AN OPEN LETTER TO HIS EXCELLENCY MR. SAMUEL ORTOM, THE EXECUTIVE GOVERNOR OF BENUE STATE

29th May, 2020

His Excellency,
Mr. Samuel Ortom,
The Executive Governor of Benue State,
Government House,
Makurdi,
Benue State.

Your Excellency,

BENUE LG ELECTIONS Vs STATE EXECUTIVE ORDER ON COVID-19

I received with much surprise, news that the Benue State Independent Electoral Commission (BSIEC) has slated Saturday, 30th May, 2020, for the conduct of local government elections in the state.

One would have hoped that you would reverse your decision before now in the face of the current reality. Thus, as a stakeholder I am impelled to voice my concern on this subject. To the best of my knowledge, it is barely a week after Your Excellency signed the Executive Order to ensure the prosecution of violators of the safety measures previously put in place by your government to check the spread of COVID-19 in the state. One of these measures includes the ban on public gatherings in the state.

Considering the razzmatazz that accompanied efforts by Your Excellency to express your administration’s seriousness in enforcing the lockdown order earlier imposed on the state, including the recent signing of the Executive Order and the reversal of the order you issued less than a fortnight ago, allowing places of worship to reopen, the current scenario impels me to ask whether you truly appreciated the import of the lockdown and subsequent Executive Order you signed for its enforcement, or if you were merely putting up a façade, or should I say, jumping unto the bandwagon of the federal government and other state governments.

Your Excellency, in my candid opinion, the call for local government elections this Saturday by BSIEC, an agency of your government and fully funded with taxpayers’ money, is nothing short of the height of hypocrisy. What exactly is Benue State communicating to the world? How can you be turning your own law on its head? Indeed, it is said that writing laws is easy, but governing is difficult. Louis Brandeis captures it better, thus: , “crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.”

How can it be, that when all places of worship, schools and markets in the state are all shutdown, and in fact only selected categories of civil servants are allowed to report to work, Your Excellency will be contemplating the conduct of local government elections as your priority in this period? Your Excellency, Democracy, as envisioned by the Nigerian constitution, is intended to be a catalyst for the advancement of the society. But if we ignore the basic tenets of democracy, which include freedom, justice, equity and the rule of law, as is the case in Benue State, it could constitute a clog in the wheel of the society.

Kindly permit me to inform Your Excellency that if you decide to go ahead with the LG elections as scheduled; your action will leave a lot of negative narratives in its trail. To start with, you will disenfranchise a lot of Benue electorates, who will not be gullible enough to risk their lives in the name of coming out to cast their ballots on Saturday.

Even though there are already strong indications from the build-up to the so-called Saturday LG elections, that what Your Excellency is gearing up for is a mere selection process rather than an election, one would hope that you would devise a more ingenious way of hatching your plots, by giving the entire process a semblance of credibility, rather than brazenly rubbing it in the face of the people. Otherwise, the entire process will be a complete mockery of democracy and a huge spite on the sensibilities of Benue people. How can a responsible government be among the firsts to flout its own Executive Order?

Furthermore, if you decide to go ahead with the elections, then it will follow a logical sequence that you will be trading every ounce of your moral justification to arrest and prosecute anybody for violating your orders regarding the COVID-19 in the state.

Your Excellency, you are aware that Benue State has been in the spotlight for the very wrong reasons since the index case of COVID-19 was recorded in the state. I really don’t want to recall the saga of Mrs. Suzan Okpe, whom against the global best practice, you went ahead to announce her name in a broadcast as being a victim of COVID-19, and for which you have clearly expressed that you owe no one any apologies for your base action. Please, we don’t need any further unnecessary COVID-19 drama from Benue State.

But the good news, Your Excellency, is that it is not too late for you to heed the voice of reason by rescinding your decision to conduct the elections. We can understand that BSIEC, and in fact the Benue State Government, called for the election in grave error. After all, E.A. Bucchianeri once wisely stated that “Errors do not cease to be errors simply because they’re ratified into law.” However, defying reason and proceeding with the elections will amount to progression in error, which would have more devastating consequences.

It is general knowledge, Your Excellency, that the process of democratic elections in Nigerian and across Africa; is still a far cry from what holds in the advanced democracies. Faced by a similar situation in a more civilized clime, perhaps the electoral umpire could consider electronic voting. Even when the electorate must cast votes manually, their systems can conveniently afford to observe social distancing among voters. But here in Africa, elections are characterized with a lot of rancor among the already overcrowded voters.

Therefore the precautionary measures allegedly put in place by BSIEC to ensure the safety of voters, including provision of hand sanitizers, hand wash and decongestion of voters by ensuring simultaneous accreditation and voting, and compelling electorates to wear their face masks etc., are not tenable in the Benue LG elections slated for Saturday.

It will be interesting to see how you intend to conduct the local government election without jettisoning all the standard protocols for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. The voters will certainly not be able to wear their face masks from the time of their accreditation and voting; and in several instances, as is the case with party loyalists and polling agents, wait until all the votes are counted in their polling units and the results announced. It is recommended that the face masks be pulled off at intervals of about 10-15 minutes, to avoid respiratory health challenges.

Your Excellency, you should have more concern for the welfare and the wellbeing of your people, above your desperation to conduct local government elections. Your action will be putting the health of a lot of people at risk, and as a true servant leader, you should always bear in mind the wise words credited to Cicero, that “Salus populi suprema lex esto (meaning, the welfare of the people shall be the supreme law).” I must state, Your Excellency, that your desperation to proceed with the elections speaks volumes to your ulterior motives.

You are quite aware, that the local government structure under the current dispensation cannot be pocketed by any state government. It is an integral part of the democratic structure of Nigeria, and the Administration of His Excellency, President Muahhamdu Buhari, has not disguised its intention to strengthen the local government system by granting it full financial and administrative autonomy, from the manipulations of state governments. For in an ideal sense, the local government may well be the most important structure of democracy—the building block of the growth and development of the society, being the tier of government that is closest to the grassroots.

Therefore, I am imploring you, in the interest of the wellbeing of Benue citizens, to call-off the election until such a time in the future when the tension generated by COVID-19 would have subsided considerably. It would be much better if the funds earmarked for the elections are re-channeled into paying the backlog of workers’ salaries in the state, to alleviate their plights exacerbated by the outbreak of COVID-19. This is my humble suggestion, Your Excellency, and I earnestly hope you would give it due consideration.

Finally, and by way of reiteration, I will leave you with the words of Toba Beta, which says “If you violate laws of God, you’re a sinner. If you violate laws of men, you’re a criminal. If you violate your own laws, you’re pathetic.”

While looking forward to your rational action with respect to the aforementioned, please accept the assurances of my esteemed regards.

Yours faithfully,

Comrade Daniel Onjeh

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