Perhaps, they are few people, most likely those who are not close to the social media that may not be aware of the emergent “Think Obanliku” movement, which is either exhilarating or infuriating constituents of Bekwarra/Obanliku/Obudu Federal Constituency depending on where they stand on the pendulum of justice as well as their understanding of democratic principles. A brief statement on power sharing in the said Federal Constituency may help some readers to put the yearnings and aspirations of the movement in perspective.
For purposes of allocating seats in the Federal House of Representatives (the lower chamber of Nigeria’s bicameral National Assembly), Nigeria is divided into 360 Federal Constituencies, each of which is represented by one member in the House in a four-year term. As the name implies, the Bekwarra/Obanliku/Obudu Federal Constituency is composed of Bekwarra, Obanliku and Obudu Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Northern Cross River State. The constituency elected Hon Mike Ogar of Bekwarra LGA as its representative in the 4th Parliament (beginning from 1999 when democracy returned to the country and ended in May 2003). His successor, Hon. Paul Adah, of blessed memory, represented the constituency in the 5th and 6th Parliament from 2003 to 2011. Hon. Adah was an indigene of Obudu LGA. Hon. Frank Adah of Obanliku LGA who succeeded Paul Adah was the constituency’s MP in the 7th Parliament (2011 – 2015). The incumbent, Rt Hon Legor Idagbo of Bekwarra LGA was first elected in 2015 and re-elected for a second term in 2019. This implies that he would have served for eight years when his second tenure will end in May, 2023.
By virtue of the fact that the seat will become vacant in 2023, discussions are ongoing in several quarters on which of the three LGAs should produce the next MP. As part of their contribution to the debate, a group of progressive young people drawn from the three LGAs met in the nation’s capital sometime in January 2021 and brainstormed on the matter. Based on the fact that Bekwarra, Obudu and Obanliku have occupied the seat for 12, 8 and 4 years respectively, one of the attendees, Mr. Jeremiah Usheshe argued that for the sake of fairness, justice and equity, all constituents should “think Obanliku” (a phrase which could be interpreted as “consider Obanliku”) in the choice of the next MP for the constituency. His position which was unanimously adopted by other attendees became the basis of “Think Obanliku”, a slogan that is gaining popularity by the day. Irrespective of how anyone chooses to interpret the slogan or what the movement as a whole will become in the days ahead, it should not be forgotten that its original aim was to promote fairness, justice and equity among the LGAs in the Bekwarra/Obanliku/Obudu Federal Constituency.
As is usually the case, the “For Justice, Fairness and Equity: Think Obanliku” (shortened simply as “Think Obanliku”) movement has both supporters and opponents in the three LGAs that make up the federal constituency in focus. Its supporters argue that as a “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” democracy should be inclusive by providing equal opportunities for both the majority and the minority. On the other hand, opponents of “Think Obanliku” see the movement as romantic nonsense and argue that democracy is purely a game of numbers and that those who have the numerical advantage should always have their way. Being promoters of the erstwhile undemocratic philosophy of “Might is Right”, they leave no one in doubt of their belief that those who are numerically powerful can do whatever they wish, even if their action promotes marginalisation and oppression. They have steadfastly dismissed the “Think Obanliku” movement with a flick of the hand and make jest of its proponents and supporters. Some of them have gone ahead to criticise Rt Hon. Idagbo for unwittingly giving credence to the movement by publicly saying that “Obanliku is the most marginalised Local Government” in the constituency.
Ironically, the opponents of “Think Obanliku” are the same people that supported and applauded a similar movement, which culminated in the emergence of Sen. Professor Ben Ayade as governor of Cross River State in 2015. Cross Riverians still remember how Senator Liyel Imoke, whose leadership style transcends ethnicity and parochialism, ensured that power was transferred to the Northern Senatorial District, a district which before then had not produced a governor in the long history of Cross River State. This remarkable feat, as it were, gave the generality of the people of the state, especially the minority a sense of belonging, as they came to know that irrespective of their population and origin, they can aspire to the highest political office in the state on a rotational basis. Beneficiaries of that gesture, who are today insisting that democracy is purely about numerical strength should remember that it was not under military rule that Imoke took that brave decision, which has immortalised him in Cross River State’s political landscape. A product of justice, equity and fairness should not become the arrowhead of marginalisation in a lower political structure, where the circumstances to alienate, oppress and marginalise others favour him. He ought to be humbled and challenged by the goodwill that made him become a “strong man” in a state rich in tested and trusted political gladiators.
Let me end by inviting the opponents of “Think Obanliku” to introspection and contemplation. You need to take some minutes to imagine what would have happened if the Bekwarra/Obanliku/Obudu Federal Constituency was a state of its own. Put differently, think about what would have happened if Cross River State was not blessed with Senator Imoke and his like, who defended justice, equity and fairness. By any ideal or religious standard, it is unethical to complain of injustice and marginalisation only when we are victims. Afterall, injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere! All lovers of justice, fairness and equity have a moral responsibility to “Think Obanliku” in their discussion of who takes over from Rt Hon Legor Idagbor in 2023. Rotation of power among the component units of any polity, however defined, is one of the surest ways of addressing alienation and marginalisation in a democracy.
Dave Imbua writes from the beautiful hills of Bendi.