By Osaigbovo Iguobaro, Benin
At a time, Civil Society Organisations in Edo state were adjudged by some persons as the rebellious wing of politicians who were desperate to get power by hook or crook. For others, the CSO’s, were made up of persons with ferocious temperaments whose objectives many could not comprehend.
In the ensuing confusion is a handful of ego-led overlords across the various groups which is giving rise to the prevailing chaos in the public space. The tussle sadly, was not a battle of ideas, rather, it was the drive for “scarce resources” that was at play; who gets what, how, and when? This contention created divisions, doubts, indecision; and fears over the direction the umbrella CSO organisations were headed.
To make matters worse, politicians cashed in on the affray, in a struggle that seemed like squirrels fighting in a bag for survival to keep the wolf from the door. What indeed was at the epicenter of the crisis was the undue interest of the then State Government under the leadership of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, a onetime labour leader turned politician when members of the CSOs disclosed plans to conduct its maiden election.
The so-called preferred “Candidates” even with Government support, lost out in the contest, tainting the political landscape thus exacerbating the rift between pretenders to actualize political powers and those who indeed controlled the levers of power in the September 28th 2016 governorship election in Edo state.
The final outcome of the CSO’s election of its Executives consequently, created a splitter group when it became obvious that ‘aggrieved persons” could not have their wish served.
Three years later, the gloom appears to have transformed into a cheer, with the peaceful election and swearing-in of 16-member Executive a fortnight ago. The members so elected are expected to pilot the affairs of Edo Civil society organizations in the next three years.
The officials include, Comrade Omobude Agho (Coordinator-General), Annie Umoru (Deputy Coordinator-General), Godspower Okunbor (Secretary General), KellyOmo-Ogbeide (Assistant Secretary), Comrade Osazee Edigin (Media and publicity), Sea Omoragbon (Director of Women and social Development), Justice Etiete (Director of Protocol).
Other members are, Hope Enogieru (Treasurer), Charles Idehen (Director of Finance), Uchenna Okonkwo, (Director of strategy and Mobilization), and Kingsley Akpoguma (Director of Welfare).
A close look at the circumstances that led to the return of most members of the Executive of Edo Civil Society Organisations can be traced to hard work and trust.
But, how far has the organizations been able to win trust and regain confidence?
Judging by their conduct, the CSOs comprising mostly of Human Rights Activists appear to have demonstrated that it is not advisable for any individual, group, or even the government to bully.
The organizations have equally survived the contemptuous indifference of some self-acclaimed “big players in the struggle” who have suddenly become friends of the so-called “philosopher kings” within and outside the state.
Top among the achievements of the activists operating under the aegis of Edo Civil Society organizations are the’ sustained protests against alleged obnoxious policies of the Electricity Distribution companies (DISCOs) in general and in particular the Benin Electricity Distribution Company (BEDC) in Benin. This no mean feat, contributed largely to the removal of N750 and N1000 monthly fixed charge payable by electricity consumers in most parts of the country.
Again, the organisation’s meaningful engagement which resulted in the checking the abuses by uniformed personnel against unarmed civilians the state in the course of protecting BEDC Operators, a positive thing which has attracted commendations from the public.
Another positive story from the Civil Rights engagements of the CSOs was the alleged killing of Solomon Obode. Obode was arrested by the police in connection with a stolen Peugeot car which he claimed to have bought in Lagos state.
According to the testimony of family members, Obode, a car dealer who was trailed from an undisclosed location in Lagos to Benin by armed policemen who finally arrested and detained him in police custody before the unfortunate incident occurred.
It was learnt that the assistance of the CSO’s and other affiliate organisations, unraveled the circumstances that led to his untimely death for which a policeman is currently standing trial in court.
Besides, the Human Rights group, was also highly instrumental in the case of an alleged exra-judicial killing of a 23-year-old undergraduate student of the University of Benin, Momodu Ibrahim, an incident which became the Achilles heel of the Nigeria Police Force whose reputation was further battered due to poor investigation into the killing.
The late Momodu Ibrahim was accused of being in possession of a light fire arm before he was shot and killed. The deceased was buried by his “killers” before his body was subsequently exhumed on the request of his family who demanded that a Coroner Inquest be carried out.
The policeman who was reported to have shot Momodu, identified as Amadin Idahosa has been convicted by a Benin High court. Before his conviction, Amadin in his testimony at the State High court in Benin alleged that he acted on the order of her superior, CSP Carol Afegbua. Afegbua who has been re-deployed to another jurisdiction, was the Divisional Police officer (DPO) at Ogida at the time the incident occurred.
Other areas of interventions by the Edo Civil Society Organisations, include, awareness and knowledge on civic education, building capacity of citizens, recovery of lost properties, and the establishment of study centres which are special schools that help to fill needed public and civic knowledge gaps, across the three senatorial districts of Edo state.
The Coordinator-General of Edo state Civil society Organization, Comrade Omobude Agho, described the CSO’s study centres as providing necessary encounter with reality which give rural dwellers the opportunity to get the message of freedom.
Omobude, is considering the establishment of additional Eight study centres which would be established in the Edo State before the end of the year to strengthen the existing 13 study centres across the three senatorial districts in Edo state in addition to 12 other centres outside the state.
At an induction Ceremony of the newly elected Executives of the organisations in September 2017 in Benin, the Chairman of the CSO’s electoral Committee, Comrade Solomon Ohiomokhare had reasons to be happy because he midwifed the free and fair poll.
But beyond the exchange of banter by fellow Comrades and the presentation of Certificates to the officials, Ohiomokhare, reminded the elected activists to be guided by its ethics and constitution, as a matter of principle.
He followed his statement with a caveat, when he stated that those who do not desire to be deposed should be mindful of their conduct. According to him, ‘There is now a clause in the draft Constitution, the proposal of recalling non-performing elected executives”.
Among the highlights of the day’s event were the administration of oath of office by a Legal practitioner, Abel Amasowomwan on the elected officials, and a brief talk on Leadership by Kelly Osunbor on: “The spirit of Leadership” at the Free House, the CSO’s secretariat on Erie street, in Benin.
The talk centered on team work, accountability as well as rallying institutions and the government at all levels to achieve an egalitarian society.
In his concluding remarks, and by way of a vote of thanks, the Edo CSO’s Spokesman, Comrade Osazee Edigin, upbraided the State Government’s approach to arresting and prosecuting persons trading at unauthorized locations at mobile courts.
According to him, most of the suspects arraigned before mobile courts are found guilty because they are either denied legal representation or fair hearing by the prosecution, a development contrary to the Criminal Procedure Act.
“Suspects are proven innocent until the court says otherwise. But, the era we are now in Edo, the mobile courts will convict a suspect without giving the suspect access to legal representation like we have at the regular courts.
“This government of Godwin Obaseki wants money to develop the state and hence suspects would either be slammed with outrageous fines or thrown into the prison recklessly”, he said.
“But the State Governor appears not to budge from criticisms from the public via social and mainstream Media”. Obviously, “the governor is not concerned about love, so long as it wins on compliance” he concluded.
The three year mandate given the new leadership of Edo CSOs represent a brilliant opportunity for the Comrade Omobude Agho-led Executive to challenge its own thinking and cause the desired change Edo people in particular and Nigeria at large want to see.
By Osaigbovo Iguobaro, Benin