Text of the State of the Nation Press Conference addressed by Executive Director of the Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED), Comrade Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi at TopRank Hotel Galaxy, POW Mafemi Way, Jabi, FCT – Abuja on Thursday, December 16, 2021.
Distinguished invited guests, ladies and gentle of the Press.
Thank you for support, solidarity and for honouring our invitation to this Press Conference on the State of the Nation. The Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED) has been closely observing developments across the country since the beginning of 2021.
Knowing from many experiences that the year, 2020 was extremely challenging and difficult on many fronts; Nigerians prayed and hoped for a better deal in 2021. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of long-suffering citizens who looked up to leaders and those in authority to chart the course towards relief and reprieve, the actions and inactions of those in positions of power have been, to say the least, most disappointing.
CHRICED notes with utmost dismay that despite the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which in its fourth wave continues to destroy lives, businesses and livelihoods, politicians across all tiers of government continue to inflict harsh conditions on the ordinary people.
As things stand across all strata of political authority, impunity has replaced democratic decision making, while those holding political power carry on without any consideration for social and economic justice. Abuse of citizens’ rights, attacks on dissent and free speech have all become the order of the day. From the local government to the state and even to the federal level, citizens can hardly find examples of conduct that fall in line with principled, purposeful and people-oriented leadership.
All across the land, impunity and reckless use of political power is the name of the game. Similarly, the unaccountable use of public funds, particularly the so-called bailouts without recourse to the demands of transparency and probity, has become the norm. There are many examples of these clear cases of reckless and self-centered use of political power by people entrusted with it.
For the current political leadership, power is not for the good of the collective, but for narrow, self-serving and anti-people ends. These factors, which border on failed political leadership are responsible for current crisis affecting the country.
CHRICED observes that the most potent existential threat facing Nigeria today is the unending wave of insecurity. Like never before, Nigeria’s territorial integrity and its internal security have been severely compromised by relentless groups of terrorists. In many cases, these outlaws not only kill, displace or inflict other forms of harm on Nigerians. They are now taking over swathes of spaces to further incubate their terror cells. Before our eyes, our country is literally burning, and there appears to be no concerted and sustained efforts to put out the fire.
There appears that on the watch of the current government, human lives no more have any meaning or sacred value attached to them. On a daily basis fellow citizens are decimated, bruised, maimed and killed all over the country without any consequence whatsoever. Barely a week ago, the incident in Sokoto State, wherein citizens traveling in a bus were set ablaze by terrorists, goes a long way to illustrate how bad things have become.
The Sokoto incident is a metaphor for the impunity with which terrorists and criminal gangs operate across the country taking lives at will, without any comprehensive, effective or sustained response from law enforcement agencies. At the last count, a serving Commissioner in Katsina State, a member of the House of Assembly in Kaduna State as well as other less known citizens across the country have been gunned down. Several highways across Nigeria are no longer passable because they have been taken over by the criminals.
It is equally clear that the criminals who engage in these dastardly acts have no fear or respect for the capacity of the state to arrest, prosecute and bring them to justice. This is so because the criminals have seen that the state so far lacks the resolve to go after and bring them to book. As such, Nigeria has now taken on the status of a vast killing field where the blood of citizens is routinely shed. The tragedy is that the government which should defend the lives and property of citizens has continued to project weakness because it has woefully failed to summon the courage to act beyond routine platitudes and lamentations.
Lives, livelihoods and economic opportunities have also been dealt a severe blow by the chronic state of insecurity. Citizens have to live with the many perils in a country where life, limb and property can no longer be guaranteed by the government, which has the primary responsibility of ensuring the security and welfare of the people. Things have become so bad that farmers can no longer engage in their occupation, without the fear of being killed by armed assailants.
For traders who travel across the roads in the country, it is a case of some being lucky to escape the dangers on the roads, while many others unfortunately have fallen victims, and they never live to tell their stories. There can be no mistaken the fact that a government that cannot guarantee the safety of lives and the free movement of citizens from one part of the country to another has completely lost all its essence, value and legitimacy.
Given the enormity of the situation, the only way out is for the government to arrest and expose the backers, and sponsors of terrorist gangs, whom the government claimed it knows. Government should also take a critical look at all the recruitments into the military, police and Department of State Security Service and other security agencies to be sure the right people are in charge of running Nigeria’s security architecture.
Finally, the government should immediately declare a state of emergency in parts of the country, which have witnessed the most horrendous atrocities against innocent citizens. Invoking emergency powers will signal a fresh resolve to tackle the existential threat of insecurity, just as it would enable the government to summon all the required human and material resources to restore its authority in the most affected parts of Nigeria.
CHRICED believes that the current half-hearted approach of dropping a few bombs on terrorists’ hideouts and then leaving them to continue their rampage on communities is not far-reaching enough, especially given the current scale of the problem.
The Economy and Its Impact on Citizens
Good governance is about responding to, and alleviating the fundamental economic issues affecting citizens. In recent times, the state of the Nigerian economy has been a source of utmost concern for citizens. The inflation rate has gone beyond control, leading to the astronomical rise in the cost of living. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation increased by 15.40 percent (year on year) as at November 2021.
This according to the NBS is 0.51 percent point higher than the rate recorded in 2020, which stood at 14.89 percent. Data from the NBS also shows that the composite food index was 17.21 per cent in November 2021. The NBS data makes it clear that the rise in the food index was caused by increases in prices of bread and cereals, fish, food product, potatoes, yam and other tubers, oil and fats, milk, cheese and eggs and coffee, tea and cocoa.
