Before We Accuse Our Leaders of Going Mad Again By Dumo Lulu-Briggs
I don’t miss a copy of THISDAY on Saturdays because of the back page piece by Dele Momodu. I always enjoy his prose even when I sometimes disagree with his summations. And on Saturday, July 13, 2013, I read his piece “Our Leaders Have Gone Mad Again”, but this time, perhaps because it dwelt more on a matter that concerns my State, the oil rich Rivers State, and I hold a contrary view to his overall narrative, and equally because there has been a deep interest in Rivers State by Nigerians, especially five eminent governors, I prayed that I would, out of the abundance of my bowels, find the vowels to express the perspective of many concerned Rivers people.
Dele Momodu wrote about the good nature of Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi on the one hand, citing as examples, how in 2010, even without informing the governor that it was his 50th birthday, the governor paid him a visit at the London home of the Momodu’s, coming alone in a cab and going back the same way, and how Governor Amaechi swiftly and without much prompting came to the aid of one of the icons of our entertainment industry, Babatunde Okungbowa, fondly known as OJB who had chronic kidney problem by offering to contribute to the Save OJB campaign and this was after several wealthy Nigerians and political office holders had in the course of several months and appeals, refused to help. And, on the other hand, how some conspiratorial politicians including a serving minister pretending to be working for the re-election of President Goodluck Jonathan had to paint Governor Amaechi bad to Mr. President and have now succeeded in poisoning the mind of the President almost beyond repair.
Governor Amaechi has friends and associates, not just a handful, who are fanatical about him and consider him a very dependable ally, and I am glad Dele Momodu is a member of that group that has almost become a mini movement. Some of us, men and women of Rivers State descent who crave to be members of this movement have not been fortunate to make the membership of this movement and we are not few. And some, like Nyesom Wike, the minister of state for education, and several others have renounced their membership of the movement, and very many people sought to know the reasons for such 360 degrees volte-face. The familiar line from most of those who have exited the movement is that there was hardly freedom of speech and ownership of personal opinions in the movement. This position I am sure is not shared by Dele Momodu either because he is not a very active member of the group or he would claim that it is the position of jilted lovers.
I heard about the $100,000 Save OJB Campaign Fund late, otherwise I would have made my token contribution, not because I know OJB personally or that I am a philanthropist of any note but because I am a soul member of our entertainment industry. So I join Dele Momodu and several other Nigerians to thank Governor Amaechi for his swift response and I wish OJB very quick recovery. However, Dele Momodu said he was constrained by the twin factors of OJB not being an indigene of Rivers State and the more than enough problems the governor has on his plate, from personally requesting the support of Governor Rotimi Amaechi. There is nothing that stops Governor Amaechi from reaching out from across his state, but I would have thought that the OJB issue was an opportunity to demonstrate part of the strength and essence of the Nigerian Governors Forum. As Chairman of the Forum before it became Balkanized, it would have been easy to call his colleagues, thirty six(36) of them to raise the money proportionally if it was too much for OJB’s state government to fund it alone so that Rivers State would not have to fund the rest of Nigeria, especially now when the meagre resources of states has made even Lagos State, the richest state in Nigeria, to ferry destitute Nigerians who are not from Lagos State to their states of origin rather than keep them in Lagos and be responsible for them. Rivers state cannot afford to continue to be Father Christmas to the rest of Nigeria. However, if my governor raised the money through contributions from several persons then he has yet to share the credit for the good work with the other contributors as friends of OJB, including Dele Momodu have continued to thank only Governor Amaechi for his good nature and comradeship in the OJB matter. Rivers State must not be too eager to please and of course saying ‘No ’does not always show a lack of generosity and that saying ‘Yes’ is not always a virtue.
