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What Happened To Festus Okoye? -By Emmanuel Aziken

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For a man who went to the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC with a background of activism and as a defender of civil rights, the sorry reputation with which Mr Festus Okoye is reckoned these days is pitiable.

After a long abstinence following the faux pas of the 2023 General Election, Mr Okoye again burst out into our space with the announcement that the INEC was about to review the processes of the 2023 General Election. The retort from the public space was almost universal, to wit: ‘you don come again?’

 Mr. Okoye had never been a close acquittance. Apart from meetings here and there in the course of my duty as a journalist, I had never really been in close proximity to him. However, his reputation as a civil rights activist and defender of the public good went before him and won much admiration from this correspondent and from many others. He was indeed a likable man whose personal interactions and gestures bespoke much humility.

Journalists in Kaduna almost always spoke in admiration of Okoye. Not only was he a good news source who was almost always willing to give interviews and perspectives on the issues of law and civil rights, but he was also hailed for his sacrificial legal pro bono services to the oppressed.

So when he was appointed the spokesman of INEC, your correspondent took it that Okoye had been served a poisoned chalice. The most one could do was to pray for him that he would survive with his reputation.

Unfortunately, as Twitter showed when he made the announcement on Thursday on the INEC review of the election, the esteem with which Mr Okoye was held by many right-thinking members of the public has eroded.

His reputation was tried by his publicized assertions that the INEC would transmit results automatically and conduct the best election in the history of Nigeria. Serving as a spokesman to a disreputable institution as INEC has turned out to be is Mr. Okoye’s quagmire.

A man who spoke truth to power is now the purveyor of the very opposite, bringing to wonder what power or is it money does to the souls of men.

It is an agony for your correspondent watching Okoye these days, wondering how a man that he so loved for his humanity has turned against the dignity of men. How he has become the voice and defender of electoral malfeasance as against his pedigree of sincerity and truth.

I wonder what was Mr. Okoye’s reaction to the video image of the Lagos lady who was brutalized at the point of voting last February and who still came with her bloodied face to vote. Mr. Okoye of yore would probably have not just issued a statement in condemnation of the action but probably taken up the duty of defending her.

Of course, Okoye may not have acted directly to impinge the integrity of the ballot, but his decision to defend the worst presidential election in Nigeria since the Maurice Iwu era is befuddling. His action is against the background of the promises he MADE and the enormous resources that were channeled to his INEC.

Of course, your correspondent is not addressing Mr Okoye’s boss, Professor Mahmood Yakubu as the INEC chairman did not seriously disappoint. I gave up on Yakubu before the 2019 election and would have been gladly pleased if I had been proved wrong.

Indeed, Yakubu almost convinced me to have a change of mind with his assertion of automatic transmission and such just before the 2023 General Election. But in the end, he went as expected in what has now been claimed as the programmed decimation of the will of the people.

The character profiles of Okoye and Prof Yakubu come against the adulation with which another democracy stakeholder, Dr Raymond Dokpesi was projected as he was laid to rest last Thursday.

Whatever one may say, Dokpesi showed a knack for the upliftment of the common good through the instrumentality of his broadcasting stations. If one is not moved by the grief of AIT staff on air, then the elocution of those who gestured on how he used his stations for the public good including the Third Term debate and other interventions will engraft his name in history for good. It was such character that made the Bendel State-born man to be appointed Chief of Staff to Governor Bamanaga Tukur in 1983.

Today as his remains lie in the ground, the good he did will continue to speak on his behalf as Nigerians remember him.

But for Okoye, I wonder how he can repair his damaged reputation. I wonder what enchantment is in that office that would make a man be profiled with the evil geniuses he once fought against.

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