Stones in Their Rice, Sands in Their Garri!

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    The past one week has been one of high drama in the country. It all started when Governor Samuel Ortom decided to leave Makurdi for Abuja to attend a crucial meeting with the national leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Hardly had his convoy ventured out of the Benue State Government House when thousands of young men and women congregated to block the road while chanting war songs. Some also carried placards with such inscriptions as ‘Ortom, don’t go back to APC’; ‘We don’t have land to donate for ranching’; ‘Our farms are not for cows’ and ‘2019: On Ortom we stand.’

    Evidently an ‘obedient servant’, the governor got out of his vehicle, put his chin on the roof and listened with rapt attention to Comrade Terrence Kuanum and Pastor Dave Ogbole, the spokesmen for the youths who gave their commandment: “We, the Benue youths are not prepared to stay with you in APC; we are not prepared to remain in a party where its leaders would prefer to look the other way while armed herdsmen kill our children, pregnant women, the aged and our defenceless people. The saying goes that the voice of the people is the voice of God, Governor Ortom; we the Benue youths say we do not want APC in Benue, and you must leave the party now.’’

    With such a clear message from the youths of Benue State, what else could the governor have done? He just had to comply, as did his driver when directed that the APC flag on the governor’s official car be immediately removed. After that, the youths then insisted that the governor must return to his residence or be prepared to kill all of them. As it turned out, another ‘surprise’ awaited Ortom the moment he hearkened to the youths as majority of the council chairmen and councillors had assembled for his declaration: “This morning, I had wanted to go to Abuja to attend the meeting but some youths in the state refused, they asked me to go back. But let me formally inform this gathering that I have forwarded my resignation letter from the APC to the chairman of my council ward and he has promised to join me in the new party.”

    However, if Ortom thought leaving the APC was going to be a tea party, then he needs to take some lessons in ‘transmission’. Aided by the police, eight members of the State House of Assembly on Monday sat and served a notice of impeachment on the governor. Right now, the police, whose men are being killed by sundry criminal cartels across the country, have taken over the Benue State House of Assembly, driven out the Clerk and other officials, perhaps in preparation for the ‘impeachment’ of the governor that is still very much within the realm of possibility. After all, as Falz would sing, This is Nigeria!

    Interestingly, Benue is not the only place where there is high-stake drama. In Abuja, Senators are decamping by the day. In fact, one decamped twice within a spate of 24 hours: first from APC to PDP and then from PDP back to APC. But the biggest drama came from the one and only ‘Ajekun Iya’ Senator who knows how to disappear even from moving vehicles. Last Thursday, his ‘commonsense’ colleague posted on Twitter that Melaye had been abducted by some unknown gunmen. While Nigerians were still worried about his whereabouts, Melaye surfaced on Twitter to explain how he “spent 11 hours in the wilderness traumatized but God preserved me. God is the best and in whom only I trust. They will continue to try. We shall overcome.”

    In a subsequent press statement, Melaye narrated how a Toyota Sienna overtook, blocked and started shooting at his vehicle which was bullet-proof. “When I realised that they wanted to burn my vehicle, I quickly opened the car and ran into the bush. I had to run for my life. It was the grace of God that made me to escape. They pursued me and I was able to outmanoeuvre them and climb a tree. I was on top of the tree when I saw them run past looking frantically for me. When they didn’t find me, they also ran back” said Melaye. Somebody must check with Guinness because there could be a world record waiting to be broken by our distinguished Senator who perched on top of a tree for 11 good hours!

    On a serious note, while what we are witnessing within the ruling APC is not only a glaring failure of leadership but also the unravelling of a house built with spit, the real challenge is that public officials at all levels have abdicated their responsibilities in pursuit of politics. For instance, Governor Umar Ganduje of Kano said last week that three million children in his state are out of school. Even though that is enough to give anybody sleepless nights, the only preoccupation of Ganduje is how to conjure five million votes for President Buhari next year. We already know that our country has the largest concentration of poor people in the world and it doesn’t worry anybody. Now the electricity sector that provides more darkness than light is in serious turmoil with owners of Distribution Companies (Discos) willing to sell their assets at a discount and move on. All these, at a period the security situation is getting more complicated with bandits now taking over vast territories in the North West.

