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The Voice of Change Crying in the Wilderness
By Omoruyi Osagiede
I gained admission to the University of Benin in 1995. To me this was a great opportunity to live and school in the land of my ancestors. I had heard so much about my state of origin but had never had any previous opportunities to visit. The ancient city welcomed me into its warm embrace and it felt good to know where 'home' really was. Despite the landscape being dotted with old buildings and un-tarred roads, these derelict structures seemed to resonate with a voice of their own, telling stories of days of yore when great men and women lived in them. It was a joy to live in Benin in those times and simply discover the place, the people and the poetry of its culture.
The Lagos - Benin express way was no where near perfect but it was largely passable. The stretch from Ugbowo campus gate to Ring Road was a breeze! I graduated in 1999 just after the administration of present governor; Chief Lucky Nosakhare Igbinedion came to power. My subsequent visits to Benin City, the capital of Edo state, en-route to other parts of the state proved to be a daunting task. Roads were virtually impassable. Journeying through Benin City became a nightmare for luxurious buses and other commuter vehicles headed to the East from other parts of the South West. Festive seasons became festooned with pain and suffering on the roads. Drainage systems which hitherto were struggling to cope had completely collapsed. A boat would be a better form of transport during the heavy rains. Infrastructure was in a state of serious dilapidation. Everywhere one looked, there were no signs of any significant infrastructural development. Parents of my friends who were teachers complained that their salaries had not been paid for months. Rather than making quick strides in development, it seemed that the great city had been set back by decades.
Where the likes of Cross River, Kwara and Bauchi states were capitalising on tourism, education, infrastructural development and agriculture as vehicles for their transformation into centres of excellence, the same could not be said of Edo State, a land blessed with intellectuals a proud culture and history. Compared to some other states of the federation, Edo state is endowed with known deposits of quartzite, marble, clay, limestone, chalk, gypsum, gold, petroleum, kaolin and other rich mineral resources. In the midst of such gifts, the ancient city has been on its knees, tired, old and in dire need of help. Like an old woman sunken breasts and an ageing frame, she stares with deep sadness in her eyes longing for the future which she sees slipping away from her.
It would be unfair to say that the present administration has not done anything since it came to power. Indeed the state allocations must have gone somewhere. I am unsure how much federal attention was brought to bear on the state during the past 8 years. Though the Benin by-pass seems to be one of such efforts, it is common knowledge that the Lagos – Benin expressway was in a horrible state of repair during the tenure of ‘The Leader’ Chief Anthony Anenih as Minister of Works and Housing. It is sad to say that where these men could have etched their names in gold as drivers of the modern Edo renaissance, their names will be infamous in history as the people who presided over 8 years of wasted time in the 15 years of Edo State. Laudable policies and ideas, if borne out of selfish interest will suffer from lack of focus, transparency and continuity.
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Will the people of Edo state decide to break from the past and cease to worship the very men who have exploited them for generations? Will the masses rise up with one voice and vote into power men of vision and the will to demand change? Will the powerful Oligarchy that has enslaved the downtrodden masses of the proud Edo peoples admit that they have failed the people? Will those who wield influence in the corridors of Aso Rock be humble enough to bequeath a gift of a lifetime to the people of Edo state by not ganging up against them this time around? Will the sleeping intellectuals refuse to be used as pawns to steal the hopes of their people and dash them like they have done time and time again? Will the people of Edo inspired by their great potential, wake up to the reality of their future and shout with one voice for development and progress rather than sell their souls for another morsel of bread thrown at them from the tables of power? Will we declare that no longer do we want leaders who engage in demagogues while the people suffer in agony?
This brings me to comment on the characters who dot the political landscape of the road to Osadebe Avenue in 2007. Notwithstanding the tiresome and incessant fuel strikes called by the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) under his leadership, Comrade Adams Oshiomole is a man who has earned the goodwill of the Nigerian people. He is not a messiah…indeed no man is, however he has shown several times that he is a man with principles, a man with ideas, and a man who listens to the downtrodden people. He has received his battle scars and has worn them with pride. Under his leadership, the NLC and other notable civil rights groups provided the needed opposition to insensitive government policies without bias for ethnicity or religion. These men and women have shown in the past few years, a tenacity to withstand intimidation and despite taking severe knocks, have risen again and again to take a stand on issues which affect the majority of Nigerians. Regardless of the apprehensions about success or failure of labour leaders in power, Adams appears to be cast in a different mould; his trademark being his ability to analyse topical economic issues and present sound arguments in favour of the masses.
Many regard the seat of Governor of Edo State as beneath him. However, his decision to contest this seat should be respected. His approach was initially bogged down with controversies bordering on the platform on which he would run. Calls have been made for him not to dilute his primary constituency, the Labour Party. Political permutations unfolding in Edo state may see an alignment of elements from the ANPP and the National Conscience Party (NCP) with Oshiomole presented as a consensus candidate. This opportunistic marriage may unfortunately be seen as the only way to beat the ruling PDP in its corrupt politics. This would however be a disservice to the ideals of build a truly pan Nigeria front representing the genuine struggles of the masses. Can viable and enduring platform for such a populist front be built in such a short space of time? By choosing to run for governor rather than president, he may have recognised that a Labour Party that will galvanise strong support for future elections, will need time to embed itself and develop formidable and tested party structures at the local, state and national level.
