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VAPP and Widows’ Protest in Abuja

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Widows' Protest in Abuja

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

If there is any sign in recent times that proved beyond reasonable doubt that it is not yet a new dawn for widows in the country, it is the recent news report that some widows with placards of different inscriptions protested in front of the National Assembly over what they described as stigmatization against them due to some cultural practices.

Speaking on behalf of the women, the President of the Widows Support Network, Bibiana Okereafor, said that the stigmatization against widows in Nigeria is getting worse by the day. Despite being an old practice that should have been a thing of the past, it is painful that the widows in some states of the federation are still being denied access to properties and, in some cases, denied access to their own children without any known legal backing. Recently, in Anambra, a young woman was paraded naked after the death of her husband. They accused her of having extra-marital affairs, which they said caused the death of her husband. The lists are endless.

Indeed, as a people, we may quickly lament over this news and possibly condemn in the strongest terms the perceived perpetrators of such evil.  But if we can truly introspect, we can find out without labour that the above account is a sin we must all share in its guilt. No matter how long we live in denial, it remains a sin that cuts across ethnic/tribal diversities and religious inclinations. It predates the nation’s independence and remains nourished till the present time. We have, in one way or the other, violated women’s and children’s rights in the name of culture.

This absurdity persists despite the existence of the Child Rights Act coupled with the fact that on 25 May 2015, President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law the Violence Against Persons Prohibition (VAPP) bill into law. This is after the Senate had, on May 5 2015, passed the Violence against Persons (Prohibition) Act 2015 into law.

Among other provisions, the law prohibits female circumcision or genital mutilation, forceful ejection from the home and harmful widowhood practices. It prohibits abandonment of spouse, children and other dependents without sustenance, battery and harmful traditional practices. The VAPP provides a legislative and legal framework for the prevention of all forms of violence against vulnerable persons, especially women and girls.

The law also prohibits economic abuse, forced isolation and separation from family and friends, substance attacks, depriving persons of their liberty, incest, and indecent exposure, among others. It also intends to eliminate violence in private and public life and provides maximum protection and effective remedies for victims of violence and the punishment of offenders.

Looking at these spiralling provisions, the question that is as important as the law itself is; How far have we fared as a nation in keeping to these laws and their provisions?

While answer(s) to the above question is awaited, facts have also emerged from the referenced protest that the nation urgently needs a higher level of initiative and creativity to address and confront brutal forces against human rights violations in the country and secure the masses while revitalizing the nation’s political, justice, social and economic sectors.

The above revelation becomes more meaningful when one remembers that justice is more of external actions than interior emotions or passions; that it is rendering to each person what is properly his or hers, what is equal, fair and balanced in any relationship. And most importantly, we win justice quickest by rendering justice to the other person.

There is another thing quite closely related to this. The tendency to ignore this call is always high because while many will view it as a dangerous fiction without merit, others may see nothing wrong in those acts describing them as mere cultural practices.

Ironically, from what sociologists are saying, culture is that realm of ends expressed in art, literature, religion, and morals for which, at best, we live.

This definition, in the opinion of this piece, puts the denial of women’s rights to inheritance of late husband’s property at a direct opposite of culture.

Very instructive; also, one point most people who are hooked onto this act, particularly the violations of widows’ rights, fail to remember is that there is an amazing democracy about death. ‘It is not aristocracy for some of the people, but a democracy for all of the people. Kings die, and beggars die; rich men die, and poor men die; old people and young people die; death comes to the innocent, and it comes to the guilty- death is an irreducible common denominator of all men’’.

Indeed, it is always easy to observe that something is seriously wrong with our social system, and also very smooth to announce that this human tragedy is happening not by accident but by a programme of planned inequality; but very regrettably, it’s difficult to admit that we are all involved in this alliance for injustice.

To explain this fact, we as a people at different times and places have witnessed widows go through these social pangs and maintain silence.

Curiously, media practitioners have seen culture lately go the wrong way but assumed it’s the right thing; they watched the traditional rulers redefine culture in the image of their actions but viewed it as normal. The practitioners have overtly become more cautious than courageous in their reportage of wicked cultural practices.

This failure of the media to study the cultural failures and inform the masses has, in recent years, resulting in situations where traditional rulers persuaded their subjects to endorse and applaud cultural practices that were harmful to their lives and existence.

Civil Society Organizations (CSO) and faith-based groups, formerly known for educating the masses, no longer see themselves as problem-solvers or watchdogs of society. Rather, they now assume a high ground they do not understand, leaving the masses that initially depended on them confused.

