The contest for the Otukpo/Ohimini Federal Constituency of Benue State in 2019 will feature a new face, promising a fresh approach to representative politics and real change. The promise comes not from a professional politician, but from Manni Ochugboju, a former activist of the National Association of Nigerian Students, (NANS) and a London based lawyer of 27 years before relocating to Nigeria.
Ochugboju has a long history of activism and championing the cause of ordinary Nigerians from his days as a political science student at the famed Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. It was here that he came under the influence of progressive academics such as Yusufu Bala Usman and Patrick Wilmot.
Now, a lawyer with experience of advocacy in the UK and Nigeria, Ochugboju declared his interest in the race for a seat in the federal legislature at a town hall meeting in Adoka, in Otukpo Local Government Area, Benue State of Nigeria in February. He told the gathering filled with youths of varying political backgrounds that 2019 politics would be more about character, competence, commitment and vision of the leaders that emerge, not their political party affiliation.
Greeted with “Youth!! Action!! Youth!! Action!”, the aspirant argued that bad governance and the misery it perpetrates knows no party allegiance. “The acute inequality of opportunity for the youths, the consequences of infrastructure deficit, including terribly bad roads, ill equipped hospitals, decrepit schools, scarcity of water, electricity, hunger, unhappiness, abuse of human rights, the increasing terror of insecurity, among others, knows no party line”, he intoned, pointing out how collective victims of perennial poor governance must now be strategic in their choice of the leaders.
He added: “We cannot allow the same old cabal of leaders or elders, dictate to us who our new leaders will be. We cannot continue to go through the same old defective motion, undemocratic selection process which yields failure of leadership and expect a progressive outcome”. He urged the audience to take a critical look at him and all those aspiring to represent them in Parliament, vigorously scrutinise them in terms of political and philosophical pedigree and vote for who their conscience assures them would truly deliver a transformatory, visionary leadership radically different from the same old opportunistic, petty bourgeois and inept politicians.
Quoting Jesus Christ regarding coming “to preach deliverance to the captives…to set at liberty them that are bruised”, Ochugboju challenged the youths to do something revolutionary this time. It is in their best interest to support a credible alternative candidate, even if that person is not himself, he told his audience, drawing attention to Franz Fanon’s postulation that “out of relative obscurity, every generation shall discover its mission, they either fulfil it, or betray it.”
Blaming failure of leadership especially at the federal level by representatives of the constituency, the aspirant particularly singled out the incumbent – Ezekiel Adaji – for “being invisible in parliament for eight years”. Careful though not to be misconstrued as painting all leaders bad or disrespectful of elders, he made exception for what he called a sizeable group of exceptional and inspirational leaders in his Idoma community – great talents, leaders and professionals that are glittering superstars in their various fields from “some good politicians, ex senate Presidents, deputy governors, ministers, Judges, Vice-Chancellors, professors, military and paramilitary officers, Permanent Secretaries, Ambassadors, Doctors, Engineers, learned silks, musicians, journalists and writers, among others”.
Putting the creation of Apa State high on his agenda, Ochugboju assured his audience that this is not a gimmick, but an agenda informed by critical feedback on the subject. “The fact that some blokes have failed on a given mission don’t mean we should give up. That would be pessimistic, regressive apathy”, a point he illustrates with late Nelson Mandela’s saying that “it always seems impossible, until it is done”.
While paying his respect to Senator David Mark, calling him a great man, he suggests emerging leaders of Idoma are contemplating methods different from the one that Mark and his group might have used in the quest for Apa State. “No disrespect to our beloved elders, we are exploring a paradigm shift of the fundamental right to development, as expressed in international conventions and the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I have actually written a detailed analysis on the approach, which would be published soon. But just to reassure our audience this is not a stunt, we are daring, not just to propagate the vision, but to specify its year of accomplishment – 2023. In four years time, hold me to account when you vote me as your representative. That is also why I am writing this memo, so that it will be a testimony, a social contract between us in four years time, by which my performance can be critically assessed”.
Ochugboju ended his pitch stressing that he is not a politician but a lawyer and an activist, who has responded to the fierce urgency of now to participate in the radical, progressive governance of our country, he restated his assurance of inducing a quantum leap into the twenty first century, and asking God to help him.
A version of this piece first appeared in Intervention.