MY SPEECH AT A MEETING OF CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS


WELCOME ADDRESS PRESENTED BY THE PRESIDENT OF CENTRE FOR PEACE ACROSS BORDERS (CePAB), UCHE WISDOM DURUEKE, AT THE CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS MEETING ON “MAKING 2015 GENERAL ELECTIONS VIOLENCE FREE AND CREDIBLE” HELD AT CePAB OFFICE, IKENEGBU LAYOUT, OWERRI, IMO STATE ON 17TH JANUARY 2015

Protocols:

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to welcome you all to this very important meeting. The meeting is important because in about twenty-four days the 2015 general elections will start. On 14th February 2014, Nigerians will step out in their numbers to cast their votes for the candidates of their choice. The star election of the day is the presidential election.

CePAB has convened this meeting for two purposes, namely: to kick- start its “Vote Wisely Campaign” and to create an opportunity for civil society organizations in Imo State to articulate civil society response to the emerging challenge of conducting violence free and credible 2015 general elections. In this meeting, it is expected that as civil society organizations, we will critically and in an impartial manner address contentious issues that might affect the credibility of the forthcoming general elections or trigger crisis such as the issue of distribution of the permanent voters’ cards, the need for politicians to launder or mind their language and engage in issue based campaigns, etc.

We should not just be preparing for election observation activities. We should get very active in pre-election activities. It is part of our calling to proactively empower the voiceless and to help transform society. If you have been monitoring the on-going politicking in the country, you would have noticed the increasing ‘do or die’ stance of our politicians and political parties. We should not sit back and watch the politicians heat up the polity in a way that we are all tensed up. As civil society organizations, it has become urgent and imperative that we step out to enlighten our people that Nigeria is more important than any political party or politician.

This is the time to get into our communities and our neighbourhoods to say to them that the 2015 general elections will likely be peaceful and credible. We have to encourage Nigerians to participate actively in the general elections. Apathy and fear will mar the general elections. Let us start community outreaches to urge our people to get to INEC to collect their permanent voters’ cards, to reject electoral violence and malpractices, to come out on election days to exercise their franchise and to defend their mandate within the confines of the law.

Part of our strategy of promoting violence free and credible 2015 general elections is to redirect the attention and interest of Nigerians to what the candidates and their political parties are saying they will do for us and how they will get them done and to tell them to be alert to options and alternatives candidates and political parties may be offering and why. Also, that they should verify the scorecards that those in power will be releasing as their success stories. If we can get Nigerians interested in issues, the elections will be free and fair.

As civil society organizations, we are expected to be non-partisan. We should not allow, for instance, where we come from to becloud our commitment to society. Presently, the incumbents are presenting their score cards. Are we willing and ready to examine them and raise relevant issues beneficial to the society? On the other hand, the opposing candidates are telling us what they will do. Are we willing and ready to examine them too and ask: how? We should not sit back and watch the candidates and their political parties roll out what they claim to have done and what they will do without critical examination by us. The electorate need to be empowered to make the right choices. We stand in a good position, as civil society groups, to get the candidates, their political parties and the electorate focus on issues of good governance, development and peace and not damaging propaganda and character assassination. I reiterate that our country is bigger than any politician or political party. We should not allow it to be threatened or shaken by the politicians. I sincerely believe that we owe this country the duty of care to promote its peace and togetherness.

I think that part of our duty is to reach out to the candidates and their political parties and urge them to address issues and present facts for their claims. Currently, in this country, as a people, we are eagerly waiting for the monstrous issues of corruption, insecurity, poverty, unemployment and poor health care delivery to be solved. Since the campaigns started in earnest, have you tried to find what solutions the candidates and the political parties are offering us? I am yet to read any concrete solution to any than general promises. We do not need general promises. We need concrete, practical and realistic promises with the component of how to realize them. For instance, will taxes be increased or what?

Ironically, what we have now are more of disparaging and inflammatory campaigns; there are no real campaigns. On the social media, supporters of candidates and political party members are very busy promoting hate. They are even bombing and burning properties belonging to opponent parties. As civil society groups, we should resolve to say ‘No’ to the increasing wave of hate speeches circulating in the social media. We should not read them and keep quiet. We should start denouncing them.

However, many of us are ignorant that we are involved in making hate speech. Permit me to say that it is hate speech when you disparage a candidate or a political party on basis of ethnicity or religion or make statements that are hostile or invite your readers or hearers to discriminate against a candidate or a political party. I add that when you slant or skew facts to portray a candidate or political party in bad image it is hate speech. It is also hate speech when you recklessly attack the person of a candidate rather than his ideology or policy. We should assess candidates and political parties based on their records and programmes.