The government has become the greatest culprit of these injustices against widows and other less privileged people by their inability to provide; good health care facilities, accessible and qualitative education, non-funding of social housing, non-availability of minimum wage protection for the widows, no welfare benefits for the poor and vulnerable people, no unemployment protection, no women shelters or adequate child care centres or laws that adequately defend the rights of widows.

To reverse this trend, the most important instrument to achieve this lies in the government’s willingness to fully domesticate and enforce the 1995 Beijing Declaration.

The declaration, among other things, upholds universal human rights and other international human rights instruments, in particular, the convention on the elimination of forms of discrimination against women, the convention on the rights of the child, as well as the declaration on the elimination of violence against women and the declaration on the rights to development. It also ensures the full implementation of the human rights of women and girl children as inalienable, integral and indivisible parts of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

It will also be rewarding if our school libraries are equipped with cultural materials so that students can carry out research and get valuable information that will help promote, protect and preserve our cultural objective for posterity.

While the media, the CSOs and faith-based groups are encouraged to speak against injustices, another urgent imperative for the government is to recognize that failure to take care of the widows, orphans and other less privileged will lead to many children being taken to the streets. And as we know, the streets are reputed for breeding all sorts of criminals and other social misfits who constitute the real threats in the forms of armed robbers, thugs, drug abusers, drunkards, prostitutes and all other social ills that give a bad name to society.

Bearing this in mind, our primary concern should be to work out modalities for instituting a reorientation plan that will erase the unpatriotic tendencies in us as well as usher in a robust nation.

If this change of heart is adopted in our society, it will not only herald something new that will help curb this inhuman act against vulnerable people but announces a civil society where justice and love shall reign supreme.

Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy) at Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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2023: SSENA And Atiku/Okowa’s Endorsement

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South-South Ethnic Nationalities Assembly SSENA

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

The venue of the event was lavishly decorated with different cultural regalia to impress, and it did impress. The event, which commenced at about 11 am at a location in Warri, Delta State, saw all present culturally kitted in their numbers, men and women alike. They sat in such a manner that the gathering could be mistaken for a celebration of cultural fiesta. They wore ample smiles and listened to the various speakers with disciplined attention but said little, even as the banter was exchanged at intervals.

Interestingly, the gathering was by no means a cultural fiesta but a meeting of the members of the South-South Ethnic Nationalities Assembly (SSENA), which comprises various regional groups, community leaders, activists, traditional titleholders, stakeholders, religious leaders, captains of industries, students, and think tanks from across the South-south geopolitical zone of Nigeria.

They gathered for a world press conference to, among others, endorse Atiku Abubakar and Ifeanyi Okowa for President and Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as their vehicle for achieving this objective.

Of all that I heard/observed, two need to be highlighted. First and very fundamental, the gathering acknowledged what has been on the mind of Nigerians: politics is about personal interest.

The second and very strategic is that the virtues and attributes of members all through the world press conference essentially suggest that the forthcoming February 25 and March 11, 2023, general elections in the country may be greeted with an ideological shift.

It was observed that Nigerians might be excused to cast their votes not based on pecuniary consideration or gains arising from a candidate’s deep pocket.

Rather, it will be largely a function of interest anchored on past records of performance (scorecards/political history and antecedents) of the political parties and that of their members angling for elective positions on the platform of the party.

There are many facts to back the above assertion.

First, while addressing the press on the kernel of the meeting, the National Coordinator of SSENA, Chief Favour Izoukumor, stated that with the 2023 general elections just weeks away, the peculiar challenges and the interest of the region is once again on the front burner, and there is a need to make a critical appraisal of the political parties, candidates, their manifestos, antecedents, leadership, and track records, as it affects the growth and development of South-South region over the past 62 years since independence.

To further establish insight on what informed the choice of Atiku/Okowa as candidates and PDP as a party, Izoukumor explained that the federal government under the PDP led by President Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military Head of State, through to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, provided extensive support to the South-South geo-political zone.

Presenting the scorecards of these past administrations and how the people of the South-South region benefited, Izoukumor pointed out that it was under the leadership of these great men (Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, and Jonathan) that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was created, 13% derivation fund was allocated to the oil-producing Niger Delta states, the Presidential Amnesty Program, the Niger Delta Ministry, the Nigerian Maritime University of Okerenkoko, the Federal Petroleum University, Effurun-Warri, the Federal University of Otuoke and many others were created.

These institutions and their policies were geared toward the development of the region. It is fair to say that the current peace and tranquillity in the Niger Delta is the product of the then-PDP-led federal government.

