Nigeria: Edo Òkpa 'Nó - a Mere Slogan?

14 February 2020

Lagos — In spite of linguistic transformation by the different ethnic groups in present-day Edo State over the years as a result of migration from the old Benin Empire, some words and phrases have not changed. Edo Òkpa 'Nó and Unuedo are some of the common words whose meaning cut across the various dialects in the state from Okpameri to Bini, Etsako, Owan and Esan.

Edo Òkpa 'Nó, was the theme of the town hall meeting organised a few weeks ago by Unuedo Renaissance, a body of professionals from Edo State resident in Lagos, with the governor in attendance. It simply means "Edo is one" or Edo indigenes are one", the American equivalence of "E Pluribus Unum".

The theme is very apt except that it requires some scrutiny not because the shared ancestry of the various groups in the state is a subject for contention but in spite of the near homogeneity of the various peoples in Edo State, governance in the state evidently lacks distributive justice.

The age-long question of social-political injustice, the permanent and sometimes spasmodic alienation of groups within the state, raises a certain level of ambiguity in, and calls to question the objective utility of the thematic marker that headlined the event.

In my attempt to reconcile the superfluous romance with that theme vis-a-vis the politics of exclusion in Edo State, I immediately dismissed it as an aspirational platitude, a mere slogan or at best a reconciliatory tantaliser to rally the indigenes in the ensuing fratricidal war between an allegedly overbearing political godfather and an estranged son. If that is (was) the essence, the theme essentially loses its soul.

However, I realised that the organisers, some of who I know from a distance, will not yield to such little-mindedness. I honestly think the town hall meeting was a genuine call for subscription to shared destiny by a group of concerned professionals desirous of using available citizen participatory channels to influence the Edo State government for the common good.

However, beyond the altruistic yearning of a concerned group, the political actors in Edo State must equally subscribe to the ethos of Edo Òkpa 'Nó and that immediately brings into particular focus the travails of the Opkameri people. The Okpameri people in Akoko-Edo Local Government Area, comprising 23 towns and villages, is one major group that has for so long suffered systemic deprivation in the politics of Edo State. The last time there was visible state presence was during Professor Ambrose Alli's administration in the old Bendel State.

In Okpameri, the roads have become deplorable (there are no roads anymore, literally), good drinking water is a tale from abroad, electricity is a dreamer's wish and people travel distances to access primary healthcare facilities. The few schools that exist are not worthy to be called schools. I am not even sure if the government is aware that this area exists in the state. Politics of exclusion alienates the people and dehumanises both the ruler and the ruled.

Let's be clear, the demand for the provision of social needs can be overwhelming, especially for a government with severely constrained revenue profile and government neglect is not peculiar to one group alone. However, it becomes utterly distressing when lack of resources becomes an alibi for the perpetual neglect of certain communities. And the difference for some groups is that while they are sometimes made to hold the short ends of the stick, Opkameri people have had no stick to hold for so long if they ever had.

No community or group deserves such traumatising neglect in the hands of government for whatever reason or for no reason at all.

No doubt, the government of Mr. Godwin Obaseki is not resting in its oars in addressing developmental challenges across the state, but the feeling of systemic marginalisation and deprivation by some groups in the state persists and this was sufficiently echoed during the town hall meeting. Truth is: some of these concerns are inherited realities which one administration may not be able to redress due to resource and time constraints, but concerted efforts should be made and it should be seen to be made to correct the injustice.

Edo Òkpa 'Nó should not just be a nice-to-have slogan; Edo Òkpa 'Nó should reflect in deed and substance. If the theme is to be made plausible and acquire intrinsic relevance, the ethos must be fully subscribed to by every government irrespective of which group produces the governor. Edo State needs an Edo governor (who sees the entire state as his constituency irrespective of group affiliation), not a governor who is Okpameri, Bini, Esan, Owan, Etuno, Ijaw, Etsako or any other group within the state.

It is on this note that I appeal to Governor Obaseki, and indeed every future administration in the state, that honour, fairness, justice and good conscience be the guiding compass in the governance of Edo State and inclusiveness must be the pre-eminent goal and the accepted outcome of the political process in the state. "E Pluribus Unum", "Unum de multis", Edo Òkpa 'Nó.

Ubohmhe, a chartered accountant, wrote from Lagos

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