Openness Openness By Kola Odepeju
JUST as I was thinking about what to write this week while sitting with a friend at a relaxation arena on Sunday, my phone beeped ‘’panpan”, signalling that I had a message. I quickly opened my phone inbox. The message that came was a response to my article of last week Friday in The Daily Independent Newspaper titled “Of leadership and corruption”. The message was sent by one Mr. A. Adeniyi. It reads; ‘’Hi bro Kola, ‘Of leadership and corruption’ you wrote on the 28th of November-2008, I think Oshiomhole will teach Nigerians how to tackle corruption after telling us how he built his Kaduna mansion from his salaries”.
On reading the message, I smiled. I quickly replied him thus- “Thanks for the response. I am not aware that Oshiomhole built any mansion in Kaduna. However, let us pray he succeeds, at least as a legitimate occupant”.
This write-up will therefore be based on the content of that text message vis-avis the task that lies ahead of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, the just sworn-in Governor of Edo State. Let me start by saying that I found that response strange and funny. I found it funny in the sense that I didn’t praise Governor Oshiomhole in that article, neither did I pass a vote of confidence on him as being immune against corruption. My only mention of him was that he was recently sworn-in as the duly elected governor of Edo State, Osunbor having being sent packing from office for political corruption. Thus, I do not know what could warrant such a text message. But I appreciate that response. For one, trust Nigerians, they know how to put their leaders on their toes. Two, that response has given me a clue on what to write this week.
THE general opinion amongst the people in this country today, especially those at the lower wrung of the ladder, is that the so-called activists, radicals and perhaps also, those who confess political progressivism are not entitled to a life of comfort i.e they must not build (good) houses, they must not ride fine cars, they must not own property. In fact, comfortable living must be expunged from their lexicons. I hold a contrary opinion to this. To me, building a mansion, owing property or living comfortably by say, a public servant or an activist is not offensive to the good of the public per se; what is offensive is for a person entrusted with a position of responsibility to shirk his responsibility and be insensitive to the plight of the people to whom he is to render service. In other words, no one would have raised eyebrow if our leaders make it a duty to provide the basic essential amenities of life for the citizenry, even though they steal money. The fact that they live in comfort at the expense of the people is the reason why people call for their heads. What the people seem to be saying is that, for God’s sake, give us the basic amenities of life, there is no reason for this abject poverty in the midst of plenty. After all, it is not as if that there is no corruption in the advanced countries, but their leaders do not close their eyes to the plight of their people. They do not allow their people to go through all these unnecessary deprivations which the people go through here. This is just the difference.
But one is not trying to justify corruption in the least. The point being made is that the insensitivity of our leaders to our plight-subjecting the masses to abject poverty in the midst of abundance while they squander our resources as they like, is the deuce of our case in this part of the world. Thus, that Oshiomhole or one activist owes a mansion is to me, not the issue. After all, there are different sources of getting money outside salary without necessarily involving yourself in corruption or fraud. Of course, one could be given a contract and use the proceeds from such to do something tangible. It may also be germane to add here that there is no sin in collecting government contract, the sin there is for you to collect contract and refuse to perform.
BE that as is may, I like to use the content of that text message to make a clarion call to Oshiomhole. And the message is clear. Oshiomhole cannot afford not to perform. He is faced with the burden of performance. He is the cynosure of every eye now based on his past track record in public office as a labour activist . As a successful labour leader, he cannot afford to fail or disappoint the people. Having used his past to wage war against the anti-people policies of successive governments in this country, the burden is on him to make the difference. The burden is on him to build the collapsed infrastructure in Edo State.
The burden is on him to generate employment for the youths in that state. Of course, the burden is on him to perform to the expectation of the people and make his government a reference point of good governance in the contemporary Nigeria.
To many of us from the background of activism, it is a thing of joy that one of us is able to fight his way through to the top in the midst of the obstacles placed on the road by money-bags for his likes to get there. Perhaps this is the reason why some have referred to him as the Obama of our country. But Oshiomhole needs to know that just like there were obstacles on his way to the top, so are many obstacles ahead likely to render him a non-performer. Just like a columnist, with The Nation Newspaper, Tunji Adegboyega wrote last week, Oshiomhole must wake-up to the reality that, being a labour leader is different from leading a state. For one, while the labour interest is monolithic, that of the state is convergent.
Definitely, it will not be as easy to control a state like he did to labour due to so many interests, because where some will see through his vision and cooperate with him in his effort to deliver dividends of democracy to the people, some saboteurs will be working to pull the state down, while many will simply be disinterested in the running of the affairs of the state.
THUS, to take Edo State to a greater height, Oshiomhole needs to know that he is faced with an arduous task, more so when he is likely to step on toes with his decision to kill and bury god-fatherism in the state. He may therefore not find it easy in his determination to rule the state well. Also, there is a N9.2billion debt already hanging on the neck of the state which he has already inherited. Though the ‘disgraced’ Osumbor has refuted this by saying that, the debt is N4.9 but not N9.2 billion as claimed by oshiomhole, notwithstanding, whether it is N9.2 or N4.9 billion, debt is debt and Oshiomhole is already seeing the handwriting on the wall regarding those obstacles that stand on his way to perform. There is also the obstacle of a PDP dominated legislature which is likely to pose problem for Oshiomhole in running the affairs of Edo State. Not to be ignored also is how to service his patronage obligations to core politicians and party loyalists such that he doesn’t face extra obstacles from their quarters. This becomes imaginable in view of his declaration that merit will be the major criterion to be considered in forming his cabinet. What is at stake here is that, much as his decision not to sacrifice merit and competence on the altar of party loyalty is commendable, loyalty must also be rewarded. Otherwise, he will create more enemies for himself within the house. Then, soon will he realize that the enemies within are more dangerous than the ones outside. All these and more make his present leadership responsibility far more different from labour leadership.
By and large, these challenges do not seem to be insurmountable for the Oshiomhole that we know. Can he therefore take Edo State to the promised land? Yes, he can. Can he successfully carry the Edo State burden? Yes, he can. May God help him.