The events of past weeks as they concern which Civil Society Organizations(CSOs) leaders will represent the Southeast geopolitical zone at the proposed National Conference have continued to generate varying interests and confusions, warranting submissions of different list of delegates to the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). For records, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are globally understood to be social groups that are not classified as “governmental and business enterprises”. In USA, they are called “non-profits/not-for-profits”, which include churches, community based organizations, youth organizations and career associations. But in Nigeria, CSOs are generally seen, especially by policy makers/ government operators as “groups advocating for and promoting democracy, good governance and human rights”.
This explains why the 24 slots allocated to Nigerian CSOs for the proposed confab on the basis of four slots per geopolitical zone, are generally seen as “slots for pro-democracy, good governance and human rights community”. It is very important to point out that the Federal Government of Nigeria has the final say on which CSO leader should be on the final list to be made public soonest. The differing interests and confusions over the CSO list of delegates started about two months ago, when some CSO leaders domiciled in Lagos and Abuja, met in Abuja and produced a list containing 24 CSO leaders and caused it to be forwarded to the office of the SGF as “list of CSO leaders” meant for the confab (see Daily Trust of 28/02/2014). As expected, no CSO leadership operating and domiciling in the Southeast geopolitical zone was put in the know.
According to Mr. Ezenwa Nwagwu and Jaye Gaskia, who convened the Abuja meeting, those nominated are “Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Chima Amadi, Chido Onumah, Isaac Osuoka, Ezenwa Nwagwu, Samson Itodo, Ayelebola Babatunde, Faith Nwadishi, Nnimmo Bassey, Ayo Obe, Jaye Gaskia, Olarenwaju Suraj, Uju Agomuo, Steve Aluko, Olisa Agbakoba, Nasser Kura, Y.Z. Yau, Dudu Paloma, Ngozi Obiorah, Abiola Akiode, Tor Yorapu, Ms. Ene Ede, Ms. Idayat Hassan and Jibo Ibrahim. The list of delegates produced by the above group is tagged: “preferred list”. Funny enough, none of the names contained therein, supposedly meant for the Southeast zone, is known to reside and operate in the zone. Out of 365 days in a year, none of them spends 30 days in all in the zone. Some, if not many of them do not know how many LGA or autonomous communities that exist in their States of birth, not to talk of speaking Igbo language fluently; yet they want to represent their zone of birth or ancestry at the National Confab.
Sensing possible hijack of the CSO slots, particularly the four slots meant for the Southeast geopolitical zone, a coalition of rights and pro-democracy groups working and domiciling in the Zone met in Enugu on 7th of February, 2014 and deliberated on the issue and resolved to elect four delegates from the zone to the confab with a strong message that those that will fill the four CSO slots for the zone must be operating and residing in the Southeast zone. Four rights and pro-democracy activists with track records of activities in the zone, who also reside in the zone, were elected. They are: Zulu Offolue for Abia State. He holds two master’s degrees in philosophy (edu.) and economics and chairs CLO, Enugu State Branch. He is also the current Secretary General of the United Action for Democracy in Nigeria.
Emeka Umeagbalasi for Anambra State. He holds bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Security Studies and served variously as chairman and vice chairman of CLO, Anambra State and Southeast zone. He is an alumnus of the US State Department’s International Visitors’ Leadership Program (class of June 2013). He founded and chairs International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law-Intersociety(see www.intersociety-ng.org) for more details of his rights based activities). Eze Eluchie for Imo State. He holds master’s degree in law and has worked in various rights areas both in Nigeria and in overseas for years. He chairs PADDI Foundation. Jerry Chukwuokoro for Enugu State. He holds doctor of philosophy in philosophy and teaches at Ebonyi State University. He is the Sectary of the Campaign for Democracy in the Southeast zone and a prominent member of CLO, Enugu State Branch.
