Ahead of 2023 elections, the leading lights of pro-democracy in Nigeria have regrouped to redefine the meaning of democratic engagement in a country where the elite behaviour is characterised by a seeming endemic corruption and a flagrant assault on human dignity.
This time, they are being joined by leaders of active social formations in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s vastly polluted oil and gas region.
Dr Chris Ekiyor, a trained dental surgeon, and President Emeritus of the Ijaw Youth Council as well as the founder of RAHI Medical Outreach, an NGO that meets the health needs of rural Africa with a focus on the oil region, has joined the political fray.
Along with former military governor of Kaduna State, retired Col. Dangiwa Umar, Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), Femi Falana (SAN), Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, and former Central Bank Deputy Governor Mailafia Obadiah, they will be battling for constitutional reforms, and demand for the implementation of Chapter Two of the 1999 Constitution, which is the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy.
Before now, democracy for the defunct National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) began with the actualisation of MKO Abiola’s mandate and the resolution of the national question.
NADECO came into being in May 1994 in the wake of heightened opposition to the annulment of the June 12 election. This broad coalition aimed at actualising the said election and getting the military regime to organise a national conference to resolve what has been perceived as the crisis of Nigerian federalism.
The core of its leadership emanated from within the political class, with some retired military officers representing the relatively more principled faction of that class. Their democratic agenda was slightly different from the elitist conception prevailing within the political class, in comparison to the broad spectrum of the pro-democracy movement and other popular organisations.
For the then Nigerian Democratic Movement (NDM), an externally based pro-democracy group of Nigerian professionals resident in Europe and America, democracy meant, first and foremost, the actualisation of the June 12, 1993, presidential elections.
The Campaign for Democracy (CD) saw democracy as beginning with the actualisation of June 12, 1993, presidential elections and the subsequent convening of a Sovereign National Conference which would settle, once and for all, the ‘national question’ believed to be responsible for the persisting ethno-regional, religious and political tensions in the country.
It also meant empowerment and active participation of the underprivileged, apparently based on the mobilisation of urban-based groups.
But in contrast, the Democratic Alternative (DA) was calling for much more than the political class. It went beyond the mere transition to civilian rule and the actualisation of Abiola’s mandate, enshrined in the June 12 elections.
According to it: ‘’Our position on the June 12 mandate is that it is undemocratic being a product of an undemocratic transition process; it suffered moral bankruptcy when its exponents including Abiola compromised the pro-democracy movement and opted for the silver-lined military road to power; it lacks the promise of fulfilling the people’s wishes and aspirations because its exponents were some of the staunchest supporters and executioners of anti-people measures of the military junta and have no plan for the upliftment of the masses.
‘’Consequently, the enforcement of the June 12 mandate cannot be the basis for mobilising the widest section of our people to oust the military dictatorship and bring about popular democracy which the people yearn for.’’
Erudite political scholars have been maintaining that pro-democracy groups in general, expressed popular democratic views and aspirations in contrast to what they described as ‘’the profoundly exclusivist and elitist notions’’ prevalent among the political class, the business community, and the traditional elite.
Continuing, they said the groups struggled ‘’strenuously to achieve their objectives against odds posed by notoriously suppressive if not brutal military regimes’’, adding, ‘’they project the disappointment of the majority of Nigerians with prolonged military rule, the squandering of the nation’s resources as well as their desires for change.
‘’They have been grossly constrained, however, in advancing these objectives and making them acceptable to a majority of Nigerians as alternatives to official and elitist perspectives on the national agenda. These groups have been few and structurally weak, without the resources required to organize on a national scale.’’
But, the activities and actual impact of some of the pro-democracy groups were limited to a few cities and urban areas. Their efforts were also frequently obstructed by factional in-fighting over inconsequential tactical considerations and deep-seated ethno-regional fears and suspicions.
Arguably, the pro-democracy and human rights community has not been free of the petty squabbles and sectionalist politics that frequently characterise the Nigerian political scene to the pleasure of the dominant ruling circle.
These factors weaken the leadership the movement could have given to popular democratic struggles in the democratisation process.
Interestingly, the galvanising forces of the emerging new movement, National Consultative Front, are not alien to the most formidable obstacle to their organisation and activities in the past- the authoritarianism that led to constant harassment by security services, closure of offices, seizure of publications, and detention of leaders.
Apparently determined to do better this time, 30 prominent Nigerian activists, academics and other professionals have formed the Front, “after a month-long nationwide consultation” and virtual meetings ahead of the 2023 general elections.
The new group is promising to mobilise for constitutional reforms and demand for the implementation of Chapter Two of the 1999 Constitution, which is the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy.
Among its leading lights are: Yabagi Yusuf Sannu, Amb Nkoyo Toyo, Comrade Isa Aremu; Prof Chidi Odinkalu; Dr Kemi George; Dan Nwanyanwu; Dr Osagie Obayuawana; Mallam Shehu Sanni; Prof Remi Sonaya; Mallam Tanko Yinusa; Alhaji Shettima Yerima; Lady Funke Awolowo; Peter Ameh; Ogbeni Lanre Banjo; Mrs. Georgina Dakpokpo; Mr. Jude Feranmi; Saadatu Falila Hamu; Mallam Hamzat Lawal; Hajia Khadijat Abdullahi; Mr. Alistair Soyode; and Dr Chris Ekiyor;.
“A new ideological mass movement shall be initiated to embark on an immediate mass mobilisation in the nooks and crannies of the country for popular mass action towards political constitution reforms that is citizens-driven and process-led in engendering a new peoples’ constitution for a new Nigeria that can work for all.
“To this end, we decry in categorical terms, the ongoing mindless massacre and kidnappings in the North-West, North-East, Southern Kaduna, the Middle Belt, Southern part of Nigeria and in fact the country at large by bandits and insurgents, who invade our communities, especially at night to inflict terror and murder on hapless residents and unsuspecting indigenes.
“We hereby call on those presently in charge of our Federal Government, military and security apparatus to immediately wake up and do everything to stop the ongoing senseless pogrom against the masses of our people”, the new group says.
Ekiyor is, however, a dedicated philanthropist who is generously supporting education through sponsorship of indigent students. He is married to Mrs. Gloria Ekiyor with five children. He was born on March 17, 1972, to Chief and Mrs. Thompson F. Ekiyor, a retired Policeman. He attended GSS Rijau Secondary school in Niger State, from 1984 – 1989.
He studied dental surgery at the University of Benin in (2004), and obtained his master’s degree in Public Health (MPH) from Federal University of Technology, Owerri (2015) and an MBA in the Delta State University, Abraka (2016)
Ekiyor is a senator at Junior Chambers International, and the Convener of the Integration Summit Group, Nigeria (ISG-N). He was also a Transition Committee Chairman of Patani Local Government Area in Delta State and the state’s Commerce and Industry Commissioner.
In 2008, he was awarded a Nonviolence Stage 3 trainer, from the Center for Nonviolence, University of Rhodes Island, USA. He is also a recipient of the Nigerian Ambassador for Peace Award, BERN Switzerland. Youth Federation for World Peace Award (Geneva); Nonviolence Compliance Award from King-Lituli Transformation Centre, South Africa and Social Recognition Award from the University of East London Alumni Association (2016)
Ekiyor is a member of the Governing Board of Delta State University Teaching Hospital, Oghara and also doubles as Secretary of the state’s Advocacy Committee against Oil Facility Vandalism.