By Owei Lakemfa
It is not unusual for me to receive messages asking that I address particular issues in my twice weekly columns. Sometimes students ask that I write on particular topics they are being taught or conducting research on. But the amount of requests I have received in the last fortnight that I write on our governors and the coronavirus challenge is so unprecedented that I suspect a set up. So is an attempt by unpatriotic people and agent provocateurs to lure me into writing about members of Nigeria’s most powerful trade union, the Governors Forum.
I refuse to take the bait because first, I have already made so many ‘enemies’ out there that I need to start making friends, especially amongst the powerful. Secondly, to write on one governor might be suicidal, to write on two, treasonable and to write on three or more is simply to commit suicide. Besides, it will be unpatriotic to write about strong, powerful, rich men who are ably leading us.
I can easily and comfortably write volumes on Lagos State Governor Babajide Olusola Sanwo-Olu and the virus. It was his government, when the rest of the country was asleep, which woke us to the pandemic and has continued to lead both the Federal and state governments on COVID-19. In setting up a team of professionals and allowing them to lead the war, he gave us a model of leadership worthy to replicate.
For instance, while many of his colleagues are hugging the limelight, he lets his Commissioner for Health, Professor Emmanuel Akinola Abayomi, who has experience in Africa and the West Indies on matters like cancer, sickle cell and diabetes, to lead the fight. This way, the state government can answer any question on the virus, no matter how technical.
I can also comfortably write on Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State who runs a close second to Sanwo-Olu in terms of effectively tackling the virus and its spread. My verdict, which can be appealed, is that: Sanwo-Olu by being non-offensive, civil, cool-headed, accommodating and result-oriented, has been far more effective than Wike.
While Sanwo-Olu relies more on persuasion, procedures and processes, Wike’s strength is reliance on force and putting the fear of God in people even if that violates the law and the precepts set down by God. For instance, the Bible tells us that although God knew Eve had listened to the snake and along with Adam, eaten the Forbidden Fruit, he did not deal with them summarily; rather, He gave them fair hearing.
However, Wike has no such patience. When told that two hotels: Edemete and the Prodest Home violated his COVID-19 rules, without giving the owners or management the right to fair hearing or their day in court, he moved in bulldozers to demolish the structures. I am sure he must have felt justified. So, as he personally supervised the bulldozing, he would not have felt any pang of guilt.
Unfortunately, there was no official bold enough to reminded Wike that the country is running short of spaces to isolate COVID-19 patients, so the hotels should rather, have been seized and handed over to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC.
I am a fan of the governor, and in our Wike Fans Club, a member from Rivers State said he does not mind Wike locking the people down, his only worry is that as the governor hops from place to place, he might lose the key and the people will remain perpetually locked down. The Rivers people know that the fear of Governor Wike is the beginning of wisdom. In fact, I do not know who they fear more: Wike or COVID-19?
I can also write on Gombe State Governor Muhammad Inuwa Yahaya who has been the most democratic so far, at least compared with Saudi Arabia. Given its monarchical nature, the latter thought the best option was to lockdown the country. Even when this was eased, and despite several appeals, Saudi Arabia maintains the lockdown on the Holy City of Mecca. In contrast, Governor Yahaya called a meeting with religious leaders in the state and the democratic consensus was that people should be allowed to congregate for religious activities.
In a state-wide broadcast last Friday, Governor Yahaya announced the verdict of his referendum: “While majority supported the call, some cautiously approved of it. It is against this backdrop that government has resolved to gradually ease the restrictions in our dear state by re-opening places of worship.” This, of course, comes with guidelines which hopefully, will minimise casualties.
But it is not on men like Sanwo-Olu, Wike or Yahaya people want me to write, it is about some of their other colleagues, especially those who have exhibited extraordinary brilliance, displays and uncommon toughness in combating the virus.
They want me to write on youthful Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State who in fighting the virus, vibrated so much on his seat that the frightened COVID-19, at his command, fled across the Nigerian borders into safer havens. Yahaya Bello, whom I love calling General Yahaya Jammeh, because of the striking characteristics he shares with the former Gambian President, is so tough on the virus that in a public admonition of visiting officers of the NCDC, he threatened to detain the federal officials in an isolation centre.
I will also not be lured into writing about His Most Excellent Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State who was asleep while Sanwo-Olu was combating COVID-19. But immediately the Federal Government allocated N10 billion to the latter, the whiff of the money woke Ganduje up, and one of his initial acts was to demand N15 billion to battle the virus. No, I will not write on Ganduje. Rather I will leave his pioneering work of expelling the Almajiri children to historians.
I will also avoid the temptation of making further comments on His Excellency Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State. I recently wrote on his pioneering directives that anyone who tries to escape from isolation be shot summarily as the offence is a capital one. To comment on this again, will amount to plagiarising myself.
As I earlier insisted, I will not write on any governor and COVID-19. Rather, I will commend the Governors Forum for drawing the attention of the House of Representatives to the fact that states are not carried along in its speedy attempt to pass a bill that may impose a regime of compulsory vaccination on Nigerians.
In response, the House had dismissed the governors as mere “stakeholders” whose consent is not required to make federal laws. I suspect that this uninformed position was taken because Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila and his Green Chamber colleagues have not advised themselves on the powers of the Governors Forum.