Speakers at the 13th Wole Soyinka Media Lecture Series held Tuesday, 13th July 2021 in Lagos to commemorate Professor Wole Soyinka’s 87th birthday, have called for community-based education, diversification of the economy, vibrant and sustainable media, equity, justice and inclusion of women for remaking Nigeria.
The speakers – Inibehe Effiong, Principal Counsel/Head of chambers, Inibehe Effiong Chambers; Hafsat Abiola-Costello, President, Women in Africa Initiative; Moses Ochonu, Professor of African History, Vanderbilt University; Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, Executive Director, Spaces for Change; Nubari Saatah, Editor, Freedom Press; Ndi Kato, Executive Director, Dinidari Empowerment Foundation; Ahmadu Shehu, Assistant Professor, American University of Nigeria; and Motunrayo Alaka, Executive Director/CEO, Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism – discussed the theme, ‘Remaking Nigeria: Towards a secure and viable union.’
In his contribution to the conversation, Inibehe Effiong, lamented the continuous and flagrant invasion of the civic space by the current government. While he held that the rule of law is assaulted in Nigeria and that some laws have been introduced to stifle the press, he charged Nigerians to take up the fight to challenge impunity in the country through public litigation and engagement by the civil society to salvage our country.
Another speaker, Hafsat Abiola-Costello, offered a three-step recommendation for reclaiming a prosperous Nigeria—identify the problem, understand how the system works and create alternatives. She observed that the problem in the country is global and Nigerians need to be more conscious about challenging the issues at the continent and global level.
Moses Ochonu, made a case for the Nigerian constitution to be restructured and decentralised. In his words, “the closer an institution gets to the people it serves, the higher the people’s stake in it…Region without oil will be compelled to generate revenue outside crude oil and be motivated to demand accountability and financial prudence from their elected leaders.”
On her part, Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri, lamented Nigeria’s excessive focus on crude oil. She emphasised that it limits the imaginative and entrepreneurial ability of states. She called for an end to all the laws that vest control of natural resources on the Federal Government, which according to her, impoverishes the states.
Nubari Saatah brought the plight of the Niger Delta people to the discussion. He stated that Nigeria had built an economic system around extracting crude, and in the process degenerated the environment and disincentivised other opportunities outside crude oil. According to him, there has not been a comprehensive audit of the Niger Delta for the over six decades that oil exploration has occurred in Nigeria.
The clear exclusion of women in social, economic and political spheres of the polity and the many issues that keep women out of spaces where they can have an influence was Ndi Kato’s contribution to the meeting. She passionately canvassed for economic and financial autonomy for women. She called for equal rights for men and women, and challenged discrimination against women.
According to Ahmadu Shehu, the current way the basic education system is run in the country has failed to encourage nation-building in Nigerians. He recommended a community-based model where each community would set up a committee to run the school. According to him, this approach has the capacity to bypass the administrative, legislative, budgetary and financial bottlenecks of the current system.
Motunrayo Alaka affirmed that the press is there to hold the government accountable. She noted that the proposed National Broadcasting Corporation and Nigerian Press Council bills, and other actions of the government are attempts to stifle free speech. She said there has been no avenue for the media to ask questions from Mr President for six years. She called on the media to assert its independence, rethink its sustainability, collaborate and deploy technology in defence of truth.
A highpoint of the lecture was the remarks by Femi Falana (SAN), human rights activist and chairperson of the event, who spoke extensively on the issues affecting Nigeria such as the arrests of innocent Nigerians for walking in the night, criminalisation of protests, voting of funds to monitor telephone conversation of citizens and other moves to stifle the press. He urged participants to rededicate themselves to the political transformation of Nigeria from the land of poverty to the land of prosperity.
In his remarks on the book – Remaking Nigeria: Sixty Years, Sixty Voices, Chido Onumah, Coordinator, AFRICMIL, stated that the book allows young Nigerians to lend their voices to the urgent quest for the redemption of the country and suggest options to help bring the desired change.
To open the event, Jiti Ogunye, Board Secretary, Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, stated that the lecture is holding at a critical time in the history of Nigeria, because of the sweltering injustice and coordinated efforts of the Nigerian state to kill freedom of information. He held however, that Professor Wole Soyinka in whose honour the lecture is organised, was a symbol of the struggle for freedom of expression and the latter’s stance should nudge people to the ideal.
Representatives of the MacArthur Foundation and the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), the 13th lecture’s partners, gave their goodwill messages. Kole Shettima, Director, MacArthur Foundation Africa Office in Nigeria, appreciated Professor Wole Soyinka, the celebrant as being prophetic in many ways, adding that he doggedly gives voice to the voiceless, face to the faceless and continues to support good causes. On her part, Catherine Angai, Democracy and Accountability Programme Coordinator, Open Society Initiative for West Africa, asserted that Nigeria is not working for Nigerians and although it manages to call itself a democracy, it struggles with the ideals of democracy. She added that the book – Remaking Nigeria: Sixty years, sixty voices charts the course for citizens to reflect on where Nigeria is.
The event moderated by Tolulope Adeleru-Balogun, Head Presentation, News Central TV, held with strict compliance to COVID-19 protocols and was attended by representatives of the civil society from non-governmental organisations, pressure groups, the organised private sector, government, the media and academic institutions among others.
Executive Director/CEO, WSCIJ