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Me, an enemy?

Posted by By Abdul Oroh on 2006/06/21 | Views: 338 |

Me, an enemy?

ORDINARILY, I do not relish being drawn into comments on and responses to my position on crucial issues that affect my Own Federal Constituency on the pages of newspaper or in electronic media interviews, since I usually embark on interactive sessions with my constituents on my frequent weekend visits home.

ORDINARILY, I do not relish being drawn into comments on and responses to my position on crucial issues that affect my Own Federal Constituency on the pages of newspaper or in electronic media interviews, since I usually embark on interactive sessions with my constituents on my frequent weekend visits home. I had tried to resist a response to my public mugging but when Chief Gani Fawehinmi declared me the greatest enemy of the Human Rights Movement, I felt the need to speak up. Even now that the issue of "third term", which the constitutional amendments process was whimsically reduced to has been shot down, I still believe that the intemperate language and vicious assaults visited on me, demand a response.

My colleagues in the media and the human rights community chose to make the world see me as a 'turn coat', a 'traitor' , an 'apostate' and even 'the greatest enemy' of human rights and democracy because of my perceived stance on the third term debate. Silence on my part was deliberate even at the risk of what would appear as great disservice to my constituents who believe in me; my colleagues in the media and the human rights community with whom I have and continue to struggle to deepen and strengthen the institutions of democracy; and of course my family and friends who repose implicit confidence in my commitment to democratic ideals.

My 10-year old daughter, born when I was in Abacha's gulag, asked me the other day what was the meaning of 'apostasy'. She had seen the Saturday May 13, 2006 edition of ThisDay back page write-up by Laurence Ani entitled "Oroh and Colors of Apostasy". I explained to my daughter that an apostate means someone who has abandoned his religion and beliefs. And she asked: "Daddy, have you abandoned your religion?" Of course, I assured her that I had neither changed my religion nor abandoned my beliefs.

Perhaps, I would not even have been much bothered if some of my colleagues had not resorted to invoking the wrath of God on me and members of my family with some persons issuing death threats in telephone calls and text messages. I must confess that I am amazed at this extreme and unfortunate recourse to curses, name-calling, insults, death threats and the depth of intolerance exhibited by those who call themselves democrats.

The whispering campaign triggered by some vested interests in Abuja wanted me to "speak up". But I felt I should not be stampeded to speak without consulting widely. And then I wonder: what mortal sin did I commit by seeking and receiving the mandate of my people in Owan Federal Constituency of Edo State to represent them in the House of Representatives in 2003, that three years later I am being unduly vilified? Have my antecedents in the decades before 2003, when we went to the barricades to force the military to respect the wishes of Nigerians to validate the June 12 1993 elections, all being in vain? Did I suffer the loss of my freedom in the over one year of my detention in harrowing circumstances by the Abacha and Babangida regimes, only to suddenly turn an apostate, an enemy and a turn coat because I am now in partisan politics?

I was one of the many human rights activists who heeded the call of our associates to seek elective offices in 2003 so that our struggles to enthrone democracy could not be permanently hijacked by military apologists, usurpers and pretenders to democratic ideal. Roll call: Olisa Agbakoba, Femi Falana, Bamidele Aturu, Richard Akinnola, Shehu Sani, Wale Okediran, Professor Sola Adeyeye, Uche Onyeagocha, Nkoyo Toyo and Clement Nwankwo all sought elective positions on various political platforms. Some won. Some lost. I won, on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party to represent Owan Federal Constituency. Since my election, I felt I was no longer tied to the apron string of the Human Rights Movement, as my home constituency needed me more. Could I then subordinate the aspirations of those who voted for me to anybody else's?

I wish to place it on record that I did not win the nomination of the PDP that easily. As an outsider without a formidable war chest, mine was one of the primaries that were vigorously contested in Edo state. Whereas, with some others seeking elective offices it was more or less a fait accompli because they were already part of the system, I had to be at my best to convince my people of my good intentions, judging by my credentials as a journalist and human rights activist. Even when it was obvious that I had won the primaries, some tendencies would not permit the announcement of the results but for the insistence of Owan leaders of thought that Abdul Oroh would represent Owan or no one else.

In the general election, I scored 30,000 votes, won 18 of 22 wards. My main ANPP opponent had 15,000 votes from four wards. So who actually rigged? It is interesting to note that my opponent did not contest the results. He actually congratulated me. And since my inauguration in July 2003, I have not shirked in my responsibility to the people of Owan even as I have often realised that my antecedents in human rights activism stand me in good stead to articulate and push through legislation that further entrench the course of justice for all Nigerians. Indeed, initially, my constituents were at a loss why I would be content with being 'merely' a deputy chairman, not even of any of the 'juicy' committees in the house, but human rights. But I was satisfied. Human rights and consolidation of democracy remain my main passion.