Yet, on 15th day of February, 2014, another meeting was convened in Enugu by some Lagos and Abuja based CSO activists, under the auspices of “Eastern Human Rights & Pro-Democracy Activists” (CEHRAPA). Those the Abuja/Lagos based activists picked as confab delegates are the following: 1. Olisa Agbakoba (Lagos based) for Anambra State. 2. Eze Onyekpere (Lagos/Abuja based) for Imo State. 3. Uju Agumuo (Lagos/Abuja based) for Abia State. And 4. Ibuchukwu Ezike (Lagos based) for Enugu State. The list and names selected by the conveners of the said meeting were tagged “our first eleven”.
While we hold nothing against their persons and achievements some of them recorded especially during the military era, we see these two events in Abuja and Enugu as not only undemocratic, but they also fall short of equity and fairness. Some of them are big enough to be included in their professional bodies, State and Federal Governments’ slots; thereby allowing rooms for younger activists, especially those who reside and operate in the Southeast geopolitical zone to participate. The position recently taken by the duo of Professor Ben Nwabueze and Dr. Alex Ekwueme not to participate in the proposed National Confab in order to give rooms for younger Igbo-Nigerians to participate, is a clear case in point and roundly commendable. He or she that goes to equity must go with clean hands! CSO leaders in Nigeria lack moral latitude to condemn Federal Government for not democratizing selection process for the proposed National Conference because their own selection process is worse than that of Federal Government.
It is also important to point out that voices of CSOs’ leaders in Nigeria have remained irreconcilably incoherent since the return to civil rule in 1999. During the military era, their voices were largely one, but nowadays, such voices are patently divided along “agenda”, “progressive”, “retrogressive” and “tribal/sectional” lines. It is a truism that a good number of CSO leaders in Nigeria come from Southeast geopolitical zone by birth. But it is also a truism that the zone is the least beneficiary of their activities and the major beneficiary of their activities is the Southwest geopolitical zone. The dominant CSO agenda in Nigeria today, which is tagged “progressive agenda”, is oiled by socio-political policies of the Southwest zone. Yet, when it comes to important issues like national confab that requires nomination or delegation, the policy makers/government operators hosting these diasporan activists and benefiting from their activities, swiftly turn their back against them and reward their natives. It is in response to these that these “brother/sister” activists rush back to their zone of birth with a view to hijacking the slots meant for the zone.
Sometimes, these returnee activists resort to intimidation of their “sedentary” counterparts by reminding them they started activism from the era of Adam and Eve. At other times, they will resort to name calling and campaign of calumny, which include calling them “quarks”, “clowns”, “charlatans”, “illiterates”, “semi-illiterates”, “government apologists”, etc. But if a field survey is carried out, the so called “second class” activists will be found to have performed unparalleled. Funny enough, many of these so called “second class” activists have more educational qualifications and field experiences than the so called “first class” activists. The danger of allowing, some say “pastoralist” activists to represent the Southeast zone in an important national confab such as the one being proposed is far reaching. Apart from not being in tune with social realities in the zone, they can easily be reached by their host zone or zone of their residency. It is also on record that the returnee CSO leaders under reference are more close to their residential governments than those in the Southeast zone. In States like Lagos, there is “CSO Liaison”.
Above all, a national confab is not an elitist activity. It is like writing a constitution, which must be done in simplest language because it serves every Tom, Dick and Harry. The Kenyan Constitutional Conference of 2010 is a case in point because it offered room of participation for both professors, carpenters, “qunu” makers and other members of the downtrodden. Elitism has no place in human rights and pro-democracy movement. In the world over, the champions of rights and pro-democracy movements are well known members of the downtrodden. Educational and field capacity building skills earned through scholarships offered by foundations and other funding institutions, are not meant to be bragged about by their beneficiary activists, but to reposition rights and pro-democracy leaders to do more to alleviate the sufferings of the downtrodden including making them know their rights and social obligations. Human rights and pro-democracy movements must no longer be seen or treated as “People’s Club of Nigeria” or “Professorial Deanship of a University”.
We, therefore, call on Federal Government and core stakeholders in various States of the Federation including political office holders to be mindful of those picked to represent their zones and collective interests to avoid corrupting and compromising the future well beings of their regions or zones.
For: International Society for Civil Liberties & the Rule of Law-Intersociety
Emeka Umeagbalasi, Chairman of the Board
Comrade Justus Uche Ijeoma, Head, Publicity Desk