Logo of the Civil Liberties Organization (CLO), Nigeria
A PRESS STATEMENT BY THE CIVIL LIBERTIES ORGANISATION (CLO) ON THE STATE OF OUR NATION
At this time in our history when sanity, honesty, patriotism and decency seem to have become captive to the pursuit of power in its most unholy dimensions; when many persons of conscience have suddenly become deaf to the echoes and yearnings of their hearts and when ferocious and blood–thirsty persons and gangs have taken over our airwaves walking proudly unchallenged and unashamedly through our streets threatening to throw our beloved nation further into anomie giving vent to the prevalence of the Hobbesian state of nature. Brinksmanship and pursuit of basal instincts seem to have enthralled our political actors and their recent converts with everyone trying to outdo each other in chicanery without anyone attempting to toe the path of sanity and pull back from this disastrous but avoidable plunge. Our nation has therefore become so tensed that we can feel the palpable fear amongst the citizenry as thick as an ominous gathering cloud hovering over our people.
It is important that we state from the beginning that the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) is not out here to play partisan politics but is here as part of its overall strategy of rescuing the nation’s politics and allow our various governance processes to operate freely and deliver maximum benefits to the people of Nigeria and to the project Nigeria of our collective dream. It is clear that governance at all levels are in abeyance at the moment as those in office are either trying to protect their grip on power or fending off ‘blows and missiles’ coming from those seeking to replace them through the ballot in the forthcoming elections.
It is part of our historical drive for monitoring Governance in the country and as much as possible ensuring greater safety and protection of our hard won democracy. This is within the context of the heavy sacrifices that was made by leaders and members of our organisation and the CLO itself in the process of midwifing the present democratic experiment in Nigeria no matter how flawed it may be. We sincerely believe that what we have now with all its deep imperfections is still better than the military dictatorship that had held sway thus ought to be allowed to flourish.
The Civil Liberties Organization having led these struggles in the past to rid the nation of undemocratic forces that laid siege occupying its governance corridors and having paid and continued paying serious prices to get us to where we are and secure what we have, being mindful of the enormous expectations of the people on the organisation, and, the huge responsibility these demands of us, and having weighed the body language of our present political gladiators and the dangers this once again portends for our democracy had normally used this framework over the years to gauge the political temperature and to take steps to mitigate actions that may truncate and endanger democracy.
It is therefore in consideration of these existential realities and the dangerous portends of the present situation that we feel compelled to once again intrude into the hearts of this nation, especially its political gladiators as one of those remaining few bastions of sanity and undiluted patriotism who have vowed to continue on the side of Nigerians and Nigeria no matter the circumstances. We believe that the voice of a few raised on the side of truth and in good conscience will always speak louder than those cacophonous voices driven by less than patriotic pursuits. It is this need to raise this voice to calm the waters that has constrained us into taking this step to alert the nation of the dangers of continuing in this maddening rush to collective oblivion.
THE STATE OF OUR DEMOCRACY
Nigeria has never experienced this heightened level of fear in its recent political history and even in the election of 1965 that served as a trigger for the three year fratricidal civil war, the tension then was not as palpable as it is now. We observe that the actions and utterances of our politicians have rather than provide the needed succour and great expectations amongst the populace of better things after the elections have left the masses confused and deeply worried about their lives and properties.
As a result, the nation is presently witnessing a shameful huge internal human movement and dislocations not because there is a war but because our politicians have created an atmosphere that has made it difficult for the people to see hope in what will remain of the nation during and after the general elections. Our brothers from regions of the country other than where they currently reside have either totally relocated or have partially sent their children and wards away from the perceived hotspots to avoid falling victim to the anticipated mayhem. While in other climes, elections and electioneering are seasons were promises of great tidings are made to the people, in Nigeria, what we receive are threats of violence and bloodletting.
As we approach the general election closely, the nation is gradually grinding to a halt. Our schools are planning to stop all activities to ensure the safety of our kids and businesses are planning to close shops to avoid losses to lives and properties. The politicians who are heating up the nation paradoxically are making advanced arrangements to abscond from the country when the fire they have lit begins to burn. Their families are already miles away from the shores of our nation while they stay here to gather stubbles to kindle the fire which they have espoused. Many of these politicians will run away in their illicitly acquired private jets; the proceeds of corruption
We observe that the economy continues being mismanaged by the ruling elite who have made nonsense of the essence and purpose of every national economy which is the pursuit of higher levels of wellbeing for its citizenry. All the macro-economic indices have gone southwards as the value of the nation’s currency nose dives in the foreign exchange market unleashing heightened levels of inflation, inducing increasing unemployment, multiplying poverty thus leaving the people seriously deprived and hopelessly alienated from the nation’s resources.
