On behalf of The Kukah Centre, I welcome you ladies and gentlemen of the press to this media briefing.
Barely two weeks ago, precisely May 29, 2016, Nigeria marked the first anniversary of President Muhammadu Buhari’s government as well as 17 years of the end of military rule. President Buhari’s election undoubtedly is a major milestone in our nascent democracy as it marked the first transfer of power from one party to another since the return of civil rule in 1999. For political theorists, such a transfer is critical in the life of most young democracies as it is often seen as a condition for its potential consolidation.
Yet, a major challenge of Nigeria’s democracy is the abject lack of citizens’ engagement in debating, and more importantly, shaping public policies that often have dramatic impact on their lives.
The importance of robust debates can never be overemphasized in a democracy. If free and fair elections mark the basic validation of democratic mandates, citizens’ involvement in public policy-making is the oxygen for democratic governance. In his influential book, ‘Development as Freedom,’ preeminent development economist and Nobel laureate, Amartya Sen stressed the importance of public discussions as a vehicle for social change and economic progress. Despite a seemingly vibrant citizenry and media, Nigeria’s record in this regard remains very poor.
It is in part to address this problem that The Kukah Centre was established to serve as a platform for mediation between the government and the people. The importance of such a mediating platform is underscored by the great deal of public cynicism towards government and the mutual distrust between public officials and citizens. The political class, the bureaucracy and the larger society seem to be constantly talking past one another with no clear and coordinated vision for a better society.
As a mediatory platform between public officials and citizens, the Centre under her Fixing Nigeria initiative hopes to achieve the following primary objectives:
- Provide policy-makers an opportunity to communicate their ideas and convictions to the general public;
- Allow citizens the opportunity to engage in the debate and generation of fresh ideas necessary for sound policy making;
- Help citizens access better information to enable them make more informed decisions in matters that affect them.
The ‘Fixing Nigeria’ initiative comprises of three key components-
- The Podium: An open forum similar to a Town-Hall that provides top government officials a platform to articulate their vision and policy decisions which are then interrogated by a panel of independent experts with a thorough understanding of the issues as well as by the general public who the policies impact most.
- Both Sides: A political/policy debate forum that features two public officers on either side of an issue. In most democratic countries, political/policy debates are a staple of both the electoral process and governance. But in Nigeria, even in Presidential elections, candidates of the major political parties often decide not to participate thus denying the electorate the chance scrutinize their policies and platforms. By this initiative which will be alternated every two months with The Podium, we hope to foster the culture of debates in Nigeria which is critical to the deepening of our democracy. A highly successful pilot of ‘Both Sides’ took place on September 9, 2014 at the International Conference Centre Abuja featuring then APC Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN and then PDP Governor of Jigawa State, SuleLamido.
- Monthly Policy Roundtables: Create a hub of scholars and technocrats in and around Abuja to rigorously engage some of Nigeria’s most complex and protracted governance challenges with a view to articulating empirically sound blueprints to address them. Possible topics include the perennial ethno-religious and violent conflicts around the country, Federalism and Resource control, Citizenship and Identity politics among many others. As a think tank, we believe strongly in the transformative power of ideas as the basis for visionary political leadership and we are determined to help foster such culture in our country.
Through these initiatives, the Kukah Centre hopes to elevate the quality of political discourse in our country by generating ideas through robust and informed engagement between public officials and citizens and in the process deepening our nascent democracy. Rather than a debate in the adversarial sense, we insist that the tone at all times must be civil as the objective is to build trust between government and the people and together to find solutions to the myriad problems plaguing our dear country. This thinking is clearly reflected in the very optimistic theme/handle we have chosen for this initiative- ‘Fixing Nigeria.’ We are very confident that Nigeria can and must be fixed. But this can only happen when public officials and citizens pull together to create, in line with The Kukah Centre’s vision,“a more humane, democratic and free society where citizens can live in real and true freedom unencumbered by any structures of exclusion on the basis of ethnic, religious, social status, economic or gender differences”.
Outcomes– Arising from these initiatives, we will identify key issues that need further interrogation or action either by way of research or advocacy. It is the responsibility of the Centre to develop follow-up strategies and take them up with relevant organizations or agencies within and outside government. In effect, we are committed to going beyond the talk and conference culture so common in Nigeria to develop actionable plans by way of policies, legislations or other forms of interventions that can change our country for the better.
We are indeed very delighted to kick-off the Fixing Nigeria initiative on June 16, 2016 with The Podium, a Town hall forum featuring the Honourable Minster for Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN- unarguably one of the most accomplished public officers of his generation. Venue is the Auditorium, Merit House, 22 Aguiyi Ironsi Street, Maitama, Abuja at 11 am. You are all invited.