Being a full text of a press conference delivered by Comrade Dr. Ibrahim M. Zikirullahi, the Executive Director of the Resource Centre for Human Rights & Civic Education (CHRICED) on the State of the Nation on Wednesday in Abuja.
The text read;
Distinguished invited guests, ladies, and gentlemen of the Press
Many thanks for honouring our invitation to this press conference on the State of the Nation.
In line with the mandate of CHRICED, which focuses on the promotion of the democratic rights and civil liberties of Nigerians, we have deemed it necessary to speak in the face of the current drift of the ship of the Nigerian State.
Given the climate of fear, anxiety, and uncertainty, which now pervades our country, there can be no mistake about the fact that all is not well. From the discontent in the polity to the worries posed by an economy in tatters, the Nigerian people are having it rough in the hands of the current ruling elite. In these difficult times, CHRICED stands with all longsuffering Nigerians.
We condemn in unequivocal terms all draconian, tyrannical, and obnoxious policies unleashed on the innocent people of this current by insensitive governments at all levels.
We call on the people not to lose hope, but to remain steadfast in using all legal and peaceful methods available to call out the government and hold it to account.
The 2011 general elections in Nigeria marked a turning point in the country’s democratic trajectory, reversing the pattern of pervasive irregularities that had characterized other elections since Nigeria’s return to civilian rule in 1999. In 2011, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) implemented transparency innovations that bolstered public confidence, resulting in demonstrably improved elections.
The 2015 elections then became an improved version of the 2011 elections and a turning point, as the integrity of the electoral process was bolstered by technology’s concrete demonstration of its importance.
During the 2015 elections, the electoral umpire placed technology at the forefront of the electoral process, which stimulated innovations and built consensus around the positive impact of permanent voter cards, card readers, and CSOs’ technology-led verification of election results. With the admission of defeat by the incumbent president, the fair conduct of the 2015 elections marked a significant step in the country’s democratization. People, therefore, concurred that technology represents an important part of Nigeria’s future.
2023 General Elections and the Dashed Expectations Given the above progress in election administration, Nigerians anticipated that the much-publicized implementation of the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System (BVAS) and INEC Result Viewer (IReV) portal would significantly improve INEC’s previous efforts.
Unfortunately, the reverse was the case as the just concluded 2023 general elections were roundly criticized by citizens and local and international observers as a gross fall from international election standards. As a consequence, both the winners and losers declared by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) are now in a state of panic.
The 2023 elections provided Nigerians with an opportunity to reset the democratic process and enthrone good governance in their country. Citizens across the nation were hopeful that they would seize the opportunity provided by the ballots to elect leaders of their choice.
Sadly, while citizens were determined to participate in the process, desperate political actors in many regions of the country prevented the free and seamless expression of the people’s supreme will. We saw worrisome situations of organized criminal attempts to prevent eligible voters from exercising their democratic rights. There were also cases of attacks on polling units and the destruction of electoral materials.
Even journalists covering the elections were not spared, as some targeted media personnel were brutalized, and their equipment was destroyed. These violations, to the extent that they affected Nigerians, require an immediate response from the authorities.
CHRICED believe strongly that it is never too late to investigate, apprehend, and prosecute the brigands and their backers for the crime of violently subverting the vote of the Nigerian people.
CHRICED is of the opinion that even if only one Nigerian is violently denied the right to exercise his/her right to vote, the Nigerian State owes that citizen the duty to ensure that the perpetrators of those acts of violent suppression of the vote are held accountable and brought to justice. Sadly, as we speak, the gang of criminals and thugs who assaulted and threatened electors on Election Day are still walking scot-free.
Therefore, in the face of the blatant refusal of the State to take action against the perpetrators of all the criminal acts, which were committed on Election Day, CHRICED calls on citizens to take action in the forms of sending petitions to national and international bodies, especially where perpetrators of such acts have been properly identified.
Similarly, voters and close observers of the process witnessed how logistics failures and so-called glitches contributed to the disenfranchisement of citizens and the erosion of public confidence in the electoral process. This circumstance, coupled with the mind-boggling scope of violence, decreased voter participation in 2023.
