THE POWER OF OPPOSITION AND PEOPLE POWER: A CASE OF BENUE IN FOCUS, NIGERIA AT LARGE
By Su’eddie Agema
A lot has happened of late, for good. I don’t remember a more active or participatory electorate – at least, not in some time. Everyone – well, many people can sustain some light chatter or very healthy and informed debates on politics and governance.
There is a great air of opposition sweeping across the land in the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), alongside the All Nigerian People’s Party (ANPP), and Congress of Progressive Change (CPC). The polity is naturally heated (coincidental that the weather is twin?)… Different songs of change are rising up chanted about like battle cries – ishoo changi (the game has changed)is the common call on the street in my home, Benue. It is no longer business as usual. Everywhere people are glad that democracy is [finally?] taking root with even the hitherto most assured of incumbents shaking and rising up.
Quite interestingly, and to our joy, most of these officers have stepped up from docility. My Benue Governor Gabriel Suswam has become more people oriented – touring the state and heading into the most rural of areas. People who never thought they would catch a glimpse of the Governor except on those ever popular posters that have become the new design/paint on many streets, and houses; blocked signposts; milestones, now have not just a glimpse but some interaction with the ‘amiable’ Governor in the flesh! There is also the renovation and colourful painting of the L.G.E.A primary school in Wurukum too. Somewhere, in Makurdi, a man was shot by a police officer. People took to the streets protesting and the Deputy Governor, Steven Lawani was there in an instant to calm nerves. Who can forget that Governor Suswam was on local radio (Radio Benue) to give a frank talk on a phone-in programme, on a lot of sundry issues affecting the state while explaining the reasons for some of his governing decisions and of course, subtly campaigning…
Indeed, ishoo changi. But lots of people are wondering why it took so long for him to become ‘our’ Governor. Why it had to come to the time of elections, or better still, when for the first time in forever, an active opposition to match his every step and more came forth to challenge him. Or is this the first time someone is being killed by our very friendly police in Makurdi? Radio Benue always existed, why hadn’t he been having such broadcasts regularly? Ditto the primary school at Wurukum. And then, the question to the opposition goes – where have you been?!! Why did you have to wait till elections too to come and challenge what you term ‘bad’ governance?
With all the developments, we are made more aware of the power of an active opposition. Of course, the opposition would be nothing without the people behind it. No, not the money bags or political giants – though these people matter in financing and so. We are talking about the general masses who line up behind change so that it can occur. These several people, the like who a few weeks ago liberated Tunisia and Egypt in their stance against dictatorship. It took one man Mohammed Bouazazi, a graduate selling fruits to earn a living whose grocery cart was seized to say ‘It isn’t worth it!’ He set himself ablaze and after some time in the hospital, died. The people also shouted ‘It isn’t worth it!’ and added ‘It is enough!’ The protests came in that culminated in Ben Ali, the country’s iron handed leader fleeing the country. The revolution ignited the fire of the Egyptians who started their own revolt that unseated Hosni Mubarak (despite his regime being supported by the almighty United States of America!). An interim government seats in Mubarak’s stead reforming the country’s policies in the hope of creating a more favourable one that would be used in ushering a democratic government later this year. This as we all know, has inspired similar revolts in Libya, Yemen and the entire Arab world… All the despots are going. Indeed, ishoo change worldwide.
Our Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dimeji Bankole famously told us that such cannot happen ‘over here.’ Well, maybe not in the violence or total protest marches though Nigerians can and would if they get pushed too much. What he didn’t count on is that the revolution can be posed through millions of protest votes! WE must be inspired by these and stand forth ready to cause our own revolution. Our revolution must not be through protests or any violence but by making sure that each one of us that was registered votes. Protecting the votes casted should be the collective duty of all of us – whether registered or not. If however, there are attempts to thwart the validity of our majority voice, then we would have to stand up as one. Hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that. I must take time to praise the several youth who are forming organisations like the Revive Benue and Save Benue Groups. They should remain non-partisan and advocate for the full enthronement of democracy by also joining to ensure free and fair elections are conducted.
This might be unconventional but my prayer is not that any particular person wins. Indeed, my prayer is not that the incumbent win or that the opposition succeed. It is simply that God guides us right to put the right people through the right process to do the job and take our nation at all levels to the next level of change and development. And whenever that person comes into power, I pray that we still have a healthy opposition to keep them on their toes so that progress and development becomes a constant, not just election-time glimpse.
*Published in LEADERSHIP Newspaper February 28th, 2011 Pg 15