Home / News / Local / Elections can unite or disintegrate a country, Conference declares; Calls for creation of Nigerian Diaspora Affairs Ministry
Kanu Agabi (SAN)

Elections can unite or disintegrate a country, Conference declares; Calls for creation of Nigerian Diaspora Affairs Ministry

Dr. Hakeem Baba Ahmed
Prof. Mondy Gold, President, Nigerian Diaspora Forum

Elections conducted properly will promote unity and true democracy whereas poorly conducted polls generally result in violence, instability, mercenary activity and ultimately, the disintegration of a nation.

This is the position of participants in an International Conference on Economic Democracy in Nigeria, held on Saturday, June 24, 2023, and addressed by such personalities as Sir Kanu Agabi, SAN, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Princess Amina Zakari, former Acting Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Amb. (Dr.) Godknows Igali, former Nigerian Ambassador to the Scandinavian countries and Amb. (Dr.) Hakeem Baba Ahmed, spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum and a former Secretary of INEC.

The Conference, organised by the Prof. Mondy Gold-led Nigerian Diaspora Forum insisted that only sustainable and credible elections can guarantee good governance and ensure sustainable unity as well as economic democracy.

There were robust discussions of the such issues as the vision of the founding fathers of the country, the 2023 elections, the unity of Nigeria and nation building with many noting the need to address corruption, insecurity and the question of the restructuring of the country.

Among others, the Conference recommended the creation of a special ministry for the Nigerian Diaspora, known as the Ministry of Nigerian Diaspora Affairs.

Full text of the communique reads:

International Conference on Economic Democracy in Nigeria

Saturday, June 24, 2023

The Conference

The following communique was issued at the conclusion of the International Conference on Economic Democracy in Nigeria held on Saturday, June 24, 2023. The event was organized by the Global Nigeria Diaspora Forum, the Collaborative Council of Nigerians Abroad, and their other partners which include the International Institute of Experts on Political Economy and Administration, Friends of Democracy, and African Diaspora for Good Governance in the United States. The multiple stakeholders synergized (collaborated) in organizing this conference alone, which is rather intimidating and superimposing underscore the weight and importance which could a priori be attached to this conference.

The conference was moderated by Dr. Ebiere Okorodas a globally recognized lawyer, environmentalist and diversity rights’ activist based in United Kingdom and Dr. Kelechi Lawrence a molecular pharmacologist, and the founding president of the Delaware Africa Coalition and current chairman of the Delaware African and Caribbean Affairs Commission.

The conference Keynote Speaker was Sir Kanu Agabi, SAN. He is a man of great philosophical, ethical, and metaphysical worth. He is also a highly reverred High Chief of Northern Cross River State, but more than that, has served severally in various capacities rising to become the Attorney General of Nigeria twice and in other spheres of our national life. The opening guest speaker was Hajia Princess Amina Zakari, former Acting Chairman of INEC. Amb. (Dr.) Godknows Igali, former Nigerian Ambassador to the Scandinavian countries, Special Adviser to Obasanjo and Yaradua on Niger Delta, Secretary, BOT of Pan-Niger Delta Forum, Pro Chancellor of Federal University of Technology Akure, and recently appointed as Alternate Chairman, Committee of Pro Chancellors of Federal Universities served as one of the special guest speakers. His colleague and brother Amb. (Dr.) Hakeem Baba Ahmed was also one of the special guest speakers. Amb. (Dr.) Hakeem Baba Ahmed is the nationally recognized spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum, a former Secretary of INEC, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is one of Nigeria’s highly rated public intellectuals.

Opening Remarks

In his opening remarks, the President of the Nigerian Diaspora Forum, Prof. Mondy Gold stated that there are millions of people who believe that Nigeria is currently facing major challenges due to insecurity and extreme poverty at a time of unparalleled prosperity. He said Nigeria has not allocated the limited resources in a way that reduces environmental degradation, civil unrest, and emigration while creating an environment conducive to foreign direct investment and enhancing economic development.

