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Ortom’s Second Term and The Task Before Him

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Benue State Governor Ortom
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As Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom takes oath of office today to mark the commencement of his second term, our correspondent CHRIS GAGA, examines his first term in office and the expectations of Benue people from his last term as governor.

It was on the 29th May 2015 when governor Samuel Ortom ascended the throne of power as the 5th democratically elected governor of Benue State. Today makes exactly four years after, and governor Ortom having rewarded a renewed mandate by the sovereign people of Benue State will be taking the oath of allegiance for the second time as executive governor of the food basket state.

Of course his reelection by the people of Benue state may be a clear pat on the back and a repose of confidence that the governor has tentatively performed optimally during his first term, after all, reelection into such offices ought to be the collective resolve of the people to reward hard work in terms of performance.

Thus, whether this was the basis for his reelection or not, it is probably not the crux of this analogue.

While the event of his inauguration for the second term is historic, many Benue people may rarely see his second term as a time for consolidation, but rather a time for the governor who is said to have performed poorly in his first term to cut his stint in the annals of development of the state. No doubt, the expectations from the Benue masses are high.

Considerably, a cursory throwback on governor Samuel Ortom’s first four years in office becomes key as he renews his oath to occupy the Benue Peoples House in the next four years. This perhaps may give the people insights into what the governor is set to achieve for the state in his last term.

Memorably, the governor in his first term had a developmental blueprint christened, “Our Collective Vision for a greater Benue.” This blueprint had five cardinal areas of focus which encompasses; Agriculture-driven Industrialization, Steamed Based Education, Security, youth empowerment and job creation, and Improved Infrastructure. But while the governor has obviously done well and is applauded in the area of Security, it has remained a tantalizing mirage as to whether any of the other cardinal areas of his blueprint have been implemented even averagely.

Largely, his efforts in tackling insecurity is the greatest achievement of his first term. This is cognitive of the peoples Anti-Open Grazing and Ranches Establishment Law as firmly implemented by his. administration. His amnesty program which yielded minimal impact is never to be left out, same as his dexterity in handling internal and inter-border disputes recently.

Although the governor has listed his achievements in the various sectors of Agriculture, education, health, infrastructure, youth empowerment and employment, his critics and many other Benue citizens say such achievements as highlighted in his scorecard are not feasible. His critics may be fair, they may not.

But while it will be highly unfair for anyone to say the governor has failed woefully in his first term, it is definitely not out of place to say the state deserve better developments than where it is staggering presently.

Positively, the Benue State governor is not unaware of the task ahead of him in his next four years in office. He has admitted repeatedly that costly “mistakes” were made in his first term, but “lessons” have been learnt, and he was ready to relaunch Benue into its pride of place amongst other states in his second coming.

Of course, one of the major problem governor Samuel Ortom promised and was expected to tackle in his first four years, which is the welfare of Benue workers has remained unsolved but rather degenerated. Benue workers are now owed salaries to the tune of 5 months(state), 10 months(Teachers), 11 months(LGs), and over 14 to 18 months(pensions) respectively as against 3 months(state), 4 months (local government) he inherited in 2015.

Investigations also have shown that the first term of governor Ortom administration is alienated from the rural areas. There seems to be little or no government presence at the grassroots, a situation that has caused gross decay in rural infrastructures such as feeder roads, bridges, lack of electrification and other basic amenities in spite of claims that his government has carried out over 800 water projects in the rural areas. Obviously, the 23 local governments of the state deserve better transformation in his second term.

The hopes and expectations are still high even as the governor takes oath of allegiance to mark the commencement of his second term in office. For many, it is time for Samuel Ortom to make the people reposed or redevelop confidence in his government through robust and physically viable developmental projects that tends to transform the state and improve the livelihood of every Benue citizenry.

Expectedly, our Correspondents spoke to some Benue citizens who spoke on their expectations from the second term of governor Samuel Ortom One of them, an elder statesman and former permanent Secretary in the state, Engr. Peter Torjum, expects the governor to take development to the rural areas of the 23 local governments of the state. He also wants the governor to address the issue of welfare of workers and pensioners in the State.

“The governor should take development to the rural areas because his first four years witnessed low presence in the rural areas of the state. So he should focus on the grass roots.

“Let him bring in technocrats who can perform very well so that his second term will not be abysmal. He needs competent hands run his second term. It is key.

“In the area of welfare, I know the salary is regular now, except for the arrears. So he should try to pay we pensioners our wages as at when due, that is most important. And he should then pay some gratuities and pensions arrears. All these things if he pays then we will be very happy and support him to run his second term very well,” Engr Peter Torjum said.

A youth, Mr. Terseer Bamber wants the governor to cash in on agriculture which is the main stead of the people so as to improve the economy of the state.

“The expectations of an average Benue person is development beyond what we have seen in time past. We expect job creation, infrastructural development and most importantly assuming our position in the comparative advantage we have, which is agriculture. In the past four years of Ortom administration, we have not seen these things as Benue youths, come to limelight.

“So my expectations in his next four years is to see him prioritize these areas I have mentioned. First of all, commercializing agriculture, moving to improve infrastructure both within the cosmopolitan centres of the state and the rural areas, and then most importantly paying particular attention to youth employment and empowerment, because if that is not addressed, we are definitely sitting on a time bomb,” Mr. Bamber noted.

Mr. Odaudu Owoicho opined that, “as a Nigerian and an indigene of Benue State, my expectations from Ortom’s first and present administrations have been high. But, like the saying goes: “Expectations Kills”, so, for this singular reason and experiences of poor leadership from the past political administrations, I expect nothing, but if this present leadership led by the Samuel Ortom’s (PDP) gives us a new direction and thought, I will expect nothing but the best. More particularly in the areas of salary payment and augmentation, job creation/youth empowerment amongst other things – industrialisation, infrastructural development and other basic amenities for the wellbeing of the people.”

