An Irukera As the Right Fit For Kogi, By George Oyedepo
Irukera can be an example, even if not necessarily the person, specifically. I know that there are some who can do a great job, but, even for the states that have worked and positions in government that have succeeded, not many have come to the job with what he has achieved so far. Kogi and Nigeria has many qualified persons in the persona of Irukera.
Kogi is on everybody’s mind. Mine too. Since the presidential elections ended, the news has been awash with the alleged failures and corruption of the administration of Governor Yahaya Bello and the anguish and suffering of the people of Kogi. There is always news about the pain and poverty inflicted by not paying salaries of most for over three years, and some for between seven and 20 months in a State in which nothing but the civil service and local government employment are the sole and only ‘industries’.
In Kogi, everything is now comatose, whether it is in a buka, schools, other food selling ventures, the business of clothing and every single stream of commerce. Only the sales of recharge cards for telephony/data access and reading or posting about the pains of the State are the major preoccupations of the people. Still Governor Yahaya Bello (GYB) even affected that preoccupation when he draconically shut down the base stations of a major telephony company to harass it to pay money in what many consider as a wrong-headed tax drive. Who does that? In a government where the centre is promoting the Ease of Doing Business and trying to attract investors, one governor just shuts down the base stations of the largest GSM company in the country! Equally, many people in the state consider that there is a spiritual dimension to happenings in the state. The governor is seen as only concerned about getting a second term, which has taken most of his attention, not minding what people are going through. Moreso, there appears to be fears of him all over the land. For one generally regarded as a nonperforming and dismal failure of a governor, the only apparent opposition to him appears to be from a former military official and chief of Naval staff, Rear Admiral Jibrin Usman (rtd.) who seems our to match GYB gun-for-gun, and fire-for-fire. The saddest part of this is that many Kogi people are cheering the aspiration of the military man for what is perceived as his capacity to match GYB on the level of violence. That is how bad Kogi has become. How dehumanising. That qualification for support to run as governor is now whether you have capacity and audacity for violence. Never mind that this can mean replacing an acclaimed corrupt governor with a worse person. What is Kogi’s offence to be so saddled with such leadership? Can Nigeria ever be delivered?
A recent viral news clip showed Edward Onoja, GYB’s chief of staff upbraiding one of the candidates who has shown interest in Kogi governorship, Seidu Ogar, the director general of the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASDRA) for corrupt practices and selling employment at N1 million naira each to Kogites. In the clip, Onoja details how Jibrin Usman is currently an accused person in the dock standing criminal charges. He goes after General Ahmadu Ali (rtd.) for long-standing corruption allegation, even though he is an elder statesman. He also challenges the sons of late Prince Abubakar Audu, a one-time governor of Kogi State, Mohammed Abubakar Audu and Mona Abubakar Audu, for benefitting from the corrupt wealth of their late father who was under the investigation of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and trial till he sadly passed away on the eve of announcing his victory in the last governorship election. Onoja claims that they have no single item on their CVs for anything they have ever achieved, apart from being Prince Audu’s children and makes allegations of sleaze about their morality and how they treat and sexually and physically abuse women.
Kogi is a State of more than five million people and over one million registered voters. Can it be that there are other people there who could seek public office at the highest level in the State? How can it be that the line-up of those warming up for and those in incumbency appears so morally challenged or have issues of corruption hanging on their necks? There seems to be a problem here. We are not even talking about the competence of any of the people yet, we are still talking about their reputation.
For people looking from outside and feeling sorry for Kogi State, we should be afraid for ourselves. Significantly, Kogi uniquely shares borders with 10 other states. Whatever is happening in Kogi can also happen anywhere. Leadership should have standards. The lowest standard anywhere is potentially the acceptable standard everywhere. We should all be very afraid of how low Kogi has taken the qualification for leadership because as lawyers say, it will become the generally applicable standard. The weakest link of any chain is the test of the full strength of the chain.
In all of their problems, Kogites are still talking about what they don’t want and what has failed them as a people. But is that enough? If we replace a bad egg with another bad egg, our options are for things to remain bad or get worse. With their desperation and how they are going, Kogi people are not thinking or planning on the standard for replacement. Some are not even considering it. They are united against it to chase GYB away. They want their torment to end, and as such want the tormentor to go. I remember the story in the Bible where the people wanted a new king without caring who it will be because their king was bad and wicked. It did not matter who came, they just wanted the incumbent out. They got another one and celebrated the exit of the old one. The new one then told them the old king chastised them with whips but he will chastise them with scorpions. Their story gravitated from bad to worse, from frying pan to fire.
Kogi is in deep despair and cannot help herself. Who can save Kogi? The father of the nation, President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Working COmmittee of the All Progressives Congress (APC) can save Kogi. Kogites are Nigerians too. They can help Kogi find and enthrone a leader who will assuage their pains by taking them out of the present doldrums. Since Kogites are not even able to think of the leadership that is correct for them, the president and APC can give them choices that can work for them so that they don’t remain under the GYB affliction or move from that affliction to another affliction. For the president, it sounds like assistance but truly it is a duty and responsibility. The president can direct the party to ensure that their screening process only produces good candidates who meet standards and even raise the standards. That is all. Democracy will work well like that and the people will get what is good. If the president and APC remain silent and don’t do this, they would fail to rescue Kogi and that cancer of pain and failure of leadership in Kogi will spread to the rest of the body, Nigeria.
