Speakers discuss ‘remaking’ Nigeria at Wole Soyinka’s 87th birthday lecture

In commemoration of the 87th birthday of the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, policy advocates and activists on Tuesday discussed ways of remaking Nigeria into a better country.

The conversation was held in Lagos at the annual media lecture series organised by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) in celebration of the Nobel Laureate.

The 13th media lecture was tagged “Remaking Nigeria: Towards a Secure and Viable Union.”

The lecture examined several perspectives towards transforming Nigeria including! constitutional restructuring, the rule of law, true independence, community-based education, Nigeria and oil, among others.

Speakers at the lecture included Moses Ochonu, Professor at Vanderbilt University; Hafsat Abiola-Costello, President Obama Women in Africa Initiative; Inibehe Effiong, Human Rights lawyer; Ahmadu Shehu, Assistant Professor, American University of Nigeria; Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, Director, Spaces for Change (S4C), Nubari Saatah, Acting President of Niger Delta Congress; and Ndi Kato, social and human rights activist.

In their joint remarks, Motunrayo Alaka, executive director of of WSCIJ, and Chidoh Onumah, coordinator AFRICMIL said Nigeria has many challenges that are important and urgent and it is important to hold conversations on how to resolve them.

“Conversations like the one we are holding today serve as reminders that our problems as a nation are solvable. They also give the much-needed inspiration that Nigeria has the human resources needed to think through and work on a way out of our current quagmire once we gather the will to do the right things and do things right.

“More importantly, conversations like this highlight the right to access information, hold divergent opinions and freely express them. These rights are becoming scarcer in our polity as the government of the day works hard to stifle the voices of the people and dodge accountability by all means.

“If Nigeria must be helped, we must be deliberate about including various voices as we map our change.”

A community-based model for basic education

Mr Shehu, an associate professor at the American University of Nigeria, said it was important Nigeria begins to look for viable means to improve education at the most basic level.

“To remake Nigeria, we have to build a solid foundation which is education.

“Common Nigerians no longer have access to quality basic education. Most of our kids are on the floor, under the shed of trees called schools. Worse to that, one out of five out of school children in the world lives in Nigeria,” Mr Shehu said.

The scholar said the “current chaotic arrangement that the country has been running since 1999 till date” in terms of basic education is no longer effective.

He said community-based education is the right way to go to give basic and quality education to the people.

“We want Nigeria to hand over basic education to people, to the very community who are the recipient of that basic education by dismantling the current arrangement of a confused federal parastatal which is called Universal Basic Education,” he said.

The speaker added that the confusion with the local government council being the employers of the teachers but state universal basic board being the supervisors of the teachers need to stop.

Mr Shehu said there is a need to strengthen communities and allow them to take responsibility for the basic education for their people.

Rule of law

Speaking at the lecture, Inibehe Effiong, a human rights lawyer, said Nigeria was at a very difficult period, where there was no regard for the rule of law.

“I have never seen a time in our national history where the fundamental of nationhood, and where what keeps the soul of a nation alive has ever been challenged as this period.”

Mr Effiong said the core elements of rule of law which are respect for human rights, equality before the law, and supremacy of the law are being trampled upon by the Buhari-led administration.

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“These three fundamental ingredients of the rule of law have been totally annihilated under the current regime.

“What is more tragic about the assault on the rule of law under the Buhari regime whether in terms of flagrant disobedience to court orders, the reckless violations of Nigerians on a daily basis, the audacious intrusion indy our civic space, the continuous and sustained attacks on free press.

“It is more shameful that it is happening under a government that pretends to be progressive, under a party that promised Nigerians change,” he said.

The human rights lawyer said he was not very optimistic because the signs are very troubling, but Nigerians must arise to save the country.

He said illegal arrests of people demanding their rights, the obnoxious legislative proposals being introduced to stifle the press and other key issues threatening the rule of law is troublesome.

“The economy is collapsing, but the rule of law is under assault. Things have never been this bad.

“We are now in a time where people will openly tell you go to court. When they tell you to go to court, it simply means the court is inconsequential,” he said.

Mr Effiong said the battle to salvage the country lies squarely with the Nigerian people as people must be united to challenge executive impunity.

Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, who spoke on Nigeria’s unity and the cracks within, said the excessive focus on oil and natural resources is one of the major problems of the country.

She added that the kind of laws Nigeria has in terms of wealth sharing among states is also creating problems.

“The legislatures we have that has conerned all opportunities of wealth creation and pushed into the exclusive legislative needs.”

She said the laws that made the federal government the sole controller and distributor of resources had destroyed the imaginative and entrepreneural capacity of states.

“All of those mechanisms that made the federal the sole controller needs to be dismantled,” she said.

Speakers at the event also spoke about constitutional restructuring, sueing for real independence, the role of women in nation building, the media and the new Nigeria.

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