TEXT OF AN ADDRESS BY THE NAS CAPOON, MR ABIOLA OWOAJE TO THE 13TH EDITION OF RALPH OPARA MEMORIAL LECTURE, THEMED: IMPUNITY AND NIGERIAN ELECTIONS: CONTINUED THREAT TO DEMOCRATIC PROCESS; ON FEBRUARY 4TH 2022.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the 13th edition of the Ralph Opara Memorial Lecture. This year’s lecture is very significant for us as a group and for the immediate Ralph Opara family, as it is 20 years since this national icon left this earthly realm and became immortal.
The late Ralph Opara along with Prof. Wole Soyinka and five other patriotic Nigerians at a youthful age founded the Pyrates Confraternity at the University College Ibadan with the primary objective of fighting for the oppressed, standing up and defending the vulnerable against all forms of injustices in the march towards the attainment of a just and egalitarian society. Later in life as a celebrated prolific writer, producer and broadcaster, Ralph Opara deployed his exceptional talents in the service to humanity in the continuing fight against ills afflicting our society.
In 2004, we initiated the Ralph Opara Lecture Series, after the successes recorded with the Wole Soyinka Lecture Series, as our own way to immortalise this selfless pathfinder. We had envisioned the lecture series to be a productive platform for the exchange of views on national and international issues, and as a constant reminder of the values Ralph Opara stood for throughout his life. The Ralph Opara Lecture Series has been an immense success with the high quality of discussions and consequent output of views that have contributed to our national discourse, and the advancement towards a better Nigeria, a better Africa and a better world.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the theme of this year’s lecture: Impunity in Nigerian Elections: The continued threat to democratic process, is very crucial to the survival of democracy in our country. There is no better time to hold this conversation than now when Nigeria is gradually preparing for the 2023 elections.
Regrettably, elections in Nigeria have always been problematic. Credible, transparent, free and fair elections have so far eluded Nigeria in spite of all our, arguably best, efforts. It is like the legendary heavy rock, King Sisyphus of Greek mythology kept pushing up the hill only for it to roll back, making all his efforts fruitless. There is considerable merit in the argument that the failure to deliberately address the issue of impunity that has characterised our elections, even with clear provisions of law to deal with electoral offenders, has left us with a broken electoral system and the end result has been an electoral system where the people end up with the short end of the stick while the political class hijack the political space and proceed to brazenly compromise electoral officials sometimes with brute force, security agencies and the electorate, ultimately stealing votes to get into public office. The consequence is the social, political and economic pestilence that blights us all and reverses the fortunes of our country.
It is gratifying to note that Mr Itodo and Mr Osaze-Uzzi are panellists at this year’s lecture. Both men have played crucial roles in the last few years in patriotic attempts to shape our electoral system. I have absolute confidence that with their impressive credentials they will be able to set the tone of the conversation around this issue and chart a way forward for further engagements to ensure votes of Nigerians count in 2023 and beyond.
It is my belief that our celebrated journalist moderator, Maupe Ogun-Yusuf, will bring to bear on these discussions the intense scrutiny that is so important in establishing a communal ethos of continuous audit and a habit of accountability in public life.
Welcome and thank you for your attention.