He concluded by saying that in order to lessen the country’s growing wealth gap and allow all areas an equal opportunity to own, manage, and benefit from productive capital or natural resources. A political democracy cannot stably rest and support itself on an economic plutocracy that is sponsored by the state. True economic democracy cannot exist without democratically elected authorities who will guide it in the direction of the “public interest.”

Discussions

Participants discussed a wide variety of topical issues.

On the vision of Nigeria’s founding fathers, participants noted as follows:

The choice of our theme for conversation today is quite timely and apt considering that Nigeria is at the threshold of a new reality coming at the aftermath of the 2023 elections. The maturation of our democracy hinges on our ability to promote sustainable unity, economic democracy, economic justice, respect for the rule of law, respect for the peculiarities of our diversity, environmental justice and promotion of equity and fairness.
The problems are the result of long-standing and structural economic disparities that have prevented some groups from having an equal opportunity to succeed. Ignoring problems or delaying difficult decisions only serves to delay the inevitable and can ultimately have much more detrimental effects. But if we face harsh truths head-on and make difficult decisions quickly, we may be able to take control of our situation and strive toward a better outcome.
The pursuit of human development indices in a sustainable manner helps the affected nations to grow with the mind of creating a right environment for succeeding generations of its citizens. For a country like Nigeria, therefore, the discourse on sustainability covers all aspects of our existence as a nation.
The roles played by the founding fathers for us to stay together as united, peaceful, and progressive Nigerians regardless of the different historical cultural, linguistic and religious realities must be appreciated and further aligned with the wisdom of the founding fathers of our country. The way to have a country which will breed oneness but at the same time, recognise the individual identity of component parts is by adoption of federalism and regionalism.
The nation is endowed with natural resources and all parts of the country have all manners of mineral resources. For us to become once more a fully productive society, the whole concept of resource control which encouraged productivity and output should not be jettisoned at all levels of government.
The most basic survival needs of the people of the nation must be maximized, and leaders must do whatever is necessary to ensure that they live their life to the fullest, which is the basis for economic justice, social wellbeing, economic development, and sustainability of resources, and therefore, call for restructuring of the country.
The correlation and overlap between political democracy and economic democracy and the need for balanced growth of the economy and its fair distribution enables the citizenry to live in optimal physical wellbeing as well as social and emotional peace. It is therefore incumbent in the case of Nigeria for the political leaders to focus more closely on the economic development of the country and promotion of growth and productivity.
The need for economic justice at the broader levels calls for ensuring that there is level playing field for all parts of the country to put in their best. This will mean that all the all the various regions will be encouraged to compete on healthy grounds, retain what they produce and contribute percentages as constitutionally agreed.
The prevalence of so many poor people is a great threat to a healthy democracy and as the saying goes, “a rich man in the midst of so many poor people is himself a poor man.” Accordingly, besides palliatives there must be conscious efforts in the administration to bridge the gap between the poor and the rich by creating more inclusive programs to take the millions of people out of poverty.
Sub-nationals have responsibilities in ensuring that economic potentials in their states are properly managed and developed for the optimal benefit of their citizens and the country. In the case of mineral resources which are untapped, production and cost sharing mechanisms could be worked out by a Special Purpose Vehicle between the Federal Government and the States.
On the 2023 General Elections, participants agreed that:

Elections can be conducted in certain ways to promote long-term unification and economic   democracy. Without additional justification, elections are a tool for achieving democracy when conducted properly. On the other hand, poorly run elections can result in violence, instability, mercenary activity, and ultimately the disintegration of a nation.

