I read with profound consternation, a report credited to the Human Rights Association of Nigeria that put a stamp of selective meddlesomeness on the increasingly questionable focus of the association. For an association whose name suggests a dedication to utilise the potent instrument of writing to advance the cause of human rights, the increasing dabble into partisan politics should give everyone cause for worry.
I do not know the overriding interest a national human rights association has in Enugu politics, but I am entitled to be worried when this same association chooses to double down on particular candidates in the increasingly contentious run to the 2023 elections n Nigeria. HURIWA, in this report, published in Vanguard, was sure that former Deputy Senate President, Prof Ike Ekweremadu, should withdraw from the Enugu governorship race, for no other reason than to, as stated in the story, for him to “aim at a higher office and leave the governorship for a younger aspirant.”
HURIWA didn’t end there. It also meddled into the now vanquished zoning debate in Enugu by also suggesting Senator Ekweremadu should withdraw to pave the way for a candidate from Enugu East to emerge in line with a purported zoning arrangement that favours the zone. Not done, the association also excoriated the Ekweremadu Campaign Organisation for its recent claim of harassment of its supporters by political opponents.
As a journalist myself, embarrassing is a very light word to describe what HURIWA has done to itself with this report. I am aware that the human rights “industry” is facing existential challenges and many organisations in this area have been working hard to survive and remain relevant by ways and means, even if it is dubious ways and means. But I think that this survival battle has to be fought a bit more creatively and without compromising the integrity of the organisation. How a human rights association would so casually dismiss allegations of political harassment without any modicum investigation has the putrid smell of commercial activism all over it.
HURIWA surely was horribly flat-footed here. Let me start by running a check on what should be the DNA of this association. By its name, this s supposed to be a human rights group, dedicated to the advancement of the rights of individuals and groups in the country. By this calling that it gave to itself, HURIWA should be concerned with the oppressed, the cheated, the minorities whose voices are silenced oppressed women and children, environmental issues and actions, and all other issues driving towards the enthronement of equity and justice.
I am very sure that fighting for a former Deputy Senate President to aspire to “higher political” office does not fall within this remit. To be sure HURIWA was not established for other causes outside of what its name suggests, I sought out its website for more information, but hard as I tried with my handheld and laptop, the site would only open as far as showing this dark page that reveals no home page information nor any menu to help reveal any useful information.
I have followed Emmanuel Onwubiko, the founder of HURIWA, for a reasonable number of years. I have also observed the frequent straying into areas not quite related to the advancement of human rights. In the case that prompted this article, I must ask HURIWA how getting a candidate to aspire to higher political office has to do with human rights? How does this, in measurable terms ensure that greater values are delivered to the people?
The big question that HURIWA has to answer with regard to this hugely shameful partisan position it has taken has to do with its understanding of what service means. Is HURIWA trying to tell the world that a politician who returns to vie for a position in his state, after playing at the national level is bending low? Again, at what point in leadership should one be considered to be bending low?
In a country where there is widespread discontent over the quantum dividends flowing from the national level, it must be considered strange for a human rights association to stand against an offer for service to his home state by a vastly experienced senator. The truth is that if Nigeria will ever leapfrog its current growth stagnation, the component states have to be made to orchestrate economic growth activities along the lines of its peculiar strengths, comparative advantages, and resource peculiarities and only inviting neophytes to the table should not be the clarion. Rather, people should encourage those with the requisite man and resource management experiences to take up the assignment.
There is no service higher or lower than the other if the aim is to change lives, lift the society and boost economic growth. Telling an experienced person to “aim higher” is like a congregation telling their priests who have been successful in managing urban parishes to not be posted, or elect to be posted to rural areas where real evangelism is needed. “Only the sick needs the physician,” the Bible said in Luke 5:21, and it is the people in the states; in the rural areas, that need the expertise of “leadership” doctors.
“Only the sick needs the physician,” the Bible said in Luke 5:21, and it is the people in the states; in the rural areas, that need the expertise of “leadership” doctors.
It is also important to find out what HURIWA wants to achieve by dwelling on the phantom zoning arrangement in the state. My position on the zoning of political offices in Enugu State has been well documented, but I need to stress once again, its divisive possibilities for the people. Since the conversation on this formula commences, the people of Enugu State have been more divided than ever before, with the different zones laying their gaining the derivatives of democracy and governance on having a person from their area in office. Zoning, f it ever existed, hasn’t helped in bringing the people together.
There are two very important questions that HURIWA must answer with regard to its position on zoning. The first is as it has to do with the country, Nigeria. The second has to do with the rights of minorities in the state.
As a national human rights association, I think that HURIWA should be bothered that the two major political parties in Nigeria, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) are no longer hiding their disdain for zoning. Being an Igbo man, I wonder why Emmanuel Onwubiko is not much more concerned about the detour being made about zoning the Presidency to the southeast, a zone that has yet to have its person elected to that office? Shouldn’t the advocacy be channeled towards addressing the imbalance against the Igbo people in the larger Nigerian space instead of raising needless conversations on the largely linguistically homogenous people of Enugu State?
If HURIWA is concerned about zoning, has it ever thought of the shrinking of the leadership opportunities of the minorities in the state with such clannish arrangement? I am asking this question because it is clear that were the state to ever adopt this tripodal zoning formula along the senatorial zones, the minorities in those zones will never make it to the governorship of the state. In Enugu East, for instance, Isi Uzo stands out as a minority that was used in the political gerrymandering that split the old Enugu Zone into two, at the expense of Nsukka zone where Isi Uzo originally, culturally belonged. Who will hear the voice of the Isi Uzo man over the suffocating din of the Nkanu people? N Enugu West, Aninri, and Oji River people are also lonely minorities that will never rise above the choking numbers of the Udi and Ezeagu people.
Who will speak for these people if HURIWA lends its voice to the continued dominance of the vocal majority?
My conclusion is that if HURIWA’s position was not influenced by pecuniary interests, then it was grossly uninformed. If in advising Senator Ekweremadu to aspire to a higher political office, HURIWA was pointing to any sterling leadership qualities, my take is that such good qualities cannot be too good for Enugu State. In fact, the state s in dire and desperate need of top quality to drive a future inclusive and robust economic growth.
I have looked at the vast field of governorship aspirants in the state and, to date, it appears Senator Ekweremadu is the only one with a plan. He has a prepared blueprint and has pitched this to the people of the state as a contract offer. This, I think, should have impressed a non-partisan HURIWA.