IDEAs Episode 120 – Civil Society Situation Room’s Ene Obi on the eve of #NigeriaDecides2023

IDEAs Episode 120 – 24th February 2023

Civil Society Situation Room’s Ene Obi on the eve of #NigeriaDecides2023

Chukwudi Ezugwu introduced the programme by saying that Ayo Obe would be speaking to Ene Obi, and that he was sure that listeners were familiar with the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room, of which she is the Convener.

Ayo thanked Ene for taking time out from the IGP’s INEC briefing.  She had heard Ene delivering a goodwill message on behalf of the Nigerian Civil Society Situation Room (NCSSR) at the signing of another Peace Pact on Wednesday 22nd, and asked why – in view of the fact that there had been at least one other Peace Pact signing – it was necessary to have another such signing.

Ene said that the Peace Committee had wanted to have the first Pact before the start of the political campaign, to brief the parties and call them to order, and to look at the standards to which they should adhere.  Now that we are coming close to the end of the campaign, the Peace Committee felt it was necessary to emphasize the terms of the Pact and review how they kept their promises.  It was evident that evident that some of those who had signed had not kept their promises, and had flouted the peace pact.  About 18% of the Presidential Candidates had violated it, and about 44% of the spokespersons of the political parties had violated the pact.  She wondered what was going to be done about those breaches, and asked whether we were a lawless country.  When elderly people sign a peace accord, what happens to them if they don’t observe it?

Ene said she was happy that the President and Commander-in-Chief was present at this briefing, and she also felt that the fact that this signing took place in the presence of the international community, with four former heads of state of African countries in attendance leading different observer missions, as well as former head of state General Yakubu Gowon, in attendance meant that there would be acceptance of the election results, and that we would be able to move on with our lives after the election.

Ayo said that the hope was not just that the parties and the candidates would abide by the Peace Pact, but that they would also be able to ensure that their supporters and spokespersons – some of whom were quite fanatical – would abide by the terms of the Pact.  The presence of the international community and so many African ex-heads of state was a reminder to the candidates that so many African countries looked up to Nigeria as a representative of the continent, and that they would not like to see them bring disgrace on Africa.  However, that at the end of the day, the election was about Nigeria and Nigerians, and what we expect of our leaders.  She wondered how civil society had been able to prepare for the elections.  As citizens, they were entitled to monitor, rather than just observe elections, but was that going to be possible with the cash crisis and the fuel crisis?

Ene said that the Civil Society Situation Room had opened on Wednesday, and had put before the public its assessment of the pre-election environment, and had raised some issues relating to security, vote buying and violence in the political domain, and the behaviour of some governments, particularly some State Governors who had not allowed opposition parties to use public facilities for their rallies.  The Situation Room had held a Press Conference at midday and expressed its concern about some of the things that were going on, with the murder of a Senatorial Candidate and some others who were with him in Enugu.  Civil society was happy that the NCSSR had been recognised at this Peace Accord signing, because they had not been allowed to speak on the first occasion.  This time the NCSSR had been able to let the parties and candidates know that they were going to be held accountable for their behaviour and their utterances.  INEC too would be held accountable as to its preparedness. 

Ene said that the Situation Room itself would be deploying 2,410 monitors, while the constituent partners of the Situation Room would also be deploying thousands of monitors themselves.

Ayo remarked that while at the signing of the Peace Accord, most of the goodwill messages had been nice words of encouragement, Ene, as the spokesperson for civil society, had been a little more hard hitting, and had spoken about Accountability.  This fitted with the IDEAs mantra which included Accountability.  She asked whether campaigns which appoint people who are known for the intemperance of their language should be held Accountable for the way such people speak: after all, one doesn’t buy a rottweiler and expect it to behave like a poodle, so the appointments must have been made with the expectation that those people would talk tough and if necessary talk trash.  Was that in keeping with the spirit of the Peace Accord?

Ene said that the campaigns had to take responsibility for their spokespersons, and for the utterances of the candidates themselves.  She said that where journalists were accused of violations or of hate speech, government came down hard on not just the journalists themselves, but had even closed the media houses.  Ene said that civil society was concerned at the way that so many Nigerians were leaving the country – even those with good jobs – and that they could not continue to watch things deteriorate like this.  She referred to the struggle against military dictatorship of which Ayo had been a part, and the sacrifices that had been made in the struggle of civil society for democracy.  She said that the election was an opportunity to change the tide, and that she was happy that many young people – as well as many elderly ones – were taking a deep interest in this election.

Ayo said that people would appreciate that Ene had given some words of encouragement, but that she had also had some tough words for those involved in tomorrow’s election.

Lastly, she asked when Nigerians could expect to know the result of the elections.  This question arose because the case over the Osun State gubernatorial election had shown that there appeared to be some delays or discrepancies in the electronic transmission of data from the Bimodal Voter Accreditation System, with one set of data being given before the petition against the result of that election was filed, and another set of data being given several days later, after INEC said it had synchronised accreditation data.  This was apart from the provisions of the Electoral Act which allow INEC to set aside the results of any polling station within seven days if it determines that there has been any coercion or breach of the election regulations.  She asked whether we were being optimistic in expecting a result on Sunday, or should we take these other matters into account?

Ene said that she could not say because she is not INEC, but there are so many factors to be taken into account.  There had been the concern about hotspots, which the IGP had promised the security agencies would be waiting and monitoring the declaration of results.  However, INEC had set up its situation room at the International Conference Centre, and Civil Society would be there, watching at the collation centre.  She said that the good thing was that results could be tracked through the IREP portal, that everybody would be watching, and that it was to be hoped that the results would be out by Sunday or Monday.

She mentioned however, that there would be some issues, for example, the election to the Senate in Enugu State where the Labour Party candidate had been assassinated would be postponed and would now take place on the day fixed for the State elections, although the elections for the presidency and the other elections in that area would go ahead tomorrow.

She said that with the assurances that had been given, they were just hopeful, and that despite the hardships that Nigerians were going through, they would just have to struggle and change the leadership.

Ayo said that there was definitely going to be a change in the leadership as regards the Presidency, and that Ene was not the only one who was looking forward to Sunday, although there were still the State elections which – in her estimation – were often more visceral and person-to-person than National elections.

She encouraged civil society to live up to the mandate it had taken upon itself, and voters to go out and vote and thanked Ene for making time out of a very busy schedule to be our guest on IDEAs.

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