Ladies and gentlemen, let us remind ourselves that this period in our national history is not one for inflammatory or inciting messages. The civil society organizations should distinguish themselves by being on the part of peaceful and credible elections devoid of primordial or clannish considerations and cleavages. As an organization, for the general elections, we will publish dedicated phone numbers, twitter and facebook accounts for the general elections. You can join us and share information on our website, twitter or facebook and send messages to the designated numbers to be published soon.

Now for those who will be observing the general elections, I charge you all to be engaged to consider the assignment as part of your contribution to consolidating our democracy and building the nation. It therefore calls for neutrality and objectivity. You should not only be neutral but must also be unbiased. You should conduct yourselves ethically and professionally in the discharge of your responsibilities.

Thanks for coming. I wish us meaningful discussions. GOD bless you.

OUR DEMOCRACY AND LEADERSHIP CRAZE


It is disheartening to read that the Ebonyi State Governor, Chief Martin Elechi, in conjunction with the State Chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have declared the removed Speaker of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly, Mr. Chukwuma Nwazunku, as the Speaker of the State House of Assembly. The Governor has declared that his government and the State Chapter of the PDP would continue to recognize the removed Speaker as the Speaker of the State House of Assembly and that their “decision is not negotiable” as “there would be no going back on that effect.” This reminds of the military era in Nigeria.

The State Governor was quoted as saying that: “The issue that led to the said impeachment was not good enough to justify any attempt of impeachment.” Can someone inform the Governor that his position is subjective on the matter. The House of Assembly has constitutional power to remove a Speaker, if it considers his or her wrong by their procedures. The Governor should have known that the House of Assembly has the right to decide, as the Governor could remove any of his appointees. Also, if the removed Speaker feels that his removal is illegal and unconstitutional, he should challenge it in Court or lobby his colleagues to rescind it. This is how democracy works.

I need to add here that the Governor has the constitutional right, like other citizens, to express an opinion on the matter, but not to judge the decision of the House of Assembly, give a verdict and enforce his decision as the issue of removal of a Speaker is an internal affairs of the State House of Assembly. The removed Speaker can only challenge his removal in Court, if the procedure leading to his removal was contrary to the laid down procedure. Therefore, it  should be said succinctly that the approach adopted by the Governor and the State Chapter of the PDP is illegal and unconstitutional. The approach is an undue interference with the functions of the State House of Assembly.

I hereby urge the Attorney-General of Ebonyi State to accordingly advise the Governor. Also, I call on the National Secretariat of the PDP to call both the Governor and its State Chapter to order as their decision is embarrassing. It is an affront to legislstive independence of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly.

HAS OUR DEMOCRACY GONE CRAZY?


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                 (PICTURE OF THE CHIBOK GIRLS BEING HELD BY BOKO HARAM)

We seem to be in the season of impeachment in Nigeria. The pro-impeachment group has been pontificating on the rationale for the impeachment moves. While the anti-impeachment group has been fervently crying and struggling to demonstrate how undemocratic the impeachment moves are. I am neither for nor against impeachment, once it is just and carried out in strict compliance with the due process of the country’s Constitution? One may ask, is there an unjust impeachment? Yes, there is an unjust impeachment. However, that is a matter of someday discussion. I see the fever of impeachment spreading in our country. So, I ask: who is the next to be served with impeachment notice? The executive arm seems to be losing its comfort zone. No one can predict who will be the next to be served impeachment notice or impeached. Now law makers are proceeding on their annual vacations, they may return with surprises. Who knows? Some interests could to induce or stir them to impeach persons we think are more secured. By the situation presently, our law makers, sincerely, are having fun because the executive arm seems jittery. The time we are in, therefore, is like penalty shoot out time. A period you can say: any thing can happen! Yes, the law makers can spring any political surprise. They need firm assurances for desired tickets for 2015 general elections and more money to bankroll their elections, so they are vulnerable and can be manipulated and used to achieve inimical political goals or designs.

It is important to note that the Governors facing impeachment threats presently or being impeached are members of the main opposition political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). One is wondering if the wind will start blowing in the directions of or against the members of the executive arm of government elected on the platform of the other political parties? You cannot say. The power of money is enormous. In our country, money talks and walks. Our political class is pathologically corrupt and unashamed personalities.

