Governor David Nweze Umahi of Ebonyi State, 56, is a billionaire of 26 years standing. Therefore, when such a wealthy man who should be busy looking after his billions like a herdsman tenders to his cows, decides to make the big sacrifice of governing a people, he will not tolerate slackness or be bogged down by the niceties of law and order or fundamental human rights.
This is what the uninitiated like the human rights activists misconstrue as his dictatorial and anti-democratic tendencies. For instance, he ordered that all inhabitants of the state should wear face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This is a simple instruction. But rather than obey, there were people asking whether his government has provided such masks for the people, or made them available, accessible and affordable.
An angry governor then called stakeholders to warn the people that they either wear face masks or be summarily caned in public. He directed Local Government chairmen and officials in the state to administer the cane. It must be quite annoying to Umahi that there are people challenging his cane directive. These hold that an accused is presumed innocent until found guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. That every Nigerian has a right to legal defence and fair hearing. So, his directive is illegal and barbaric.
But Umahi is just being lenient; in another case, he ordered that people should be shot at sight. It happened this way. He had ordered that all the borders in the state be shut down to prevent the virus from spreading. However, 37 persons infiltrated from Enugu State and were arrested. He ordered them isolated for 14 days and directed the police and army to shoot any of them that attempts to escape from the quarantine.
However, that was not the first time Umahi was ordering the summary execution of people without trial. A few weeks before, his convoy was inadvertently held up on the Onicha Road by mourners. The next day, he ordered that henceforth, mourners who block roads should be summarily executed. He said he was giving the order to protect “the common man.” With such blanket order, soldiers and security men in the state have not just the licence to kill, but kill any number of persons once they are alleged to be mourners blocking a road. In this, the wise Umahi makes himself and the security men, the complainant, prosecutor, judge, appellate court and executioner. Umahi is the law, and his word is the law.
In another case, he seized and detained the Sun Newspaper reporter, Chijioke Agwu, for allegedly publishing on April 17, 2020, an inaccurate report on Lassa fever outbreak in the state. The journalist was to be prosecuted under the Ebonyi State Coronavirus and Other Dangerous (Infectious) law, but was “pardoned” by the magnanimous governor. Umahi also banned Agwu and Peter Okutu of Vanguard Newspapers for life from entering Government House or any government facility in the state.
Three days later, Okutu was arrested over a report he did on the alleged military invasion of Umuogodoakpu-Ngbo community of the state. On the arrest, the governor said: “Okutu is fond of degrading Ebonyi State, and I don’t know why my officials have allowed him to continue to do that because he is not from Ebonyi State. I want to ban him for life with Chijioke Agwu. I don’t want to see them anywhere in any government facility”
He made it clear he would not allow the journalists any legal trial hinting he would rather, employ mob justice: “If you think you have the pen, we have the ‘koboko’(cow hide whip). Let’s leave the court alone. Ebonyi people are very angry with the press and let me warn that I won’t be able to control them or know when they unleash mayhem on you if you continue to write to create panic in the state.”
Umahi, who has magnanimously lifted the ban, plays god in the state. That is why he follows no rules, has no need for the courts and would ban journalists ‘for life’ when he himself has a tenure in office. But he is highly spiritual hence his announcement that his successor will be picked by God.
Umahi’s counterpart in Kano State, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, has similar proclivities. As COVID-19 ravaged the world and made landfall in Nigeria, the Ganduje government was in self-denial. When hundreds of persons began to die in the state, rather than carry out tests to ascertain cause of death, he ruled out COVID-19 saying this was based on ‘verbal autopsy.’ When the reality of the virus sweeping the state could no longer be denied, rather than take quick proactive measures like other states such as Lagos did, Ganduje was asking the Federal Government for a hefty N15 billion to fight the virus. When his request did not seem to be granted, he cried that the centre had abandoned the state.
Ganduje, an educated man also took disturbing steps. For instance, when a victim tests positive, the logical step is to isolate and treat. That is what Lagos State did, even to Europeans who are not Nigerian citizens. In the case of Ganduje, he ‘expelled’ a sufferer to his home state of Jigawa.
Ganduje has since moved to ‘expel’ hundreds of homeless children called Almajiri to their alleged states of origin. Some of these children expelled to a state like Kaduna tested positive. So Ganduje has simply helped to spread the virus across more areas.
Tragically, some state governors in the North have copied Ganduje’s bad example by expelling the Almajiris who are allegedly not from their states. Many of these children with nowhere to go, have appeared on the streets of Niger State and Abuja.
Unfortunately, Ganduje’s actions have stigmatised these children as carriers of the Coronavirus, and the possibility of their being attacked in various parts of the country is quite real. The stigmatization and expulsion of the Almajiris by Ganduje, and copycat governors, is inhuman and unconstitutional.
The least conscientious Nigerians, human, social and political right activists, professional associations and the trade unions should do, is to challenge these illegalities. Can we have lawyers willing to challenge these illegalities in court?
Even if the Umahis and Gandujes have immunity as governors, we can still challenge them so that after their tenure, we can call them to account for their gross human rights abuses, if not in Nigeria, then abroad. In conclusion, I believe governors are honourable people whose acts should be meaningful to the average citizen with common-sense, if they do not, then there is a yawning gap in governance which requires we replace either the governor, or the governed