By O’mezie Ekwudu
Earlier this year, Professor Chinua Achebe was given a state burial, a colourful one. That is good. But beyond giant obituary billboards, beautiful eulogies, great funeral orations, stylishly-penned tributes and probably a well-written epitaph there is no greater respect and honour than to keep building the Anambra of Achebe’s dream. Achebe’s Anambra is one that typifies what we stand for as a people. It is one that will be representative of our industry and resilience, which propagates the use, development and exercise of the intellect, and one that does not shy away from our acclaimed love for money which we make by trading; buying and selling. Achebe’s Anambra is one where the godfathers will be shamed and where the people will take their rightful place and decide who leads them.
But what do the godfathers want? It is the Anambra that will look within and resolve her problems without yielding to the ill cravings and manipulations of external hands or in the words of Nna anyi Achebe ‘renegades openly boasting of their connections in the high places and turning my homeland into a bankrupt and lawless fiefdom’. That was 2004. Nine years after, there is a multiplicity of godfathers in different guises. This is disturbing. But worse than that, there is a growing population of de-educated people that are inveigled by cheap sentiments, who ignorantly brag about non issues and unfortunately seemed to have carved their views into stone. Their unwillingness to divorce the culture of pettiness and mudslinging is worrisome. They choose to run after the bones they throw at us leaving the issues at stake. This is diversionary. Never before has our dear state witnessed such an outrageous public display of wilfull ignorance, pseudo-intellectualism and at best beer-induced intelligence. This is pitiful. I did notice a glaring lack of calculation and careful political instinct from us the people.
I am struck by the lack of canniness among able-bodied men and women, even the certificate-clutching ones. Now, these are the people that will vote, they are everywhere, and they are on social media. Let us grow up, embrace reason and challenge the politicians with ideas. We can puncture their spurious claims, rubbish their vaunt, and see through the specious arguments they present. This is a call for us to search for facts, dispassionately analyse observed events and attempt plausible explanations based on solid evidence of the happenings around us. Gossiping and rumour-peddling will change zilch, emphasizing on individuals while leaving policies smacks of narrow-mindedness. While the streets of Ekwulobia, Nnewi, Awka and Onitsha are agog with the excitement and madness that comes with campaigns, let us not be carried away and drown in the noise. Let us not be blown away by the cheap talk of their ill prepared propagandists. Slogan-chanting touts that exert themselves obtrusively should be taken less seriously.
I believe that whether or not the outcome of the November elections will benefit the people will be predicated on the actions of the people, mostly the Anambra people. Truly, we cannot be somewhat copacetic on all issues but it is needful that pertinent questions be asked and answered. It is the prerogative of the people to instill a certain political direction which the government has lost. Our hollow enthusiasm for individuals should not get ahead of a more reason-based assessment of the policies they advance. Not just questions about abandoned projects in our communities but about policies that birth these projects. Let us not judge people by their vocal pitch, their body build, or the amount of money they claim to have in the bank. Let us not form opinions based solely on their political parties or which part of the state they hail from.
Those are secondary in importance. Let us keep asking the right questions and demanding answers. By asking these questions we will sooner than later truly find out whether their allegiances are to us the people or to their cronies and sponsors. Yes, let our moot be on matters with a basis in reason and in fact. Let us talk security, education, health, transportation. Let our debates focus on the state of civil service and its working conditions, housing. Let our arguments be about the quality of our primary schools in UmuOba-anam, Owelle-Ezukala or Isseke and the secondary schools be it in Abatete, Awgbu or Ohita. Let it be about effective funding of our dear state university to enable the indigent parents get the best for their wards. Are there plans for teacher re-certification exercises and continuous refresher trainings? Such questions like does the state government play any roles in power supply and transmission within our state, in our local communities?
The potholes in our roads, especially on the different stretches of the federal trunk. How can they be remedied? What policies will guide the feasible and equitable means of revenue generation where not only pitiable government workers pay tax but where many traders, industrialists and business moguls are properly checked? Which government agencies are empowered to collect the landlord / tenant / building rates? What are they for? What is ANSEPA, what do they stand for? Is it possible for them to carry out their duties without intimidating and molesting poor people? Will the rights of women be enforced? Will there be decent ways of treating market women or should they be left at the mercy of fierce-looking tax collectors be it at Eke-Awka, Afor-igwe, Oye-olisa or Nkwo-Igbo to mention but a few. How much does it cost to run government? What due processes are involved in awarding contracts? How come government functionaries and political appointees own the many hotels and student hostels in our state? How much do they really earn? Which policies are in place to see to the establishment of government-owned factories?
While we agree that hotels are businesses, major steps should also be put in place to favour small and medium scale industries and encourage owners of small businesses. How has the government encouraged the manufacturing sector? Government should intervene in student accommodation issues which are exploited by mostly politicians. In what tangible ways will unemployment be tackled? Are there government policies that answer to joblessness? What happens to those on the margins of the society? Will those in power ever create a system that will encourage the place of role models for the teeming population of the youth? Anambra and indeed Nigeria present a line-up of gallant men and women, living and dead, who fared and excelled in different endeavours in all facets of life; academia, trading, business, medicine, sports, writing, law and even in politics. It is not a dirty game after all. What is the role of the ministry of education in ensuring that our school curricula is robust and all-encompassing?
