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Governors and threat to democracy – Part 2

By Alabi Williams
05 June 2023   |   3:54 am
As I was saying last Monday, misgovernment at sub-national levels poses more threat to our democracy than we are programmed to admit. Our minds are always fixed on the Federal Government.

1999 Constitution

As I was saying last Monday, misgovernment at sub-national levels poses more threat to our democracy than we are programmed to admit. Our minds are always fixed on the Federal Government. But we can’t keep our eyes away from the deplorable situation in many states, that are failing to provide needed justification for democracy as provided specifically in Chapters Two and Four of the 1999 Constitution.

Meanwhile, some citizens are still counting losses suffered in the hands of the previous regime. For instance, people of Southern Kaduna can only wish and pray that their new governor, Uba Sani, will not play politics with their safety, which is his first responsibility to the people and is constitutionally guaranteed. They deserve protection under a democratic government, so that in their daily and nightly prayers they will not wish for another type of government, or resort to self-help.

The Constitution of the Federal Republic makes it the business of government to protect citizens. People of every state deserve protection. But in the last eight years, the figures from Kaduna were frightening. Even in the last days of El Rufai’s administration, people of Gbagyi community had to battle a demolition squad ordered by the State Government. It’s unbelievable, that 12 citizens who attempted to safeguard their homes from the demolition team were reported killed. In the misguided euphoria to May 29 transition, there was some kind of media blackout on this. I wouldn’t know if it was by design, but I think no citizen should die for offence of contravening building regulation of whatever type. If they trespassed on government land, that sin couldn’t be so grave to cost human lives. After all, all land originally belonged to communities before government acquired them for overriding public interest.

At another level, the Southern Kaduna Peoples Union (SOKAPU) say 245 communities covering seven of 12 LGAs of Southern Kaduna were destroyed with a death toll of no less than 10, 000 since 2016. 

The Area captured by bandits and armed herdsmen, they say, is around 6, 000sqkm.
Not less than 150, 000 persons are living as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), with not less than 10, 000 children forced to leave school. I know government has superior statistics, but what is important is that citizens should be protected in their homes and ancestral lands. In this, the Federal Government takes larger blame for turning a blind eye.

The economic implication is that rural communities where cotton, peanuts, sorghum, and ginger are grown were greatly hampered by insecurity. Taxes that could have accrued to the state government were lost and livelihoods obliterated, thus, multiplying poverty.

In Benue, where a priest, Hyacinth Alia is now in charge, there are great expectations that the people will not go through another round of harrowing ethnic cleansing as was witnessed in the last eight years. Available record says over 5, 000 people were killed in seven years. Former Governor Samuel Ortom became famous in his desperate engagements with a distant Federal Government. The carnage was horrific and undeniable, even though many in high places preferred to live in denial.

I pray that the man of God, Alia, is able to manage the situation. Benue is acclaimed to be Nigeria’s number one food basket, a claim it can no longer appropriate because the farmlands have become burial sites. Able-bodied hands that cultivated the lands are now in camps for IDPs. The implication, again, is that rural economies have been destroyed and taxes that should have boosted the state economy in ruins. Poverty is being multiplied and democracy imperiled.

Apart from the distraction posed by insecurity, Ortom did not advertise any particular governance skill. And his politics was also disastrous. The one who flaunted his office most in our faces is the former Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, also known as Mr. Project. For eight years, Wike invaded and lived in our private spaces with reckless ostentation. We became so familiar with his grating voice and unedited demeanour even with our backs on television sets. He paid hugely to engage audiences that were 800 miles away from his territory. Rivers had become too small to contain him, a man who nursed the ambition to be the chief servant of the Federal Republic should be on DSTV 24 hours. He utilised his space very well and didn’t sublet an inch of it to anybody.

In eight years, Wike reconfigured the political space in Rivers State. The state once surrendered largely to control by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and it recorded some of its ‘best’ election results here. That success was not the handiwork of one man. There were party stakeholders and members who took the campaigns and the ‘battle’ to far-flung and remote places where elections are cooked. 2019 was not too easy for PDP, but the party managed to contain the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its Federal might. Wike still had his allies then, the likes of Uche Secondus, Senator Lee Maeba, Dr. Abiye Sekibo, Senator George Sekibo, Sir Celestine Omehia, Austin Opara, among others. It was a full team.

But towards 2023 elections, Wike had fallen out with his brothers and allies. He became a one-party personality, having the likeness of Benito Musolini. He became the chief funder and PDP campaigner, the reason he needed to appear on sponsored airtime three times a day to explain his battles and how he was dealing with his enemies. Sometimes, he seized time and space from clergymen during church service to rain curses on his adversaries. The cost is all on the state.

The toll on the party was massive because there was nobody to come to his rescue. And the reality of the Bimodal Voters Accreditation System (BVAS) was that elections were not going to be as usual for the party in Rivers and everywhere. There was the concern and apprehension that Rivers was likely to be overrun by the Labour Party (LP) Tsunami, and the signs were very clear, that without underhand practices there was no way Wike’s weakened PDP could garner sufficient number of votes to form government.

Despite all that, Wike installed a governor of his choice. While we allow the election tribunals to sieve through the ballots and remove fake votes, we’re waiting to see how the new party leader, Siminalayi Fubara will gather the pieces together. He either opens its doors to readmit those that were chased out or continue to expend state resources on needless political fights. If we must grow democracy, governors have to change strategy and be more accountable.

The resources state governors wasted in their bid to be politically relevant on the road to 2023 election are yet to be quantified. I canvass that independent auditors go to work and demand accountability. We saw the G-5 Governors, which Wike groomed, as they flew all over the place in chartered planes. We watched helplessly because no one could call them to order. Their legislatures are as helpless as ordinary citizens because they surrendered their power of Appropriation to potentate governors.

Their APC counterparts were all over the place as well, paying homage to sick leaders who hibernated in foreign hospitals. And they shamelessly advertised pictures from such pilgrimages. We saw the crowd of politicians that accompanied candidates to Chatham House. Only in Nigeria do citizens accommodate and celebrate these absurdities. We brazenly waste resources only to beg for debt forgiveness.