By Bolaji Buhari
Lagos – A former Minister of Education, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, on Saturday decried the spate of killings and other violent crimes in the country.
Ezekwesili expressed the concern while speaking with newsmen at the 11th Wole Soyinka Centre Media Lecture series in Lagos.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the theme of the lecture, organised to mark the 85th birthday of the Nobel Laureate, was ”Rethinking Credible Elections, Accountable and Good Governance in Nigeria”.
The former minister condemned the killing of Mrs Funke Olakunrin, 58-year-old daughter of Pa Reuben Fasoranti, a leader of Afenifere, a Pan-Yoruba group, around Akure on Friday.
She described the murder of Olakunrin by yet-to-be identified gunmen as one too many, saying the incident reflected the seriousness of the insecurity in the country.
Ezekwesili said that the situation was giving the impression that the government was incompetent, describing the problem as unacceptable.
The former minister urged the government to wake up and urgently take action to protect lives and properties in the country.
”The government should do what it is expected to do on the issue of insecurity in the country.
”The safety of citizens of this country should be placed above any other issue,” she said.
Delivering the keynote address at the programme, Ezekwesili said the country’s democracy was being bedeviled by a number of factors.
She said the conduct of elections was still far from acceptable global standards, as the will of the people was often subverted by the many inadequacies of the process.
The former minister said for the country to get it right, it had to start evolving ways of ensuring elections were credible and free of violence.
Ezekwesili said the electorate also had a great role in improving and ultimately perfecting the system.
She urged Nigerians to always participate actively in the electoral process and vote according to their conscience during elections.
Ezekwesili advised the electorate to always vote candidates on character and values and not because of political affiliation, tribe, age or any other irrelevant consideration.
The former minister said good governance was essential for progress and development of any nation.
She, however, raised concern about lack of service and accountability of leaders to the people, saying the situation had promoted poverty and retrogression.
The former minister called for the opening up of the political space to ensure gender balance in the process leading to governance.
She decried the disproportionate representation of women in governance, saying the situation threatened the progress of the country.
”There is need to have gender balance in the process that leads to governance in the country.
”When we get to that point, what will happen is equitable development, equality of opportunities and so on.
”And when you look at the global league table on economic performance, political and social stability, it is occupied by countries that have learnt how to practise inclusion where men and women, boys and girls participate in the process for democratic maturation,” she said.
The former minister urged political parties to uphold progressive democratic values, saying lack of the right ideologies by parties was undermining democracy.
Ezekwesili, while congratulating Soyinka on his 85th birthday, described him as a literary icon and a fighter for democracy.
She said Nigeria would be a better place if more people stand for the truth and justice like Soyinka.
Also speaking, Senior Programme Manager, MacArthur Foundation Nigeria, Mrs Amina Salihu, said gender equality in governance was central to participatory democracy.
She called for gender balance in the democratic space, saying it would promote equality and progress.
Salihu urged Nigerians to believe in the country and contribute to its progress, as they had no other country to call theirs.
Mr Rotimi Sankore, Chairman, Editorial Board, Nigeria Info Radio Group, said the media had a big role in democracy and the development of the country.
He urged journalists to always practise responsibly, in a way that would not undermine the peace and progress of the country.
Sankore described the constant portrayal of one ethnic group dominating the other in the media as unfortunate, saying the clashes between farmers and herdsmen were because of competition for resources and not ethnic war.
”The narrative that the herdsmen are fighting with farmers because they want to dominate is all lies.
”What is happening is contest for resources, land, water and all that.
“It is not an ethnic thing and we are having these things because we have not planned well as a country.
”Journalists are supposed to practise in a way that will aid the progress of the country not to cause problems,” he said.
Mr Oluwole Osaze-Uzzi, Director of Voter Education and Publicity, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), decried the problem of vote buying and selling, saying the practices undermine democracy.
He said INEC was doing its best, despite the limitations, to address the problem, to enhance the credibility of elections.
Mr Olaokun Soyinka, son of the Nobel Laureate, who spoke on behalf of the family, thanked the organisers for honouring his father with the lecture.
He said the family was pleased with the ”birthday party” for their patriarch.
The younger Soyinka said the Nobel Laureate would have been present but for his usual preference for solitude on his birthdays.
He described the Nobel Laureate as a great icon, saying his life was replete with lessons on service and rising against impunity.
The younger Soyinka challenged younger generation of Nigerians to struggle for democracy and good governance, just like his father had always done, to actualise a better country.
Mrs Motunrayo Alaka, Coordinator, Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism, said the programme was to celebrate the icon that Soyinka is.
She thanked Nigerians for their support for the programme, which she said was in the 11th year.
NAN reports that dignitaries at the programme later cut a birthday cake to celebrate the literary icon.