Former Minister of Education, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, has asked Nigerians to take charge of their future, adding that the passive nature of citizens was being exploited by the political class.
Ezekwesili who lamented that bad governance had brought the country to its knees, said the missing link for a great future for the country was absence of citizens power.
She spoke on Wednesday at an event in Ikeja, Lagos, commemorating the June 12 Democracy Day in honour of Chief MKO Abiola.
The event, organised by the Pro Democracy Movement, was attended by business expert, Pat Utomi; former Kaduna State senator, Shehu Sani, Akwa Ibom State Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mike Oginni and Muhammed Fawehinmi, the son of late prominent lawyer, Gani Fawehinmi.
The convener of the BringBackOurGirls Movement said since democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people, those at the helms of affairs should be bothered about the high rate of poverty in Nigeria, a problem Abiola wanted to resolve before his mandate was stolen.
She said, “What was the rate of poverty when Chief MKO Abiola enunciated a manifesto that talked about farewell to poverty? What you can see clearly from the indicators is that poverty has increased. What has happened between 1993 and now is that Nigeria has overtaken India, a nation that is about six times its population, by having the largest number of extremely poor people in its population. Today, according to the world poverty map, we have some 93 million extremely poor people among us.
“If you have 93 million people living in poverty, then it means that you must focus the government on them. But what has happened is that the political class has monopolised the political and governance space and taken absolute control, excluding the citizens for whom the democracy should be for. The political class has weaponised poverty as an instrument of perpetual control.
“Unfortunately, some of the 93 million people don’t vote and when they have the power to vote, they don’t clearly know how to exercise that vote in their own interest. What do you then do when the excluded have a way of conspiring with a system that has excluded them to entrench the exclusion?”
Ezekwesili said blaming voters who sell their votes and engaging in political and civic education could no longer solve the problem.
She explained that privileged Nigerians should rather use their positions to uplift the poor to be able to change their orientation, improve their productivity and “remove the pittance that has entrenched them in poverty.”
The former minister explained that for Nigeria to be better, there was the need for leaders with strong character, competence and capacity.
Ezekwesili said the greatest honour the government could give Abiola was to show that it was easier and faster to tackle poverty in the 21st century than it was when he was alive.
“I have seen that when countries are governed by people who get it, what they need are sound policies, strong institutions and effective and efficient investment in public goods and services; when citizens have them, they attain a height of productivity and lift themselves out of poverty,” she added.
She said Nigerians must also speak up against bad government, adding that since legitimacy lay with the people, the government relied on Nigerians.
“The citizens occupy the highest office. What will guarantee progress in perpetuity is the office of the citizens. We must all make a commitment to activate our office as citizens; that we are tired of being docile citizens of Nigeria and thinking of ourselves as powerless. You are powerful beyond what you think. Stop swallowing your voice. Stop being distracted by daily bread issues. We need a coalition of forces of citizens to say, ‘we can reclaim our land.’
“This is not about tribe; it is about the massive exclusion of the majority of the citizens of the land from what governance should be all about. When you see concepts like adherence to the rule of law, participation, responsiveness, transparency, accountability, equity and equality, then you know there is good governance. But when you don’t see these, then you know there is no good governance,” she added.
Sani in his words, noted that June 12 was not just about Abiola, but about Nigerians rejecting military rule and accepting democracy.
He said Nigeria in the last 20 years had only witnessed civil rule.
“We have not got to the promised land yet. We have seen elements of military mentality in the psyche of Nigeria’s political class. There have been violation of fundamental human rights, disobedience to court orders, refusal to accept democratic principles; breach of the constitution is still the order of the day. If we want to build a strong and virile nation, our constitution must be our compass and guiding principles,” he said.