Our economy as it is presently constituted caters only for the rich. While the poor masses are urged on by the ruling elite to continue making sacrifices for the good of the nation, the rich keeps on looting and amassing the goods; while they are told to gird their loins for austerity measures, the rich keeps on loosening their belts, expanding in girt and in weight.
The resultant is that we have worrisome level of poverty in the country that is increasing by the day. As we write, it is recorded that more and more people are losing their livelihoods and sustenance to the anti-people policies of the ruling elite. Also, increasing number of Nigerians are daily losing their already poor access to basic social and public infrastructure; potable water, sanitation and health care have all become a mirage. Access to basic nutrition has become a struggle as many children only see milk on Television talk less of protein. Wartime diseases such as Kwashiorkor and Marasmus have therefore resurfaced in Nigeria again as there are reported cases in various parts of the north and Ebonyi state.
The gini–coefficient has worsened increasing the polarisation between the poor in the country and the rich. While other societies talk of 1% controlling the huge resources of their various nations, Nigeria records around 0.5% of the population controlling over 99% of our national resources.
We have grown an economy that preys upon its poor, impoverishes them, shuts them out of the economic spaces and takes the little in their hands and transfers it to the rich. Despite the humungous growth forecasts as the fastest growing economy in Africa, the 3rd fastest in the World and the largest economy in Africa, the citizenry have become worse off without comparative impact upon their lives rather their situations have plunged over the years. It remains one of the poorest people in the African continent, very high maternal mortality, one of the highest rates of infant mortality and the worst place in the world to raise a child. These are all in the midst of much trumped economic progress.
TERRORISM AND INSECURITY
We observe once again that there is an increasing reign of fear in Nigeria and this without any contradiction is seen in many parts of Nigeria manifesting in diverse degrees and depths. Kidnappings, murders occasioned by ritualists and political motives, including the spate of violent robberies experienced all over the federation have all become the order of the day. These have made ordinary citizens live with their hearts in their mouths and sleep with only one eye closed as lives are no longer held sacred as decreed by the holy books and natural justice.
However, terrorism which was a product of the actions and policies including greed of the ruling elite has become the order of the day in Nigeria especially in the North East where Boko Haram has taken over swathes of territories from the nation’s military but of which recent reports suggests that are being steadily recovered from them. The Nigerian army in alliance with Chad and other neighbouring countries have recovered several of the lost places from Boko Haram. We salute the Nigerian army.
We note that Chibok girls and many of our citizens being held captive by Boko Haram have still not regained their freedom though we rejoice at the news that 158 of them have recently regained their freedom. It is mind boggling that we would have such dear ones under captivity and our leaders in good conscience go about campaigning for elections and sleep in their respective homes at night. It is indeed an irony and a manifestation of the level to which our morals have sunken in this nation where human lives have become so cheap that they could be traded for pittance and for mere political office.
It is unconscionable for our politicians to daintily walk across the bodies of our people and drive upon the streets drenched by their blood; innocent blood of our brothers and sisters to canvass for votes and whose only mistake is that they are unfortunate to have had this class of people as politicians and their leaders at this critical moment.
We also have noted the role the international community is playing through the instrumentality of the African Union to contain the terrorist activities of Boko Haram. Though this collaboration ought to have come much earlier, we appreciate the impact it is making in turning around the overall military outcome in the combat zones. Lives that are protected and territories reclaimed bears testimony to the impact of these efforts. We salute the African countries that have joined the country in fighting Boko Haram.
2015 GENERAL ELECTIONS
We acknowledge the pivotal roles election and electioneering has played in shaping the historical trajectory of the Nigerian nation since independence. On this plank, we therefore understand the increasing apprehension amongst the populace as the various processes towards this year’s general elections unfolds and especially the actions and utterances including the body languages of the politicians and their political parties.
This understanding is based on the historical fact that elections in the country have inflicted negative consequences on our national psyche before, which led to the civil war between 1967 and 1970. Nigerians are therefore rightfully worried again amidst the ongoing political shenanigans by our political actors and actresses including the umpire – the INEC. We are worried that we may be inexorably heading to the same pre-1967 outcomes, if nothing concrete is done to address the present bile in our polity.
The CLO is worried that the increasing discordant tunes emerging from our electoral gate keepers especially the accusations and counter accusations of manipulations across the divide have dire implications for the credibility of the elections as it is already calling into question its eventual outcomes whether strictly observed or distorted. This has therefore before the elections deeply compromised the process undermining whatsoever it may produce thus setting the stage for crisis of unpredictable dimensions.