While the visitors, made up of journalists and other members of specialized groups, were trying to internalize, as well as compare notes as it affects the above claims, SSENA Coordinator again dished another set of reasons as to why the group is rooting for PDP as a party and Atiku/Okowa as their President and Vice Presidential candidates respectively.

He captures it this way; under the glaring performance of the then-PDP-led government, Nigeria regained its rightful place in the comity of nations as a leader of the African continent. The Universal Basic Education Programme (UBE) was established. PDP brought about astronomical growth of the Nigerian economy, with a 100% GDP growth from 3% to 6%; resuscitation of the national fertiliser companies in Kaduna and Onne (Rivers) as well as grew the excess crude oil account from a paltry sum of $2bn to $43bn, while managing to forge an $18bn debt relief deal with major creditor nations and groups, including the Paris Club.

The group furnished the media present with some examples. It reads; worthy of note is how the PDP considered the South-south region in the equation of Nigeria politics by making a minority ethnic nationality, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, a Vice-President and subsequently President of Nigeria. It was the highest political office attained by a minority from the South-South and went ahead to make him the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Under Jonathan’s formidable economic team, Nigeria’s economy was rebased for the first time in a decade, leading to the country’s emergence as the largest economy in the continent after overtaking South Africa.

SSENA boasted that even as the nation braces up for the 2023 general election, the PDP has again demonstrated its ‘organicness’ and love for minority groups by picking Ifeanyi Okowa from Delta State as the Vice-Presidential candidate.

Okowa, according to SSENA, symbolizes a bridge between the South-South and South-East. His adoption by the party was borne out of his sterling performance as a governor of Delta State. His giant strides are evident across the land and are visible to the blind and audible to the deaf. His landmark achievements in Delta State are evident, particularly in riverine communities, where his carefully thought-out programs and policies have created wealth for Deltans.

Still, on why they have thrown their weight behind PDP, the Group again fired; The PDP is known for talent hunting, and they have done it again by picking Okowa in this coming election. Presently, we believe this is the best for the South-South. There is no major political party other than the PDP and its candidate, Atiku Abubakar, that has shown interest in the S/S and the Nigerian people, and with his charisma and willpower to pull Nigeria out of the quagmire of hopelessness and to rescue it for a better and greater nation.

Advancing other reasons that are Atiku-specific, SSENA said; It is pertinent to recall that under the PDP government (1999 – 2007), during which Atiku Abubakar served as Vice President and also as Chairman of the National Economic Council (NEC) (from 1999-2011), Nigeria recorded the highest economic growth in history. In 2002, Nigeria recorded the highest GDP growth rate of 15.33%.

The PDP government initiated the fight against corruption through the establishment of anti-corruption agencies such as the EFCC and the ICPC. Under the PDP, Nigeria witnessed private-sector telecommunications, banking, and pension administration reforms. The PDP-led government paid off the foreign debts inherited by the civilian government.

The chronicles of PDP achievements over those years cannot be written without His Excellency Atiku Abubakar getting a prominent mention, both for his tireless effort as a backbone of the reforms and as chairman of the National Economic Council (NEC).

The Group insisted that Atiku Abubakar’s wealth of experience in private and public sectors gives him an edge over all rival candidates in the 2023 elections. They stressed that he had created thousands of direct and indirect jobs for Nigerians in his home state of Adamawa and other parts of the country, noting that Atiku has already pledged a whopping sum of $10 billion to small and medium-sized businesses to create jobs that will solve the unemployment crisis we face if elected president.

“He, Atiku again, promised to restructure Nigeria if elected president. We must recall that the critical demands of the people of the Niger Delta over the decades of marginalization have been restructuring and resource control, as were the cases during both CONFABs convened by former Presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan. One of the demands of the people of the Niger Delta presented to the Nigerian government was to restructure Nigeria so that the people of the Niger Delta would benefit from their God-given natural resources. We are aware that of all the candidates and political parties, only PDP’s Atiku has categorically promised Nigerians restructuring and resource control. We believe this will bring peace and transform the Nigerian economy, as it would galvanize all regions to explore their options and available resources for growth and better citizens’ lives. For the aforementioned reasons, we, the South-South Ethnic Nationalities Assembly, hereby endorse Atiku/Okowa PDP 2023 presidential ticket to rescue Nigeria.