    It is against the foregoing background that we should situate the Freudian Slip by the Information and Culture Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who has taken over the leadership of the APC in Kwara State from the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki. Speaking in Yoruba at his country home of Oro, Kwara last Sunday, Mohammed said: “Today is a special day. God has answered our prayers by exposing our political traitors. God has removed stones from our rice and sands from our garri.” But in his own riposte, Saraki also told his supporters on Tuesday: “The federal government appointed over 200 persons into juicy offices without allotting any slot to me or (Speaker Yakubu) Dogara. Everything went to Katsina, Katsina, Lagos, Lagos. If not for the love I have for Nigeria, we would have scattered everything.”

    The implication of the incestuous relationship between public service and private interest, as we have in Nigeria today, is that there will always be tension between those who want to consume ‘rice and garri’ alone and those who, denied their ‘juicy’ portions, would rather seek to ‘scatter everything’, even if that means throwing some sands and stones into the mix. Taken together, therefore, what the Minister and the Senate President are telling Nigerians is that the whole contention within the APC is not about how to advance the public good but rather about the formula for sharing political spoils.

    In other countries, leaders are expected to give but in Nigeria we encourage them to take, including what does not belong to them. That then explains the metaphor of staples with which they always rationalise why they take decisions that are most often at variance with public interest, no matter how they couch them. We must be very clear here: In societies where public service is seen as an ascent to control resources and political leadership is about clawing for privileges rather than making the requisite sacrifices for the long-term prosperity of the people, development will always be a mirage.

    There are far too many challenges confronting us as a nation today in practically all sectors. Unfortunately, neither the people in power nor those who seek to take over from them are engaging those issues. That is why Nigerians must be circumspect in assessing both what they see and what they hear as we inch towards the crucial 2019 general election. We must remember that those who were chanting ‘Change’ yesterday disowned all their promises the moment they got to power.

    Given the foregoing, I fail to understand why many Nigerians are excited about all the drama of defections going on within both the ruling APC and the opposition PDP when it is no more than the usual ritual to which we are treated at every election cycle. That also explains why our elections can easily be situated within the context of Karl Marx’s postulation that “the oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.”

    With politics now the exclusive province of a tiny elite group for whom party platforms are mere vehicles, not necessarily to advance any ideal but rather to secure power and privileges, we must understand that the interest of the ordinary citizens are not factored into the convulsions going on within both the APC and the PDP. Yet, if power, as we glibly say, emanates from, and belongs to, the people, then there is an urgent need to reform our political system to reflect that reality and restore the confidence of the people in democracy.

    Edo Tackles Prostitution
    I was in Benin City on Monday to attend the Edo State Conference on Human Trafficking. Rather than live in denial about the emblem of shame to which the state has been tagged given the number of Edo women and girls engaged in prostitution in Europe, Godwin Obaseki has decided to take on the challenge head-on. His Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Prof Yinka Omorogbe who also chairs the Edo State Task Force on Human Trafficking (ETAHT) says the state is no longer in denial about the problem. “I know many people say that prostitution is not part of our culture in Benin. May be it was not part of our culture in the past but unfortunately, it is now. The challenge before us is to work towards its eradication”, said Omorogbe.

    Stakeholders at the session included representatives of the European Union Mission in Nigeria, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the Nigerian Immigration Service as well as the traditional authorities in Edo State. Governor Obaseki, whose administration is working with relevant local and international stakeholders to eradicate the menace with sustainable solutions said: “Clearly, we cannot as Edo people afford to be stigmatized and taunted anymore on the issue of human trafficking…it is like trafficking is now synonymous with Edo State. We cannot accept this disgrace anymore.”

    While I commend Obaseki’s efforts, the Edo dimension to human trafficking is a whole chapter in my coming book on irregular migration titled, ‘From Frying Pan to Fire’ which should be out before the end of the year. Please, watch out for the book!

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