By Abdu Rafiu
Mercifully, the war drums fell silent in Edo State on Saturday. In place of war drums, it was undisturbed victory songs; it was rejoicing and dancing galore. On the streets and in the village squares. The fear of an Armageddon dissolved, thanks to the police high command’s disinterestedness, but purely professionalism this time. The voters displayed enthusiasm and determination to elect their helmsman to oversee their affairs and watch over their interests for the next four years in Edo State. It was a keen contest and it is note-worthy that Mr. Godwin Obaseki carried himself with effulgent dignity all through the campaigns and during the television debate, limiting himself, during question time, to only what needed to be said even in the face of provocation. He sought to raise the debate to a high pedestal. His challenger, Osagie Ize-Iyamu showed promise, also, and displayed traits of dynamism and aggressiveness which he was going to bring to governance were he to win the election. Both demonstrated their grasp of issue of governance. Of course, eloquence on the hustling is one thing, performance while in the saddle is quite another. Obaseki has been tried and in the judgment of the Edo electorate he acquitted himself; he has done remarkably well; he took governance seriously.
The election, however, was in the final analysis between one party, that is within the same party. It was not a contest between APC and PDP. As many commentators have remarked, it was a contest by APC slugging it out with APC, and PDP with PDP. There were fringe parties participating all right. The focus was on the dominant parties, purportedly to be APC and PDP. The two principal candidates were no strangers to themselves in the pugilism ring. It will be recalled that in 2016, Obaseki was the APC candidate while Ize-Iyamu flew the PDP flag. This time around, they switched parties after Obaseki was stabbed in the back, a feature of our primitive politics and society. In the Western world we copy, an incumbent is given a free ride to recontest for a second term to consolidate his gains and correct shortcomings. And come to think of it, those who benefitted from this enlightened practice in their time were the most vociferous in the clamour to see the back of their governors out of government house. The erstwhile beneficiaries are determined to build an invincible political machine to keep them as perpetual kingmakers who decide the political fate of their associates and protégé in their parties. For George W. Bush, second term contestation was automatic. No one contested the waving of the Democratic Party flag with Barack Obama for his second term. Mr. Trump is forging ahead as Republican presidential candidate in the coming election in November. Back home: In the Second Republic, Bola Ige of the then UPN was given the party ticket automatically to contest for second term in Oyo State; so was Lateef Jakande for Lagos; and so were Professor Ambrose Alli in the then Bendel State; Bisi Onabanjo for Ogun and Chief Adekunle Ajasin for Ondo State. Omoboriowo who tried to wrest the ticket from Ajasin bruised his knees and burnt his fingers, ending his political career disgracefully. In this Fourth Republic, Lam Adesina had an automatic ticket to contest for the second term in Oyo State: So had Segun Osoba in Ogun State; Bisi Akande for Osun; Bola Tinubu for Lagos; and Adefarati for Ondo State — all on the platform of Alliance for Democracy party (AD). Adams Oshiomhole was similarly given a free ride in Edo State on the ticket of ACN.
Oshiomhole, desirous of being the father of Edo politics did not approve of Mr. Godwin Obaseki returning for a second term. But in doing so, he did not take account of the enlightenment in Edo State. Here was a man who knocked the idea of godfatherism in the state, boasting godfatherism was gone in the state forever, alluding to overarching influence of Chief Anenih, former national chairman of PDP, in Edo State and putting the influence in the shade. His determined effort to put down Obaseki, however, blew up in his face. The mistake Ize-Iyamu made was to advertise Oshiomhole as his godfather and mentor and put him in the front row for his campaign and fight against Obaseki. Oshiomhole’s local chapter back in his constituency was the first to disrobe him. There he was suspended as a member of APC. That is where any leader would boast he has an impregnable base. Then, to compound matters, he was removed as the national leader of the party. His team was disbanded and a caretaker committee was raised in its place. By featuring Oshiomhole, Ize-Iyamu only succeeded in getting him to campaign vigorously for his opponent. A smart guy, Obaseki simply went for the jugular, digging up all tapes and video recording of Oshiomhole’s pronouncements demonizing Ize-Iyamu in 2016 and extolling Obaseki to high heavens, his education, his resourcefulness as a stockbroker, and bank executive as well as his unremitted application to assignments. These were played on the streets, at campaign rallies, in social media, videos and on television. It was a grave miscalculation by Iyamu. Even if the electorate in Edo had forgotten the unflattering credentials his later-day mentor brandished about him four years back, the recordings refreshed their memories. Oshiomhole himself only succeeded in lowering his own esteem in the eyes of right thinking people as an unprincipled and unreliable person whose word is not his bond. It also proved the hollowness of Nigerian politics. What Oshiomhole ought to have done was to have sat quietly at a corner in his home, glued to his television, have himself entertained, shake his head and smile mischievously at developments and the gyrating gladiators. In the end, although, believing that he was campaigning for Ize-Iyamu, he succeeded only in campaigning for Obaseki. Both he and Ize-Iyamu took the people of Edo for granted.
Talking about taking Nigerians for granted, I read with dismay the accustomed sophistry of Lai Mohammed, the Information Minister at a Press conference during which he spoke of the determination of the Federal Government to ride rough shod on the sensibilities of critical sections of our country on the National Water Resources Bill 2020. He said the government was not going to back down on the controversial bill. The bill which has been passed by the House of Representatives is to go to the Senate for concurrent endorsement if they consider it the right bill. As of now, the bill has raised the political temperature in parts of the country and opposed by eminent persons conscious of its potential to cause tension and widen suspicion and the worrisome divide across the land.
