Equity and burden of justice in Ebonyi guber race
The current feverish debate over the charter of equity in Ebonyi State is a product of remonstrations on the issue stirred by Governor David Umahi. Umahi’s declaration that his successor should come from Ebonyi North is a demonstration of ignorance of the spirit and principle of the charter of equity. He neither participated nor contributed to the struggle for the creation of Ebonyi State.
Relying on the sign on the horizon indicating the possibility of realizing the creation of Ebonyi State, the Ebonyi State Movement constituted a committee to draft a charter of Equity to guide the allocation of positions to the two blocks of Abakaliki and Afikpo and stem likely disagreements that could occur after its creation. In spite of efforts made by the Leaders of the Movement to have the Ebonyi Charter of Equity whose contents were agreed on by the leaders of the movement endorsed, they could not append their signatures to the document to transform it to a working document. Unfortunately, the state was created with the document remaining inchoate.
The charter recognized that there were two blocks that would make up the state, and that whichever block that was favoured to host the capital would yield to the other block the opportunity to produce the first governor. As Ebonyi State became a reality, it became certain that some of the leaders from the Abakaliki block were not sincerely interested in the charter.
As the military interregnum was winding up, a search for the first civilian governor ensued. Some of those who participated in drafting the charter spoke about the inconsequentiality of the document on the ground that it was not endorsed. The tenability of a gentleman’s agreement, into which the charter would have transformed to, was lost on those men.
Consequently and eventually, the Abakaliki block forsook the now apparent gentleman’s agreement, resulting to Dr Sam Egwu becoming the first governor.
This is the genesis of the current manifestly intractable circumstance of impotence in confining the governorship to any block or zone as it eventually turned out to sojourn in any zone that is able to wrench power. This has been the situation since 1999. Dr. Sam Egwu of PDP wringed it from Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu of APP. Similarly, Chief Martin Elechi In 2007 was declared winner against Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu of ANPP. The 2015 scenario is still very fresh in our memory. Chief Edward Nkwegu of APC contested against Engr. David Umahi then of PDP who eventually won.
Looking at the Ebonyi political turf, it is apparent that equity has not impacted the conscience of any block or individuals as a moral burden by way of a consensus on where the slot should reside in this political dispensation. Rather, individuals and zones have proclaimed their rights to the position, simply due to the obviation of the South Zone or appropriately, Afikpo Block from enjoying the right at inception.
Currently, there are candidates from all the zones in the state. Equity means the principle of treating all people equally such that no one will be subjected to unfair advantage. In such a situation, fair judgment must be made where there are no existing laws or they do not provide an answer. It has been applied as a solution for addressing imbalanced social systems. Justice can take equity one step further by fixing the systems in a way that leads to long-term, sustainable, equitable access for generations to come.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), equity is “the absence of avoidable or remediable differences among groups of people, whether those groups are defined socially, economically, demographically or geographically.” Therefore, as the WHO notes, health inequities involve more than lack of equal access to needed resources to maintain or improve health outcomes. They also refer to difficulty when it comes to “inequalities that infringe on fairness and human rights norms.”
Equity requires that all groups in society be given opportunity to consummate their socio-political rights irrespective of countervailing circumstances or systems. It means giving an open door to all and treating all equally. All should have opportunity to enjoy the benefits derivable from laws, conventions or government, adopted or inchoate.
It is in this light that the doctrine of “He who comes into equity must come with clean hands,” was developed. The maxim bars relief for anyone guilty of improper conduct in the matter at hand. It operates to prevent any affirmative recovery for the person with “unclean hands,” no matter how unfairly the person’s adversary has treated him or her. The principle is the basis of the clean hands doctrine. It disapproves or denies relief for bad conduct that, as a matter of public policy, ought to be discouraged. This is what prompted Paula Dressel, of Race Matters Institute to declare that, “The route to achieving equity will not be accomplished through treating everyone equally. It will be achieved by treating everyone justly according to their circumstances.”
The issue of equity in the Ebonyi governorship race could be considered from the operational mode of the system of credit contribution club called Isusu, a veritable indigenous source of capital formation among the Igbo of South East. The mode of operation is equity-based. In other words, every member enjoys fair and sustainable access to the funds through reverse order such that when every member has benefitted, the last beneficiary takes the first slot in the next round. That is equity at work.
To realise equity, we must at all times be persuaded by morality. Morality, more or less, refers to accepted standards of conduct based a wide sense of right or wrong according to conscience. Moral burden or obligation is the onerous or difficult concern with principles of right and wrong which determine one’s conformity to standards of behavior and character. Reliance on those principles will facilitate justice in relationships and cooperation whether at individual or corporate level.
Morality means defining one’s code of conduct based on a clear distinction between right and wrong. To recognize morals, moral persuasion is applied. It is based on the principle that there is a set of commonly agreed values or morals which everyone should obey even if they are not written down. Morality is a method of social control that is widely used by groups and societies to regulate how their members act.
