By Ubong Sampson
From recent developments, especially in the last eighteen (18) months, changes have so hit Nigeria and Nigerians in usual and unusual manners that at this point, the rampant and diverse dimension these changes have assumed can no longer (or is expected not to) come with surprises anymore. Reason being that Nigerians have come to the reality with the fact that they are in for a long run in this. At least, with the deteriorating state of the economy and the (seeming) helplessness of the hands in charge, no positive change is expected anytime soon.
It is no more a thing of surprise that a consumer buys a product in the market for consumption and gets home to realise that the quantity he bought is not sufficient to meet the purpose for which the product was bought, and upon hurrying back to the same market and same spot to buy more, finds the same product he bought minutes earlier at a higher price. Any attempt to ask why, the blame will either go to the high exchange rate of Dollar or ‘change’. Well, while how the former got to affect the product within the few minutes remains a mystery, the said consumer might accept the blame on the latter, owing to the fact that the said ‘change’ is now an integral part of the Nigerian system.
In spite of this new reality, it is still no guarantee that the Nigerian citizenry is not showing any resistance to some kind of changes, especially when it appears to beat their imaginations. It is quite understandable to Nigerians that while they were struggling to get used to buying Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) at N100, certain people came and promised to give them same product at N60 if voted into power, only to wake up to a change of fifty percent increase in the said product. Nigerians may understand that while they were struggling to get used to a ‘corrupt’ leadership that ensured a bit of food sufficiency, certain people came around and promised them total food sufficiency with a guaranteed “one meal per day”, only to wake up to a change of total food shortage. Truly Nigerians may equally understand that while they were trying so hard to get used to a recurrent system of governance that fought hard to sustain the economy and kept same flowing even at the crawling state it was, certain people came around and did not promise as little as providing the crawling economy with a wheelchair or crutches to aid its movement, but promised as much as performing a surgery on the economy that will see it standing on its feet and walking freely. Sadly, they only ended up being struck with the reality of a bedridden economy.
Now, having shown this level of understanding, do these same Nigerians deserve an iota of blame should they choose not to show same understanding to the fact that a certain man whose major source of statutory income came some three (3) years ago through a job of assisting a state governor, before being elected to speak for a political party, all of a sudden takes to ‘strange’ philanthropic projects like an elected political office holder who receives a definite amount of allocated funds? As the governor’s assistant, a little of such understanding can be possible, provided given that he is acting to complement his boss, the governor’s efforts in reaching out to the people; but why expect such understanding when the same person continues, moreso, steps up this philanthropy even after being sent to a supposed mono-functional office of state publicity secretary of a party?
Being an era of change, perhaps the changes effected by Comrade Ini Ememobong Essien in the State Executive Council of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) met no one even with a vestige of surprise, though his was the positive kind. Fixing the public address system and raising the voice of his party almost immediately after taking up the task of speaking for the party was a long overdue thing. This is one office that was over the years a conspicuously missing decimal in the state EXCO of his party, even when the office was never vacant. While there was always a human figure occupying that space in the party, the non functionality of their voices was a notable detriment to the party, which greatly affected its public relations negatively. Hence, a convert reason his effected changes came with little or no surprise. After all, what else could be expected of an occupant of such office as a primary duty other than establishing and maintaining a good relationship between his institution and the media, and using the media to extend same relationship to the general public?
However, going beyond this primary demand of his current office to take up an extra self imposed philanthropic task of providing succor to members of his immediate community by providing them with certain human platforms to aid them improve their living standard has recently been a subject of controversy. Without much regards to the economic challenges facing the nation and the resulting shortage of funds, this comrade cum politician has insisted that there is no better time to develop his community than now. Whether he had long before now observed the rot of underdevelopment amongst his community people or he just did, the commendable thing here is that he did not just take up the task with a view of selecting a few persons to take the benefits and return the glory and their loyalty to him, but with a well designed strategy that will develop this charity project into an institution where every beneficiary will be a coordinating hand and ensuring that every gained knowledge is spread around.