The Chairman of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) in Edo state, Mr Patrick Oronsanya has boldly declared that he and other aspirants for the governorship seat are not threatened by the credentials Oshiomole brings to the race. How the other contenders intend to match them is a subject of interest. The present deputy governor Chief Mike Oghiadomhe is seen as a likely successor to Chief Lucky Igbendion in the PDP hierarchy. Whether his cross carpeting between the Anenih loyalists and the Igbinedion loyalists may work in his favour is yet to be known. Other frontline names in the ruling PDP include presidential adviser Professor Julius Ihonvbere, Edo State government Chief of Staff, Osagie Eze-Iyamu, former commissioner for information Hon. Charles Idahosa, Professor Osaremen Osunbor, a senator of the Federal Republic, and former Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Elder Odion Ugbesia. These are established men, with brilliant credentials in their respective fields of endeavour who in their own right feel they have something to prove by winning the elections. Some of these men have boldly stated their objectives while others are either yet to declare their intentions (at least not clearly enough to be heard) or are consumed in intra-party wrangling while playing Russian roulette with the factional leaders and god fathers in the murky waters of the Edo State PDP.
The objectives of the aspirants and their political parties will best be achieved if their campaigns are grassroots motivated with clearly articulated strategies as to how they intend to touch the lives of the people directly. The issues that affect the 'common man' are not complex. His desire is to be able to sustain himself and his family, provide shelter and a decent and affordable education in an atmosphere of health, peace and security. His long term ambition is to be able to establish foundations for the prosperity of his future generations. Is this too much to ask? The campaigns should answer the question on the minds of untrusting voters and supporters, "What is in it for me?" The messages should not merely consist of ‘Why we need change’ and ‘What changes are needed’ but should highlight ‘How we will achieve the changes’ and ‘When’.
In facing the monumental challenge of restructuring Edo State, a good strategy would be to identify quick win areas while presenting an all inclusive strategy for the long term. Edo State is one huge project in dire need of a sound project manager who can assemble the right team to achieve the people’s aspirations. A grand master plan for creating a centre of excellence should focus on modernising the unique identity of the state. Mudslinging and acrimony will only destroy what possible bridges could be built with the present cabal of power in Edo State who never pass up an opportunity for self adulation. As much as we would like to see a decline in the influence of the Igbinedions, Ogbemudias, Anenihs, Ikimis et al, it is premature to say that these men and their supporters will not have a measure of influence on who emerges the winner. The influence of those who control state resources is one that cannot be neglected. This is where the aspirants need to prove their ingenuity and mettle. If indeed they claim to be men and women who genuinely represent the people they wish to lead then they can only actualize their ambition through an ideological people's revolution. This is not a call to arms and bloodshed but a call for a revolution of ideas inspired by a burning desire to make radical departure from the past. Voter sensitization taken to the very nooks and crannies of Edo state will achieve great results in wrestling the grip of power from those who have held sway. An open public debate organised by civil society groups on five burning issues would be a good way to separate the chaff from the wheat.
As Comrade Oshiomole launches his campaign this week and declares his aspiration to lead the Edo speaking peoples into the future, I wish him the very best. In a race that is bound to be fraught with dangerous men, deadly ambitions, deception and orchestrated distractions we can only pray for God to spare his life and the lives of others like him across the country whose simple aspiration is for change. The late Engineer Funso Williams and Dr. Ayodeji Daramola were progressive men of character with a disposition to social advancement whose only crime was that they dared to speak up and be counted as agents of change. They were cut down in their prime by evil, faceless cowards who having no regard or respect for the sanctity of human life have forgotten that he who lives by the sword will most likely die by the sword as well.
It has been said severally that the Nigerian voter has been bastardized and made despondent by years of misrule of insensitive leaders. In a recent analysis by Professor Pat Utomi, he observes that the paradigm across the land is one of voter apathy and a resignation to fate. I challenge the strong men of Igarra, the beautiful Bini daughters, the gazelles of Owan, the agile youths of Agenebode, the dons of Esan land, the warriors of Iguobazuwa and the royal clans of Afemai to put aside fear, cultural differences, primordial resentments and myopic zoning agendas and decide for once in our history to do the right thing by looking hard and well at all the men and women who will present themselves to us for votes. The collective anger from years of backwardness should fuel an objective analysis of the next leadership of Edo State.
The failure of Edo state has not only been one of its leadership but also the failure of its people to do what is right when it matters most. Indeed if the spirit of generations yet unborn could speak, their rallying cry would be, "Give us leaders with vision!", "Secure for us our tomorrow and let our future be for us a legacy as our past is our heritage".
- Omoruyi Osagiede writes from the United Kingdom. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org