I have read a little about Kogi’s history and people and about their geopolitics. The East who are Igalas have a huge voting power because they are in the majority. The West, mostly comprising the Okuns, is next and then the Central, the Ebiras are the smallest bloc. The West and Central together can barely match the East in the voting strength. From 1999 to 2015, the East under different parties held sway, ruling the State. From 2015 to now, the smallest Central has held sway. The West has never had an opportunity. This is like Nigeria. The only difference in Kogi and Nigeria is that one is called Central and not North. Somehow, power has rotated in Nigeria inspite of the higher voting power of the North. This happened because of patriotic action to ensure fairness and justice by rotation. If leaders of the country across different generations did not agree and enforce this, it is possible that there will be a major zone of this country that has never ruled at the centre. If the leaders didn’t make sure that fairness happens, one zone can continue perpetually or a permanent partnership between two zones will keep one out permanently. Since the East of Kogi is strongly pushing for a power shift because they want power back, why can the power not shift for the first time to the West for fairness and justice? The president and father of the nation and leadership of the political parties can help and follow the example of our forefathers who have etched their names in our history for what they have done.
I do not support any particular candidate but I will use one as an example. It does not have to be him but some of the things that are in the public domain about him can be a pointer to what we all can use to find the right group that Kogi can choose from. If they get a correct group and decision, they make will be a correct decision. I don’t know him personally, I have never met him, but I hear and read much and also see a lot on the television. He is Babatunde Irukera, the director general of the Consumer Protection Council. I am not recommending him but acting like a teacher in class, there are things about him that can be examples. He can never be the only one but he is the one whose name has come up in may write ups I have read in papers and online and sometimes ago I saw his profile on some social media platforms.
If the push for power shift will be actualised, Irukera is from the West of Kogi, the place that has never ruled. If it is fairness that has kept Nigeria going, Irukera as governor of Kogi State is for fairness and justice.
If it is talk about competence and fit, Irukera’s profile shows what he has achieved as a lawyer. When I read his profile, he reminded me of a mini clone of our most respected and revered vice president only to find out that he has worked for him before. Apart from that, two years ago I did not know that there was an agency in Nigeria called the Consumer Protection Council and many people too didn’t know. After his short time so far, CPC has become a household name where you can go when you have not been treated well. The agency has a reputation that it will fight for people’s rights and is professionally managed and very responsive, unlike most government agencies. The agency was where Kogi is now – a state of coma and almost dead. His achievement of bringing CPC to life and making it strong and effective is what Kogi needs; a competent hand with experience and public show of how it has been done before.
In everything I have read, what I am seeing is a competent professional technocrat with deep political understanding and network. The previously unknown CPC that was at war with other agencies and was not able to operate maximally, has experienced a positive turn-around under Irukera. There is collaboration in joint investigations with the National Communications Commission (NCC), joint enforcement with the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), joint advisory with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), joint meetings with the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), joint banking regulations with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), joint town hall meetings on electricity with Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), and the joint launch of Patients Bill of Rights with Ministry of Health. To think that this is happening in a country where regulators are always fighting each other, while citizens suffer. This shows teamwork and collaborative effort. Rescuing Kogi needs someone who can bring a team together and lead them and can also heal the ethnic divisions and bitterness. Central and East Kogi are the worst enemies in the State now. A right personality from the West can be the magic that Kogi State needs.
I have also read of his achievement of getting a new law for the CPC that has brought competition work into the Commission. One also read that getting this law through was against heavy opposition because it had been attempted and not successful and ongoing for over 18 years because big companies didn’t want it, other regulators didn’t want it and the National Assembly was fighting with the federal executive branch. This shows someone who has temperamental balance and focus for achieving objectives and who knows how to navigate to that purpose. He achieved this in less than two years, which is less than half of one term of a governor. The last thing Kogi needs now is a politician or another politician. A competent professional achiever who understands politics is what is needed because the person can deploy his professional knowledge and network to proffer solutions for Kogi and at the same build political unity and cooperation.
Very importantly, many of what is available about Irukera describes him as urbane, compassionate, exposed, listening, humble and transparent. If these truly describes any singular person, then they are the virtues Kogi and any other state needs. There is no corruption allegation or moral bankruptcy allegations against him unlike the names we are reading and he does not seem to have been part of the political bitterness that has caused serious infighting in Kogi. These are the standards we should be putting forward and this can be the beginning of many with the right virtues coming in. People who have something at stake and have no choice but to deliver. This is a process Lagos has perfected and we can all see the difference.
Irukera can be an example, even if not necessarily the person, specifically. I know that there are some who can do a great job, but, even for the states that have worked and positions in government that have succeeded, not many have come to the job with what he has achieved so far. Kogi and Nigeria has many qualified persons in the persona of Irukera. That is what we should be looking for and I strongly believe this is where President Buhari and the APC leaderships can help.
George Oyedepo, public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos.