By Tonnie Iredia
Across the globe, the greatest influencers are stars in different endeavours; among them, TV actors, bloggers, motivational speakers and sports heroes. What they say and do are greatly followed and optimally imitated by millions of admirers. In developing societies where pseudo-democrats have elevated politics into the mainstay of life, the greatest influencers are political office-holders such as presidents and governors.
Quite often, statements by such leaders can be exceedingly divisive pitching extremist followers against sworn non-admirers or haters. Two such statements that mostly attracted the attention of Nigerians last week were credited to two of our governors – Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State and his Kogi State counterpart, Yahaya Bello.
Amidst high level of insecurity in the country, Governor Akeredolu in his capacity as the Chief Law and Security Officer of Ondo State issued a statement asking all Fulani herdsmen in the forest reserves of the state to vacate such locations within seven days. The governor gave the ultimatum last Monday at a meeting with leaders of Hausa/Fulani and Ebira Communities in the state.
He also banned with immediate effect, both night and under-age grazing as well as the movement of cattle within cities and highways. Akeredolu says he took such”major step at addressing the root cause of kidnapping, in particular, and other nefarious activities detailed and documented in security reports, the press and debriefings from victims of kidnap cases in Ondo State.”
He asserted that the incidents are traceable to the activities of some bad elements masquerading as herdsmen who had reportedly turned Ondo”forest reserves into hideouts for keeping victims of kidnapping, negotiating for ransom and carrying out other criminal activities.”
Another major issue of concern in the recent past has been the huge increases in infections attributed to a more severe second wave of the COVID 19 pandemic. In response to this, the federal government has been working assiduously to procure vaccines to arrest the scourge. But at a political rally last week, Kogi State Governor Yahaya Bello warned Nigerians against using such vaccines that are soon to arrive in the country.
In the words of the governor, “they want to use the vaccine to introduce a disease that will kill you and us, God forbid.” No doubt this was a devastating blow to the efforts of government particularly the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on the pandemic led by Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation.
There have been diverse reactions to Akeredolu and Bello. Among them, two are noteworthy because of their official nature. The first which came from the Presidency chastised Governor Akeredolu for breaching the constitutional rights of freedom of movement of those adversely affected by his order. The second which was issued by the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) dissociated other governors from the stand-point of Governor Yahaya Bello.
The other reactions that have been made public dwelt more on Akeredolu’s statement with many of them seeing some merit in the stand taken by the governor to keep Ondo safe. In the case of Yahaya Bello’s statement, we are yet to see any strong argument in favour of the governor’s refusal to believe in the efficacy of any vaccines designed to save humanity from the current pandemic ravaging the entire world, except Kogi State.
A few salient points on both statements ought to be highlighted in this piece. The first which is the argument raised by analysts in support of the Ondo quit order, is the fine difference between free movement and ownership of property. Freedom of movement can neither be allowed to abrogate trespass to land nor can it be validly extended to include freedom of movement in furtherance of any crime.
The second is that whereas the federal government reacted to Akeredolu, she did not do same to Yahaya Bello; yet statements credited to the two governors were both explosive. Indeed, the influence of Bello’s statement is more pervasive because although no strong voices have openly supported him, his position is secretly believed even in official circles. In other words, many people are generally on the same page with the Kogi governor which leaves his opinion with maximum impact on the polity.
For long, government and top political office-holders often blamed the ordinary Nigerian for poor attitude towards public activities. Painfully, our leaders are unfamiliar with how to cultivate the people they claim to represent. In the case of the subject at hand, the reason our people disbelieve the existence of COVID 19 is because of poor public enlightenment.
Perhaps, the military mentality of directing people to do things is still part of us notwithstanding that only a very minute fraction of us has military training where whatever the leader says is obeyed whether understood or not. Our political leaders who take delight in expecting people to accept whatever they say, do not themselves have the fundamental discipline of leading by example.
Political leaders tell us times are hard, economy is tough and that there is need to tighten our belts, yet no one sees any drop in their over-bloated perquisites of office. As a result, people have come to learn to disobey or disbelieve what leaders say, hence many think COVID 19 is a lie since our leaders insist it is destructive.
When the pandemic broke in February last year, Governor Yahaya Bello no doubt an influencer insisted it was fake and that some people in government were into a financial deal on it. No one countered him. If that had been done, the governor would not have begun a new negative sermon about vaccines. Till today, our official record displayed daily via many media platforms shows there is no COVID in Kogi.
The best reaction that came from the PTF at a point was that the body did not want to be distracted. Did such response consider the implication of allowing one state in the country to have its way on a matter in which the whole world was and is still following a different route? People could have disbelieved the Kogi position if reports coming out from there,were showing that the place has become a huge burial ground.
In the absence of that, it is unfair to not expect a high level of cynicism by the general public. Having involuntarily validated the Kogi claim, bringing a distribution list which gives the same Kogi more vaccines than states greatly hit by the pandemic is subject to contending interpretations. As one comedian rhetorically asked the other day, what if in the end Governor Bello is proved correct?
The disbelief in COVID 19 or its vaccines is caused more by other things happening outside Kogi State. The decision of the federal government to avoid another lockdown makes sense because a lockdown may kill faster than covid. Therefore, encouraging Nigerians to live with it by obeying guidelines that have become famous as covid protocols is rational.
But it is irrational to reopen schools while asking civil servants to stay at home. That is an unnecessary cross-communication. Certainly, our public workers can bear what students can bear, so let them return to work and let’s be consistent for once to give government some credibility.