The MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos, was a beehive of activities on Thursday, September 8, as Nigerians from all walks of life gathered to deliberate on how best to see the 2023 elections as an opportunity to take the country out of the woods.

Anchored by veteran broadcaster, Ify Onyegbule, the event was the 2022 edition of TheNiche Annual Lecture, an annual intellectual discourse, aimed at proffering solutions to some of Nigeria’s most daunting problems.

According to the organisers, this year’s lecture which held 20 days before the flag off of the campaigns was timed to sensitise Nigerians on the issues that should inform the leadership recruitment exercise next year.

There could not have been a better team for such a crucial task than a galaxy of political and economic eggheads who graciously did justice to the theme of the lecture, ‘2023 elections and the future of Nigeria’s democracy’, both as members of the high table and as discussants.

While the Minister of Works and Housing and former governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, was the guest speaker, 96-year-old First Republic politician, human rights activist and former Liaison Officer to the late President Shehu Shagari, Alhaji Tanko Yakasai, was the chairman of the occasion, with HRM Engr. Chidume Okoro (Ugo Amano), as the Royal Father of the day.

Delivering the lecture, Fashola stressed the need for Nigerians to weigh their options carefully before casting their vote next year so as to elect only competent leaders who would represent their interest, and warned against “transactional democracy.”

He told the audience that the focus should be on how democracy can make lives better, adding that a good knowledge of the provisions of the constitution is critical for Nigerians to understand that everybody is part of government.

“Given that we are 20 days to the formal commencement of campaigns for the 2023 general election, the 2022 annual lecture coming 170 days to the first of the elections in February 2023 provided a potential platform for many possibilities,” Fasola said.

“Democracy does not guarantee that the leader or those leaders will deliver or indeed are able to deliver on what we want.

“Put conversely, what really is it that we expect from those we elect and what do they promise to do before we vote, and what have they done for us? Did we vote for, or did we collect tricycles, sewing machines, generators, etc. from them?

“If we did, can we legitimately expect that the budget from which these things were procured will also provide healthcare, drugs and diagnostic equipment in our health facilities?”

The minister, who frowned at what he described as campaign of “exaggerating” the nation’s problems to win elections, admonished politicians to highlight Nigeria’s prospects rather than exploit her challenges

“We can win elections without exaggerating our problems. We can do so by offering credible service and well thought out solutions,” he said.

“We can win elections without disrobing our country before the global community. We can do so by valorising Nigeria’s possibilities and not by widening her fault lines.

“Elections and democracy must represent for us, a feast of ideas and choices that bring out the best of us and the best of our country. If you want to criticise the policies of the ruling party what credible alternative do you have to what the government has not done.”

Yakassai, had during his opening remarks described Nigeria as a nation at a crossroad, a situation he blamed on the abandonment of the parliamentary system for the American-style presidential system of government due to influence of America-trained elite.

He said, “There is the overwhelming consensus that the political leadership, under the current federal system, is far from being optimal. The democratic government, which ideally should serve the people and build enduring institutions, has only succeeded in creating a generation of oligarchs and political entrepreneurs running the country as a private undertaking and not a federation responsible for the wellbeing of over 200 million people.”

According to him, “the dismal performance of the successive governments in harnessing the abundant natural resources and large population has been blamed for the increasing poverty, hunger, insurgency, militancy, youth restiveness, kidnapping, armed robbery, drug abuse, political thuggery, vandalization of national assets, and others.

“Unfortunately, there is no clear sign or political will to reverse this negative trend. The lack of empathy, patriotism and developmental orientation among our political leaders may not be unconnected with the massive powers and resources they control, especially at the Centre. No wonder, the nation is hoping for positive change and clamoring for restructuring after 2023.”

There was also a robust discussion session during which a panel of five strategically selected discussants took turns to interrogate Fashola’s delivery, with Prof. Anthony Kila, columnist, Jean Monnet professor of Strategy and Development, Centre Director CIAPS, moderating.

The panelists were: Prof. Victor Chukwuma, Professor of Physics, Olabisi Onabanjo University,  Ago Iwoye, Fellow of Astronomical Society of Nigeria, poet and public intellectual and Martins Oloja, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of The Guardian newspaper, who was represented by veteran broadcaster, Funke Treasure, on account of unavoidable absence.

Also on the panel of discussants were: Dr. Dakuku Peterside, former member House of Representatives and former DG NIMASA and Mrs. Ene Obi, activist, Country Director ActionAid Nigeria,  Convener Situation Room. Questions and comments were also entertained from the quality audience.

In a brief remark, Eze Chudume Okoro, noted that Nigerians are currently going through untold hardship and expressed hope that the youth would take back their country this time and change the sad narratives.

The royal father was optimistic that the 2023 elections would be different from past elections as the recent electoral amendment Act has minimised the possibility of most electoral irregularities.

Earlier in his welcome address, the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of TheNiche, Mr. Ikechukwu Amaechi, who said the “choice of both the lecturer and chairman was a product of painstaking deliberations,” recalled that this year’s lecture was the third in the series which started in 2018 with Prof. Kingsley Moghalu speaking on ‘Development reporting and hysteria journalism in Nigeria’.

According to him, the 2019 edition was delivered by Nigeria’s foremost interdisciplinary scholar and former Director General, Nigeria Economic Summit Group, Prof. Anya O. Anya, on ‘Business and accountable governance: The obligations of leadership.’ However, the 2020 and 2021 editions could not hold due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The event also featured the induction of all those who have served as chairpersons and quest speakers in the lecture series into TheNiche Hall of Fame. They include: Mr. Babatunde Fashola, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai, Prof Anya. O. Anya, Dr. Christopher Kolade, Prof Kingsley Moghalu and Prof Remi Sonaiya.

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