And what do we do with those politicians who Dele Momodu claim have, beyond repair, poisoned the mind of President Jonathan against Governor Amaechi? We must strive to always reconcile reason with truth so that the arguments that may follow shall be slim and just. We all have a right to our aspirations. In the 2011 general elections, President Goodluck Jonathan and Governor Rotimi Amaechi worked closely together and why not? They are both members of the Peoples Democratic Party, the one is President seeking election and the other, a governor seeking re-election. The one needed the other and both worked seamlessly together for their common good. In 2015, the President can seek re-election as president, the Governor, having been elected twice, cannot seek re-election and would either seek a higher political office, either elective or appointive. If elective, it is either the senate or the presidency, and there lies the probable conflict. In 2010, Governor Amaechi, at a PDP stakeholders meeting in Port Harcourt, said he would not seek re-election as governor in 2011, and if he did, he should not be voted for. Not only did he seek re-election, he campaigned vigorously with the help of other PDP stakeholders especially Nyesom Wike, the present minister of state for education, going round some Local Government Areas more than twice and taking on all the opposition to his aspiration. Even when our governor said it loud and clear that he ‘will not’ contest, he did. We discounted his words and took him by his actions and body language. He demonstrated that indeed, actions speak louder than words. In 2013-2015, we will continue to be led by his actions and body language and not what he says or does not say. Please Dele, give President Jonathan credit. Which politician in Rivers State does the president need to tell him about or interpret the actions of Governor Amaechi?
But Governor Amaechi is entitled to his aspirations and free to aspire to any political office in our fertile country, Nigeria. Not only does he have the right to his aspirations but none should begrudge him for his exercise of his rights, and no one is doing that, and especially not President Jonathan. What is happening in Rivers State is purely local politics. Dissent is not a pardonable offence in Rivers State, the political space is closed and the local economy is weak. Since her creation in 1967, Rivers State has never been as prosperous as she is today, yet 82% of Rivers people are not part of this prosperity. 81% of us are illiterate and unequipped with the tools we need to succeed in this century, 81% of us go to bed hungry each night, and 82% of us may never get a glass of clean water. What sort of prosperity leaves over 80% of its people behind? This is more than just us and should not be trivialized as politics. This is the struggle for the soul of Rivers State and none should be in this struggle just seeking victory. Win, let it be when it comes but we should only engage in the struggle to liberate ourselves from the politics and the things and the people that hold our dreams hostage, keep our young illiterate, hungry and without opportunity and of course mire our future.
There was a strong push for infrastructure provision and renewal between 2007 and 2011. Existing roads were expanded and some new roads constructed. Model primary schools and health centres were built. But these schools and health centers didn’t produce the employment of new teachers, doctors and health workers to put them to productive use. Human capital development has been on the low in Rivers State since 2007. We may not like Peter Odili much but we were not as hungry then as we are today. How many Rivers people not in government who didn’t have their own homes or businesses in 2007 have one today? How many Rivers people not in government who were not millionaires in 2007 are millionaires today? How many Rivers people who were not employed in 2007 but are employed today? How many new teachers have we employed since 2007 or already employed teachers have we trained? In the pursuit of a personal ambition, it would not be right to assume the posture of a crusader, and align with a few like minds in your party and the opposition to frustrate the smooth administration of a government that is intent to positively impact the lives of your country men and women. Rather than vilify President Jonathan we should commend him for running a government of tolerance because it is difficult to show sustained calmness when ruinous words and actions are constantly at play and there is a strong, organized hypocrisy and conspiracy against your government. It is time for us to rise, and to raise up each other. We should “judge each day not by the harvest we reap but by the seeds we sow.” We are told that all the great things are simple and many can be expressed in a single word; Freedom, Justice, Honour, Duty, Mercy, Peace…..”
Let us find our commonality and work assiduously to achieve these simple but great things. President Jonathan has repeatedly demonstrated a willingly to simply be a leader not a ruler. Our challenges no doubt are gigantic but the foundations for a sound economy are being laid. Today, Nigeria is a first destination of choice for foreign direct investment, our railways are getting back on track, security challenges never before experienced by any administration is being strongly addressed, there is a road map for improved and eventually, an uninterrupted power supply, and of course, an unfettered freedom of speech, of movement and of association. Indeed, there is rule of law. President Jonathan has shown that “elegance is not the way we wield a sword, but in the dialogue we hold that could avoid a war.” We have a duty to encourage him. Politics or polished tricks as some call it ends when nation building starts.
And Rivers people are asking Nigeria to give us back our state. We do not want to continue to lose it to the rest of Nigeria. And please also give us our governor to preside over the territory of Nigeria called Rivers State. That work is enormous and every fiber of his being is needed to navigate Rivers State and he does not have much time left. Just one chromosome binds all our youth in Rivers State; aspiration. This is simply too much energy to ignore in the name of playing national politics. “We should not make the road shorter, but travel it in such a way that every action leaves the land more fertile and the landscape more beautiful.”
•Dumo Lulu-Briggs is the Chairman, Board of Management, Federal Medical Center, Owerri.
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