By Yabagi Mohammed.
At the risk of sounding sycophantic, sometimes I wonder how the Chief of Staff to the Governor of Kogi State, Hon Edward Onoja carries himself through some environments and gatherings across Kogi State and across the country. At some point, other than doing it himself, I feel he needs someone to help do his image laundering. This is not trying to put myself forward for that position because he is currently doing a yeomans job by himself. He is not doing badly, even though some analysts and watchers might feel otherwise.
I say this because as a journalist, I have had the opportunity of meeting several individuals; big and small. I have heard people make comments about what they feel about certain topics and phenomena. They have also spoken so much about the person of the Kogi State Chief of Staff. Of all their assessments about him, most of them are dark and filled with hate, malice and anger. They so denigrate him that you would think he is worst than Lucifer.
Before I met Onoja, I had this feeling of awe about the personality of the man. I thought I could not even face the stench of his oversized ego. I thought he would dismiss me as a small journalist ad demand for a senior colleague from my organization to interview him. That was not the case. Onoja was so personable and warm that I began to wonder if that was not a copy of the person I had heard so much about. He is so brilliant and oozed the passion of a man ready to do all he can to salvage Kogi State from the hands of a cast of hawk.
Most of the time, when I read what people write about him, especially on the social media, I ask myself whether I was not sold a dummy of the man I have come to have so much respect for.
Whether I had not been deceived into thinking Edward Onoja is who he is really not. But then, I took my time to peruse history and the manner politics is played in our climes, especially here in Kogi State and the antecedents that brought him and his twin brother, the Governor, to power.
Before now, politicians in the state and the country who have nothing to offer have oftentimes resorted to politics of religion, ethnicity and hate mongering. To them, it does not matterbwhether the person in power has the capacity to deliver or whether he can provide needed capability for developing the society; this set of persons are usually selfish and are more concerned about what benefits them, not minding whether the people being led get good governance. They are the most corrupt set of persons because at the end, it is about what comes to them, not what the people get from the governance.
Since the creation of Kogi State in 1991, the state has continually been led by the persons of Igala descent. Many reasons have been adduced as to why that was the case until when providence produced the incumbent, Governor Yahaya Bello. That is not the concern of this piece. I am more interested in why some individual would so loath the person of Hon Edward Onoja to the point resorting to use of hate speeches against him. This is why I need to go to the political history of Kogi State.
In Nigeria as a whole, people expect that whatever political opportunity falls on the laps of a politician to be used to first and foremost in recognizing his kinsmen and people of his faith before any other group. The set up of leadership in the present administration in Kogi seem different. For the first time, the state has a man from supposed minority as Governor and a confidant and Chief of Staff from a different ethnic group. It used to be Igala Governor, Igala Chief of Staff and majority of cabinet members from the Governors part of the state. Then the tide suddenly changed with
the inception of the current administration.
Edward Onoja has continued to function prominently in this administration, hence some commentators see him as the de facto Governor. But on several occasions, he has told those who care to listen that he remains the Chief of Staff to Governor Yahaya Bello and is contented with his position, despite bombardment from those who want to put him on a different precipice. With the manner of hate that has led to the formation of several pattern of speeches and comments against the person of Onoja, I had the chance to listen and try to analyse some of those who have nothing but negatives to utter about him, his character and disposition. Such persons cut across all and sundry and have employed all methods; from conventional to the non conventional, to drag his name in the mud.
I have categorized those with deep-seated malice against the person of Onoja, into several divisions. In one group are those who feel slighted that Governor Bello would be so naïve as to trust an Igala man to be his Chief of Staff. To those persons, it is unheard of that such a sensitive position is entrusted to a person like that. But from observation, Edward has justified the position by always being on hand on several matters that relate to governance in the state.
What they would say is he goes beyond his bounds, I hope they have a single opportunity some day to listen to the man speak about the present government and that they would be ready to listen with an open mind. They would be so wowed because he is so passionate about the need to take Kogi State out of the woods and launch its people, especially those at the grassroots, to prosperity. As the Chief of Staff, he is expected to have good knowledge of the blueprint and policy direction of the current administration; that is what he tries to display with every opportunity.
He makes efforts to clear the air on certain matters that concern governance in Kogi State; how that is a crime still beats me!
The truth is, every government or administration has its own cornerstone among appointees. They are people that share the vision of the head and are usually in tune with requisite demands to function as they should. Such persons can range from ordinary domestic aides to Special Assistants. It can be a commissioner or a minister, depending on the nomenclature of the office such individual occupies. In the case of the present administration of Yahaya Bello, he has times without counts reiterated that he and the chief of staff go way back and are inseparable. Several persons would kill to be in that position, hence their disgust for the person of Onoja.
On the other hand, there are those with a knack for religious sentiments predating now. It is so unfortunate that several of such people pervade our society and would prefer that people of their religious or ethnic affinity hold positions rather than those with competence; to them, seeing Onoja, an adherent of a faith different from the one proclaimed by the Governor, is a spat on them. This is probably due their perceived closeness or familiarity with Bello.
There are also those who think that Hon Onoja is arrogant and saucy. Most of such people, by ordinary observation, are worse than the things they accuse the Chief of Staff of. I know some of them to be very unruly even in the way they handle basic everyday life occurrences, how they turn back to accuse another of something they are more guilty of, I will never understand.
A laughable set are those who have continued to take to town stories of theft against him. The reality I have seen in my little contact with the man is an individual who abhors anything that would bring stains to the present administration, including pilfering. Those in the opposition have however sold the story to some gullible members of the public on the altar of few dissident voices that are dissatisfied with the manner some policies of government have been implemented. However, every opportunity he has had, he has always told members of the public about the love and care of government when it comes to the welfare of Kogi Citizens. He has also demonstrated this by giving young people, men and women, opportunity for empowerment and preached self-reliance at all times. He has always given examples of how the present Governor in the state should encourage the youths to believe that nothing is beyond them if they put their acts together.
Onoja, buying into the vision of Governor Yahaya Bello, has always reminded the youths on the need to break away from the politics of old in the state. In fact, most of the decay the present government met on assumption of office was as a result of the politics of old where nothing gets done without some sort of ethno-religious patronage. These were practices that have made our public institutions places for dumping questionable characters, including giving leadership positions to people on the basis of tribe and religion, rather than on merit.
We have mortgaged the lives and futures of our children and their children by the policies and programmes we have put in place in the past. Ethnicity, sectionalism and other parochialisms have been part of us for too long. We have seen that at the end, it is the elites that gain from our collective buffoonery. It is time Kogians took responsibility by embracing the opportunities being created by the present administration.