We are also worried about the inability of INEC to have conducted the elections as earlier scheduled but are also mindful of the constitutional provisions for such shifts in dates which have not been exceeded though this is not the first time such shifts in dates have taken place under the watch of this present INEC. We are only concerned about the circumstances that led to this particular shift and what it portends for the future of our democracy. This is one of those things we should not make a habit of as it undermines the sustainability of our governance framework.
Notice is also taken by us of the various statements concerning the distribution of the PVCs by both politicians on all divides. The Southern Peoples’ Assembly have accused INEC of lop-sidedness in distributing the PVCs, the Ogun State Governor accused INEC over a missing 900,000 PVCs while in Lagos State, there have been diverse demonstrations of missing PVCs and inability to collect same. In Imo State, a community has sued INEC asking an order of the Federal High Court compelling it to avail them of their PVCs.
We have also noticed a meddling in the workings of INEC which greatly undermines its independence. It must be understood that it is this singular factor that provides the belief element in the minds of all political actors thus guarantees a level playing field for all reducing in the process the tendency towards self-help. This meddlesomeness is both domestic and international.
It is imperative that we observe the increasing spate of violence trailing the various electioneering campaigns across the country from the North to the South. The stoning, arson, shootings and other forms of despicable acts of violence have all occurred as our politicians seek to win elections by all means. Since the flag –off of the campaigns, more Nigerian children have been orphaned, more women widowed as a result of the political campaigns than in the hands of the Boko Haram sect.
THE CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS AND LABOUR
Unfortunately, we have also observed an unusual trend in the behaviour and utterances of various civil society organisations and the labour movement in the unfolding political drama. It is important to remind us that we remain the very bastion and conscience of the entire citizens of Nigeria and the keeper of its morality thus; we cannot allow ourselves to be either partisan or drawn into the fray no matter how emotional our organisations may have become.
Rumours of huge sums changing hands and some new organisations being set up by politicians to infiltrate our ranks are rife. Whether this reality is what is influencing the various interventions of voices from the movement is another issue for another day but we ought to be seen as the standard bearers of the nation’s socio-political morality.
It is this height that allows us to mediate in the kind of situation our nation has unfortunately fallen into today. Our light ought to be able to illuminate the way driving out every vestiges of darkness threatening to envelope our land even as we alert the nation of the booby traps ahead laid by both internal and external enemies of Nigeria as we can see that certain international elements seem to have hijacked the situation in our land and are pretending to set the tone for our nation’s morality. This is unacceptable and portends great danger for the future of our dear nation.
WE MAKE THE FOLLOWING CALLS:
The Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) being the foremost human rights organisation in Nigeria having made these unfortunate observations and believing that the prognosis are very dire and the future of the nation under severe threat is compelled to make the following calls in order to pull us back from the very edge of this precipice which we seem hell bent on romancing:
1. That all political parties and gladiators of whatsoever kind should immediately rein in their drums of war and pursue the path of peace and honour in their electioneering activities. Recent violence in the trails of the political campaigns were committed by politicians and not ghosts and therefore can be stopped if the politicians decide that enough is enough.
2. That the various security agencies should step in while respecting the human rights of persons –and stem this ugly tide. No matter how organised the perpetrators may be, it is important that the security agencies should realise that showing helplessness in the midst of these onslaughts speaks volume of either their incompetence and incapability or their complicity.
3. That Nigerians want to know what the programmes and actions of politicians and their parties have been or will be when voted into office therefore, we encourage robust debates across the divides based on the major issues bothering our people – increasing unemployment, poor healthcare, decreasing access to public and social infrastructure, malnutrition, diseases, housing, corruption, education, insecurity and other violent crimes, etc.
4. That all our political actors and every other patriot should be alerted on the urgency of collective action against the various internal and external threats against the sovereignty of Nigeria. We must be focused on saving our nation rather than allowing ourselves to be divided along various cleavages over the larger issue of national salvation. Without a nation, we ought to remember, there will be no platform to play politics and pursue our different desires as citizens of Nigeria.
5. That we insist that the various governance processes and democratic institutions and tenets must not be compromised because of certain parochial interests. We believe that such pursuits are ready recipes for anarchy and national implosion. It is therefore important that our leadership recruitment processes of which elections and electioneering are just bus-stops must be held in high degree of sanctity and not undermined. Time tables and goal posts must not be shifted when the game is already on.
6. That all stakeholders must realise that no matter the advantages they think they have by undermining the independence and credibility of the INEC, the long term effect will be hugely deleterious to everyone. It is therefore important that all parties must seek and pursue the independence of the INEC and ensure that its integrity and credibility are not undermined by certain actions and careless statements being thrown around.