To conclude, the organizers argued that their present action has a place in Nigerian political history; We looked at some of the defunct regional political party’s vis-a-vis NCNC and NPC, led by Nnamdi Azikiwe, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Alhaji Ahmadu Bello respectively, whose programs, economic and administrative policies favoured the minorities of Edo and Delta provinces (Defunct Midwest region and later Bendel State) and by extension the whole Niger Delta region. We recall that the first Prime Minister of Nigeria, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, saw the creation of the Mid-West region and, subsequently, the mid-West state, despite the resentment of some members of the political class during that time.

In a similar vein in the 4th Republic, the federal government under the PDP provided extensive support to the South-South geo-political zone, he concluded.

As the author, I have nothing to add!

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Policy) at the Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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February Elections: Nigerians Just Dey Play…

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Nigerians just dey play

By Prince Charles Dickson PhD

(‘A person is dead, but their spirit lives; if you poke the iris of their eye, they still come alive’)

Democracy has a dream-like character. It sweeps into the world, carried forward by an immense desire by humans to overcome the barriers of indignity and social suffering. When confronted by hunger or the death of their children, earlier communities might have reflexively blamed nature or divinity, and indeed those explanations remain with us today. But the ability of human beings to generate massive surpluses through social production, alongside the cruelty of the capitalist class to deny the vast majority of humankind access to that surplus, generates new kinds of ideas and new frustrations. This frustration, spurred by the awareness of plenty amidst a reality of deprivation, is the source of many movements for democracy.

Habits of colonial thought mislead many to assume that democracy originated in Europe, either in ancient Greece (which gives us the word ‘democracy’ from demos, ‘the people’, and kratos, ‘rule’) or through the emergence of a rights tradition, from the English Petition of Right in 1628 to the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in 1789. But this is partly a retrospective fantasy of colonial Europe, which appropriated ancient Greece for itself, ignoring its strong connections to North Africa and the Middle East, and used its power to inflict intellectual inferiority on large parts of the world. In doing so, colonial Europe denied these important contributions to the history of democratic change. People’s often forgotten struggles to establish basic dignity against despicable hierarchies are as much the authors of democracy as those who preserved their aspirations in written texts still celebrated in our time.

The large mass demonstrations that laid at the heart of these struggles were built up through a range of political forces, including trade unions – a side of history that is often ignored.

In much of the world (as in Brazil, the Philippines, and South Africa), it was trade unions that fired the early shot against barbarism. The cry in the Philippines ‘Tama Na! Sobra Na! Welga Na!’ (‘We’ve had enough! Things have gone too far! It’s time to strike!’) moved from La Tondeña distillery workers in 1975 to protests in the streets against Ferdinand Marcos’ dictatorship, eventually culminating in the People Power Revolution of 1986.

In Brazil, industrial workers paralysed the country through actions in Santo André, São Bernardo do Campo, and São Caetano do Sul (industrial towns in greater São Paulo) from 1978 to 1981, led by Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (now Brazil’s president). These actions inspired the country’s workers and peasants, raising their confidence to resist the military junta, which collapsed as a result in 1985.

Fifty years ago, in January 1973, the workers of Durban, South Africa, struck for a pay rise, but also for their dignity. They woke at 3 am on 9 January and marched to a football stadium, where they chanted ‘Ufil’ umuntu, ufile usadikiza, wamthint’ esweni, esweni usadikiza’ (‘A person is dead, but their spirit lives; if you poke the iris of their eye, they still come alive’). These workers led the way against entrenched forms of domination that not only exploited them, but also oppressed the people as a whole. They stood up against harsh labour conditions and reminded South Africa’s apartheid government that they would not sit down again until class lines and colour lines were broken.

The strikes opened a new period of urban militancy that soon moved off the factory floors and into wider society. A year later, Sam Mhlongo, a medical doctor who had been imprisoned on Robben Island as a teenager, observed that ‘this strike, although settled, had a detonator effect’. The baton was passed to the children of Soweto in 1976.

The above ranting, for me, captures the frenzy in the lead-up to the Nigerian General Elections next month; whoever it is, one supports amongst the three musketeers; the fact is that not much will change because Nigerians still dey play… The Nigerian worker is at a crossroads, there is a potpourri, people who want to see real change. He is the one that will play a crucial role in the general elections by exercising his right to vote and selecting the candidate who they believe will represent their interests and address the issues affecting their daily life. It is also important for workers to actively participate in election campaigns and advocate for their rights to be recognized and addressed by elected officials.

Sadly, at the other corner, countless corrupt Nigerian workers are engaging in unethical or illegal practices, such as embezzlement, bribery, or nepotism, for personal gain. This behaviour undermines the integrity of the workplace and can harm the reputation of the organization and, in this case (the Nigerian state) and the individual. It can also negatively impact the economy and society as a whole. The government and private sector have a responsibility to take measures to prevent and address corruption among workers.

