Despite the firm prohibition against it in the constitution, discrimination has become institutionalized in Nigeria and the immediate past administration of Muhammadu Buhari showed how deeply unsettled the notion of equal citizenship in Nigeria is, Professor Chidi Odinkalu has said.
Speaking on Wednesday at the 2023 Annual Lecture of the Abuja based organisation, Just Friends Club of Nigeria, Odinkalu said Nigerians are polarized along a multiplicity of lines and it is increasingly difficult to find or celebrate or protect the human being outside these instrumentalised and narrow epithets.
“Disenfranchisement has become a mechanism for access to and retention of power,” he said. “At the heart of everything, citizenship is in crisis in Nigeria and that crisis in turn cascades into and derives from an underlying crisis of nation-building.”
Odinkalu, who said Nigeria’s diversity should be seen as a positive resource and not a curse, added that Nigeria’s leaders have, for the most part, failed to transcend the narrownesses inherent in this diversity.
“I believe that Nigeria is greater and better than the sum of its individual parts but understand that achieving this coherent whole remains a promise as yet unrealised,” he said. “I argue that the synergies inherent in a big country like Nigeria offer greater long-term prospects to all within it than the risks and inefficiencies in smaller territories. Harnessing these prospects, however, requires vision and leadership of the sort that the country has historically not been blessed with on a significant scale.”
Saying a far-reaching re-modelling of the architecture leadership, participation and inclusion is needed, Odinkalu noted blamed failure of leadership for the victims of Nigeria’s many citizenship crises. He said the the avoidable tragedies should inspire the current generation of the country’s leadership to prioritise citizenship as the project of our next half-century.
“The consequences of not doing so may be too difficult to imagine,” he said. “The only way to avoid those consequences is to come to terms with reality that the country needs to be re-setting. That re-setting, however, must begin with attention to the political values that underpin coexistence in the country.”
President of the Just Friends Club, Fred Ohwahwa said the event marked the beginning of a series of events to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the club.
“In the next few months we shall be carrying out a lot of activities in this regard,” he said. “Our club has been growing in leaps and bounds, especially in the current year. For the first time, we now have women as members. We have also expanded in terms of the ages of members and their geographical places of origin.
“This is the fifth annual lecture by our club. We began holding our lectures in 2014, a year after the formation of the club. Mr. Benjamin Dikki, the then Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises was our guest speaker. He spoke on the “Federal Government Privatization and Economic Reform Programme”. Since then, we have had the President of the Abuja Chamber of Commerce, Mr. Tony Ejinkeonye, speak on business opportunities and challenges in the Federal Capital Territory; the former Director General of the Debt Management Office, Dr. Abraham Nwankwo in 2019 delivered a paper on Nigeria’s debt burden and the challenge of infrastructural deficit in the country. Last year, 2022, the highly cerebral Reverend Father George Ehusani delivered a lecture on: “Beyond the 2023 Elections: That Nigeria May Be Saved”.
Ohwahwa said the topic of the lecture, “Resetting Nigeria” was most appropriate because Nigeria requires resetting. “Be it in infrastructural development, educational sector, health, internal security, the economy, our politics, our value systems,” he said. “We need to reset ourselves at the individual, communal, corporate and government levels. We need a rebirth as a people. Otherwise, we will keep wallowing in the doldrums.
“There are new governments in place at the Federal and State levels. They have a historical opportunity to seize the initiative and make a positive difference in the lives of the people. Will they rise to the demands of these times? Time will tell.”
Ohwahwa said the Just Friends Club, apart from the Public Lecture Series, places a lot of emphasis on reaching out to the needy. “We have visited Old Peoples Home in Kado, Orphanages in Gwarinpa, Karu, Kuje; children with disabilities in Kubwa and Anawim Home in Gwagwalada run by Catholic nuns,” he said.
“In 2021, we paid the exam fees for indigent students in Government Secondary School, Jabi. Lat year March, we had a Career Talk Day with senior students of Government Secondary School, Life Camp here in Abuja.”