Ahead of the 2015 general elections, eminent Nigerians including Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos, former Nigerian ambassador to the United States, Ambassador George Obiozor and renowned Professor of Law, Akin Oyebode, on Thursday, in Lagos, called on Nigerians not to take their voting power for granted.
They were also urged to vote out non-performing office holders or inept party in the forthcoming general elections.
Presiding Bishop of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission, TREM, Dr. Mike Okonkwo, among others, spoke in the same vein, insisting that Nigerians must avail themselves of the opportunities provided by the general elections to make positive change towards the development of democracy in the country.
They spoke at the 15th Mike Okonkwo Annual Lecture, with the theme, ‘The power of your vote: A catalyst for a stable and united Nigeria.’
Speaking, Governor Fashola warned that unless the country’s value system changes, things might continue the way they were currently, saying, “when you look at the result of our elections, you will struggle to see that (less than) 35 per cent of registered voters come out to vote.
“Another opportunity now beckons, it is a one in four years opportunity. Whether you like it or not, election has started already because permanent voters’ cards are being issued. Are you busy at work, stay at work. Those who wish things to happen stay away from them, those who want things to happen, get involved with them. Someone will probably collect your card or return it if it was not used.
“What is happening in February 2015 is balloting out of the whole process of election. After balloting, disputes are resolved and when all that is finished, it is to return the valid candidates and remove the unsuccessful candidates.
“Election is a process and it has begun. When you pick a coach and he does not give us result, what you do is sack the coach. When I employ a driver and he drives me badly, what I need to do is sack him. So, we are your servants, you should not be struggling the job with us. If you think we have not done the job well, sack us.
“In all the places where democracy is practised, it is all about ideas. The idea of a united Nigeria, can we take that away as what we want. In the few times we have had constitutional conferences and we have focused more on our laws and our constitution rather than ourselves.
What are the values and ideals with which we want our nation to run? What is the Nigerian idea for the Nigeria ideal? Good law will do nothing if bad people operate them. Also, with the most badly drafted constitution in the hands of men and women of goodwill, a lot of good can be achieved.
“We should ask ourselves what kind of Nigeria we want. Our value system really is the problem. What is our sense of right and wrong? Is it right only because he is your kinsman or is it right all the time.”
Oyebode, in his paper, charged Nigerians to vote out the ruling parties both at the federal and state levels if they were not performing, saying, “we just cannot continue to have more of the same and expect to make progress.”
He lambasted the political class for failing to deepen the ideals of democracy, saying, “politics in Nigeria is like obscenity. While the false democrats are singing the tune of one-man, one-vote, they are also busy violating the electoral rules while the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, is helpless.”
He condemned myriads of faceless media campaigns and solidarity rallies currently running in the media, contrary to the date allowed by the Electoral Act, and INEC’s arbitrary increase of polling units and failure to prosecute electoral offenders to restore public confidence.
The professor of law, while arguing that the nation’s founding fathers could be considered as having imbibed democratic ethos, “today’s practitioners of the art possibly continue to advertise their discomfort with the tenets of ballot box democracy and more often than not, evince characteristics of desperados — intolerance of dissent, blackmail and abuse of opponents, naked and crude diktat, a winner-takes-all mentality, obdurate lust for power, jumping the gun, faceless media campaigns, among others. So much so that our political lexicon has since encompassed concepts like ‘do or die,’ ‘no vacancy’ and ‘carry go.”
Oyebode said the people had lost confidence in the political system, necessitating their demand for “stomach infrastructure, because they know once you win election, they will not see you again until four years.
“Nigerians do not care about ideas any more. They would say ‘na idea we go chop.’ They are hungry. That is why in my own State, Ekiti, the people said ‘governor, you have done well with infrastructure, but it does not leave food on my table.’ That is why, unbelievably, a highly cerebral and intelligent man lost to a populist pretender.
“When I ran into him at an “amala” (yam flour food restaurant) joint in Abuja, I said, Mr. Governor-elect, how did you win that election? He said it was the hand of God. That is the situation we have with our democracy today.”
Chairman of the occasion, who is also the former Director-General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA Ambassador George Obiozor, in his opening remarks, said “Clearly the organisers of the lecture series understand the precarious nature of Nigeria as a nation and they obviously also recognize the tragedy of nations where ideas, skills, justice and professional competencies are routinely disregarded or relegated to the background in the ordering of national priorities,” he said.
“We continue like that surely, the nation cannot be expected to develop and grow. And if we think that a nation cannot remain undeveloped for 200 years or more, then we need to think again and remember countries like the Republic of Haiti.”
Drawing inspiration from Blair Harden’s Dispatches from a fragile continent, Prof Obiozor said: “We all know that the very idea of Nigerian unity is still an aspiration and not yet an achievement. Nigeria indeed is still a work-in-progress. The Nigerian Project continues with the recommendations of the just concluded 2014 National Conference. Yet, for Nigeria there are reasons for optimism.”
Bishop Okonkwo, who is also a former Vice President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, urged Nigerians to register en masse to vote during elections, saying that his church had begun a process of mobilizing Christians to exercise their franchise in the coming elections.
According to the bishop who will turn 69 on Saturday, all the socio-political cum economic challenges currently plaguing the nation could only be eradicated “if Nigerians deliberately see the Nigerian Project as a collective challenge and actively participate in all electoral processes”, stressing that he would mandate.