But we dey play, the POS Operator is charging 2K for 20K if you want the new currency, no matter who wins the next election, we will remain the same because Nigerians contribute to over 50% of their sufferings, like play we fundamentally exploit our crisis against the common man. The #endsars movement looked close, but it lost steam and lacked leadership, and as such, the powers that be had loopholes to exploit and truth be told, we don’t seem ready for a movement.

Listening to Hugh Masekela’s ‘Stimela’ (‘Coal Train’), the 1974 song of migrant workers travelling on the coal train to work ‘deep, deep, deep down in the belly of the earth’ to bring up wealth for apartheid capital. I thought of the Durban industrial workers with the sound of Masekela’s train whistle in my ear, remembering Mongane Wally Serote’s long poem, Third World Express, a tribute to the workers of southern Africa and their struggles to establish a humane society.

– it is that wind

It is that voice buzzing

It is whispering and whistling in the wires

Miles upon miles upon miles

On the wires in the wind

In the subway track

In the rolling road

In the not silent bush

It is the voice of the noise

Here it comes

The Third World Express

They must say, here we go again.

‘Here we go again’, Serote wrote, as if to say that new contradictions produce new moments for struggle. The end of one crushing order will not herald a new beginning if we are not ready. It was the workers who brought us this democracy, and it will be workers who will fight to establish a deeper democracy yet. Here we go again, if the February elections will change our play mode—Only time will tell.

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2023 Elections: How Young People Will Choose Nigeria’s Fate

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2023 General Elections

By Tom Gomez

As the February 25 general election approaches, it has been announced that nearly 10 million new voters have been registered, with 84% of them being under the age of 34.

It appears that many young voters are eager to have a say in Nigeria’s future as the country struggles with insecurity, high living costs, and increasing poverty.

The chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Mahmood Yakubu, has said that the 2023 general election is ultimately an election for the young people in Nigeria.

With a large and growing population of young people, Nigeria is one of the world’s largest and most dynamic democracies, and its young voters are poised to shape the country’s political future in ways that few other groups can.

The INEC has stated that there are currently 93.4 million registered voters in Nigeria, out of which 37 million are young people between the ages of 18 and 34. The most recent data from the INEC suggests that Nigeria’s young voters could end up with a large democratic advantage which could give them the final say on the outcome of the election.

Many of Nigeria’s young voters feel that they have been robbed of their future due to severe poverty, high unemployment and rising inflation which is limiting the opportunities for young people in Nigeria.

There are several reasons why Nigeria’s young voters are likely to have a big impact on the election outcome.

Firstly, they are more likely to vote than older generations as more is at stake for them. According to recent surveys, young people are more politically engaged and more likely to participate in the electoral process. This increased political engagement is driven by a desire for change and a belief that their vote will make a difference, especially considering the plight of socio-economic conditions in Nigeria.

Young voters in Nigeria are more likely to support progressive candidates and policies. They are more likely to support candidates who are committed to addressing issues such as youth unemployment, education, and health care. These are issues that are of critical importance to young people and that have not been adequately addressed by previous governments. As a result, young voters are likely to support candidates who are seen as having the best plans for addressing these issues.

Nigeria’s young voters are more likely to be influenced by digital media and social media. In a country where traditional media outlets are often seen as partisan and unreliable, young people are turning to digital platforms to get their news and information.

The impact of the #EndSARS movement against police brutality was a turning point, and social media is actively being used to effect change and hold politicians accountable.

Yet, political campaigns do not appear to be targeted towards this demographic, despite the fact that candidates are more likely to reach young voters through digital channels.

The key contenders for the elections are all over the age of 60 and are largely seen as unappealing, especially to new voters who want to enact real change. Last year, the Nigerian Youth Union (NYU) advised young Nigerians to reject any presidential candidate over the age of 60.

As we enter the final weeks of the presidential candidate’s political campaigns, it is imperative that voter mobilisation efforts target Nigeria’s young population.

Achieving at least 60% voter turnout is necessary to reverse the trend of declining electoral turnout. Inclusive political participation is fundamental to ensure that the election outcome accurately reflects the will of the people.

A high voter turnout in the next election is vital in order to ensure that Nigeria’s democracy remains vibrant, inclusive, and representative of the interests of its citizens.

By turning out in large numbers, Nigerian voters can send a powerful message that they are committed to shaping the future of their country and that they will not be deterred from exercising their democratic rights.

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