National or sub-national elections have a role in economic democracy and sustainable unity and economic development and sustainability cannot be ignored.
The Electoral Act 2022, a repeal and enactment of the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) brought about changes not envisaged by most politicians contesting and those managing the parties. The electoral bill was assented to by former President Muhammadu Buhari, barely a week before the timelines for commencing the electioneering process. The parties and their members hardly studied the Act before the electoral timetable was released by Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). This heated the polity and parties used various corner-cutting techniques to conduct their primaries within the period allowed by law.
The Electoral Act 2022 provides for a year of electioneering. This was meant to give INEC enough time to prepare for elections and to mitigate the usual postponement of elections. On the downside, the process took too long and shut down governance for the better half of the year 2022. On the upside, it allowed Nigerians to know their candidates and make informed decisions. It also allowed candidates to embark on issue-based campaigns despite the ethnic and religious politics peddled around by some groups.
The ill-timed Naira re-design policy and gross shortage of currency almost affected the conduct of elections, and it did not fully achieve the main objectives of the policy (basically to reduce the influence of money in politics), because politicians still had means of disbursing largesse to the voters, but to a lesser extent. The cash crunch did affect voter turnout as people were more concerned with their day-to-day survival than partaking in the elections, and it also affected parties’ ability to ‘mobilize’ voters and agents, thereby we had one of the lowest voter turnouts in recent history-a with mere 26.72%.
The leadership of INEC made promises that they could not be fulfilled. Mainly the failure of the result portal IREV to upload results in real-time. They did not inform the public of the portal failure in good time, and it raised suspicion. The expectation of Nigerians, especially the youth that were drawn to the deployment of technology and were fully mobilized was not met and managed. The promise of the functionality of the BVAS raised expectations and citizens’ mandate protection was jettisoned for technology. How well INEC managed voter education and acquainted the public with the electoral process on how winners emerge was a major issue.
There are external factors and other not-so-apparent factors affected the general elections. Opinions about the 2023 elections have been formed depending on which side one belongs to. On a positive note, the 2023 elections threw up surprises, and for the first time in our recent electoral history, we have eight parties in Parliament. This has gone a long way to define how our democracy has evolved.
On sustainable unity, participants observed that:

Only sustainable and credible elections can guarantee good governance and ensure sustainable unity as well as economic democracy.
Some states have plural and diverse groups like the federation, and these are delicately balanced through rotational leadership in those states and at all levels of electoral seats. For example, Bayelsa state rotates every legislative seat and hardly has there been a returning member of NASS (except for Seriaki Dickson). This rotation and shift in power ensures all parts of the states are included in governance. Current issues on inclusivity for gender and persons with disability also lend credence to the same. It also ensures dividends of democracy are experienced across the state.  Power is distributed more evenly, and decision-making processes are inclusive. Economic and political power is not concentrated in the hands of a few or a section.
While the need for restructuring is no longer debatable, the federal system of governance to a larger extent fits our diversity and pluralism. It allows subnational structures to experiment and innovate to suit their socio-economic status. States and LGAs command about 44% of the accrued funds to the federation account, plus their IGR, which in some cases like Lagos surpasses the statutory allocations to the state. Federalism provides broader wealth distribution and shared decision-making.
Local autonomy and decentralization contribute to the stability of democratic governance because governments are closer to the people, and it removes the risk of authoritarian governance and delayed decision-making. A stable democratic governance ensures a more equitable participatory and stable economic system for an overall greater socio-economic well-being and there should be no abrupt policy changes and surprises.
On revisiting Nigeria & nation building, participants raised pertinent questions and noted:

