I left the office after closing hours very tired. Heading home, I drove leisurely along Adesuwa College Road in the heart of Benin City, Edo state capital, determined to avoid the perennial build up that seems to have taken over Sapele Road. I could not avoid looking at the motley of luxury cars parked on either side of the road or just gliding along. Spent as I was, I also could not avoid thinking about what it would mean if I sat behind the wheels of one of those engines, those magic on wheels. But just as I was stepping deeper into my dream world, I saw a woman wound down the owner side window of the very cossy-looking Toyota Camry and threw out an empty tetra pack, the empty remains of a popular fruit juice. It was against everything I imagined would come out of whoever owned the car.
Like someone suddenly possessed, I stepped on my acceleration pedal until I was driving alongside the car, signalled the driver to wind down his window, which he did marginally and reluctantly. That was enough for me.
“How can a well dressed woman like you act so dirty? I shouted, pointing in her direction. She heard me alright before barking some obscenities at her driver for daring to allow anyone to insult her. The harassed driver quickly wound up the window after casting a quick confused glance back at his ‘vexed madam’ behind. Just to drive her point home that I was an unwanted pest, she threw a scornful look at me, probably wishing that I jump into the next lake, wherever I could find one, near or far.
I remember this incident because I have had several reasons to take my mind back into what many of us believe governments owe us. If I take the case of Edo state into account, it is virtually everything we think the state must do for us-it must provide us all things imaginable, including food as some demonstrators who invaded and blocked the main entrance gate to government house on Tuesday, December 1, 2015, demanded.
“We voted for him (Oshiomhole). He must come and address us because we are hungry”, they shouted at Hon Patrick Obahiagbon, Chief of Staff to the governor, who stepped in to address them on behalf of the governor who was not even in town.
Our attitude is like the way a colleague once put it. “Oshiomhole must do everything for us, including removing stones from our paths, lest we stumble and fall”. I dare to add here that the only thing they won’t have him do is helping us to help carry out their most sacred conjugal responsibility.
But in all, we do not see the need to face the fact that we can, by ourselves, do a lot of the same things we want him to do for us. The case of the woman in the very clean luxury car is instructive. Besides her well to do appearance, she carried the air of someone who would want to be seen or regarded as neat. natty and well mannered. But as her conduct suggested, being clean goes only as far as the image our clothes and cars give us. Otherwise, we will, like her, think twice before doing most of the things we do.
As we speak, we are like the madam who mindlessly threw debris from her good looking car and expect the government to magically create beautiful streets. Like her too, we do not consider the sacred fact our action or inaction have great impact on our streets and other public utilities. Indeed, we will never realize that the overall well being of our society is dependent on the combined efforts of both the government and the governed or that where one of them refuses or shirks its responsibility as the case appears to be in Edo state, it becomes irresponsible to demand accountability from the other.
Recently, the land tax took a twist that almost turned Benin City inside out when a group of hirelings, acting under the aegis of civil society organizations, went on a protest march that almost brought commercial and other activities to a halt. They were up in arms against any tax in the name of land and or landed property. It mattered not to them or their sponsors that the tax is legal. Sadly too, they could not hide their motivation as they left no one in doubt that it was payback for the state governor for daring to mention some big names as perennial tax evaders that must henceforth be made to pay every dime they owe the state.
Not unexpectedly, ambitious politicians in the opposition took advantage of the ensuing war of words and engineered their very gullible foot soldiers into creating the impression that they represented the masses, whom they mischievously caricatured as the targets of the law. The bottom line is that none of those who were involved in the protest proved that the tax was either illegal or against the poor.
I have asked before and I am asking again-can the state be in safe hands when those who refused to obey legitimate government directives take over the mantle of leadership?
Each time I ask the question above, I get the same simple answer that our society will always be at a grave risk when those who never see the need to obey legitimate laws receive the mandate to command obedience. In other words, we need to run away from such people who, for the sole purpose of avoiding public scrutiny, push their unsuspecting and undiscerning army into creating enough confusion to divert attention from their ignoble acts as the case seems to be in Edo state.
If we must be told, the roles of governments and the governed is more like a two-way traffic. While the government plays its in-loco-parentis’ role, the citizens or residents must reciprocate by doing those things that promote accountability and other acts that engender mutually beneficial relationship. But as long as we continue to cut corners, we will lose our right to morally or legitimately question governments on perceived failings. We need to be responsible to make governments responsive.