Presently, my fear is that we may soon get into the season of ‘you try to impeach me, I will try to pinch you.’ The crisis brewing in Nasarawa State as a result of the impeachment notice served on the Governor is a good example. May I ask, if the above season comes: Will the arguments of pro-impeachment and anti-impeachment groups change? Will they shift positions? These are hard balls in our country. Our democracy is seriously challenged because its drivers are politically drunk and reckless. They are infatuated about acquiring power, but careless about the responsibilities and challenges that go with power. As they get into public office, they forget public good. Instead, they get deeply enmeshed in corruption, abuse of office and parochial pursuits.

Tuesday will mark one hundred days the girls of Chibok Secondary School (picture above) were abducted by Boko Haram. Till date, our government has not been able to rescue them. The continued abduction of the girls by Boko Haram is a denial of their fundamental human rights. The first duty of government, across the globe, is to protect lives and properties. I, therefore, call on the Borno State Government and the Federal Government to get the Chibok girls released without further delay. Who wants to be elected? 

APGA WINS ANAMBRA STATE GOVERNORSHIP BUT NOT YET


NOTICE TO DEMOLISH A PRIVATE RADIO STATION IN IMO STATE


The Owerri Capital Development Aauthority (OCDA), Imo State has served a seven day demolition notice on Hot FM, a private radio station in the city. Hot FM is owned by Senator Chris Anyanwu of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) whose convoy on 26th December 2012 had a public row with the convoy of the Imo State Governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha. The OCDA notice has described the structures at the radio station as illegal and defective and directed the operator to reinstate the piece of land to the State for its development.

Several commentators on the notice contend that it is politically motivated. The notice dated 17th September 2013 and signed by one Chief Amadi for Proper Investments Limited, consultants to the OCDA has been described as a subtle arm twisting move to muzzle the radio statio, which runs a popular citizens phone in opinion programme called ‘The People’s Assembly’. The Public Relations Officer of OCDA, Mrs. Ada Okwara has, however, attributed the notice to the failure of the radio station to provide its permit to build.

The issue that arises is: Did Hot FM build its structures without building permit or approval from OCDA? However, OCDA is not alleging this. I think that the radio station will be asked to provide its building permit, if OCDA is alleging that the radio station never sought for and or obtained approval to built its structures. If the radio station did, OCDA should have its official copy of the permit. In the event that Hot FM applied for a permit and obtained an approval, it raises a strong presumption that the structures are lawful and proper. In that case, OCDA cannot aprobate and reprobate. I contend that it will, therefore, be unfair and wrongful for the structures of Hot FM to be described as illegal.

Despite all, I hereby call on OCDA to show restrain in the matter. That OCDA should invite the management of Hot FM radio station to discuss the issue and resolve it amicably, in public interest. Truly speaking, the said OCDA notice is not only a serious threat to press freedom in the State, it will become a bad precedent, if enforced. An enforcement of the notice will deter private investments in the State, especially by opposition politicians and social critics.

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ABSENCE OF INTERNAL DEMOCRACY: THE BURDEN OF THE PEOPLE’S DEMOCRATIC PARTY (PDP)


ABSENCE OF INTERNAL DEMOCRACY: THE BURDEN OF THE PEOPLE'S DEMOCRATIC PARTY (PDP)

The long awaited implosion in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) seems to be here. Yesterday, the national convention of the self acclaimed biggest political party in Africa was marred by the walking out of delegates from seven States with the former Vice President of Nigeria, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and some notable party stalwarts. The. Governor of Rivers State and his teeming supporters had stayed away from the national convention.

In my earlier post, I commented on the near absence of internal party democracy in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which left the party with the damaging wrangling and strangling in Anambra State. At the national convention yesterday, the delegates from Anambra State were engulfed in a free exchange of insults and blows. The delegates loyal to Tony Nwoye attacked Ubah and his group who they said have been suspended by the party. (The picture shows the fight amongst the delegates.) It is important to note that there is an existing interim order of Court halting the said suspensions. The PDP, as a political party, like other political parties, derives its existence from the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria, and is, therefore, duty bound to respect orders of Court. That was not so yesterday, in the case of Ubah and his group.

The ‘walking out’ from the national convention yesterday is a clear sign that the PDP, which has become a house of commotion, is facing severe internal challenges ahead of the 2015 general elections. The faction that walked out has inaugurated its own national officers and will, on Monday or so, open its secretariat. Indeed, these are not happy days, for the PDP. The party is facing severe internal challenges and contradictions than ever before. There is a sharp cry for justice and fairness by it’s members in its activities and operations. However, the PDP is like a bull in its fight. It seems that rules mean a little to the party.