Morals are not usually written down; instead they are shared through stories and positive or negative action when they are followed or broken. The problem with moral persuasion is that it works when everyone involved has the same morals.
When there are opposing morals, conflict ensues.
This is the situation in Ebonyi today. Any claim or proposal now for equity does not possess concomitant force of operation.
In this regard, there have been many and diverse shades of opinion. Writing on the vexatious issue in the Guardian of 13 August 2021 with the headline, “Ebonyi indigenes reject zoning for 2023 guber poll: Insist on competent successor to Umahi” Adamu Abuh, quoted Mr. Paschal Oluchukwu, leader of the Association of Ebonyi State Indigenes in Diaspora (AESID) who faulted any proposal for the selection of Governor Dave Umahi’s successor based on a zoning arrangement by the political elite in the state.
According to Oluchukwu, the ongoing campaign in the media by some interest groups regarding the need to respect ‘charter of equity’ was baseless as it does not exist. He stressed that those who engineer the resort to equity premise their position on what they term equity and fairness in their delusional fantasy to keep an ‘equity bond’ that neither exists nor has ever been manifest in Ebonyi politics.
He contended that competence, capability and credibility should be the yardstick to elect anyone aspiring to succeed Umahi, asserting that “Ebonyi people truly deserve nothing but the best, most credible and competent hand it can get from any part of the state who understands the prevailing challenges of anthropogenic poverty, lack of human empowerment, health and educational deficiencies arising from poor policy planning and executions among other negative trends and its attendant consequences on the people.”
It is evident that those who propose a resort to equity principle in the spirit of democracy of understanding and inclusiveness are either being propelled by self-serving desires and self-preservation or are ignorant of the narrative earlier presented of how the Ebonyi North Zone ambushed the Ebonyi electorate and captured the coveted position in 1999 in utter disregard of the agreement that if Abakaliki became the capital of the new state, the first civilian Governor would come from Afikpo block.
Of course, it was a glaring indication that people of Ebonyi North could not muster the character capable of persuading them to yield to the moral burden or obligation which the situation then demanded.
The current attendant conflict is the direct result of the opposition to moral obligation deliberately introduced in 1999. As it is said, he who goes to equity must go with clean hands. Ebonyi North has tainted and smeared hands.
A communique signed by Everestus Ekuma said the current debate on zoning, equity and rotation order constitutes an unnecessary distraction. He said it is an attempt to ambush the Ebonyi electorate and capture the 2023 governorship election process. I believe he has in mind those with inordinately vested self serving interests.
A group, Odinma Ebonyi Foundation (ODEF) has also disagreed with the equity and zoning claims. The group in a statement by Collins Azu said competence and credibility should be the basis for the selection of governorship candidates by the political parties. The group said this is the only way the best candidates can emerge who will take the state on the path of progress and development.
Monday Eze, the Director General, Ebonyi First Vanguard, in a statement cautioned that “in a democracy, all voices are allowed to ventilate their feelings. My message to all politicians and leaders is that they should moderate their actions and utterances with a modicum of responsibility. Those who ignore the lessons of history are bound to repeat it or in the long run, are often ignored by history itself.”
According to Monday Eze, the governorship race is open to all qualified Ebonyi candidates as it has always been since 1999, warning that Ebonyi people “will not tolerate any undue interference and encumbrance on their democratic rights by anybody or authority.” To redress this desecration by Ebonyi North, there is the pertinent restitution that is expedient. That is, that Ebonyi South should, in the abiding spirit and demand of justice, be unanimously endowed with the unequivocal right to take the first slot now that it has gone round the zones, Ebonyi South being the last in the order.
Though a new entrant into the politics of the state, Ifeanyi Chukwuma Odi is a stellar business icon, accomplished social enterpreneur and renowned philanthropist. A graduate of Business Administration from the National Open University of Nigeria, Odi is a self-made man who has made his mark as a highly decorated business tycoon.
The 45-year-old business leader is a graduate of the Lagos Business School.
In Ebonyi State, his philanthropic gestures have impacted on the lives of the people in the 13 LGAs of the state. He had over 2000 students on his scholarship scheme and has built about 150 houses for indigent citizens in the rural communities. He has said that his goal is to transform Ebonyi state from an agrarian state to the industrial hub of the East. He believes in manpower development and wealth creation as the basis for the ultimate development of the young state.
Therefore, given his impressive pedigree, it is expedient that Ebonyi people, including the candidates of the political parties, should defer to Ifeanyi Chukwuma Odii, and accord him the favourable recognition to redress injustice attending the state’s political agitations. Dr. Odii is brimming with ideas, robust on integrity, gracious in human relations, and a distinguished patriot and professional, as well as outstanding intellectual.
He promises to enthrone character in leadership, serve beyond self interest, inspire and create valuable and positive change, build trust in government, and restore economic welfare and prosperity to the people, as well as holistic transformation through mass education and industrialisaion.
Nweyeke is an Enugu based public affairs analyst.