By Chinelo Obogo
Convener of The BIG-TENT Coalition of Political Parties, Social Movements and Civil Society Organisations for the Peter Obi Presidential Campaign Council, Prof. Pat Utomi, has condemned state governments that deny their political opponents access to public facilities for campaign.
He made this known at a news conference on Friday in Lagos where he expressed concern about growing intolerance ahead of the 2023 general elections.
He said the nation’s democracy is being threatened with as opposition parties are being denied public facilities to hold rallies in some states ahead of the forthcoming general elections.
“The experience 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 consortium of scholars and pollsters from us and across Africa has been polling and surveying attitudes regarding democracy and elections in African. They have offered us longitudinal data on the disposition of society to political life.
“Sadly, the data has 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 opposition, called for the need to save democracy from its enemies.
According to him, his campaign experience has equally witnessed intimidation of landlords, religious centres and traditional institutions for allowing opposition 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, 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 subregion and push us into anarchy.
“It is imperative we move to reduce incivility in our democracy.
“Our democracy is on a downward slide for sometime now. It is important when we see frightening threat that we 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 that intimidated 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.
The professor said that as a presidential candidate in 2007, he visited all states of the federation campaigning without intimidation, describing current happenings as contrast.
“Classic example includes preventing opposition from use of public venues for rallies, destroying posters and billboards of the opposition and intimidating landlords from letting out building for the oppositions.
“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 1960’s 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, 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 , I am sure we would have gotten about 20 million new registered voters,” he said.
Decrying decline in security, Utomi called for decentralisation of the nation’s security.
He said: “We can have multi layers policing that will make police more effective. Why don’t we have a proper conversation around this instead of name calling?”