Jaundiced democracy and looting of Edo governor’s lodge

 By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 16 Nov 2008

Some of my colleagues from Edo State have a common way of describing what they consider a unique achievement of a former governor of that state. According to them, each time the then governor had very important visitors, he would send his boys to comb university campuses. Before the visitors would settle down in their hotel rooms, some beautiful girls would come knocking on their doors. ”I have been asked to come and keep you company and make you feel at home,” is all the ladies would allegedly say.

Edo State has particularly been unlucky with leadership. The immediate past governor, Oserheimen Osunbor, may have tried his best to be different. But also during his tenure, motorists were always apprehensive of driving on certain streets in Benin whenever it rained. Those who dared it had their cars floating on Noah-like flood occasioned by bad roads and poor drainage system.

To enthrone a purposeful leadership that will not only drain the gutters but also their tears of agony, the people of Edo went to the polls last year to vote for Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as their governor. Typical of its do-or-die politics, the ruling People‘s Democratic Party rigged the election and had its candidate, Osunbor, inaugurated as governor.

For 18 months, an impostor reigned in the state. And so, one can really appreciate the joy, the drumming and the broom-waving that have been going on in Benin since last Tuesday when the Court of Appeal declared Oshiomhole the duly elected governor of the state.

Similarly, Nigerians and the entire world are still celebrating the election of Barack Obama (a black man) as the 44th President of the United States. Soon after the voting, the result became public knowledge. No rigging. No shooting. No litigation.

But beyond this general ecstasy lies some fundamental problems with our own brand of democracy. Let’s not even talk about the violence and rigging that characterise our elections. The fact that a duly elected governor will wait for 18 months or more to claim his mandate is abnormal. Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State suffered that fate. The people of Anambra elected him in 2003 to be their governor. Dr. Chris Ngige of the then PDP usurped that position. He ruled until sometime in 2006 when the Appeal Court in Enugu validated Obi’s victory and pronounced him the governor. A few months after Obi assumed duties, Andy Uba of the PDP usurped his position again. The Supreme Court intervened in this case and ruled that Obi’s four-year tenure would expire in 2010.

The Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, was in the same shoes with Obi. For some months, Celestine Omehia straddled the state as governor. It was not until late 2007 that the Supreme Court sacked him and restored Amaechi’s mandate. In Adamawa, Bayelsa, Cross River, Enugu, Kebbi, Kogi, and Sokoto states, election tribunals had nullified elections of the state governors many months after their assumption of duties. There were reruns, which returned the same governors to power with fresh mandates.

Over one year after the presidential election, the Supreme Court is yet to decide who should be the rightful occupant of Aso Rock. Should the All Nigeria Peoples Party candidate, Muhammadu Buhari, or his Action Congress counterpart, Atiku Abubakar, win the case, the political system will witness some momentary hiccups.

Even if Yar‘Adua’s election is nullified, he will leave the scene as the former President of Nigeria. People now address Ngige and Uba as former governors of Anambra State. Omehia is also a former governor, even with a stolen mandate.

Something is definitely wrong with this type of system. This is why President Umaru Yar’Adua’s call for the speedy passage of electoral reform laws is timely. The President had said, “I am not aware of any country, for example, where litigations arising from elections drag on for years after the presumed winners have been sworn in. The distractions that these cause for smooth governance and delivery of the dividends of democracy are better imagined…It is reasonable to expect that such litigations should be concluded before elected officials are inaugurated.”

I cannot say more than this. Apart from the electoral laws, our entire political system needs an overhaul. Yesterday, media reports indicated that some Edo State officials allegedly attempted to loot the governor’s lodge in Abuja two days after the inauguration of Oshiomhole. Some individuals had allegedly taken away such items as mattresses, furniture, standing mirror, and spoons. Yes spoons! An official who worked with Osunbor had also allegedly withdrawn about N500m from the state government’s account in Benin.

It is because we consider government’s property as no man’s property in this country that somebody could think of stealing something as infinitesimal as a spoon. The police have already arrested nine persons. But the matter should not be rested until those found culpable are adequately punished.

It is not enough for us to dream of having the system that produced an Obama in US. We should take steps to entrench that in our polity. Leaders should take the first step. Governors and military officers who disturb the peace of their citizens with sirens should think of doing away with that. The police who shoot guns instead of tear gas to quell civil unrest should learn how to operate in a democratic setting.

The godfathers who insist on pocketing 10 per cent of their state funds should think twice. A ruling party, which collects over N6bn to build a new national secretariat when the majority of the people it is ruling are dying of hunger, deserves proscription. A system that sends petty thieves to jail but humours big time looters of public treasury needs to be reviewed.

All hope is not lost. Comrade Oshiomhole, I salute your doggedness, your courage. You are part of the reason why many Nigerians still reserve some hope for the entity called Nigeria. Your people sincerely hope that you will not disappoint them. May your reign be long! May it trigger in the Federal Government the urge to repair Benin-Ore Road! May it ultimately usher in your people genuine and enduring joy as against the ephemeral pleasures of those who squander our commonwealth under the armpit of wayward girls.

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