Human rights activists, journalists and civil society leaders gathered in Ikeja Lagos State on Tuesday for a conference tagged “The Nigeria Pro-Democracy Conference 2019” and vowed to re-activate the pro-democracy movement in order to put a stop to what they described as “encroaching fascism and dictatorship” under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
At the conference which kicked off with the theme: “Reviving Popular Action for Democracy and Freedom in Nigeria,” various activists took turns to condemn what they said was an attempt to return the country to a full-blown dictatorship.
In his keynote address titled: “The Anti-Politics of Buhari Administration,” Professor Sylvester Odion Akhaine of the Department of Political Science, Lagos State University, warned that the country was heading to the point of no return.
He noted that the current leadership of the country has inflamed divisive tendencies and called for concerted effort to build alliances to save the country from collapse.
“The current despot in the country is a bull in a China shop who has inflamed all divisive tendencies – ethnic and religion faultiness and even waging war against the conspiratorial silence on the so called war against Boko Haram,” he said.
“Our democratic process has been purged of virtually all its democratic content. The people, the organising element of any polity do not matter and to borrow the words of Guillermo O’Donnell, they have been reduced to citizens of low intensity.
“The legislature is a rubber stamp one, known in British history as the ‘Long parliament’, a proxy of the executive who were elected in a brazen compromise of parliamentary autonomy. The judiciary is intimidated and peopled by political appointees without merit but programmed to do the will of the executive. In this manner, the judiciary has become the Golgotha of the common man and not his hope. With the capturing of rest arms of government, the executive has been transformed, in all objective sense, into a despot.”
Akhaine cited the cases of former national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki; leader of Shiite movement, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky; publisher of Sahara Reporters, Omoyele Sowore who are being detained in defiance of court ruling as examples of the death of democratic principles.
He noted that judges houses have been raided at midnight to cow them, while a sitting chief judge of the country was humiliated out of office.
“Individual critics have been held on the orders of state governors. For example, Dadiyata Idris, Stephen Kefas, Agba Jalingo and Jones Abiri among others.”
He advised however, that “The current battle to reclaim Nigeria is complex and we need to build alliance forces, taking into consideration all the nuances of the Nigerian situation.”
He said “before going into the trenches, we must answer the question of the structure of the Nigerian state” whether it should be Unitarianism or federalism.
Earlier in his welcome address, author and activist, Chido Onumah who spoke on behalf of the organising partners of the conference: the Social Action and its collaborators, the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy and the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, noted that the conference was an attempt to get people to speak with one voice on the many challenges confronting progressive movement in Nigeria in particular and the existential threat that millions of compatriots face on daily basis.
He said convenors of the conference believe in the imperative of civic intervention of the pan-Nigerian character reminiscent of the 1990s pro-democracy movement.
This, according to him, “is because enduring nation-states that work for her citizens are built through the conscious will and actions of individuals and groups who envision and act, at different moments, to instil alternative national ethos and practices.”
Onumah regretted that in today’s Nigeria, more people are living in extreme poverty than anywhere else in the world while violent conflicts are escalating.
“Over a million Nigerians are living in internally displaced people’s (IDP) camps as a result of violent conflicts,” he said.
“In the Boko Haram war in the northeast, the herder and farmer conflicts, the Niger Delta insurgency, the Biafra secessionist agitations, massive and ongoing corruption, political thuggery, armed robbery, kidnappings, ritual killings, substance abuse by sections of our youth, enormous unemployment, etc.
“We see signs and symptoms of a state in deep crisis. As a cause and consequence of the crisis in Nigeria is the massively polarised public sphere with discourses often clouded with ethnic, religious and other sectional colourations.
“The government of the day disregards the rule of law and disobeys court orders with impunity. Civil society actors and journalists have been arrested and held in detention in violation of court orders.
“It is to find a way out of this national political quagmire that Social Action and partners convoked this meeting as a platform for pro-democracy activists, social justice advocates, media and civic activists in Nigeria to examine democratic practices in Nigeria since 1999 and discuss options for positive civic engagement in politics; for promoting popular power and enthroning a representative and accountable government in Nigeria.”
Other activists, including Mr. Richard Mammah, publisher of the Difference Newspaper; Angela Odah, Prof Anthony Kila, Habib Dolapo, Wale Ogunniyi, among others, took turns to speak on the state of affairs of the country with all agreeing that something urgent needed to be done to stop “encroaching fascism” under the present leadership.
At the end of deliberations, the conference resolved to among other things, “make specific demand of the administration of President Buhari to release Sahara Reporters publisher, Omoyele Sowore and other journalists and activists held in detention in disregard of court orders.”
The activists also resolved to “begin to act, to organise in our different localities to stop this encroaching fascism.”