profundity of the pangs of pain, thus far endured by the Okun people and Kogi West in general, in the sustained dysfunctional political equation in Kogi State.

From feelers on the streets of Lokoja, all three senatorial zones are bracing up to challenge for *Lugard House,* even as INEC has fixed the gubernatorial primary around mid-2023. The Igala have felt like fish out of water these past seven years, relegated to the backup position of deputy governor, whereas they hitherto called the shots. The Ebira are flying a kite to the effect that they be allowed to serve an additional two terms of eight years, at the end of Bello’s regime. A mischievous billboard was recently erected on the streets of Lokoja with numerals asking for *Ebiraland* to run a seamless 16 years, to approximate *Igalaland’s* 18. In this calculus, no mention was made of *Okunland* which is expected to remain at “zero years” in the political scheme. 

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A number of press conferences have been addressed at the levels of the *Okun Development Association,* (ODA), drawing attention to the recurring relegation of Okunland in the Kogi geopolitical scheme. Another body under the umbrella of the ODA, *Okun Development Initiative,* (ODI) convened by Olusuyi Otitoju and Lekan Aiyenigba, on Saturday September 17, setup a lobby group to meet with and secure the buy-in of political figures across the various constituencies and zones of the state. The membership includes Sola Enikanolaye, (retired ambassador); Clarence Olafemi, (former acting governor); Mike Ikupolati and Kola Olorunleke, (both professors); 

Oladimeji Adeoye and B.F. Ayeni, (both retired army generals), and Funmilayo Bodunde, (respected woman leader). Tunde Bello and Bamidele Suru, (both highly regarded attorneys), are also in the group. The aim is to deepen the imperative of prioritising the “Okun for Governor” agenda, in popular consciousness as we stride towards 2023/2024. 

On Friday October 21, 2022, the *Okun Think Tank,* (OTT), the technocratic arm of ODA, held a meeting convened in Abuja, by its vice chairman, Julius Olakunle Oshanupin, a retired army general, on the same subject. Olu Obafemi, (distinguished professor and recipient of the Nigeria National Order of Merit, (NNOM)); Joash Amupitan, (SAN, professor and deputy vice-chancellor (administration) of the University of Jos) and Mike Kupolati, (also a professor, were in attendance. *ODA* president, Femi Mokikan, (a revered attorney); Babatunde Paul Fadumiyo, Akenson Rotimi and Olusegun Ijagbemi, (all retired ambassadors); Adekunle Obayemi, (retired air commodore); Dan Kunle, (reputable business consultant); J O Yusuf (political leader) and Salman Idris, (seasoned architect), honoured the invite. 

The consensus at the meeting was that power is never served on a platter, but wrestled from the grips of power mongers. It was proposed that a team of political strategists be purposely engaged, if we do not have people with such proficiencies in the ranks of Okun people. Many presidents across the globe, engaged multitasking strategists to help plot and plan their pathways to power. Such professionals should draw up for Okunland, a blueprint about how to best pullout the chestnut from the fireplace, how to confront, clobber and carpet the lion in its own den. The challenge for the acquisition of power from the status quo in Kogi State, it was agreed, is a combination of the genteel and the robust. In all of these, Okunland will work with its people in the Lokoja and Kotonkarfe LGAs with whom it shares the Kogi West senatorial zone, and believers in fairness, equity and justice, across the state and beyond. 

Irrespective of party affiliation, Okun people must gird their loins for the proper plunge and push for Lugard House, Lokoja, if they must secure the ultimate trophy. Prejudices, animosities, jealousies and presumptuousness must be exorcised even from the onset. This is not the time for chicanery, debauchery, subterfuge and brinkmanship in any form. Distractions and diversions must be dispensed with, even from the starting blocks of the project. Okun people must approach this with a “never say die,” “forward ever” resolve, until the the tape is finally breasted. 

Tunde Olusunle, PhD, Poet, Journalist, Scholar and Author, is a Member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE).

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