In 2003, we were Facebook activists and budding journalists. I came from my background as a political economist, a believer in good governance and rights advocate. I was always writing articles on idealistic topics of good governance. Then one day I received an invite into a Facebook group; the CoreMiddleBelt Value. Every known son of the Middlebelt on Facebook and those who we called friends of the Middlebelt were in the group. We would talk all day about national issues.
I wish the government listened or read half of what was written by some of the most brilliant people in that group, today we would have had a way forward as a nation.
Before my Facebook profile was hacked down, the group went out of existence. But one thing that outlasts the group is the fact that it threw up dogged nationalists, philosophers and patriotic citizens. One of them is Austin Usman Okai.
I have personally studied him from working together on various projects and I have come to understand that passion for good governance boils in him. From being a youth leader, standing with credible people and aligning with great nationalists, greatness obviously runs in his blood.
The Igala youth round table, where many of the youths in and around Abuja were gathered to discuss the way forward for Igala people, was at his behest. Even though many renegades mocked the gathering, it was fruitful because many home truths were told.
Many of the times, he has been in and out of detention on account of criticising the government of his home state. The reasons are not far fetched. Telling the government to pay salaries, make public goods available and protect the people is a sin in Kogi State. Once you start telling the government the truth, you are an ‘enemy’. To be a good person in the state, be ready to be unreasonably dishonest, celebrate mediocrity and swallow distasteful laxity in governance.
Electing to take on the government headlong is a daunting challenge in Africa. It comes at very high cost. All the odds are stacked against you. Your own people see you as selfish and pursuing your own individual values and the government sees you as an enemy. That’s the dilemma of freedom fighters in Africa.
Austin had been harassed, beaten, bullied and broken many times for this. Yet he remains strong. Many things have been said about him. Professional beggars and mediocre writers have severally been paid to write falsehood about him, some bordering on abject lunacy! We know that with the weaponized nature of hunger in Kogi State, many akara joint journalists and perppersoup house comrades have risen up and are ready to tell any kind of lies just to eat.
From rumours of death to other dangerous wishes from enemies and detractors, he has survived the onslaught and become a shining star in the firmament of youth politics in Nigeria.
Recently, the Parliament of the ECOWAS Youths would honour him in recognition of his tremendous contribution to and sacrifice for good governance in the state of Kogi and Nigeria in general. This award comes amidst a plethora of others.
A prophet, the Holy Writ says, is not honoured in his own home. I want to say congratulations to Mr Okai, a long time fighter and leader. May you continue to shine bright.
– Mr Alex Agbo writes from Lagos.