Thursday, 9 January 2014

Adams Oshiomole, the Widow and the Blackmail of Poverty in Nigeria

Adams Oshiomole, the Widow and the Blackmail of Poverty in Nigeria
Gov Adams Aliyu Oshiomole has been in the news for days now for the wrong reasons. In a video that went viral, he was seen excoriating a woman in very angry and unkind words. Apparently on an inspection tour round Benin City, the Gov came across this woman trading by the roadside with her wares right on the road, thus blocking the road. He tried to talk to her to get off the road to allow for free flow of traffic but she pleaded with him to be allowed as that was the only means of livelihood for her and her family and, in a bid to make her case more pitiable, she mentioned the fact that she is a widow. The governor flipped and went gaga. Nigerians were not in the least happy with the big man for such levels insensitivity, especially in the light of the fact that this woman is a struggling widow who, like many other poor Nigerians, and women in particular, is working hard to eke out a living in a country that has sentenced its common man to a life of privation and indignity amidst plenty. The PDP, in Edo State, saw the situation as perfect opportunity to make political capital and went right ahead to lampoon the governor and even offer the woman a “whooping” sum of N250,000.00 to help her; thus we saw headlines like “PDP Rescues Oshiomole’s Widow!”
The governor has since realised his slip and apologised to the poor widow for addressing her in the manner he did and infact went ahead to also “rescue” her with a dash of N2,000,000.00 along with an offer of scholarship for her son. I guess many other poor Nigerians would wish they had the “fortune” of being so insulted by a governor.
But, barring Gov Oshiomole’s choice of words in addressing the poor widow, let us look at the matter more closely. Nigeria is a country with a crying need to move forward. The truth is that most of her citizens live in sub-human conditions. Another truth is that successive governments at all levels have not been seen to have sufficiently worked to lift the living standards of the majority of people in the country. What efforts we see might at best be construed to be rather tokenistic  and self-serving, for one sees one seeming good here and many bads there, and without real and true effort to bring such bads to book for the country to march forward for the common good. Inspite of all of these, one occasionally sees persons in power come forth with some modicum of good intention backed with action; we have seen some governors in this tiny league. If one considers the ten years or so years of governance in Edo State prior to the coming of Oshiomole and his Labour Party, now APC, one cannot but add him into this league. The fact is that such leaders, when they come into office and want to make meaningful good for all, they encounter stiff challenges not just from political opponents and cabals who have benefitted from the corridors of power at the expense of the generality of the people and would no longer have access to such benefits, but also from the very common people for whom such leaders seek to work. Indeed because of successive regimes of plunder and prebendalism, such common people have been consigned to reprehensible living and indignity, as mentioned earlier, and they do not think or imagine any better alternative. They are comfortable living like animals, without any mental and emotional incentive to strive for the better. This situation profits the plunderers who know better but want to keep on with business as usual.
Therefore when such few leaders want to do good, feathers, even of the poor must be ruffled. Business would not continue as usual and before one realizes, such a leader is accused of being wicked to the common man. You hear such comments like “ya hana mu cin abinci”, as they say in Hausa to mean he has denied us of livelihood. Warts and all, no one can take it from people like Nasir El-Rufai in the FCT, Babatunde Fashola in Lagos, and Rabiu Kwankwaso in Kano; these persons have had to “deny” a few of their livelihood for the common good and that is why their respective domains under them began to take shape. Mind you it is not a matter of the party that such persons belong or belonged to.
Poverty has always been used to blackmail potentially good leadership in this country and because many leaders have sought political self-preservation, they have caved in and today, even though they managed to retain their positions, they are insulted for non-performance. Only recently, a certain state government mulled over the policy of banning the use of motor-cycles, popularly known as Okada or Achaba, for public transportation in its major cities because of the security risk they have come to be, the public safety threat they have amounted to, and the nuisance they have become. The moment the information went public, the state government was practically harassed in the name of poverty and lack of jobs for youths. That is despite the fact that most of those Achaba riders did not have concrete addresses in the city because they are hustlers from neighbouring states and beyond, and also hordes that thronged from other states where they had been expelled. It is also despite the fact the fact that this state government made a very commendable modest effort to provide alternatives by giving out a good number of tricycles to its citizens to kick-start the process of the transition hoped for. The government caved it just so as not to be seen as insensitive. This government is now being harangued as non-performing inspite of the fact that the chief executive appears very well intentioned.
Such is the blackmail of poverty. Infact, on an individual note, simply because you are riding in a car, a bikeman will hit you headlong, damage your car and you will still be expected to pay his hospital bills and fix his bike if not buy him a new one. We can no longer move on our streets comfortably because people have abandoned the market stalls and set shop right in the middle of our roads; all because they say they are poor and want to make a living. On this note, one can understand Gov Oshiomole’s indignation, even though expressed a little over-board. The fact remains that if our leaders must perform, they may necessarily have to commit political suicide.
In the end, you cannot make omelette without breaking eggs, as they say. If we want a better society, then we must be ready to do the right thing and stop running on hormones. Did Jesus not say “unless a wheat grain falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a single grain”?

(Published on BLUEPRINT Newspaper, Thursday Dec 5, 2013)

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