'You always defend those who rigged elections,' Wike tackles Ozekhome


Wike and Ozekhome

The Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Mr Nyesome Wike, on Thursday berated activist and lawyer, Mike Ozekhome over failure to acknowledge that Nigeria has made some progress since the return of democracy to the country 25 years ago.

Wike spoke in Abuja at the second edition of This Nigeria’s lecture and award event themed “25 Years of Unbroken Democracy: Challenges, Prospects, and Possibilities.”

Ozekhome had in his lecture said democracy as practiced in Nigeria in the past 25 years has has not meet the expectations of Nigerians.

He noted that the generation born during this period had no experience of military juntas and repressive regimes.

He called for a new constitution that would reflect the will of the people and for electoral reforms to ensure free and fair elections.

He said democracy are not being practiced in the country in the real sense of people electing those they wanted to lead them.

According to him, votes are not allowed to count in the country. “It is when these happen that you can say the people have elected or selected their leaders. The people become the dog, and those elected become the tail. The tail cannot wag the dog.”

Ozekhome lamented the current situation of things under President Bola Tinubu.

He noted that, “Nigerians are suffering. Nobody should deceive the president. There is mass poverty, degradation, and anger in the land. Don’t let your minders tell you otherwise. Disguise yourself one night, go out, and see the anger and hunger in the land. People are angry because fuel jumped from N192 per litre to between N650 and N800. Small-scale industries, usually the hub of a country, are virtually dead. Who can buy fuel to power a small generator to do barbing?

“The government must look at this, block all loopholes, and cut the large size of government, which is too large and wasteful. We must do away with long convoys. Our convoys are too long. There is a way to empathise with people. We shouldn’t go about buying more aircraft and more vehicles in a country already bleeding economically.”

But Wike disagreed with Ozekhome as he noted that Nigeria has made some progress in 25 years of practising democracy. He noted that Ozekhome himself has admitted that Abuja under the President Tinubu administration had worn a new look.

“The lecturer, Professor Ozekhome, my friend, has made some points, but it will be wrong to sit here without correcting some impressions. First of all, we are talking about 25 years of democracy; we know we have challenges. I expected the lecturer to say, ‘Yes, we have made some progress.’ But throughout his lecture, not one progress was mentioned. It was just criticism, criticism, and criticism. Are you telling me that for 25 years, we have not made any progress? If we have, then we can say yes, we have made this progress, but there is still room for us to move forward. Just like Shehu Sani said about how they were locked up, can he say that under this democracy, that Nigerians have found themselves in the same situation and that there is no progress?”

“Advancements such as improvements in infrastructure in the FCT and proactive efforts in the current administration to restore hope among citizens,” he said.

“Mr. President knows there is a problem; that is why he launched the Renewed Hope Agenda because he knows we have lost hope, but he must work hard to bring back hope for Nigerians. It is not like Mr. President just sits down, and people deceive him. Who does not know that Nigerians are suffering? That is no longer a story, and we should know the difference between theory and practice.”

In conclusions, Wike faced Ozekhome and asked point blank, “About rigging elections, as an activist, how many times have you rejected briefs? You have always defended those who have rigged the elections.”

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Also reacting to assertions by Senator Shehu Sani, a discussant at the lecture, Wike said, “The mere fact that you people were activists does not mean you will do well. Activists have always failed. When you were in the Senate, how did we perform as senators?”

Sani, a former senator and an activist, reflected on the challenges faced by activists and leaders in the struggle for democracy and underscored the sacrifices and injustices endured during those tumultuous times.

He highlighted the importance of perseverance and collaboration in striving for democratic ideals.

Prof. Abiodun Adeniyi of Mass Communication, Department, School of Postgraduates Studies, Baze University, said that democracy “requires constant effort and the responsibility of citizens is to work towards a better democratic system.

“American democracy, often seen as the bastion of democracy, has been around for centuries but still faces challenges.

“While it is one of the most functional and referenced democracies, it is not the best.

“Our election processes are marred by controversies and violence.

“We need to improve gender representation and ensure inclusivity in governance, reflecting the true nature of democracy.

“To strengthen our democracy, we need to focus on election integrity, credible leadership and systemic change.

“Corruption remains a persistent problem and our institutions are weak.

“We need a synergy to build a self-regulating democratic system, not give up and continually strive for more democracy”.

The publisher of ThisNigeria, Mr Eric Osagie, said that the 2024 edition celebrated and critically examine Nigeria’s quarter-century of uninterrupted democratic governance, discussing its prospects and possibilities.

Osagie said that the Gold Prize Awards were presented to individuals who had demonstrated outstanding contributions to the nation’s democratic development.

“Our 2024 Awardees are persons who made the critical difference in the discharge of their duties with uncommon zeal and commitment to the common good of the citizens and the country,” he said.

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