OPINION : Ebonyi South Bye-election: Let the Monster Die

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The five major towns comprising Onicha Local Government Area—Abaomege, Isu,
Onicha, Oshiri, and Ukawu—had a population of 236,828, according to the 2006 census.

This makes it the most prominent LGA in Ebonyi State by population. Onicha town,
primarily traders and farmers by occupation, is grappling with a subterranean monster
that continues to devastate its social, political, and economic tapestry, and which is often
overlooked and left unaddressed.
Picture: Hon Linus Okorie and Professor Anthony Ani.

Recently, Onicha town has witnessed a surge in the use of brute force, though in denial.
A notable incident occurred on Saturday, 28th January 2023, during a gubernatorial rally
of the All Progressives Congress (APC) at Isu, where a gentleman thug was shot dead.
While some attribute this tragedy to the defunct Ebubegau Security Organisation, others
point fingers at political thugs. What is however certain is that a gentleman from Onicha
was a key player in the fisticuff and he lost his life in the process.

Similarly, during the gubernatorial and House of Assembly elections on March 18th,
2023, a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) agent was shot dead at his polling unit at
Amautu Onicha. Strong accounts suggest he, too, fell victim to brute force from thugs.
These incidents are just a glimpse into the monstrous challenges faced by Onicha town
and its people. What could have happened to our sociopolitical configuration that
uniquely explains the exaltation of brute force in civil relations and engagements? And
how can this be dealt with? The purpose of this article is to attempt these questions and
as much as possible, do so with compassion and benevolence.

In 2006/2007, a major civil disturbance erupted in Onicha town as youths organized to
challenge political leaders whom they accused of unfair treatment and inadequate
political representation. Unfortunately, this democratic exercise degenerated into full
anarchy with human casualties and destruction of properties. To sustain the carnage that
followed against constituted authorities, since there was a total breakdown of law and
order, teenagers and young adults were, voluntarily and involuntarily, conscripted into
violent cult groups and dreadful gangs. Looking back, that civil disturbance explain how
peace was ruptured in Onicha town.
Somehow, the government at the time managed to bring about a false sense of control but
failed to solve the underlying problem.

In my theory, the inability of the government to
pursue a robust de-radicalization program for the victims and key actors in the crisis
served as the origin and seed for today’s thuggery-driven economy in Onicha town. Young
adults and teenagers in their numbers were indoctrinated with negative values. How were
they expected to give up those values when it guaranteed free access to plunders,
including loot, alcohol, weed and sexual gratification? Think about it!
As a trend, the villains from the 2006/2007 episodes resurface during every political
season, working for whoever can afford their services. Some have crawled their way into
corridors of power, directly procuring services, while others outside power became
conflict entrepreneurs waiting to be activated when the need arises.

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Why am I writing at this point since the general elections are over? It is not over.
Following the resignation of Senator David Umahi from the Senate, the Independent
National Electoral Commission ordered a bye-election to fill the vacancy. The two frontrunners in the contest are Hon. Linus Abaa Okorie and Professor Anthony Okorie Ani,
both illustrious sons of Onicha town. What does this mean for Onicha town and the
senatorial district?

For Onicha town, I see a strategic opening for Ndi Onicha to seize and redesign the
trajectory of its politics and social development. This could happen in three forms. The
two autonomous communities in Onicha, Onicha-Igboeze and Igboeze-Onicha, could
articulate a covenant and have these illustrious sons in the senatorial race sign it,
committing to fully implement it if elected.

The covenant would include three items (and even more): First, adopting an Integrated
Representative Framework (IRF) where the senator forms a forum comprising lawmakers
in Ebonyi South—Senator, House of Representatives, House of Assembly, Councillors,
and Town Unions—to nominate and manage constituency projects according to a
common development philosophy; second, getting rid of thuggery and brigandage and
reordering our local politics to be progressive and productive; third, raising NGN
500,000,000 (five hundred million naira) or more for renovating the two legacy
secondary schools in Onicha—Onicha Model Secondary Technical School and Onicha
Community Secondary School—by collaborating with relevant stakeholders, especially
the state government. The last two items are Onicha-centric but other town unions in the
district could adapt it to their own needs and peculiarities. They can also be different
things altogether.