The beauty of democracy is that it engenders participatory governance. It does not lend the polity to dictatorship. The contributions and wisdom of all citizens across the land are tapped and put into consideration. In dictatorship, it is the decision of the junta that is rammed down the throats of the governed, however unwise it may be. It is denial of the exercise of free will of the citizens to make a choice. Free will is an inalienable gift of the Creator for the people. Choice then becomes a natural right not subject to the whims and caprices of any other person or authority. Human right is thus different from civil right. Denial of free decision is the reason why a dictatorship carries the seed of instability within itself, and all peoples so caught in such an arrangement long at the earliest time possible to get out of the enchainment. The present democratic order was not given to Nigerians on a platter of gold. It was fought for. Lives were lost and people were incarcerated. Some broke limbs. It is true parliament consists of representatives of different peoples and they are to forge a consensus in decision- making, motions and in law enactment. But there are issues that go beyond parliament because of their peculiarity and the peculiarity of a plural, complex society. You may also have an emergent assembly where parliamentarians are yet to master the ropes. The National Assembly in recognizing the sensitiveness of a subject throws it open beyond its hallowed portals and takes it to what they call public hearing.
Water resources bill is one of the matters that go beyond parliament or the remit of the executive arm of the government. It is one to take the sting out of the tale of centrifugal forces associated with a unitary form to affirm that Nigeria is a Federation so that each people can safeguard their identity and their interests. As this column made plain in its earlier comment on this subject, Nigeria is not a country of immigrants, or of settlers, but of nationalities, indigenous peoples with different languages, cultures, religious beliefs and world views. These are not what any government can legislate as they are manifestations of development and inner maturity of peoples. Each group is brought about and sanctioned by Law. Each race or ethnic group is ordained in the Law. Each is to stand side by side, not one on top of the other. The perception of the latter or its manifestation that one stands on top of the other leads to a feeling of slavery, and every act of slavery is lacking in Love which is the sustaining power of All Existence. Where there is no Love, there is bitterness, envy, hate and conflict, and collapse is the inevitable, indeed the inexorable end.
The Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, defending the National water Resources Bill 2020, on Tuesday, said the Bill is not a backdoor law to foist RUGA policy on Nigerians nor is it designed to toe partisan or regional lines. He said it is meant to engender professional and efficient management of all surface and ground water for the use of the people (i.e. for domestic and non-domestic use, irrigation, agricultural purposes, generation of hydro-electric energy, navigation, fisheries and recreaction). He went on “The Bill will ensure that the nation’s water resources are protected, used, controlled in a sustainable manner for the benefit of all persons.”
In response to criticisms of Section 75 of the Bill which says “no borehole driller, whether corporate or individual, shall commence borehole drilling business in Nigeria unless such driller has been issued a Water Well Driller’s licence,” Lai Mohammed said no technically competent driller would be afraid of obtaining a licence. Most collapsed boreholes in the country were drilled by charlatans, he said. I am surprised that Mr. Lai Mohammed cannot see how ridiculous it is for everyone who wants to dig a borehole in his yard to ask his driller to head for Abuja to obtain a licence, what a local government can take care of should a licence be needed. Would anyone or company need to dig a borehole if the government has provided pipe-borne water? The borehole drillers are mostly plumbers some of whom may have attended a trade or technical school and obtained their certificates therefrom. It is also shocking that he cannot sense Nigerians are too smart not to be able to read between the lines.
The 8th National Assembly threw the bill out of the window, seeing the implications of adding centralization of the use of water to the over-filled bowl of the Federal authorities. The over centralization of powers in the Federal Government has led to unabating agitation of all sorts in the land because it detracts from the foundation on which the country was built by the founding fathers to enhance trust and bring about harmony in the country. One begins to wonder if this administration is not conscious of the weight of the baggage of trust deficit it is carrying.
The Governor of Benue State, Mr. Sam Ortom, describes the Bill as anti-federalism and that it negates the right of Nigerians to their God-given resources. The Governor is convinced that those pushing that the bill be passed at all costs have a hidden motive, more so that the 8th Assembly rejected it in 2018. He said it is curious it is being resuscitated. He said the Bill, in addition to its provisions which are at variance with the Land Use Act is disguised land grapping, designed to give pastoralists unhindered access to river basins, adjacent marine and coastal environments across the country. In his words: “The Bill is another version of RUGA which objective is to create grazing areas in the 36 states of the Federation for herders and their livestock.”
This Bill must raise questions about our sense of priority. Of all critical issues besetting the land such as population explosion in parts of the country, particularly the North, and burgeoning out-of –school children, one feels ill at ease that it is water bill that captures government attention more at this time. The two issues are related and they constitute a time-bomb for the country. A population policy is already in place enunciated by Ibrahim Babangida Administration to stem exponential rise in the population of children brought to this world. It is things like this that are in need of dusting up. President Goodluck Jonathan built about 17 Almaijiri schools distributed to different places in the North to absorb out-of-school children said to number 13 million with 11 million of them in the North. The schools ought to be made functional to prosecute its laudable objectives. Rather than these, the government has concentrated on divisive issues.
Regional blocs and associations, such as Afenifere, Ohanaeze, PANDEF and the Middle Belt Forum as well as youth organizations, have denounced the Bill. Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka knocked it. The government cannot afford to ignore the feelings of such regional blocs; they are the owners of the rivers and waterways. Lagos State had this confirmed in court nearly two years ago in an action led by former Works Minister Femi Okunnu. The Federal Government cannot say it is wiser and more patriotic than all the regions and prominent figures put together who have expressed serious reservations about the Bill. The Bill rankles; it negates the tenets of democratic practice of wide consultation with stake holders and respect for their views. It is a cigarette end that has the potential to set off a conflagration. It is highly combustible and must therefore be thrown into the dustbin.