Ortom and a Nation of Contradictions

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By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

The greatest problem of man is that man is the problem, Anonymous.

Aside from the time-honoured belief that the poverty (intellectual, economic, social, psychological and cultural) of any country is felt by the quality and quantity of its citizens, this piece primarily stemmed from a barrage of intra, inter, trans and cross-reactions that trailed my recently posted intervention entitled The Man Ortom; His Politics and Leadership Style.

Out of many, this piece will as a guide cite/highlight two.

While the first comment appears objective and emphasizes why followers should nimble in adopting, adapting and disseminating new discoveries and leadership efforts by some of their self-contained and quietly influential leaders like Dr Samuel Ortom, the Executive Governor of Benue State, the second for reasons that will be explained in subsequent paragraphs provided reasons to worry as it was not only stripped of process and outcome fairness but more than anything else qualifies as neither admirable nor glorious. It painfully amplifies the reality that as a people, we are yet to become acquainted with the fact that we face a choice about nation-building in a much larger context.

The first reads; I just read the incisive treatise you did on my governor, Dr Samuel Ortom. Thank you for your boldness in writing what you did. While many are lambasting and lampooning him for non-performance, you have taken a good look at the man and the good in him and have brought it out clearly for all doubting Thomases to see. I appreciate you. Keep doing what you are doing. Right thinking Nigerians are behind you.

The second said in part; Ortom hasn’t done much in the state – what policies has he put in place to alleviate the suffering of the common man? How has he harnessed the massive agricultural potentials of the state to ensure the state exports food abroad? What infrastructure has he put in place? Beyond propaganda, how has he secured the lives of his people?

Essentially, this second reaction did not come as a surprise. In fact, in my view, it is not Ortom but Nigeria-specific. There is nothing wrong, particularly when viewed peripherally, with demand for infrastructural provisions and the development of the state’s agricultural potentials. But, its context and assumptions, shows that there is something intrinsically out-of-order with the present reaction.

First, it paints a picture of a nation where the masses have been so economically and intellectually impoverished/disempowered by the deformed federal system to the extent that they now narrowly view leadership/governance as a mere ‘cement and concrete’ arrangement.

Again, it painfully speaks volumes as well as tells the story of a nation where the masses applaud and endorse ‘obsolete team management structure’ that cares less about rule of law, security of lives and property, discipline and economic planning but concentrates on the working assumption that doing is more important than thinking, execution more important than generating breakthrough ideas, and infrastructural provisions, more important than demand for true federalism and strong institutions. More often, the people applaud these choices of infrastructural provisions even when it is obvious that such infrastructures will be of no economic value/importance to the people.

While this piece sympathizes with the awkward position Nigerians are placed with this deformed mentality, it must, however, underline the fact that leadership, says Lee Kuen Yew, the pioneer Prime Minister, is more than just ability. It is a combination of courage, determination, commitment, character and ability that makes people willing to follow a leader and every nation needs people who are activists with good judgment and interpersonal skills to survive.

Likewise, the nation Nigeria needs confident and good-minded activists like Ortom to have a good nation. However, good the system of government or the constitution or system of government may be, bad leaders will bring harm to their people.

The likes of Ortom should be appreciated by Nigerians for acting as a check for other public officeholders. They should be commended for keeping vigilant adherence to the rule of law which strengthens our democracy and strengthens Nigeria by extension.

His advocacy prowess has ensured that those who govern us operate within our constitutional structure, which means that our democratic institutions play their role in shaping policy and determining the direction of our nation.

Rule of law, as we know, makes us stronger by ensuring that decisions will be tested, studied, reviewed, and examined through the processes of government that are designed to improve policy. And the knowledge that they will be reviewed prevents overreaching and checks the accretion of power. By the same token, whenever power is unchecked and unaccountable, it almost inevitably leads to mistakes and abuses. In the absence of rigorous accountability, incompetence flourishes. Dishonesty is encouraged and rewarded.

Even on the global stage, the likes of Ortom are not only highly-priced but well appreciated and given pride of place.

Take, as an illustration, evidence abounds, for those that can find it that, the absence of an enlightened nation-building programme after World War 1, coupled with the absence of global leaders with a combination of courage, determination, commitment, character to speak the truth, led directly to the conditions that made Germany vulnerable to fascism and the rise of Adolf Hitler and made all of Europe vulnerable to his evil designs. By contrast, after World War II, there was an enlightened vision embodied in the Marshall Plan, the UN, NATO, and all of the other nation-building efforts that in turn led directly to the conditions that fostered prosperity. This is precisely the role Ortom plays in the present democratic experiment in Nigeria.

Very germane, raising the issue about infrastructural development of the state and questions as to how has Ortom harnessed the massive agricultural potentials of the state to ensure the state exports food abroad and secured the lives of his people, in a country where the state Governor, as the chief security of the state, has no control over security apparatus in the state, portrays a lack of understanding about the nexus between development and security.

For a better understanding of this present argument, let’s listen to Stewart, a development expert as he argues that the development-security nexus has become central to the development and peace-building enterprises. He considers three types of connections between security and development, both nationally and globally: (a) security as an objective, (b) security as an instrument and (c) development as an instrument. Given these connections, he argued that security policies may become part of development policy because in so far as they enhance security, they will contribute to development. Conversely, development policies may become part of security policy because enhanced development increases security. Stewart finds that ‘societal progress requires reduced insecurity’ and that more inclusive and egalitarian development is likely to enhance security, he concluded.

From this spiralling awareness, flows issues that come in double folds; one, it is evident that Governor Ortom is development hungry and that informs his persistent calls on government at the centre/relevant agencies to provide adequate security in his state.

Secondly, Nigerians must recognize that infrastructure is important, but we must learn to ask for the development of strong institutions and uphold the rule of law. When strong institutions are in place and rule of law is adhered to by our public office holders, every other thing including but not limited to; namely, infrastructures, equity, justice, peace, human rights and economic development shall be added to it.

The choice is ours.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He could be reached via [email protected]/08032725374

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