Before the national convention, a core of the party, the PDM has broken away and got registed as a political party. The PDP was still vexed and bewildered with the action of the PDM group of the party. The PDM was the political structure of late Major General Shehu Yar’Adua, who died in detention and in questionable circumstance during the reign of late General Sani Abacha. So, the PDM has a long history. Late Shehu Yar’Adua was the moving spirit of PDM, with people Atiku and late Prof. Chuba Okadigbo as these medium.

The crisis in PDP resolves around or is connected with the important issue of internal party democracy. There is the outcry of many members that the party does not allow the members to decide its affairs and elect their officers and flagbearers in a democratic manner. Interestingly, the PDP has an unenviable history of not abiding by its internal rules and regulations: its constitution and Court orders.  Ironically, this is the party driving Nigeria’s democracy being the party in government at the centre and in control of majority of the States in the country.

The lame approach to tackling corruption in Nigeria is easily linked to the character of the party and its leaders. It is a fact of life that one cannot give what he does not have. From the PDP to seriously think of retaining power at the centre in 2015, it must re-organize itself consciously and walk away from its propensity for impunity and abuse: if it is still desirous or interested in remaining the party at the centre. The crisis in the party will, no doubt, affect the level of transparency and fairness in the 2015 general elections. The PDP, as a political party, will likely fight dirty to remain in power. This is where the integrity of INEC, a neutral electoral umpire, will become important.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should, therefore, wear its thinking cap now and start mapping out proactive and effective strategies for delivering in 2015. We must be sincere to admit that the political landscape of our country, today, is increasingly being littered with hate languages, ethnic war cries and ddesperate political undercuts amongst political parties and politicians. So, Nigeria should be helped by us all to survive 2015.

The survival of Nigeria, for me, hinges on a combination of: respect for rule of law, walkng away from abuses and impunity by public office holders, eschewing corruption, upholding justice and fairness. I call these the bunch of keys that will save our country from political crisis in 2015.

As citizens, Nigerians should start now to mobilize and organize for free, fair and non-violent 2015 general elections. Nigeria must not disintegrate in 2015 or shaken by political crisis. Let’s shun those that have looted the nation, regardless of their parties and where they come from. We need patriots and pro-poor representatives now, more than ever.

TRAVELLING POORLY BY THE POOR IN NIGERIA


TRAVELLING POORLY BY THE POOR IN NIGERIA

The poor in Nigeria are facing miseries and untold difficulties, despite every pretence of government of providing dividends of democracy to the populace.

In the matter of roads, hundreds of billions of Naira have been budgeted and spent by government in Nigeria (Federal, States and Local Government Councils) in road construction and maitenance. Despite, the huge sums deployed, the road network in Nigeria has remained a disaster. Many lives have been lost and several persons maimed in avoidable road accidents caused by the dangerous situation of our roads. As you travel the length and breadth of Nigeria, you will notice avoidable accidents and find vehicles that are broken down, especially heavy duty vehicles engaged in haulage businesses. These have a lot of implications on the socio-economic situation of the country.

The pitiable situation of the roads in the country has more impact on the poor. The rich travel in good cars, like Hilux jeeps, and other good cars that go through the bad roads without a lot of jerking on the occupants. In many parts of the country, the poor travel ‘jam packed’ like sardines in vehicles, usually, with open roof thereby subjecting them to sunshine and rainfall. This is still the situation in many rural areas. In the urban areas today, tricycle, popularly known as and called Keke, has taken over as intra-city means of transport. As it is cheaper to buy and to maintain. also, they ply routes that taxi cabs and buses do not ply. They equally render road to house service.

The triicycles in the countty are low and carry four passengers, excluding the operator. So, traveling with ‘Keke’ during the raining season is an experience. In many States, like Imo State, they are not allowed put any improvise blinds that shield passengers from rain. So, if it is raining, the operator and the passengers are ‘beaten’ by the rain. They are also splashed with water from numerous deep potholes on the roads and from the flood that transverse the roads after rain fall due to the poorly constructed or absence of drainage system in many parts of our urban areas.

Interestingly, the issue of poverty alleviation is one that is always mouthed by politicians and those in power in Nigeria. Sadly, there are no good efforts to truly or in real terms alleviate the miseries and poverty of the wretched of our nation. Many Nigerians still live on picks from dust bins. Corruption and ethnicism and sectionalism have blinded our politicians and leaders.

The time has, therefore, come for the poor, the oppressed and the marginalized in the country to work with genuine progressive forces for a true change. The ripe off must stop now. When the political elites want to loot and squander our commonwealth, they don’t talk of religion and ethnicity, they are one. When they want to access power to position them for looting, they invoke religion and ethnicity to divide our people. We must stand to be counted now in moving Nigeria forward.