By Adeyemi Adeleye, Lagos.
Prof. Pat Utomi, a renowned political economist, has expressed worries about alleged growing incivility and intolerance, ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Utomi, Convener of The BIG-TENT Coalition of Political Parties, Social Movements and Civil Society Organisations for Obi-Datti, voiced the concern at a news conference on Friday in Lagos.
Utomi, a former presidential candidate and founder of Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL), said that the Nigerian democracy was being threatened with a situation where opposition parties were denied public facilities to hold rallies in some states, ahead of the coming elections.
“The experiences of many, who understand the essence of democracy and who are participating in current elections, suggest a significant level of a collapse of civility, growing fascism and polarisation of the country by politicians unwilling or unable to focus on the issue.
“Since our return to democracy, a consortium of scholars and pollsters from here and across Africa has been polling and surveying attitudes regarding democracy and elections in Africa. They have offered us longitudinal data on the disposition of society to political life.
“Sadly, the data have showed continuously declining confidence in the democratic order in Nigeria.
“This trend may only possibly be reversed by the new excitement of the ‘Obidient Movement’, which has caused nearly 13 million new voters to register to vote in 2023 in Nigeria,” he said.
Describing Nigeria’s democracy as the collapse of civility, Utomi said that a situation where some state actors used public funds to oppress the opposition underlined the need to save the nation’s democracy from its enemies.
According to him, his campaign experience has equally witnessed intimidation of landlords, religious centres and traditional institutions for allowing the opportunity to use some of their facilities to hold rallies.
“My experience with campaign of 2023, though marked by the sense of hope from excitement about the organic push of the Obi/Datti movement, is that there has been a drastic decline in civility on the part of many politicians and a crystallisation of cleavage to paint that Nigeria can be getting pushed into a class war that could destabilise our sub-region and push us into anarchy.
“It is imperative we move to reduce incivility in our democracy.
“Our democracy is on a downward slide for some time now. It is important that when we see a frightening threat, we should speak up. I have seen a frightening threat of intolerance,” he said.
Utomi, a former Director of Lagos Business School, called on Nigerians to vote against political parties, which were intimidating other parties or preventing democracy from working, in 2023.
According to him, there is a need for Nigerian citizens to hold people in public office in accountable.
Utomi said that as a presidential candidate in 2007, he visited all states of the federation, campaigning without intimidation, describing the current happenings as counter-productive.
“Classic examples include preventing opposition from using public venues for rallies, destroying posters and billboards of the opposition and intimidating landlords from letting out buildings to the opposition.
“The experience in Delta has been the most scandalous, where even churches and traditional rulers describe the government as so vindictive; they could not risk allowing the opposition to use their facilities.
“This compares so poorly to my experience, campaigning in 2007, when a governor from an opposing party thought our cars could not survive the roads and gave us the use of SUVs from the Government House.
“Or even the experience of the 1960s when Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief H.O Davies would go out to campaign for their two different parties and in the evening, one would drive up to the home of the other and pick him up to go to play tennis and have a glass of beer after.
“Unless we can restore our democracy to rational public conversation or what Waziri Ibrahim would call ‘politics without bitterness’, the polarisation of politics can be the doom of all,” he said.
According to him, it is, therefore, important that the Nigerian people should save their country by ensuring that they kept persons, who lacked character away from politics.
Stating that 2023 marked his 50 years in active activism since 1973, Utomi said that citizens were just waking up to their duties, “but I don’t think they are doing enough.”
According to him, despite the fact that INEC stopped the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) too early, over 12 million Nigerians were able to register to participate in the election.
“If INEC has not stopped the registration of CVR, I am sure we would have gotten about 20 million new registered voters,” he said.
Decrying the level of insecurity in the country, Utomi called for the decentralisation of the nation’s security architecture.
He said: “We can have multi-layer policing that will make police more effective. Why don’t we have a proper conversation around this, instead of name-calling?”
He bemoaned the nation’s economic challenges, describing them as self-inflicted.
Utomi said that if the nation moved from consumption to production, the economic situation of the country would change dramatically.
The Big Tent coalition has canvassing support for the presidential candidate of Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi and his running mate, Dr Datti Baba-Ahmed.