Opinion: Before another Odimegwu goes

by Robert Obioha

festus-odimegwu

The Kano State helmsman went to Aso Villa and apparently forced the President to sack Odimegwu. He had claimed that a man who dismissed the headcount of his predecessors and whose experience is in the brewery industry is not fit for the job of NPC chairman.

No reason was given for the action but President Goodluck Jonathan had accepted the resignation and appointed the commissioner representing Abia State in the Commission, Dr. Sam Ahaiwe, to act as its chairman until a subtantive chairman is appointed.

Although government did not explain the sudden turn of events at the Commission, there is strong indication that it cannot be totally divorced from Odimegwu’s principled position on the past census exercises conducted in the country from colonial rule till date, including the 2006 census that gave Kano State more figures than Lagos: an issue Lagos State government contested and obtained a judgement for a recount of some disputed areas.

Odimegwu’s honest stand on past census and his insistence to give the country an accurate census appeared to have stirred the hornet’s nest and drawn the rage of some Northern establishments who erroneously felt that Odimegwu might be out for a sinister motive. The Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso, a beneficiary of the 2006 headcount, singularly appointed himself the Northern mouthpiece on the issue as well as the arrowhead of anti-Odimegwu campaign. He and those that think like him waged a sustained political and media war to ensure that Odimegwu is given the boot by the President.

The Kano State helmsman went to Aso Villa and apparently forced the President to sack Odimegwu. He had claimed that a man who dismissed the headcount of his predecessors and whose experience is in the brewery industry is not fit for the job of NPC chairman.

While the Odimegwu-hate campaign was intensified by Kwakwanso and co, the Federal Government issued a query to the embattled NPC chairman, an action many Nigerians frowned at in view of the ethnic, political and religious dimensions of the smear campaign against Odimegwu.

Groups like the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in 19 Northern states and concerned Nigerians condemned the stop-Odimegwu campaign and stood by his stand to make our census credible. Nigerians were also in the dark as to the nature of the query and its outcome until Odimegwu, out of his personal volition and principled stand on issues, left the post.

What are Odimegwu’s ‘sins’ that warranted Kwakwanso and his choristers to mount anti-Odimegwu campaign? One is that Odimegwu dismissed past headcounts in the country. Two is that Odimegwu wants to include religion and ethnicity in the 2016 census. Three is that Odimegwu wants to conduct an accurate census for the country. Four is Odimegwu’s postulation that lack of accurate census is the cause of our general underdevelopment because without accurate census, it will be very difficult to plan.

Odimegwu’s decision to resign instead of staying put in the usual Nigerian fashion, despite opposition in certain quarters, is very commendable. It is rare in Nigeria to find a public officer who is willing to relinquish his appointment no matter the criticisms. There are many of them in Jonathan’s cabinet, who, despite repeated calls for their sack are still there. The presidency has even defended some of them.

But in the case of Odimegwu, nothing was said apart from the query. The silence of the president on the issue is apparently an indication that Odimegwu might have been sacrificed on the altar of 2015 political expediency by the presidency as some critics have alluded. If it is so, it is sad and contradictory that a regime that prides itself on transformational praxis could let Odimegwu go. How can such a regime sacrifice a transformational agent like Odimegwu? This is seemingly a sign that this country is not going to be one, no matter the pretences of our politicians to hoist such contradictory oneness on us.

To those who know Odimegwu very well, his resignation may not have come as a surprise. It will be recalled that in one of his recent interviews that led to Kwankwaso’s unwarranted outburst, Odimegwu had said that he would resign if he is never allowed to conduct a credible census for the country. That is exactly what he has done. That is a mark of good leadership. A leader should know when to stay and when to quit. Odimegwu’s resignation is a huge loss to NPC, the government and the country. In other lands, people like Odimegwu are curried by government and treated with dignity for their immense experience. Odimegwu is a first class brain, technocrat and boardroom guru of high pedigree. Nobody has achieved the records he set at Nigerian Breweries till date.

Many critics believe that the job of NPC chairman is even below his status. What is wrong in somebody saying that he wants to do a job very well? It is only in Nigeria that one can be persecuted for saying his mind. What is the need of a university education if all citizens should be ‘yes’ people and zombies? Why does Nigerian establishment hate critical minds and problem-solvers? Why do we always hanker after mediocrity and half-baked minds? Nigeria is the way it is simply because we celebrate mediocrity and falsehood. The political space has been peopled by half-baked individuals and jobbers. That is why our politicians perform below par among their peers in the sub-region and the continent.

Odimegwu is gone but the issues he raised are still relevant. What Odimegwu said on past headcounts is true. He is not the first person that has said so. He is not going to be the last that will say it. Those who do not want ethnicity and religion to be included in the 2016 headcount have something to hide. They are those that have sinister motive and not Odimegwu. Therefore let not Kwankwaso and co think that now that Odimegwu is out that they have won. The battle for credible census has even started. It will rage until Nigeria gets it right. The next NPC boss must ensure the 2016 headcount is credible as Odimegwu subscribed.

The Odimegwu-haters have even made him more adorable. They can hate his guts but they cannot erase his thesis for accurate census come 2016. For how long shall we continue to live in deception and pretence as a nation?

Today, it is Odimegwu and tomorrow, it can be anybody else. We must all resist this untoward tendency to shoot down our best whenever given an opportunity to serve. Nigeria cannot progress until we put forward our first eleven. It is only in Nigeria that brilliant minds are shut out of the political space and the few ones appointed are never allowed freedom to express themselves. The continued celebration of mediocrity in the country will only stunt its growth and development and lead to her imminent disintegration sooner than later.

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Read this article in the Sun Newspapers

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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