And then, to cause a further mild alarm in my people: my membership of the House committees on army, justice, judiciary, information and national orientation, media and public affairs and the police. Some of my constituents have been wont to confront me one in a while with such mild recriminations as: "Abdul, you yab o. Na human rights we go chop?"

Reason that I have often tended to deftly deploy my power of persuasion to lobby colleagues in the National Assembly and the Federal Executive Council not to ignore but to consider the legitimate wishes of the people of Owan Federal Constituency and indeed Edo North Senatorial district for remarkable and enduring federal presence: Provision of potable pipe-borne water (not one community enjoys this in the entire Edo North), creation of additional local governments, increased derivation to 25 per cent, a federal link road to our Sobe kiths and kin formerly in Ondo State and of course our desire to produce the governor of Edo State in 2007.

Even so, I have continued to employ the weight of my convictions, credentials and connections to push through legislation on human rights and justice that nobly serve the interest of the generality of Nigerians. A sampler:: The Freedom of Information Act; the Police Reform bill; the Prison Reform bill; anti-discrimination bill etc.

Besides my legislative agenda, I have several ongoing projects with a special focus on education for which I have committed a lot of resources in terms of scholarship awards, provision of books, chair and tables, sporting equipment and the construction of a block of three classrooms. But then, again, I wonder: how could such a consistency in commitment to serving the ends of human rights and justice by making laws to deepen and strengthen such institutions, be cynically, misinterpreted and deliberately twisted to define Abdul Oroh as "the greatest enemy of democracy?". If serving diligently on the aforementioned committees by conviction and by the privilege of my membership of the House of Representatives of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is treachery, then I wonder who the genuine heroes of democracy could possibly be. If boldly and courageously identifying with legislation that would serve the interest of all Nigerians instead of legislation that only cater to narrow sectional, ethnic, parochial and even personal interests is the preference of some of my colleagues in the media and civil society, then I wonder who the true national heroes of our nation state could possible be.

My insistence on the need for the Review of the 1999 Constitution did not begin with the on-going debates about Constitutional Reforms in the National Assembly. I, along with some of my colleagues in civil society, have always considered the 1999 constitution as a product of a military government that was neither democratic nor legitimate. Indeed, Clement Nwankwo, Peter Tukiranbumde and I had prevailed on President Olusegun Obasanjo, on the eve of his inauguration in 1999, to put inclusive and transparent processes in place to evolve a constitution that would be legitimate in the eyes of Nigerians. But again, this was cynically twisted to paint me as an apostate.

That the debates in the National Assembly were only meant to allow for first reading of the proposed 116 amendments to the constitution and that I had already spoken in favour of third term or tenure elongation for President Olusegun Obasanjo when indeed I had not taken the floor in the hallowed chambers of the House of Representative, only to be listed (some with my photograph) among those who voted for third term, is most uncharitable. It is most unfortunate that some of my print media colleagues would go riding jauntily on a wobbly wagon of whispers and gossips to attempt to force-feed Nigerians on falsehoods and cast aspersions on my person.

By insinuating that I had endorsed "third term when indeed there was no vote on third term but only a debate on the general principle of the amendments": Is this not ambush journalism, deviously deployed to browbeat and blackmail me into speaking and voting against my conscience and the wishes of Owan people whose mandate I enjoy? If I had to speak or vote on the Amendment Bill, I was not going to do so as Abdul Oroh the journalist or human rights activist but as the representative of the people of Owan Federal Constituency whom I am privileged and honoured to exercise their mandate in the House of Representatives.

Even where my personal preferences do not readily admit of the much bandied third term but would rather accommodate an amendment to the constitution to reflect the removal of term limits for executive (as it is with National and State legislators), it would constitute the height of dissidence and treachery to go against the position of the people of Owan Federal Constituency. I' d rather be counted with and among the people and vote the conscience of the people.

I believe, like Hilary Rodham Clinton, that: "Embracing democratic values is just the first step. Building functioning democratic government, creating free markets and establishing civil societies after decades of dictatorship, requires time, effort and patience". I believe that democracy is not the end we seek but only a means to an end. I believe that building democracy and in deepening and strengthening it, we must continue to dwell on what we may have failed to do, but to take that crucial, courageous and necessary step forward to provide for ourselves a new constitutional framework that will protect our rights as a people and guarantee justice for all.

I believe the boldest measures are the safest. We can risk stretching democracy to the limit if we must be counted as one of the "emerging giants" in the globalised economic order. If in the cause of expressing or exercising my democratic rights I have disappointed anybody, I will simply say mea culpa but I cannot, for fear of being called names fail to take a position on issues that affect Nigeria no matter how unpalatable or controversial.

* Oroh is a member of the House of Representatives in Abuja.

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