Do you honestly believe that our leaders are committed to creating a functional Nigeria considering the egregious abuse of the law by those in positions of authority and the systemic weakening of its own democratic institutions due to corruption, the Learned SAN asked with all seriousness. What has brought us to where we are? Why is life more insecure now? Why do we have more of the poor? Do we truly want to keep this nation going? Which Nigeria do you desire? How do you address the issue of economic democracy? Why do we have so much hatred?
There is nothing wrong with saying that the system cannot function if we wanted to continue, how should we continue, or if we don’t want it to continue. People have started to believe that saying that this country is coming to an end is virtually heresy. Why can’t we inquire as to whether we are permitted to return to Nigeria as intended by our founding fathers? There has been much discussion on whether we should stay in one country or separate ourselves and choose our own paths. Therefore, we must accept that bringing up topics or questions concerning the necessity of revisiting Nigeria is neither heresy nor a crime.
There is no denying that Nigeria’s structure is problematic. There are serious issues with how our systems work and our value systems are ineffective. Our system for selecting leaders is inefficient. These are all significant concerns that aid in determining if the nation’s principles and priorities require realignment. 90% of the populace, in our judgment and understanding, will say they want to live in a country that has been thoroughly rebuilt. Our understanding is that 90% of citizens will declare their desire to live in a well-reconstructed nation.
Nigerians work in agriculture and live off the land to a large extent, making it our most precious resource and the backbone of our economy. Oil, gas, manufacturing, and the rest are undoubtedly vital as well, but agriculture is the one industry that can make us a wealthy country. We are neglecting this industry in favor of short-term benefits, which is one of the reasons why there is so much corruption in the way we run our affairs.
This country needs to be secure, and that should be a top priority because, if corruption can be eradicated, robbers and kidnappers will pose less of a threat. It is on record that every Monday, unidentified individuals in the southeast shut down all five of the nation’s states. The South-East is the nation’s industrial center, so this behavior must end. This is because if the South-East is shut down, the entire nation is effectively shut down. We cannot allow the deterioration and collapse occurring in the South-East to continue because it is a national issue. Additionally, banditry and kidnapping must be addressed because these criminal groups are harming agricultural activities in the northern part of the country.
The Nigerian Diaspora is home to men and women of integrity who can lead some of these state institutions and successfully restructure them, but the proper individuals are rarely assigned to these crucial positions. Living in places that embody all the qualities Nigeria so obviously lack at the moment must be incredibly challenging, but thousands are thriving and contributing meaningfully to the success of their various countries of domicile.
Nigeria has more positive aspects than bad ones. Consider what we are doing today; while we encourage individuals to ask their questions politely and without excessive blathering, many people choose not to do so, we nevertheless want other people to do so. Be the change you want to see, President Obama advised. Because we are or can be leaders, let’s demonstrate the behaviors we encourage in our leaders.
The interest that our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora have shown and continue to show in the development of the nation is worthy of commendation. Our duty as Nigerians is to stand by the nation. Wherever we may be and whatever we may be doing.
Illusions and the predominance of money are traits of our democracy. Many Nigerians have been denied chances as a result, but we must remain optimistic. Now, to genuinely address these issues, we must take a brief look at the past in order to try to understand how they came to be. Many people were murdered and assassinated. That was disgusting. That heinous act still haunts us. We still haven’t apologized for that monstrosity.
It was in error. At the time, we had four states or areas, and that caused a conflict. We went from 4 states to 12 states from 18 to 24. We now have 774 local governments and area councils spread throughout 36 states. And each time we increase the number of states needed, we create those shortages by assigning unqualified individuals to positions of authority. That is where Nigeria’s problems began. The appointment of unqualified individuals to very high positions, which has continued to this day, is a problem.
A resident of Bayelsa State should be able to work in Kaduna State without restrictions due to birthplace, and a Kogi man should be allowed to live and serve as a local government chairman in Imo State just because he is a Nigerian. It is wrong when a resident of Lagos State is not permitted to work in Zamfara State. Our state borders are hostile to both democracy and growth. Labor is immobile, and as long as it is immobile in our nation, corruption and inefficiency will persist.
Although we are a united people, we haven’t made enough progress toward industrialization. We need to stop viewing the country as an artificial construct. Stop vilifying the nation as a man-made construct and claiming that the British created this nation for administrative ease. Whatever it is, working together as Christians and Muslims, we are better off from east to west, north to south. We ought to be that kind of a country. And even though certain people continue to divide the country for extremely selfish motives, we do accept one another. Be optimistic about the nation.
We reached the point in this country when corruption permeated every department of our national life. Drivers are corrupt in their own way, mechanics were corrupt in their own way, and it is the same thing with accountants, nurses, doctors, lawyers, and teachers. A wise government must know how to use corruption as we call it to move forward.
This country has good laws, but do we have good people to enforce the laws. Why don’t we have the good people to enforce the laws? We don’t have the good people to enforce the laws precisely because to begin with, we are not giving the right education to our young people. The education that we give to them does not equip them for life. It is theoretical. It doesn’t teach them the use of their hands. The nation must be able to give the right education to hire young people if we are going to make them a part of our group of ethical leaders.
If we are going to be moving forward, we must be self-reliant, and we will never be self-reliant if our borders remain open for importation of the goods of other nations. If you go to our shops, you will find that more than 70 or 80% of the goods in those shops are imported. We must produce for ourselves the goods that we need and as much as possible. Do without those that we cannot produce. Unless we shot our borders and unless we reduce imports, and we can reduce imports by even up to 70 or 80%.
In this country, of course, there are divisive tendencies and there is really a need for a powerful president who can bind the nation together. If that power is not utilized. It will have the ultimate effect of dividing the nation and that is what is happening. All that power that is vested in one person is not being used to unite the nation as it was intended.
We are operating a presidential system and it means that all power is vested in one person. It is a dictatorship under the Constitution. The governors destroy these structures for accountability. The governors are not accountable. The governors dictate who will be the chairman of the council who will be a member of the House of Assembly or a member of the House of Representatives or even the Senate. That’s not good for the nation. We have to find a way to reduce the power of the State Governors.
At the end of the thought-provoking deliberations, participants recommended that:

