By Tonnie Iredia
Some simplistic fellow Nigerians quite often naively assume that persons who are nominated for awards in the country may have achieved a lot. It is not always so. Even our national honours award lost its credibility long ago when government started allocating figures to certain institutions and positions like governors, top legislators and ministers instead of outstanding citizens. Perhaps the most common but annoying awards are those organized by the media and civil society groups who for their own material benefits are seen falling on each other to honour the same characters. Sometimes some governors who failed to pay workers’ salaries are honoured while some other honourees have had to walk into EFCC cells a few months after their lavishly published awards.
We do not mean to deny the existence of many Nigerian with integrity; our point is that no one needs to labour to find out what informed an award. Among governors for instance, no matter how much political opponents may dislike Nyesom Wike, Rivers State governor, there is a high degree of consensus that the title, ‘Mr. Project’ given to him by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo for his hard work is deserving as it is constantly corroborated by any visitor to Port Harcourt. It is against this backdrop that this column today presents its own award for the most outstanding Nigerian politicians of the moment. We have three winners of our Gold, Silver and bronze medals by a set of winners with uncommon disposition.
Our bronze medal goes to the Zamfara State House of Assembly where a bill was passed last week, to abrogate a particular exploitation of the masses by the privileged class. What the legislators did was to simply repeal a law which hitherto authorized the payment of extravagant pension and other allowances to former governors and deputies, as well as to Speakers and their deputies. Among other things, the old law had allowed a former governor to earn his previous salary for life in addition to an allowance of N10million every month plus other wasteful benefits. Presenting the bill before the House, Frank Dosara, the House leader, urged his colleagues to, as a matter of urgency, consider the repeal of the law, which provided jumbo pay for former political leaders in the state amounting to over N700m annually. The repeal was expeditiously done.
The commendable action of the legislators brings to an end a scandalous law. How could a group had been so pampered when fellow citizens who were only entitled to an insignificant percentage of their meagre salaries hardly got paid, notwithstanding that they worked for as long as 35 years? Among the legislators who approved the repeal were those who are or had been speakers and their deputies who would someday on account of this patriotic consideration lose their privileged huge allowances. By their action, Zamfara legislators have set a standard that would be hard to change without massive rioting. Again, they have created a platform for citizens in other states to agitate for an end to such bogus allowances which could now be diverted to helping the poor masses in society. Barring any unforeseeable developments, Zamfara people appear blessed.
The Silver medal would naturally go to the state governor, Bello Mohammed Matawalle who was the architect of the policy. Of course, it could not have happened without him which also explains the speed with which the bill was signed into law. Some critics might argue that he initiated the policy out of malice to punish an adversary – his immediate past predecessor, Abdulaziz Yari. For us, such an argument is superfluous as the policy will affect every person who becomes a former governor and speaker and their deputies. Besides, anyone who has followed the activities of Matawalle since he became governor cannot but perceive the visible people-oriented disposition of the governor. Although he inherited a beleaguered state that had been in the hands of bandits, he has by sheer statesmanship, pragmatism and managerial prowess, freed his citizens from despair. That he had to depose an emir who was reportedly in league with bandits is instructive. Again, like his lawmakers, he has cancelled a personal future benefit.
Matawalle’s silver medal shines brightly because no one else has had the guts to stop the inexplicable squandermania especially the bigger benefits going to former Presidents or ex-military heads of state. We had waited in vain to find someone strong enough to oppose a continuation of an expenditure reportedly well over 15.3 billion naira as ‘upkeep’ to our former number one citizens and their families. In the states, governors of Akwa Ibom, Lagos and a few others are paying more than the profligacy that Zamfara has just halted. The only reason Governor Matawalle is not going away with our gold medal today is because another Nigerian has fought the statusquo in perhaps a more extra-ordinary way. In earnest, we didn’t need to search too long for the gold medalist we are now unveiling.
Our star winner is a young highly educated Nigerian lady, who has spoken truth to power against all odds and yet survived. Natasha Akpoti, the governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party SDP in the recent governorship elections in Kogi state has no doubt written her name in gold. She began with a clash with the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. When the latter announced her disqualification from the election, the reason given, that her running mate was underaged, appeared cogent but the lady knew better. She established that since she, was not found wanting, she deserved to be allowed to pick a replacement. More importantly she took advantage of the fact that INEC had no powers to determine the subject. She moved to the courts and won. Thereafter, Natasha Akpoti moved around campaigning for votes in a volatile state where a deputy governor declared innocent by a probe panel had just been impeached. She was clearly not intimidated by media reports that her state had more fake than authentic police. They burnt her office and party secretariat, yet the lady remained standing. When a peace agreement was put in place, the fake police stopped her from participating in the signing ceremony, while the authentic police served their Inspector General, INEC chairman and other personalities in attendance including the state governor some doses of teargas.
On election day, live ammunition and other weapons were reportedly thrown indiscriminately from all sources including air raids, yet Akpoti endured. After voting day, some unidentified hands burnt another lady alive; yet, citizen Natasha Akpoti survived. Interestingly, she got no comforting words from anywhere, not even from fellow women. Nothing from women organizations and associations be it trader groups, professional bodies etc., nothing from the National Council of Women Societies, nothing from the minister of women affairs, nothing from female activists known for their aggressive demand for affirmative action. Indeed, nothing from first ladies, be it federal or state making Natasha Akpoti easily the most outstanding Nigerian politician of the moment.