To me, a politician’s job is to listen to constituents’ problems and try to sort them out.
There’s an unwritten rule in various State House of Assemblies in Nigeria that prevents a first timer from ever becoming the Speaker. It breeds mediocrity and incompetence. It is everything anti democracy. To put it raw, it is bad.
When Delta State House of Assembly decided to break this coven law, it fell on the shoulder of a first timer, who arguably has never contested election before, even though he has been a major financial pillar to some elected officials in time past. If he was told during the electioneering period that he will be made the number one man in the legislative house, he would probably have claimed it in faith but doubted its possibility.
And so it happened, there was change of guard and the mantle of leadership fell on Sheriff Oborevwori. Sheriff is not the everyday Nigerian politician who came to loot, embezzle and then squander on women and drinks. He’s not the owambe partying politician. The very first time he came to unwind in the club was in solidarity with a friend and most of the time, he was outside the club hall, gisting with others, no drinking and no rocking of the waist of the daughters of Eve.
Wherever he found himself and the need to help arises, he has always risen to the occasion. And so it was, when he paid a visit to my eatery in Uyo, and we were outside talking when he saw the mini buses driven on the roads, painted in the State color. He has seen in countless time, but on this day, he saw it from a different point of view. He asked himself if it will be a crime to give twenty of such buses to his constituents alongside the tricycle called keke.
As he wondered aloud to himself, he asked me for the price which was a little short of a million Naira, excluding the painting, which when done will run over a million Naira per bus. Right there on the spot, he began to order for the buses, twenty in all. This was early 2017. He was bent on having the biggest empowerment in the history of Delta state and went beyond buying of the buses to secure additional TVC Tricycles and other empowerment tools. The ground was set to set history in 2017, but something happened.
The empowerment date fell on the same period that the local government campaigns and election was going. Not known for grandiose and show off, his mental faculty played on him and he cancelled it. When I asked him why, his answer was epic, “It’s empowerment not politics. We do not have to play politics with everything. Na me and you plan this thing come from Uyo and no be to use campaign but to give back to them and release money from their constituency projects. You know how people think, they will feel I am doing it now to campaign for the local government elections and help PDP win, which is not so”.
The words till date rings like the Roman Catholic early morning bell in my hell. It gives me different thoughts about Nigerians politicians who think about the people’s feelings first even when his intention is good. It tells a mindset of an elite who sees things from the perception of the masses and not political. Give it to him; this act is not studied anywhere in the school of politics, but inbuilt like phone batteries. This manner of thinking is derived from years of associating with the streets and not throwing it away when you join the political class.
While it was postponed, he was getting more things to be added, all in a bid to make every ward in his Okpe local government get a feel of democratic empowerment. The day came.
Right in the popular Osubi Trade Fair centre was the biggest empowerment programme in the history of Delta State, beating National Assembly members who did theirs in the past with only sewing machines and motorcycles without helmets to give to their people, to ride, crash and die. But not Sheriff, motorcycle was old school to him, buses and tricycles befits those who stood under the sun to trust him with their votes. He needs them alive while they drive, under cover, not under the sun or rain again.
Deep down in the mind of the State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, he must have counted Okpe out of the local government areas that he will come for campaign. The things he saw on ground was enough campaign and he admitted it, that his campaign for 2019 has been made easier by what he saw on ground. Like a carnival or a political gathering, it was crystal clear that Okpe which is a major home of the opposition party may be an easy ride for the PDP in 2019.
What political preaching of sixteen years couldn’t do and the threat of not getting anything from government couldn’t achieve was made possible by sincerity of purpose, keeping to campaign promises and giving back to the constituents money budgeted for constituency project.
It was not an empowerment of praise singing. It happened live, with N10 million from his foundation also given to his people for scholarship. The empowerment knew no APC or PDP, it had no coloration of party but given to deserving Okpe sons and daughters. “Election is over and everyone is a constituent and should benefit”, he once told me.
If there was anything significant, it was the presence of fellow lawmakers who saw live what their colleague did with his constituency funds, without diverting it and lying that none of such money was released by the Governor. the PDP State Chairman forever punctured the lies when he categorically told them in clear language that every legislator have a duty to carry out empowerment programme even though it mustn’t be in the magnitude of Sheriff. There you have it, the Speaker’s event gave Deltans the right to vote out any lawmaker who is yet to empower them during the next election and vote in another who will not use their funds to build new mansions but empower them.
Sheriff has set the bar of empowerment high for his colleagues but a statement has been sent out that first time members of the Assembly can do better than third term members who have turned the chambers into their inheritance. Everyone agrees that he has carried out the biggest empowerment programme in the state and all eyes are now on other lawmakers to carry out a similar event or beat it, without seeing wheelbarrows and motorcycles on display. Who will bell the cat?
The lesson to take home from Sheriff action is that there are men that travels, sees good things and replicate it back home. Imagine if Sheriff becomes governor tomorrow and what Delta State will be like having travelled round the world and see the beautiful cities and country sides. If he could come to Uyo, see mini buses and decides to replicate such back at home, then Imagine Delta State under him in the era of plenty not recession. One thing is certain; everything you see in developed countries will be stamped on the soil of Delta. We need not argue this. He has proven it. A man is known by the little handed over to him and if this is what he could do in less than four years in office, the rest should be considered history.
Okpe people are not ungrateful, they have never been. They know how to reward a man for keeping to promise. Surely, they will reward Sheriff with their numbers when the time is ripe, even if he stands as an independent candidate.
These little things matter…
Fejiro Oliver, an Investigative Journalist, Media Consultant and Human Rights Activist is also the Co-Convener of Coalition of Human Rights Defender (CHORD) and can be reached on +2348022050733 (SMS ONLY) or [email protected] Engage him on twitter on @fejirooliver86.