ByÂ DAYO BENSON
IT was not the usual gathering to wine and dine, not withstanding that it was a special dinner for Pat Utomi, school teacher, entrepreneur and politician.
The gathering was almost like a conference of the opposition: except professional who want a better republic. You could call them the truly concerned professionals.
Opposition politicians like Peter Okocha, Action Congress governorship candidate in Delta State and Atiku Abubakar, alter ego, was there. So also was AC governorship candidate in Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi.
Also in the gathering were advertising guru, Udeme Ufot, Ray Ekpu of Newswatch, and president, Guild ofÂ Editors, Gbenga Adefaye, notwithstanding the intimidatingÂ presence of Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Alhaji Sikiru Shitta-bey and others.
It was a night to remember, weekend, at Chinese Restaurants especially Prof. Utomiâ€™s clarion call to the middle class whom he accused ofÂ negligence and betrayal by allowing rascals to seize the political space.
Former attorney-general of Lagos State, Prof. Yemi Osibajo, kick-started the night by calling for credible people to man the nations electoralÂ processÂ pointing out that successive elections in the country have not translated into democracy.
Prof. Osibajo who lamented what he called wholesale subversion of the electoral process stated that â€œthings seemed to have steadily worsened; 20003 poll is the worst, election riggers stay on and may even get re-elected: Rigging continues because there is no sanction.â€
He made reference to the petition filed by All Nigerians People Party ANPP presidential candidate in 2007 where the names and ranks of the election offenders were listed and nothing was done, saying that â€œmore will take a cue and act with impunity â€œIn future elections.
Another problem he identified in electoral system was the burden of proof which he said â€œis a major problem in Nigeriaâ€ adding that it takes eternity to prove cases of rigging.â€
Prof. Osibajo who is also a pastor maintained that â€œrigging pays because there is no consequence for electoral infractionâ€ stressing that â€œthere must be sanction for rigging such as disqualification of riggersâ€.
However, he stated that â€œ whatever it is that we do, if we donâ€™t appoint men and women of integrity by a process to head our electoral commission, we are still going to have the same kind of election we have been having since 1964â€.
In his own remarks Dr. Feyemi emphasised the importance of forensic analysis that threw out former senator Femi Kila saying that the analysis showed that Kila had 19,000 votes with the same serial number.
He described the political class as â€œrepulsive, cynical, calculative, opportunistic and people of low moral valueâ€ but pointed out that, politics, if properly conducted is driven by a high form of intellectualismâ€ adding that â€œit is about ideas, life and values.
Dr. Fayemi urged those who take part in politics to ensure â€œcitizens participation in our democracy and how to make fundamental differences in the life of ordinary people.â€
Speaking further, he said â€œthat is why I am saying as we talk about electoral reforms now, we really need to be talking about our own involvement and participation in making a difference in our own society. Without direct citizen participation, the legitimacy of our political institutions would continue to decline.
We should all be worried about the doubting of the public space by many of us particularly the professionalsâ€. He explained that the involvement of his type in politics was borne out of a â€œdesire to live in a society that actually responds to the needs that we have for ourselvesâ€
Stressing the importance of civil society in democracy, he stated that â€œif you do not have a civil society in your neighbourhood association, in your community development meeting, in your town union, then the political society is not going to exist.
So in our communities and constituencies, we must continue to organise. You either continue to stand on the sideline and complain about how they are mis ruling and misgoverning us in this country or we decide to stop agonise and start organise.
He said the Ekiti re-run election was a test for democratic change where people protected their votes saying â€œEkiti actually provided a template for the resistance movement that must be put in place against electoral fraud in 2011â€.
Also speaking, a third republic Senator Patrick Ani, endorsed Justice Mohammud Uwais panel.
Recommendation that the president should be divested of the power to appoint INEC chairman saying that the recommendation should be implemented fully.
He also called on president Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua to reject the Attoney – General of the Federation AGF panel recommendation of staying in office beyond 2011 to enable him complete the unbundling of INEC.
Prof. Utomi, who was the guest of honour began his speech on a note ofÂ lamentation over what Nigeria has become and the lack of participipation of the middle class in the nationâ€™s political process describing them as â€œthe enemy in the mirrorâ€.
He however expressed hope that â€œtogether we can save this countryâ€ quoting American President Barrack Obama. â€œWe can together pull this country throughâ€.
â€œI have found Nigeriaâ€™s enemy, the enemy is in the mirror, it is you and me because you protect your comfort zone, you are the enemy, the middle class speak of lack, yet we do nothing.
He said â€œToday we introduce a new Concept. To do nothing is wrong because we have a duty; we must forge an alliance between the rich and the poor, the professional, and the civil society. He said adding that â€œwe must build institutionsâ€.
The African Democratic Congress (ADC) Presidential Candidate in the 2007 election identified four basic initiatives that must be put in place.
These include lawyer interested in free and fair Elections is designed to be an army of lawyers volunteering some of their time to follow up on all issues of the electoral process.
The goal is to have at least two lawyers committed to every ward in the country. Three former NBA Presidents and the incumbent have volunteered to serve on the honorary council of LIFE.
Senior lawyers including General IBM Haruna, Ahmadu Abubakar and others are likely to join the drive for volunteer lawyers.
The next vehicle for electoral process integrity is: citizens united to prevent ballot box rigging (CUPBBR) it is a programme for mobilizing volunteer young people trained to passionately defend the integrity of the cast ballot.
This disciplined vanguard of youth may number in the tens of thousands and be present in every ward. It will be non-partisan and focused on how the ballot box can be a legitimating instrument for elected officials. The committee on voter education: This group will be dedicated to massive campaigns to educate voters, to focus on issues, the character and competence of candidates and their antecedents
Recruiters of middles class participants into politics: This initiative is designed to inspire more educated middle class people and professional to actively play citizenship roles of voting, persuading other to vote for preferred candidates and running for office.
This is driven by the understanding that unless politics is dominated by middle class values and concerns, and the systems is committed to a majority of citizens being in this middle bulge, social stability will continue to be a challenge.
He concluded that for those â€œwho fail to perform their roles, there is the query waiting for you in history and at heaven gatesâ€.