7. We urge INEC not to allow itself to be compromised by politicians no matter the offerings and also avoid actions that would portray it as being partial or sectional in any way. It must pursue the greater goal of ensuring the sanctity of the ballot. This means that it must ensure that everyone that is qualified to vote and is willing to so do is given the necessary assistance to exercise his franchise. To this end, INEC must ensure that nearly all registered voters collect their PVCs before the elections or those who could not can still make use of their TVCs in special circumstances and in agreement with all the parties present. We are not happy when INEC begins to compare percentage of voter turnout during elections with actual registration turnout.
8. That INEC must ensure that all issues and objections raised by stakeholders are adequately addressed before the scheduled dates of the elections. Training of Ad-hoc staff, mastering of the Card readers and availability of all the relevant forms and records including the major steps towards ensuring that the PVCs get to their willing owners ought to be taken seriously.
9. That all CSOs and Organised Labour must continue seeing themselves as moral umpires devoid of their personal interests and opinions which ought to be different from the movement. To this end, we urge all organisations to remain non-partisan but be principled in their stand, strongly resist and condemn all anti-social acts and robustly engage the political actors to ensure that Nigeria and Nigerians are not short changed.
10. That every Nigerian that is in captivity in the hands of either terrorists or kidnappers deserves to be set free. The first duty of government is protection of lives and properties. It is therefore important that the nation’s security agencies must seek the release of these victims of the Nigerian State from the hands of their captors and abductors. Once more, we commend the recent efforts of the military in recapturing some of the nation’s territories hitherto in the hands of Boko Haram but we make haste to remind them not to forget that there are still huge swathes of the nation’s territory still under the grips of the terrorist organisation so, all efforts must be geared towards recovering all and decimating this evil once and for all.
11. That we use this opportunity to call on both the federal government and the military high command not to execute those soldiers that have been sentenced to death by the different Court Martials whatsoever may have been the military code. The mood of the nation does not require the waste of these lives which generality of Nigerians have come to see as heroes who deserve commendation and not death sentence because they spoke out and resisted corruption and ineptitude of the military hierarchy and those facilitating them. Nigerian Government itself agreed with these soldiers when they confessed the paucity of equipment to fight the insurgency and the roles played by key western nations in denying us access to those key equipment. Nigerians remain resolute in condemning that death sentence as insensitive and contemptuous of the will of the people.
12. That while we acknowledge the need for adequate security during the elections given the peculiarities of our politicians and the tense atmosphere. In the event of deployment of the military, we state that their deployment should not be for electoral duties, which is statutorily reserved for the Police. Also, the deployments should be done with care. This is in the light of recent revelations making the rounds though it has not been proven concerning the activities of the military in determining the outcome of the Ekiti State gubernatorial election held in 2014.
13. That we finally call on the managers of our economy to immediately generate policies and programmes that would stem the worsening income inequality in Nigeria to create an atmosphere that is less acrimonious and make the distribution of the nation’s resources a bit fair and more humane and equitable. There is an urgent need to address the paradox of increasing revenue from oil and declining value of the Naira and then, instead of the reverse being the case as receipts from oil begin to dwindle, the Naira continues weakening. This poison in our national chalice must be identified and neutralised as all known economic logic have been turned upside down when it comes to Nigeria. We wonder whether economics as a subject ought to change its paradigm when it involves Nigeria and its contents taught differently in our schools to factor in this manifest contradiction.
The Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) remains non-partisan and refuses to be dragged into the present mess that our political actors are making of our democracy. It is therefore important that while we round up with this statement that we quickly add that whenever issues bothering on the position of the organisation on any key national question arises, it is always better and reasonable to seek out the relevant officers at the level of our national leadership. Our House remains one and it is only the leadership at the national level that can clearly point out what is policy concerning any national discourse.
We therefore reiterate our historical avowal to the pursuit of patriotic and national interests at all times no matter whose Ox is gored. Our determination and commitment to the welfare and desires of the Nigerian people remains unwavering as expressed in their various irreducible natural and social rights as enshrined in the various statutes of the land and international conventions.
Once again, we call upon our political gladiators to learn from history and avoid repeating the mistakes of previous actors because the outcome may not be different and would be deadlier than previously experienced. We know that there is still hope and even much so, the entire situation presents a glorious opportunity for us as a nation to resolve our age long development impasse by negotiating rightly the minefield which the 2015 general elections have become.
It requires humility and an eye to the larger objective of keeping Nigeria united and protected so that we can march forward and occupy our pride of place in Africa and the World leading the continent out of its present backwardness even as we lift up the torch of development for the rest of the black race to follow.
All hands must be on deck to pull this nation back to safety and make it once again a place of comfort for the ordinary men and women whose only request is that an environment be created which would allow all of us to eke out a decent living and to have the right to hope and aspire to become better even in our daily toils. Our politicians must therefore say no to all forms of violence no matter the extent of provocation determining to leave this nation better than they met it.
WISDOM DURUEKE Esq.