By Segun Ogunlade
Onyedega is under Ibaji LGA of Kogi state and under Kogi East Senatorial District. The boundaries extend to Anambra and Edo states. Ibaji is an agrarian society. Many of the villagers are farmers. They grow rice and trade in fishes. Ibaji has a total of ten wards. For some years now, the small community has been battling with flood. Unless some kind of urgent intervention comes their way, they will continue to battle with flood and the community will not be in anyway better for it.
I wouldn’t have been there if not for a kind of divine providence. A day to the journey, the person that was posted there suddenly developed cold feet when she heard she would travel on water. By that time, it was a day to the election. Someone has to go. After much persuasion, I agreed to go there. That was the beginning of my journey. Although I don’t really fear travelling on water, even when I have never tried it before, I had thought the water that I would cross from Idah to Onyedega was the type of little river I was used to from home. When I got to Idah waterside and saw River Niger in its might, having overflown its bank, fear was inevitable. When I was told I would travel for about an hour on the river, my fear grew worse. It was not the fear of travelling on a speedboat but of doing so on such an expanse of water that scared me. Speedboats are nothing like ships. If one is on it and it suddenly capsizes in the middle of the river, it means hell. And to think I was the only non-Igala person on the journey makes it scarier. Yet I boarded a speedboat and prayed to God to keep me safe. After all, the Good Book says He would be with us when we walk either through the fire or in the river.
As the journey progresses, it wasn’t long before my identity was uncovered where I had strategically sat in-between two men who were natives. Everyone eon the speedboat was talking about the river, except me. Each time they engaged themselves in deep argument, they would expect me to be an arbiter. But each time they did so, they were disappointed until they decide to join the general conversation. With that, they wouldn’t need an arbiter. Every other person speaks the language and everyone is happy doing his or her own thing as the journey across River Niger continued.
By the time the speedboat stopped somewhere close to the local government secretariat, I realised I had spent ninety five minutes travelling on the water, almost about the time from Lokoja to Anyingba. As usual, everyone left the boat and quickly went their ways. I did the same too. As two young men carrying bags mentioned INEC while discussing, I had no doubt they were ad-hoc staffs. I was on their heels until we all got to the local government secretariat. From that time on, my election duty as an election observer began.
I have decided to piece this together, not to narrate how I observed election in Onyedega, how I slept on the floor under the supervision of mosquitoes of all sizes, how I walked inside water that reaches up to me lap, but to mention the peculiarity of the people living in this riverine area. Indeed, Nigerians are always happy, no matter the circumstances whether they are favourable or not. If there is an award for people with the best ability to adapt to bad governance, it should always come to Nigeria. If the award is to a particular town, I will strongly recommend the people of Onyedega for it. The people of Onyedega are the happiest people I have met in Nigeria so far. They go about with smile, show respect to one another, young and old, man and woman, and strangers alike, and they seem never to be worried about anything.
Each polling unit I go to, the people there are always happy people. In some cases, they extend their happiness by cooking for the electoral officials so that the latter could be happy on their job. In fact, they allowed the electoral officials go on break sometimes. While observing the Osun election in a setting that bore some resemblance to Onyedega, there was nothing like cooking for electoral officials or even allowing them take a thirty-minute break. If they needed anything, they paid for it. Perhaps the people of Onyedega had done that to compensate the officials who, many of whom are not natives, who had travelled across the river to conduct election in the community. Whichever way, this show of happiness and care is a commendable act in a village where the farmlands have been flooded.
I have tried to decipher what could make them so happy. Of course, it is easy to say being alive is enough to make one happy. Yet, being alive is simply not enough to make anyone happy in a country like Nigeria where the masses are often neglected by government and in town place like Onyedega where the people are separated don’t enjoy any of the average social amenities that people in other parts of Kogi enjoy. They are cut off from the rest of Kogi by River Niger, since 2012 they have been battling with flooding due to River Niger overflowing its banks thereby leading to their arable lands being buried under the water, they have no portable water, no electricity, and no good road.
Despite this, they were happy collecting N2, 000 to vote in the last gubernatorial election in the state. I never expected this from them with the level of neglect they have suffered from successive government in the state. Their happiness in selling their vote is really confusing. They are collecting to retain in government people who have consistently turned against them. Perhaps they are doing so with the belief that it’s the only time they get anything from the government.
As a co-traveller from Idah to Lokoja who was equally worried about the same issue summarises it, “the people of Onyedega are very complicated. They are the most neglected people in all of Kogi. They always vote for a government that doesn’t care about them. You can see the way they live. They have nothing to boast of. It seems they are not tired of being neglected by the government.”
This was corroborated by a native, a woman in her early sixties, thus: “When even our own people get to Lokoja, they often neglect us here. You could see we don’t have electricity here and no roads too. I heard you complaining there was no hotel in this town. Who would build it for us? We don’t have banks too. If we need money, we go to a shop in town and use our card to get money from a woman there. She always charges us extra. But it is better than going to Idah to withdraw money. Since you seem to be a government boy, perhaps you should write it down in your paper and tell them that we need help. As you can see for yourself, our rice fields are flooded. We couldn’t trade with neighbouring towns since the flood started because water is everywhere around us. All our dry lands before the rainy season are now flooded. Once the rain starts, our farming is affected and sometimes, we have to depend on food supply from our neighbours. My son, you see, the government has forgotten us here.”
Even as she told me this, she was smiling. She said all of them were used to being neglected by the government. The probability of her not voting during the election is high. She was at the secretariat throughout the time I was there, selling food and groceries. She couldn’t farm as she used to because there are no dry lands. Most of her goods were transported by speedboat from Idah. A trip from Onyedega to Idah is N1, 000. At special times of the year, such as election period, it’s usually increased by either N200 or N500, thereby adding extra burden to their burden. Of course, a good number of the boat drivers are resident in Idah.
As it is now, Onyedega is a community that needs government intervention. The people deserve better than being neglected by the government they helped in getting to the office. Of course, one could say that they have collected their dues from the government by collecting N2, 000 to vote. Yet, people in other parts of Kogi collected are guilty of vote selling but still enjoy government intervention, no matter how little. No people in any human community deserve the type of neglect in Onyedega in a modern Nigeria.
A government that fails to alleviate poverty among the people but forced them instead to live happily in a situation that defiles their human dignity is a failing one. The primary responsibility of a government is to see that all human under is rule are taken care of in a way that would see them maximise their true potentials. If the people living in a community that is not enjoying anything from the government of the day and they are still happy, one could only wonder at their happiness when the government decides to look upon them.
It is in this wise that I call on the government of the day in Kogi state to look upon the people of Onyedega and its environs and extend good governance to them. They are part of the state too and they should not be forgotten on the other side of River Niger. Everyone deserves to be treated rightly by the government of his or her state.
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