GOVERNING: REDUCING THE PAINS OF THE DOWNTRODDEN
‘Governing is a serious matter”, so say Joel C. Hunter in his book, Prayer, Politics & Power. Therefore, “those who desire to rule need to have demonstrated competence in the field before they are thrust into responsibility for governing”. It is not easy to either lead or govern people or group of people with diverse background, belief and aspiration or ethnic leaning. So to meet the aspiration and the different need of people that are multiethnic with diverse culture and majority of them in rural setting is an uphill task. What is government or governing all about? In a developing democracy like ours, how do politicians and elected representatives of the different ethnic groups translate electoral promises into reality and bring democracy’s dividends to the downtrodden, the masses in the villages and riverine area?
The rural people in Okpe-Isoko, Ogoni, Eleme, Okrika, Bonny, Kalabari or Ijaw areas do not understand government programmes be it poverty alleviation or economic reforms or debt relief/fuel subsidy except it is translated into providing food, clothing, shelter, access road, medicine or hospital, training or education, etc. Therefore, the representatives of the people in government must understand what government is all about and how we can use the structures of government to make these basic amenities available to these indigent and rural people isolated from the comfort of government.
How do leaders reduce the pains of the downtrodden? On social justice and how to do this, the Bible speaks God’s mind to leaders thus: “You are not better than the leaders and people of Sodom and Gomorrah! So listen to the Lord God. Your sacrifice means nothing to me. I am sick of your offerings of rams and choice cattle; I don’t like the blood of bulls or lambs or goats. Who asked you to bring all this when you come to worship me? Stay out of my temple! Your sacrifices are worthless, and incense is disgusting. I can’t stand the evil you do on your Sabbaths and other times of worship, I hate new moon festivals and all others as well. They are a heavy burden I am tired of carrying. No matter how much you pray, I won’t listen. You are too violent, Wash yourselves clean! I am disgusted with your filthy deed. Stop doing wrong and learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend widows and orphans and help those in need” (Isa. 1:10 – 17, CEV).
How can elected members and representatives of the people reduce the pains of the downtrodden? “Stop doing wrong and learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend widows and orphans and help those in need” (Isa. 1:10 – 17, CEV). What does that mean? It is not about going to church and praying or politicking. It is about doing what is right. What is right for the rural people of Okpe-Isoko, Ogoni, Ikwerre, Etche, Ahoada, Ekpeye, Abua/Odua, Egbema, Ndoni, Andoni, Okpobo, Okrika, Eleme, Oyigbo, Obio/Akpor, Abonema, etc. That these people dwelling in rural setting without access roads, food, clothing, housing, good schools, hospitals suffering from ecological and environmental oil exploration effects should be provided for. It means government should provide the same facilities and amenities that make life comfortable in the urban areas available at the rural and riverine areas. Some of these developmental projects and industries in Port Harcourt and environs will take long to impact rural dwellers. Cite industries and projects that will better their lives in the rural areas. Economic reforms means nothing to people in the villages if they can’t feed, have good drinking water, cloth, shelter or have access to medicine and schools for their children.
Doing the right thing include government and leaders subsiding services that will better the lives of rural dwellers, like agriculture, free education, free Medicare and economic empowerment in terms of loans, and other financial aids that can enable rural people be economic independent and productive and acquire necessary vocational skills that can better their lives. More-or-also, the Scripture enjoins that leaders live right. How? Be example of godliness, transparency and accountability. It is wrong for the people you are leading living in abject poverty, why you live in castles and build mansion all over the places and buy/ride several cars with chains of investments in different sector of the economy. Leaders must not live in affluence, flamboyant lifestyles that you spend millions in burials of your people, hold marriage ceremonies and all sorts of parties covering and blocking roads. When you are passing people have to run out of the road. You become inaccessible because of your position. Leaders must be high in integrity and live exemplary lives.
Yet more the Scripture enjoins to reduce the pains of the downtrodden, “see that justice is done” how? Defend widows and orphans and help those in need. My dear ruler and elected representative, before you embark on those elaborate programmes of bringing democracy’s dividends to the people. Consider the widows, orphans and needy, how does those programmes affect their living condition? Are they being provided for? Are they being treated fairly? Do they have access to the basic needs of life? Are they being marginalized? Who intercedes for them? To this Bible also speak in Proverbs 31:8-9, “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, ensure justice for those who are perishing, yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (NLB).
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, ensure justice for those who are perishing. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (Prov. 31:8-9, NLB). How do you reduce the pains of the downtrodden in governance? To do that we need to understand what governance is all about. Government is the device by which we secure individual rights, “that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments is instituted…”. The preamble to the United States of America Constitution developed these components further directing that we as a group need to guard those individual opportunities “from a more perfect union establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessing of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”. Our government is concerned with order of the group so that the individual may prosper. That also is its function according to the New Testament (1 Tim. 2:1-2). So protective order is the main function of our government.