The skyrocketing inflation rate explains the high price of several basic commodities. It is so bad that a bag of rice now sells for between N30,000 and N32,000. The price of a bag of cement now hovers around N5000 with the likelihood of further increase, especially around the yuletide. 12kg of cooking gas, which used to sell for between N3800 to N4000, now sells for between N9600 and N10,000.
The prices of many other basic commodities are up, and the government is also talking of hiking the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit, also known as petrol. When citizens in other parts of the world were getting reprieve from their governments due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nigerians got none.
With the lowly minimum wage hardly being implemented in several states, extreme poverty is now the lot of many citizens. Little wonder, the government itself declared recently that 109 million Nigerians will be living in poverty by the end of 2022. For CHRICED, the critical next step goes beyond declaring that many more citizens will be living in poverty next year. What is the government doing to drastically reduce the number of citizens who would find themselves in poverty?
CHRICED believes the starting pointing is to put as many Nigerians as possible back to work. Government needs to stop being aloof, while its citizens suffer. This it can achieve by drastically cutting down on wastage in government due to corruption and mismanagement. Government should also respond to the astronomical cost of basic commodities by mandating its economic team to come up with measures, which could stabilize the prices of essentials like cooking gas, food stuffs, healthcare and building materials.
Shrinking Civic Space
CHRICED also notes with concern the increasing shrinking of the civic space in order to stifle the voices of frontline activists and human rights campaigners. Attacks, and threats against journalists and human rights activists have intensified all through the year. Even in cases where the State is not directly carrying out the attacks against citizens, activists and journalists, there is now an emerging trend of mobilizing thugs and street urchins to inflict harm on those who insist on invoking their right to demand accountability from government.
The other day, thugs were mobilized to attack the publisher of Sahara Reporters, Comrade Omoyele Sowore, and as the assault was going on, the law enforcement officers looked the other way. CHRICED condemns this resort to crude tactics to intimidate, harass and silence voices of dissent and advocates of good governance. CHRICED notes that the shrinking civic space is also taking its toll on the anti-corruption program of the government.
A ready example is the ongoing prosecution of frontline anti-corruption crusader, Mr. Olarenwaju Suraj, Chairman of HEDA by the office of Attorney-General of the Federation. Mr. Suraj’s only offence is that he worked tirelessly to ensure those behind the looting of the Nigerian treasury through the Malabu Oil Block deal, are held to account, not only within Nigeria, but also in other foreign jurisdictions.
CHRICED also notes the recent detention of renowned investigative journalist, Mr. ‘Fisayo Soyombo, whose only offence is the fact that he exposed unbridled corruption in the construction of Police Transit Camps in several states. In a sane world, Suraj and Soyombo will be celebrated as national heroes who took the difficult step of patriotically putting the interest of the country before self by exposing egregious acts of looting of the public treasury.
The reverse is the case in Nigeria, where it is the people who expose wrongdoing that are persecuted and hounded, while those who breached public trust and abused their office for private gain are feted and celebrated by the government. CHRICED unequivocally condemns the use of state institutions to intimidate and harass anti-corruption crusaders. We call on well-meaning citizens and civic groups to continue to speak up in defense of these innocent activists and journalists who are being targeted, not because they ran afoul of the laws of the land, but because they used their God-given talents to demand transparency and accountability in the use and allocation of public resources.
Towards 2023: Ensuring A Credible Electoral Process
Notwithstanding the myriad of challenges in the polity, 2022 presents another important opportunity for Nigerians to work towards overhauling the polity, using the instrumentality of the 2023 elections. Given the fact that the off-cycle elections conducted so far have been blighted by voter apathy and low participation of the electorate, it is important to reform Nigeria’s electoral process before 2023. As such, President Muhammadu Buhari must rise to the occasion by assenting to the Electoral Act amendment, which the National Assembly has passed and transmitted to him.
CHRICED is not unaware of pressures from political cliques within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to shoot down some provisions of the amendment. Specifically, the surreptitious moves of the so-called Progressives Governors Forum to take out provisions relating to direct primaries in the amendment, are undemocratic and do not represent the interest of the Nigerian electorate. CHRICED calls on the President not to cave in in the face of these pressures because they are driven by self-interest, and not by patriotic and nationalistic objectives.
CHRICED also calls on citizens, especially the youth, women and People with Disabilities to brace up to use the electoral process to put in place leaders at all levels, who would work for the interest, welfare and security of the people.
CHRICED commends United States President, Joe Biden for hosting the recent Democracy Summit, which sought to provide renewed direction for democracy and democratization across the world. After the turbulent years of the Trump Presidency, when the government of the people for the people and by the people was seriously undermined, it is reassuring that President Biden is reminding leaders around the world that while democracy is not a perfect system, it represents the most participatory vehicle for the governance of any country.
CHRICED similarly applauds the commitment of the US government to provide support to critical pillars of the democratic process, particularly the Free Press and the work of Civil Society Organizations.
As 2021 comes to an end, CHRICED is grateful for all the support it has received from its various partners to enable it carry on its work of advancing the course of democracy, human rights and accountable governance. We thank all our journalist friends, fellow human activists, good governance advocates and millions of Nigerians, whose commitment to democracy, human rights, and accountable governance has remained unwavering, despite the myriad of challenges.
If those responsible for taking our country to its current state, where life is brutish, nasty and very short are not prepared to take a day off, it is important for those of us who believe the country can be salvaged, to triple our efforts. We believe therefore that given the plight of millions of our fellow citizens, and the damage bad governance is inflicting on them, activists and human rights defenders, cannot afford to go on any holiday.
CHRICED as a platform of active citizens campaigning for democracy, human rights and accountable governance is convinced about the need to constantly engage the public discourse, not just to draw attention to the issues, but to proffer effective solutions.
Thank you for your rapt attention.
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Comrade Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi