Osai Ojigho, human rights lawyer and Country Director, Amnesty International; Jiti Ogunye, human rights lawyer and Principal Counsel, Jiti Ogunye Chambers; as well as other distinguished guest on Thursday, 7 November 2019 called on Nigerians to collectively keep power in check.
Ojigho and Ogunye made the call in Lagos alongside other panellists Yemi Adamolekun, Executive Director, Enough is Enough, Nigeria; Richard Akinnola, veteran journalists and pro-democracy activist; and Kunle Ajibade, Executive Editor, TheNEWS and PM News, at the public presentation of TESTIMONY TO COURAGE, a collection of essays in honour of Dapo Olorunyomi, the publisher of PREMIUM TIMES.
Discussing on the theme “Keeping Power in Check: a conversation on the shrinking media and civic space in Nigeria”, Ogunye stated that only legitimate power can be restrained or kept in check by the citizenry, and unfortunately, that is not the kind of power that exists in Nigeria.
“My fundamental view, and I am not a fundamentalist, is that this so-called democracy is not capable of being grown”, he said.
He further asked, “Is this really a democracy? Does it answer the tenets of democracy, its nature and character? Can we really call this a democracy, or we can just say we are dealing with power masquerading as democracy?”
“What we need to do therefore is to displace that power and put in place a power that will be worth the while to keep in check,” he posited.
Kunle Ajibade, who moderated the panel discussion, described the kind of democracy practised in Nigeria as illiberal.
“Democracy has produced more elected autocrats, lawless lawmakers, lootocrats, many more confused, ill-informed, poverty stricken and alienated masses, more sit down and self-serving elites, and many more dysfunctional institutions. Materialism has become the real god that is being worshipped in the country; and the democracy (illiberal democracy) we practice as a nation has not produced qualitative growth of liberty, progress and tolerance needed to measure its success/impact,”
Yemi Adamolekun wove the essence of education into the conversation. She said, “A people that is ill-educated can never keep a government in check”. She maintained that it is in teaching values that confidence is built which emboldens people to stick their necks out to ask questions.
“Fundamentally, we need to invest in educating Nigerians about their rights and responsibilities…” She opines that it is a deliberate and collective responsibility and it is time that people who have the budget for education are held by the jugular to invest in schools.”
Richard Akinnola’s contribution to the conversation centred around the responsibility of the judiciary in keeping power in check. He said it is an embarrassment that under democracy, the judiciary is no longer the hope of the masses.
“I believe that our major focus should now be the judiciary quite frankly. We should not allow them, we have to keep them on their toe.”, he said.
On her part, Osai Ojigho, highlighted the role of a value-driven people in achieving the kind of democracy that can be kept in check.
She said, “Because we are in an era now that has been designated the post-truth era, anything goes; we are not value-based anymore. And so, we face an issue of fundamental agreement on key issues, to agree on some fundamental principles, and that in effect has created this vacuum.”
“Truth be said, we are all struggling in all areas of life, and if we are not able to even accept that whether you like someone or not, someone’s right should not be violated, then we’ve not started”.
“We cannot afford to be discriminatory against one another, and we cannot afford to silence other voices because it gives us an advantage. We need to recognise that when one person’s right is violated, then all of us need to be personally concerned and we are all personally affected.”
In his closing remarks, Femi Falana, the renowned human rights lawyer, who was the chairman of the occasion hinted that the prevalent war on journalists and the media may be as a result of a third term agenda brewing. He affirmed that the media is in trouble.
He spoke about his relationship with Dapo Olorunyomi which dates to their undergraduate days at the University of Ife; his unwavering stand for truth, justice and integrity which is why he is being celebrated.