By Philip Nweze
The story I’m about to tell seems too good to be true. It is one that cannot be forgotten with the passage of time. One that plastered me with curious excitement and makes me carry a sense of pride for being an Ebonyian. In this era of rancourous partisan divisions and tsunami of negative politics, this particular tale is a modern masterpiece in Nigerian politics. In fact, from every indication, it looks like good times are here for opposition political parties in Ebonyi state.
Ebonyi Governor, David Umahi took the nation’s political commentators by surprise earlier this month when he announced that he would pay fifty percent of nomination fees for councillorship and chairmanship candidates of opposition political parties willing to partake in the April 22 local government elections in the state. The opposition political parties in the state had cited the exorbitant cost of Ebonyi State Independent Electoral Commission (EBSIEC) nomination forms as reason why they may have to forfeit the elections. Not only were the fees slashed but the governor provided a forum for relaxation and entertainment for his “perceived” enemies during the get-together.
This act is instructive in many respects. First, it is unheard of in Nigeria political terrain. We live in a country where intolerance reigns supreme. A case in point is the animosity and age-long antagonism between the two main political parties in the country, where members of the two political parties consider themselves the biggest enemies instead of treating themselves as political opponents. Political parties in Nigeria specialise in insulting each other. During elections, one is confronted with the most primitive of abusive language, as protagonists trade the most tasteless of insults. Petty political activists carry out frivolous noise making gimmicks in motor parks, or simply pass reckless opinions in public drinking places. Members of opposing political parties are persecuted, vilified, plotted against at high level places of authority, falsely accused and the sad thing is that this experience has been in the heartland of a renowned democracy.
If you are bold enough to compete against a sitting governor, you are seen as stabbing the heart of a god for daring to challenge your superior. Every election in Nigeria eventually turns into a tragedy. The election booth is soaked with blood, with crisis rocking from coast to coast. There is a fighter, nay a killer, in almost every Nigerian politician. Often, I question this unwarranted overzealousness, quite certain that some things deserve no more than a good laugh and they will go away, rather than Nigerians slaughtering fellow Nigerians.
I simply volunteered to dispatch information of this rare act of maturity displayed by the Ebonyi Governor as a proof that there still exist unsung heroes of Nigeria’s democracy. A just and well functioning democracy requires that all citizens have fair access to the political arena, a fact well understood by the governor. Umahi understands that Ebonyi is a young, fragile democracy, which is why it is necessary to focus on tolerance, to nourish and push for tolerance so that the state can be united for a purposeful contribution to national development. His style abhors making the opposition targets of graceless lowbrow attacks as is the case in most states of the federation. He favours progress of Ebonyi state above progress of party.
In advanced democracies, political parties cooperate, debate and exercise mutual respect when different views are involved because this could open a very useful insight to the electorate. They compete on the basis of ideas and programmes they are promoting leaving the citizens to decide on their own which party would occupy the spot on their ballot. The very possibility of democracy turns on tolerance. Society by definition involves people getting along peacefully and cooperatively most of the time, if not all the time.
Leaders identifying with the opposition is a rare act in our political clime. Even our media men have lost sight of neutrality. Our media leads ahead of its readers in the crusade of intolerance, and one just needs to get the next Nigerian newspaper to get the point. This is why I strongly believe that the leader of Ebonyi state deserves garlands. May I clarify that the governor’s political successes and triumphs were made possible by his strong belief in God, the practice of genuine love, his vision and pragmatism in politics, and compassion and benevolence in his private and official activities. Ebonyi is a magical land today because its leader understands the nitty gritty of politics and how to play resultful politics without bitterness and rancour. Chief Umahi surely understands to respect the ideals and endeavours of the institution of politics, without subjecting opponents to sub-human treatments.
Other Nigerian politicians must choose unity in place of bickering and quarrels orchestrated by political rivalries. The problem facing Nigeria is not beyond redemption. The solution lies in behavioural re-orientation as well as unity and oneness among Nigerians for the attainment of common social goals. We have seen politicians celebrating egregious acts of violence, or at best, turning blind eye to the menace. This is quite evident at the height of infighting within some parties and it continues to be a trend which has set most parties on its splitting path.
Governor David Nweze Umahi is a lesson for other Nigerian politicians on the need to be tolerant of opposing views and the crucial roles of opposition political parties as catalysts of true democracy. The gospel is that others must be appreciated, valued and respected even within the context of politics. Governor Umahi is a leader imbued with social conscience, justice and equality. He is one of the leading lights of the country who believes in fair context without trying to pull any one down.
With this rare act by the governor, peace is fully on course in Ebonyi politics.