Some may ask, how can a senator achieve these grandiose targets or objectives within a
four-year tenure or less? Contrary to popular commentaries, Nigeria’s federalism is
robust, and its fiscal governance architecture is sufficiently decentralized. Federal
lawmakers, especially senators, have the leeway and political plasticity to innovate and
determine priorities in their respective zones. What is often lacking is the organizational
acumen crucial to driving political innovations of this nature. Other than that, a senator
can be a gamechanger to development in the way he relates with a governor and works
other elected officials in his constituency.
With the support of the governor, a senator can coordinate political and economic
resources in the district towards productive ends using the Integrated Representative
Framework (IRF). While the utilization of constituency funds is independently executed
by lawmakers due to constitutional or legal implications, the forum can achieve a common
vision of development for the zone and efficiency in resource allocations at various tiers
of government. I so much believe that where public resources are limited, creative
integration of organisation is the bootstrap by which mankind lifts itself in the process of
civilisation.

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Onicha LGA, with its numerous towns, is not the only local council in the zone; there are
about five of them. Whatever the share of Onicha town is from the national cake can be
channeled to, for instance, rebuilding and upgrading the two secondary schools into ideal
centers of learning. Working with the state government to upgrade these schools to standard boarding facilities in three years or so will force the entire country to recognize
an unbeatable strategy of unlocking local economic development in Ebonyi.It is possible.
Even if the funds passing through a senator for constituency projects or zonal intervention
projects (ZIPs) are less than projected, the bare minimum either Professor Ani or Hon
Linus can do for Ndi Onicha is to coordinate a landmark vision (like the school project)
and lead from the front to actualize it. Whoever wins the election will be surprised at the
pace and dimensions of dormant generosity and resources in Onicha that can be unlocked
to achieve any grand vision if the winner wants an eternal place in the hearts of his
constituents.

As a refresher, Onicha Secondary Technical School is the first technical school in the then
Abia State, built as a community self-help project. Similarly, Sam Mbakwe International
Cargo Airport is another example of thinking inside the box and serves as a testament to
the resilience of a people desperate for development. By these refreshers, I am only saying
that the only constraints to our development is the size of our vision.

As I begin to round off, nothing can heal the open sores left by the untimely deaths of
three individuals whom I personally regard as the beacons of visionary leadership in
Onicha. These individuals are Dr. Daniel Obasi Agbafor (D.O. Agbafor), an elected
member representing Ohaozara Federal Constituency in the 1988 Constituent Assembly
who died on Sunday, August 14, 1988; Dr. Agbafor Igwe, pioneer chairman of Ebonyi
State Local Government Commission and the Local Government Pension Board, who
represented old Ohaozara in the 1994 Constitutional Conference and was until his death
the President-General of Onicha Town Union; and Barrister Nnagozie Arisi Nwitte, a
former Commissioner in the then Imo State Civil Service Commission. For me, Ndi
Onicha are asking for no special favors but pleading for justice, good governance, and quality representation in the taste these three individuals would lead Onicha town if they had tarried a little longer in this place.

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Let us go back to the beginning of this article. The recent surge in thuggery in Onicha town
is not a befitting description of our people. Therefore, it is time for the monster to die.
That the two leading senatorial contenders emerged from Onicha town should be seen as
an opportunity.

Are we going to utilise it or squander it? The two gladiators are both our illustrious sons. While Hon Linus Okorie epitomizes visible legislative experience, Professor Anthony Ani represents new political vitality and vigor. Regardless of who wins between Professor Ani and Hon Linus, Ndi Onicha should engage in proactive politics and extract accountability from them. But before then, can
every living soul of voting age in Onicha go out this Saturday, 3rd February 2024, to decide our next political era rather than getting stuck in the old lackluster narrative that “all politicians are the same”? We can do it!

As Cyrus of old said, “To fight to avoid being a slave is noble.” What people often fail to
recognize is that voting is fighting to defend one’s nobility and dignity. What would be too
much for you to pay for your political freedom? Dear kinsmen and women, let us budget
to touch home this Saturday to cast your votes for our preferred candidates. As democrats,
let us continue to do our part. Peace!

Written by Ani Nwachukwu Agwu (Ikenga II);
Institute for Development Studies, University of Nigeria Enugu Campus. Ani wrote this piece from the United States.

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