The people of Nigeria need stronger and more independent Election Management Body (EMB) (e. g. INEC) whose members are appointed impartially and who maintain high-level integrity and stay above board.
The structure of the EMB should reflect its numerous functions and there should be greater supervision of its staff especially in the states and LGAs to ensure proper policy implementation.
The Nigerian government should develop and implement an Economic Democracy Policy.
The Nigerian President should create a special ministry for the Nigerian Diaspora known as the Ministry of Nigerian Diaspora Affairs.
There should be more robust civil society oversight in all aspects of governance – elections, political party activities, anti-corruption, social intervention, and gender/PWD inclusiveness matters amongst others.
There should be stronger scrutiny of appointments to ensure only persons of integrity run the affairs of the EMB and the nation in general.
A strong judicial system that protects individual and collective rights, ensuring timely justice, with consistent, impartial judgments. Or better still have a special court system to adjudicate on electoral matters for speedy dispensation of justice.
There should be financial inclusion where all members of the society access financing and economic well-being through reforms in the banking and other financial institutions. Staff in sensitive assignments like INEC should be well compensated.
There should be a disincentive to government appointments by making them unattractive through opening private sector alternatives with the right regulatory apparatus in place.
A more serious anti-corruption fight should be in place and appropriate sanctions given promptly.
Political parties should be strengthened and there should be a transparent selection of candidates, closer scrutiny and possible blacklisting of candidates should also be considered if found wanting in any aspect, most especially corruption charges.
There is much advocacy on the return to Uwais committee report on the need to unbundle INEC to create a separate Political party management agency.
State and subnational governments should be strong, effective, and less corrupt. They must be able to maintain sound IGR and provide an enabling environment to create wealth and employment.
State governments should conduct regular transparent LGA elections, providing a level playing field for all categories of aspirants, and not concentrate power in the ruling party in the state. Involving the public in budgeting (participatory budgeting) is a best practice that can be adopted at the LGA level, to ensure only desirable projects and programs are implemented.
There should be a well-structured news department by INEC to ensure the accuracy of information before it goes to the public. INEC should also make effective use of social media in as many languages as possible for wider dissemination of news.
The Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission and the National Economic Council should be reviewed in line with the underpinnings of economic democracy.
Nigeria is not only the largest economy and political democracy in Africa but has the potentials of becoming a world power if the present efforts are sustained over time. Consistency of policy implementation is the key word.
The body politics of the country must operate based on the rule of law and social justice and economic justice. These are the basic ingredients for promoting unity which can be sustained on the middle and long run.
Many politicians have had their fair share of disseminating half-truths as facts, including hate speech. This has consistently heated the polity, and there must be legally appropriate sanctions in the future.
The commitment to economic democracy must go beyond lip service to the actual implementation of targets, goals, and objectives which will promote a widely productive society. It is the level of productivity that will trickle down to have an impact on the GDP or the actual rise in the standard of living of the citizens.  Is this possible?  Yes, we can.
We must move away from the winner takes all politics, by making winning parties institute governments of unity (like in 1999 when we needed to heal the polity), or better still introduce representation, our democracy will thrive better.
