By Tonnie Iredia
It is not out of place for every nation to, at the end of every year, identify and celebrate her heroes and the year’s special events. For this column, there is no better time to do so than the last Sunday of the year which naturally features the last article of the same year.
Today’s awards are essentially quite different from many of the popular ones usually organized by some media organizations and social groups and which parade rich awardees who can effortlessly pay for the awards. Rather, we are more interested in identifying people and events whose special performances and circumstances speak for themselves.
Again, unlike what usually happens in many award ceremonies that are dominated by politicians, we have no awards for professional politicians, who are permanently in electioneering moods. This is because politics and elections are merely a means for achieving the societal goal of development.
At the end of elections, governance which improves the living standards of the people ought to take over from electioneering. Accordingly, Nigerian politicians who have been talking about 2023 since 2019 instead of governance deserve no mention, let alone, an award from this column. At the same time, we are more concerned about great events that are essentially positive in nature
Starting with major events, the two which stand out for year 2020 are the Coronavirus pandemic and the #EndSARS protests. From what we said earlier, there is no value in celebrating the pandemic that saw to the sudden loss of many of our friends and relations.
Besides, the pandemic was not a Nigerian phenomenon; it neither affected only Nigerians nor was its devastating impact felt more in Nigeria than elsewhere. For these reasons, the pandemic does not deserve to win our award notwithstanding that it is practically impossible to push aside the unforgettable changes it has forcefully imposed on humanity.
This is especially so as more and more of its destructive stories are still being reported across the globe. The pandemic however threw up a Nigerian that deserves a nationwide applause. He is Onyeama Ogbuagu, a researcher and medical doctor who has spent the greater part of his career investigating some of the world’s most pervasive infectious diseases.
His ground-breaking research in the field of modified genetic code has catapulted him into the public eye, as the leading brain behind the research at America’s multinational pharmaceutical corporation (Pfizer) for a probable first effective coronavirus vaccine which was surprisingly developed under a year.
Onyeama, our award winner brings joy to many Nigerians especially his parents. Incidentally, his father, Professor Chibuzor Ogbuagu, also an outstanding academic, was at a time, Vice Chancellor of Abia State University.
The other major event – the #EndSARS protest, which was wholly Nigerian in scope, planning and purpose was better positioned to become an award winner. Although it was organized by our youths, virtually everyone including the government of the day endorsed their demands which centred around an end to the operations of a team of fearful law enforcement operatives notorious for inflicting bodily harm on innocent and unarmed citizens while criminals operated unhindered.
The protest which strategically had no visible leadership, employed technology and took all and sundry by surprise. Several weeks after the protests, many still wonder aloud how those young Nigerians often seen as incapable of leading their nation designed the procedure and processes of the protest across the country.
Whereas the decision of the group to not project any leadership has remained contentious, there are those who believe that the Nigerian Labour Congress can learn some lessons from the concept. What is not in doubt is that the #EndSARS protest in the perception of ordinary citizens was the best-organized protest in Nigeria ahead of the noble #BringBackOurGirls campaign and the 9month long seasonal ASUU strike.
While the looting and burning of public buildings and several business premises which immediately followed the protests must be condemned by all, it is uncharitable to attribute them to the imaginative protesters. Accordingly, the #EndSARS protest convincingly wins the award for the best organized protest in Nigeria in 2020
The Edo governorship election of September 2020, is another event that deserves an award. Its major strength lies in what can be called effective public participation. It was a contest which united many citizens far and near thereby creating ample public awareness on its conduct.
Without prejudice to the fate of the petitions on the election being presently heard at the relevant tribunal, the contest was well organized bringing out the best of our electoral body hitherto known for its inconclusive contraptions. Other governorship elections especially the ones held in Bayelsa, Kano, Imo, Kogi, Osun etc. were a far cry from the rather transparent Edo contest.
However, the Imo governorship opened a window for us to identify one citizen deserving of an award. He is Justice Chima Centus Nweze, the only one out of seven justices of the Supreme Court who was able to agree with the ordinary Nigerian that an election in which the acclaimed winner scored thousands of votes in excess of the number of persons accredited to vote was defective.
Nweze was also unable to agree with his other six colleagues that the supreme Court had no power to review any application. The ordinary citizen who can recall with ease, many cases where the Court did what it claimed it had no power to do must have preferred the more persuasive minority judgment of Justice Nweze. One lesson worth learning from the case is the need for Nigeria to review its electoral law which seems to empower the judiciary to discountenance the wishes of voters.
Our last award for this year goes to the tireless developer and builder, Nyesom Wike, Governor of Rivers State. It is not unlikely that many Nigerian groups and analysts may oppose this award not because it lacks merit but because they probably hate the awardee’s guts and perhaps political affiliation. Such points are nonetheless outside our own considerations.
Indeed, Governor Babagana Zulum of Borno State could have similarly picked an award if his avowed determination to develop his state did not get distracted by the challenges of insurgency rocking his part of the country. On his part, Governor Wike deserves an award for year 2020 because he successfully moved during the year from what he used to be called, Mr. Project, a name subscribed to by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to Mr. Commissioning.
For the better of this month, Nigerians were able to watch on national television, daily commissioning of projects in Rivers state. What makes his award significant is not only the fulfilment of promises which is alien to our politicians but the fact that the numerous projects were largely commissioned by his fellow governors.
In other words, Nyesom Wike went beyond the initial philosophical foundation for the establishment of the Governors’ Forum to the practicals of peer review. Whether or not the governors make any pronouncements on their impressions, it is obvious that they learnt lessons on the essence of ensuring that projects formulated are executed and commissioned for the benefit of the governed. A people’s governor can hardly have a better legacy.