Another Benue indigene who preferred to be addressed as Martins, said bluntly that governor Ortom has nothing to offer Benue judging by his antecedents in his first term and even others positions.

“GOING BY HIS ANTECEDENTS IN THE THE FIRST TERM, I DON’T EXPECT MUCH FROM HIM, BECAUSE HE HAS SHOWN THAT HE LACKS VISION.  This is without sentiments, but as a keen observer, going by his past records, he has nothing to offer Benue.

“I have been a keen observer of Ortom’s leadership right from when he was chairman of Guma local government in the early 90s.  He did nothing, I think he is just very good in media propaganda. I see,  he has demonstrated incapacity so I can’t expect much from him,” he said.

Miss Annabel Zegeor said she expects alot from Ortom’s second term, but especially welfare of Benue workers and pensioners in the State.

“I expect him to be very focus and particular about salary of workers especially the arrears. People are suffering much. The pensioners are also suffering; he should look into their issue.

“And again I suggest the governor choose new advisers because he couldn’t do well in his first term to be honest. No one knows, the kind of advisers he had then been part of the reasons for his poor performance. So he should take care of that, if he wants to do something.

“For me, even though we are not expecting too much from him, he should at least make Makurdi clean and safe to stay by constructing drainages because when it rains, it is usually difficult for some residents to even cope with the level of water,” she said.

Miss Joy Johnson wants the governor to at least open up some streets in Makurdi to easy movement and make the town look neat.

” I don’t expect too much from the governor. But he should try his best and construct some major streets in Makurdi metropolis. That alone is something,” Joy Johnson noted.

Mr. Benedict Terhemen is of the expectations that the governor will do his best for the state during his second term, having parted ways with his godfather, Senator Akume was which the governor said was his detractor.

“We voted him the first time but he didn’t do the things he promised to do for us, and he said his Godfather was the reason for his poor performance, but thank God the God father is not there again. So we expect that his second term will be different and better unlike his first four years.

“He has not even chosen his cabinet yet, so we expect that he will select those who will truly help him in developing the state, but not selfish persons,” Terhemen noted.

Comrade Cletus Aruta, a youth, expects the governor to emulate his counterparts in the neighboring states of Ebonyi and Enugu states who are far doing well in the area of infrastructure and other things.

“I want His Excellency to continue with the payment of monthly salaries to Benue State, Local Government Workers and Pensioners and clear the backlog of salaries owed to them especially the Pensioners who had served the State meritoriously and now retired with a lot of family responsibilities such as payment of school fees, house rents and feedings.

“Secondly, I want him to use his 2nd Term in office to embark on massive urban and rural infrastructural developments in Benue State like we are seeing from his counterparts in our neigbouring States of Nasarrawa, Enugu and Ebonyi State which Benue State is far behind right now especially the

construction of Aliade-Mbakinde-Obarike Ito and Oju-Awajir roads which he promised Igede people during his first tenure. He should create an enabling environment for Private enterprises to come and invest in Benue State as almost all minerals and raw materials in Benue State are wasting and untapped into finished goods which will in turns create job opportunities for Benue youth and curbs youth unemployment and insecurity in the state.

“Finally, I want him to use his second term to build and equip our Public Primary and Secondary Schools with the State of Arts facilities such as good class room blocks and toilets, Libraries and provision of Chairs and desks and other office equipment as you know how important is Primary and

Secondary education which are the foundation of learnings and child development,” Aruta said.

For every Benue citizenry, there is a basket full of expectations and they are quite high, but interestingly, governor Samuel Ortom is not unaware of the dilemma before him.

Perhaps, his first four years were laced with excuses, mistakes and administrative blunders, but of course none of such feeble excuses may be entertained by the sovereign people of Benue State that refrained contemplating his replacement even against all odds during the 2019 elections.

The public outcry is alarming. Yes, not very many may have had it juicy during his first term, but the decision of the people to retain governor Ortom is a thunderous statement that, he the governor should not be taken for granted.

The people want good infrastructures such as good roads, schools, hospitals. The state desire industries, factories that can process their fruits, yam, etc, thus investment is what should be encouraged.  The rural dwellers are cut off from the scheme of things, they yearn for feeder roads to help convey their farm produce to the markets.

The governor must understand that Agriculture remains our main stead and as such explore every opportunity available especially facilities provided by the federal government to encourage and transform the agricultural sector as well as generate revenue for the state. If possible, as the food basket state, the people expects the governor to romance with the federal government which is channeling huge resources into the agricultural sector with the aim of driving the policy and making the proceeds available for the development of the state.

The welfare of the people as it concerns their wages is an over trashed issue which the governor should deal with without any backslide. It is also instructive to urge the governor to consolidate on his gains in the area of Security through firm implementation of the Open Grazing Prohibition and Ranches Establishment Law already in use. This as many others believe may put a permanent end to the incessant clashes. This is not forgetting the many Benue citizens who are victims of the invasion and have been suffering in various IDPs camps. It is a necessity for the governor to liaise with the Federal government to make sure that these innocent people return to their homes in safety as soon as he settles for his second term.

It is indeed an epoch-making event as the fifth democratically elected governor of Benue State, Samuel Ortom renews his vow. But as he commences his second term, may his conscience be pricked to live a legacy befitting the goodwill the people have shown him, may he aim for success, and may he not disappoint the confidence bestowed on him. May the governor summon unusual courageous and be focus in implementing his developmental blueprint, “Our Collective vision for a greater Benue”. He may have meager resources at his disposal, but prudent and careful management and appropriation of such resources will do the State a great deal indeed.

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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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