In the face of an economic misfortune such as the Nigerian case, economic experts at several instances have, in their analysis, recommended the development of small scale/medium entrepreneurs as a step to boosting the local economy. And while many are seeing this recommendation as being directed to the government alone, one man had risen to make this a reality within his community by way of his own patriotic assistance to the government. Most likely, he had foreseen that the much desired change will soon not begin with those who made the promise, but with himself and the millions of other Nigerians to whom the promise was made, this comrade had already launched the campaign from his immediate community not by organising rallies where banners and handbills will be flown, but by empowering people to step up their living conditions. Unfortunately, when this should have been an all-commendations service to humanity, misrepresentations and twist of facts have equally smuggled their ways into the centre. Reason obviously being that while it is not much of a task for observing country fellows to understand the rampantly changing conditions in the country, this kind of change where a ‘mere’ spokesperson of a party goes beyond the duty of speaking on his party’s behalf to funding developmental projects, is totally out of the question.
On my part, two issues from the risen controversy prompted the foregoing- the question of the PDP spokesman’s source of funds for these huge human empowerment programmes and the impression given by some folks that there exists an underneath motive behind this sudden interest in charity. In response to the first, may I remind these folks that while it might be difficult for one to get help for himself when he solicits same even when in a clearly seen critical condition, the work of charity naturally has the grace of attracting support. This can be likened to the many cases where an individual rises in an occasion and makes a donation to a project and without any special request or appeal, and others, apparently motivated by this, decide to support this donation. These subsequent donations, though usually in far smaller amounts, in most cases sum up equalling or sometimes exceeding the first donation. In the case of Ini Ememobong, offering a first bulk donation of his time, energy and resources to this charity course was enough to attract other donations that, to the glory of God, did not only come in smaller measures, but in very encouraging sums as well. And with special appeals on his part, is it now not glaring how and why the project was able to record an upturn of interests and funds that has seen it to a level where questions bothering on the source of funds have risen?
To the second issue of controversy, Ini Ememobong, I am sure, knows that irrespective of the selfless aim of this project he initiatiated, his politician identity remains unchanged before public eyes. Well, this is part of what makes us Nigerians. The public minds lacking or refusing to give out this trust are not to blame, as past experiences may have knocked them coercively into this corner. Perhaps, the blame here should go the way of those who laid this feeble foundation of distrust, where nothing positive from the political angle is seen to be selfless and without motive aimed at returning benefits in multiple folds to the initiator. If Comrade Ememobong was to do what he is doing under an organisation registered as a non-profitable/charitable, the reactions would definitely have come in a different tune. However, like a reactor to this ridiculous impression had said in his comment, “even if Ini was to do this in view of a political ambition he is nursing, is it not better that he is beginning his campaign with a poor set of the masses, rather than preserving the funds to sort an already rich set of individuals in the name of political stakeholders”? Though, this however cannot be avoided, as what is Ceaser’s must, at the end of the day, return to him.
If I may ask, where were these controversies some years ago when this same man shared his 2-bedroom apartment with young men numbering up to fifteen (15), all of who fed at will from his kitchen. Why did this kind of controversies not come at a time we needed the positive (publicity) side of it, so the world could know that in this same Nigeria, people from diverse ethnic groups can live together under one roof and share good brotherhood, even in the face of proliferating cases of ethnic bigotry. Even after his wedding in January 2011, he never experienced the kind of privacy a newly married couple would need and desire in their homes, having practically confined his fresh marriage to a one-room affair, leaving the rest of the apartment to the comfort of people he shared nothing in consanguinity. I recall when he used to say that his house was a mini Nigeria because it had people from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. Truly it was, as he made it a duty to accomodate at least one youth corp member posted to Akwa Ibom. Was he actually doing all these in view of a political office he was eyeing? Let the controverts bear the task of answering this.
Truth is, as it is a natural law that whatever a man sows, same he shall reap, this comrade will sure reap the benefits of his today’s services to humanity in the near or far furture with bigger capacities to do better than he is doing in the present. When voices shall rise to speak for him in years to come, it shall be remembered that these are the same voices Ememobong strengthened years back. And though I may not be feeding from his kitchen anymore, just as we may now vary in our political views and beliefs, I have risen today to speak, speak in defence of this comrade as a living example of those voices he contributed greatly to their strengthening, especially in events like this, where I know exactly where the truth lies.
* Ubong Sampson (08021419939) is a public/political affairs analyst.