If any group or part of the country is saying let’s revisit Nigeria, what that simply means is putting the nation on the table and asking if this entity should still go on as currently structured. If yes, how should it go on? What should we tinker with? What do we need to fix? What is broken? We don’t have a lot of time to do this because we are as bad as it can possibly be. We must fully restructure Nigeria and we have to do that in the next 1 to 2 years or before the end of the next administration.
We may not solve all the issues now, but there are a few of them, such as the electoral process, where the leadership selection process must be addressed immediately.
We must prioritize inclusion and the fight against corruption and find a way to get people to sit down together and find answers to some of these questions. We need to fix the electoral process in such a way that it doesn’t consistently and permanently damage our political process.
We must have sustained good governance. The next few years are going to be very critical. We must restore the faith of the citizens and insist that in the next 6, 9 months, they must pay substantial attention to all the fundamental issues as presented above.
Regardless of the degree of instability, unemployment, or poverty, corruption is the evil that is killing Nigeria and it is doing so in a way that is causing all our institutions, structures, systems, and ideals to retreat and crumble. Thus, we must make the fight against corruption our top priority throughout the course of the next one to two years.
As a country, we may not be able to exist for the next 4 or 8 years if we continue, so we must address the constraints to our democratic system and economic growth. There can be no more business as usual, and it is untrue to believe that by electing new governors, presidents, and National Assembly members, we can significantly lower the degree of poverty and insecurity. Nigeria will endure, but not based on the way our current political system is run. Regardless of political affiliation or geography, we need to hire true, genuinely honest people and put them in control of sensitive institutions like those fighting corruption. They must be the kind of people who are impervious to corruption. We can no longer allow someone who is corrupt or who has the potential to be corrupt to run government organizations.
Our democracy is over half a century old but still crawling like an infant. We eagerly await the day when we will be adult enough to consider everyone as equals citizens and not merely as money senders. Political Zone 7 should be established for the Nigerian Diaspora, giving it the same benefits and rights as the other six political zones.
The 56 men who signed the articles for declaration of independence of the United States of America paid dearly some with their lives. Patriotism takes belief, commitment, and some to the extent of martyrdom. Let’s rather look at areas of cooperation between the Nigerians at home and diaspora to combat the endemic state capture so well outlined by Senior Advocate Kanu Agabi in the corruption-laden systemic collapse Nigeria is facing.
We are not going to be able to save the nation by pouring scorn on her as many of us have been doing for many years now. The future of the nation shall be determined by us, and our own salvation can only come from within. We must develop confidence in ourselves. Let others feel free to indict and stigmatize the nation. Our duty is to stand by her!
We must take pride in the nation. We must be concerned about what we sometimes say about Nigeria. The fact that we are helping to rule other nations is a big plus for the country.
We must do away with arbitrary state boundaries in order to encourage diversity and inclusion. Nigerians must have the freedom to move around, work wherever they choose and travel at will. If Nigerians can live and work in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and indeed all over the world where they can stroll, reside, and become MPs, then we must allow our fellow Nigerians to do so without fear, prejudice or discrimination in the only country they have, Nigeria.
Incompetent leadership that has been perpetuating itself in office by encouraging these divisions is the bane of the country. The government should put in place policies and programs that encourage Nigerians in the country who have monies abroad to invest these huge sums in the country. Nigeria is more in need of these funds than the already wealthy countries where they are being utilized for the increasing prosperity of their citizens.

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