The fact that only 24.9 million Nigerians voted in the Presidential and National Assembly elections on February 25, 2023, out of more than 93.46 million registered voters and 87 million who collected their Permanent Voter Cards (PVC), is a major disappointment. This implies that Nigeria is experiencing a democratic decline due to the declining voter turnout. This calls for urgent steps to fix the flaws ailing our democracy.
The Economy and Government Strangulation
Currently, the Nigerian economy serves only a few political and economic elites, who will always want the country’s financial crisis to continue because it presently benefits them. But, as things stand, the nation is veering dangerously off course, and the ship of state is stranded in stormy waters. The teeming masses of this country continue to groan under the weight of bad governance and ‘voodoo’ economic policies.
In the face of the many difficulties faced by the Nigerian people, many would have expected the government to implement policies with a human face, not jumbled initiatives, which would end up adding to the misery of the people. For an economy, which has barely recovered from the devastation imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and two recessions, no reasonable Nigerian would have expected economic measures that would cause further disruption and impoverishment of citizens.
Sadly, President Muhammadu Buhari and Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele insisted on inflicting immeasurable suffering on the Nigerian people in the name of the infamous Naira redesign and cashless policy. It became impossible for Nigerians to access their own money for the first time in recent memory. Consequently, numerous businesses that were already operating in a hostile environment failed.
Unfortunately, the businesses in the informal sector have been hit the hardest; the lack of cash meant that these businesses were entirely wiped out, leaving many more Nigerians without jobs and livelihood opportunities.
It is pertinent to note also that it is at this difficult time the cold-hearted and insensitive government decided to impose unjustified charges for key services. The hikes in electricity tariffs, extortionate bank charges, and the pump price of petroleum products constitute another brazen assault on the welfare and prospects of economic survival of the people of Nigeria.
It is very pathetic that the poor who voted in President Buhari in the hope he will alleviate their suffering, are the ones being punished with insensitive and harsh policies.
As the government is using its discredited policies to make life harder for citizens, shylock companies like those in telecommunications and banking are busy ripping off citizens with exorbitant charges that do not reflect services rendered. The reality is that the Nigerian people are on their own, without any protection whatsoever from the government.
Recall that CHRICED had previously warned of the dangers posed by this poorly conceived and implemented policy. Unfortunately, the CBN did not heed the advice of those who urged it to proceed cautiously with this policy.
Regardless of the CBN’s current mitigation efforts, due to the threat by the labour unions to go on strike, the harm has already been done. Government policy, which should be used to empower people and create wealth, is currently being used to decimate people and their means of subsistence.
In addition, the CBN should be held accountable for every Nigerian life lost during the cash shortage. We cannot overlook the numerous Nigerians who lost loved ones because they lacked the cash to pay their medical bills. We cannot overlook the men and women whose farm produce rotted due to a lack of customers with cash to purchase it.
We also cannot ignore our countrymen in the rural areas who wailed in anguish and endured the pangs of hunger for weeks because a handful of individuals in Abuja decided to implement a poorly conceived and poorly digested policy.
CHRICED demands reasonable compensation for these groups of citizens who have suffered so much due to the cashless policy.
Finally, we would like to bring to your attention the fact that, as the term of this administration headed by President Buhari draws to a close, it has become abundantly clear that the anti-corruption mantra that helped propel him to the presidency has taken a backseat. Though the President seems anxious to get back to his private life, he will continue to serve as the nation’s leader until he leaves office on May 29, 2023. As a result, he cannot afford to turn a blind eye while other people commit crimes without consequence.
CHRICED believes that the key to resolving the plethora of problems confronting the country lies in ending impunity, instituting accountability, and mustering the political will to do what is right for the country.
An important mechanism for ensuring that the leadership responds to the requirements of the people is democratic accountability. However, if the State allows the kind of violent voter suppression and intimidation seen in our recent elections, it gives the rationale and initiative to anti-democratic elements.
Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.