How could this be applied in governing to reduce the pains of the downtrodden in the society? The voiceless, those who could not speak for themselves, the blind, deaf, handicaps, orphans, widows, abused children and those by their locations cannot access dividends of democracy in our nation. Reducing the cost of governing, do we need all the special assistants and advisers? Do we need all the various ministries and parastatals of government? Does our reform programmes consider the oppressed and the location of the downtrodden? Are our structures of governance reaching the grassroots or the downtrodden? Could there be ways we can decentralize governance, cede powers to local people, rulers and local units of administration to handle some of the services being handled at State or Federal level?
Some of the ways governing is being done is excessive and expensive. A visiting leader comes and we go to rural areas to import rural people to come on the street adorned with portraits of our pictures on wrappers dancing to welcome the visiting leader. Some of these rural people can’t afford three square meals a day yet we spend money to display hypocrisy or what have you. On our trips to various places we go with large entourage at cost of government. We consciously or unconsciously encourage groups and interest that advocate and project certain political and ethnic interest that are funded indirectly. Governing is made difficult more in multi ethic group with difficult terrain and topography. The cost of infrastructure development is high. With this kind of situation, government must diverse ways of bringing governance and services of government near and within the reach of the rural people.
The leaders of government must identify with the lead at the rural level without compromising security of the leaders. Leaders must live and be close to the people not isolated from the people. If the rich in the society needs good hospitals, water, school, transport system and access roads. Government must see to it that the poor, orphans, widows and those in need especially rural people must equally be provided these facilities and services. This is what the Bible advocated. “The LORD send me to the palace of the King of Judah to speak to the king, his officials and everyone else who was there. The Lord told me to say, I am the LORD so pay attention! You have been allowing people to cheat, rob and take advantage of widows, orphans and foreigners who live here. Innocent people have become victims of violence, and some of them have even been killed. But now, I command you to do what is right and see that justice is done. Rescue everyone who has suffered from injustice… That is what it means to truly know me. Some lived a comfortable life and always had enough to eat and drink. But all you think about is how to cheat or abuse or murder some innocent victim”. (Jer. 22:1-3, 16 – 17, CEV).
The Bible God’s word advocates for social justice, equity, fairness and welfare of everyone no matter the state and location of the people. Governing can reduce the pains of the downtrodden by transparency and accountability in governance. Institutionalization of justice, fairness and support system to the less privilege among us. Stop cheating and inflation of contracts, grant equal access to government services and facilities. De-emphasize ethnicity and make it possible for strangers or non-indigenes to live and work without abusing their dignity and imposing unnecessary taxes on them. There is the problem of double taxation, local and state government agencies are doing this. The approach and manner of executing government programmes or enforcement of laws could reduce the pains of the downtrodden. In Rivers State, Port Harcourt especially, you use task force drive out informal street traders without first providing alternate place these people can display their wares and make a living. Government action is breeding criminals. It should stop for God’s sake.
How? The Bible speaks, ‘The Lord God has told us what is right and what he demands, see that justice is done, let mercy be your first concern, and humbly obey your God”… You store up stolen treasures and use dishonest scales. But I, the Lord will punish you for cheating with weights and with measures. You rich people are violent, and everyone tells lies. Because of your sins, I will wound you and leave you ruined and defenseless” (Micah 1:8-13, CEV). In executing government programmes and enforcement of law, leaders or agents of government must be sensitive to the feelings of the downtrodden. The programs of government must not impose unnecessary or additional demands on the people. The low cost housing units or the transport system are they available to the ordinary folks? At what cost? The use of task force that are cronies or friends of the appointee has not helped to getting government services or enforcement of law favorable to the downtrodden. Justice must be executed with mercy. In seeking for security, law and order, we must not in so doing afflict unnecessary pains on the people. God will punish the misused of power.
Furthermore, the bible still speaks, “see that justice is done and be kind and merciful to one another! Don’t mistreat widows or orphans or foreigners or anyone who is poor, and stop making plans to hurt each other” (Zech. 7:8-10, CEV). Government must advocate and practice being kind and being our brothers keepers. Treat others well. Stop programmes and projects that hurt others. We must check the end result of the policies and programmes of government to wit how it helps the downtrodden not to harm. Also, “you must be truthful with each, and in court you must give decisions that lead to peace. Don’t ever plan evil things against others or tell lies under oath. I, the Lord, hate such things” (Zech. 7:8-10, CEV).
Governing is a serious matter because it is not easy to lead. Nevertheless, we must not in leading make the downtrodden suffer injustice, deprivation and lack of provision of the necessities of life. Leaders and elected representatives are they serving the people or being served? Are our programmes and services getting to the downtrodden? Are their conditions better than you came into governance? What difference has your leadership made in your sphere of leadership? Has it reduce the pains of the ordinary people out there without contact or connection to the high in the society? I pray God help us all to so govern to reduce the pains of the downtrodden. Have question, you may call:: 08033399821 or write: [email protected] Stay blessed.
Written By Dr. Lewis Akpogena