The school curriculum must be revised continuously to accommodate and reflect changes in global trends of learning. Our pupils should be conversant with names like Kenneth Dike, Chinua Achebe, Cyril Onwumechili, Alex Enukora Animalu, Chike Obi, Chukwemeka Ike, Martin Aghaji. You know the list is endless. This will de-emphasize the wanton lust for material wealth and pass on Sallust’s message that the renown which riches and beauty confer is fleeting and frail; mental excellence is a splendid and lasting possession. How free is education? They should not just mouth free education but must be absolutely clear on how it will be funded. Which policies will deliver it? How can the tourism potentials of our dear state be activated and enlarged? We refuse to be fooled by the campaign of calumny which is commonplace. They are all intended to divide us.
Let us keep asking questions, every type of questions. What is happening with the Orient group? Is there any hope of exploration soon? Can the state invest in building a refinery? What about agriculture? Can Anambra feed her people? What portion of our revenues are agriculture based? Can we find out whether the coming government will treat people with fundamental respect? Will it be out of place to build toilets in our market squares, public schools, and motor parks? And how will it be managed? Will it be a taboo to fill our libraries with real books and computers? Can qualified librarians be employed and allowed to run them? Can the government provide counselling centres for young people across the state? Not just big signposts and empty buildings but centres that will be staffed with qualified guidance counsellors for students and young school graduates who constantly roam the streets scouting for the next available means to make quick money.
Beyond the hot air, can we ask them to tell the people what will form the criteria for appointments into their cabinets? Can they tangibly explain how they will be accountable to the people, will there be town hall meetings in designated places and at specified times in their tenures where people can take them on practical questions. What about security? Town vigilantes, who are they? What legislation brought them to be? What powers do they have and what are the limits of their use of firearms? How can their services be more people–friendly while still helping police to fight local crime? What priority projects are they categorically targeting in the next four years if elected? Even if not announced, are their top security strategies that are specially put in place for kidnapping? Let us know these men and women better. Can we ask for their history, what have they been doing in the last twenty years of their lives, what experiences do they have, where have they followed and where have they led?
Can we find out from the police whether they have criminal records? Basic biology defines mutation as an alteration from the natural state of the hereditary material of life. It is safe to add that a bad mutation turning out to be good is rare and hardly observed in the natural world. Let us know what people are made of and know that they rarely change. Do we need an expert to tell us that a huge proportion of our people buy and sell? Ours is a state with unquantifiable numbers of traders, entrepreneurs, manufacturers and artisans etc. What plans do these office seekers have for the multitude of young men that troop out from Mgbuka Obosi or Onitsha main market at the end of each market day? Not to talk of Nkwo Nnewi. What do traders gain from government? What measures will government take to better the thousands of able bodied young men at Ose Okwoodu, Mgbuka Obosi, Ogbo efere, Nkpor New parts, Building materials Ogidi, Electricals Obosi.
This is just a few. The many article traders on all the corners of our beloved state. What do they benefit? How will the merchants clear their containers with ease? What plans do they have for the gigantic refuse dumps that spill into the roads around our state? Is environmental management a top priority of government? Are there green policies that will protect our environment? Upper Iweka is safe both at night and day. How safe is it to make that assertion? Let us push them to organise their manifesto presentations in smaller units where they will be accessible to the people. What package do you have for our judiciary? Will seniority and competence be maintained in all appointments? What arrangements do they have in the event of emergencies; flood, fire, public health concerns, will our women go to vaccinate their newborns in nearby states like it happened some time ago? Our argument should be that unemployment be classified and treated as a public health emergency.
Let it be seen as an unmitigated disaster and likened to an impending ebola virus invasion? Lest we forget, we must elect leaders we can respect. In times where everyone pours contempt on leaders, when foul language is ripe on the cyberspace courtesy of the social media platform and when people vent their anger, and sometimes their stupidity, by abusing those in authority forgetting that the natural capacity to show respect is indeed a marque of maturity. It is not enough to point fingers but let us give a hand while we criticize constructively. We can choose to walk away in indifference or even with the distinct impression that the electorate will never decide who wins. The ‘I don’t care’ attitude is evil. Our inability to profit from past experiences is distressing.
The state has had different leaders since 1993. Some tried. Others tried more. For each administration, there were high points. We celebrate the good. For the bad, the taste as we all know, lasts longer. Chinwoke’s ‘it is well’ mantra left us all unwell. His administration’s contemptuous disregard for poor people especially teachers, his disdain for civil servants and scorn for pensioners will soon be off our memories. The fight between Chris and Chris left us knee-deep in crisis. It exposed us to arson. And Gregory sitting in the Sanhedrin, surrounded by overzealous disciples that mock the gentiles will soon give way for us to score him. People vying for seats at the state assembly should be subjected to such scrutiny and made to answer same questions too. How wonderful our dear state will be when both the executive and legislative arms are filled with men that genuinely care about the people. If we do those, the vote will reflect an opinion we will all have and posterity will judge us kindly.
The only power we have to make our opinion count is our vote. But how can we vote aright if we are not genuinely furious with the political class and the complete dog’s breakfast they serve us. Having thought over the lessons of our past elections, I have little doubt that the power lies with the people and that no candidate can reject the rejections of the people. It is the friendship of yesteryears that makes the owl perch on the dry tree without fear, our fathers say. Let us stand for the truth as was in yore, when the treetop was land for squirrels, when safe pathways existed under breadfruit trees and when the lizards were not seen in pairs. We must keep building our Anambra, Achebe’s Anambra. For now and in the words of Samuel Ekwunife Ekwudu, let us keep Rome and Canterbury at bay and leverage our limited resources to the best effect. The love of Anambra must always come first. Anything less will compare us to the words of David Suzuki; we are in a giant car speedily heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they are going to sit.
Ndi banyi, it is possible, come November 16, to let the oha make their own eze.
One last thing. Let us not mock the dead in a bid to score cheap points. We are all bereaved.
O’mezie Ekwudu is from Anambra State
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of FOA