Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Southeast Governance & Security Summit

Opening Remark by Kemi Okenyodo, Executive Director

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you on behalf of the CLEEN Foundation, the National Human Rights Commission, the Nigerian Governors Forum and the Ford Foundation to this unique Summit aimed at discussing security and governance challenges in the south eastern part of Nigeria.

This Summit is being organised to bring together critical stakeholders in this region to discuss issues that have ‘easily beset this region’. Talking from the perspective of an outsider (a concerned one!), growing up, what one knew about this region was that it was a region that groomed industrious hard working men. This is illustrated in the caliber of persons that have emerged from the South East – the late Nnamdi Azikwe, late Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu, late Chinua Achebe, Chief Alex Ekuweme, Chief Emeka Anyaoku and in recent times Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and Prof. Dora Akunyili to mention a few.

The active nature of community development associations is also a brand of the south east communities – so strong is this brand that where ever you go in this country and outside the shores of the country, you are sure to find CDAs as avenues where Igbo people would come together periodically (weekly / monthly) as a group to interact and address issues that are common to them. That is how their culture of hardwork and achievement values have been propagated.

Another positive thing I have seen about the South East is that the average Igbo man or woman is very religious; religion has a strong influence on the people. It is a point of convergence – in the community, place of business. At 12pm prompt either in Lagos or Abuja you are sure that the Igbo traders would start praise / worship and prayers in the market place.

There is something unique about each state in this region:
1. Abia – houses Aba, which can be said to be the Italy or China of the region. The artisans in Aba can immitate any fashion design- particularly leather products (shoes, bags, belts etc) of the high streets in New York, England or Paris.

2. Anambra – with the waters can be ?? and the great minds of the region – the great Chinua Achebe who is the father of African literature, and Chief Emeka Anyaoku.

3. Enugu – houses one of the ivy league universities in the country, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The city is also becoming a destination point for Nollywood as movie location.

4. Ebonyi – an agricultural community which produces good quality local rice – Abakaliki rice.

5. Imo – which can be said to be gateway state to other South East / South-South states and emerging as a tourist or confluence state with about 6 tertiary institutions and the home of Nigeria’s most prominent civil society actors.

All this notwithstanding, we are here because all is not well; or do I say, because the South East can be better off than it is at the moment.

Despite all the positive indicators listed above developmental challenges have plagued the region in the past 14 years. The indices for human insecurity are high – poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, human capital flight (brain drain) etc.

Even though it could be argued this has been characteristic of the entire Nigeria, evidence is showing that the South East needs specific attention.

All the above has invariably increased the insecurity in the region. Criminality is at its peak. 90% of the people from the South East interviewed in the last National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) conducted annually by CLEEN responded were scared of becoming a victim of crime. That is 9 out of 10!

There is also the negative one linked to treatment and respect for women. Observing the region, one can get the impression that women are seen as ‘chattels’ and extrinsic value is not placed on them as persons. The South East ranks second highest on domestic violence at 36%, far above the national average which was 31% in the 2012 National Crime Victimization Survey.

The face of law enforcement and policing one sees in Lagos and Abuja is totally different from what one finds in the South East, where the security and law enforcement officials have become an ‘occupying force’. As transparency and accountability is low and the tendency of oppressing and abusing the rights of the people appears high.

In summary, good governance guarantees security where the structure, functions, purposes, powers and duties of government must serve the interest and satisfy the aspirations of the people.

Society tends to be well secured when governments in power evolve and sustain economic policies and programmes capable of preventing crises and conflicts. Security is about the survival and positive conditions of human existence, about peace, development, justice, whose absence create the condition for conflict and insecurity. To paraphrase Achebe, we want to know where the rain started beating us in the South East.

CLEEN Foundation is a nongovernmental organisation aimed at promoting publuc safety, security and accessible justice in Nigeria and West Africa sub region at large. When we birthed the Owerri office it was with a view of having an office that would integrate projects / activities on security and governance in the South East. Being true to our strategy of engagement, we know that we cannot do it alone and have sought the cooperation of various role players and interest groups (from government to civil society organisations including community / town leaders, academia, media etc) to take a keen interest in the governance of the region and to promote right-based approach to community development.

We look forward an interactive 2-day discussion with the hope that at the end of our discussions we would leave here adopting a declaration on Security and Governance in the Southeast.

Welcome once again, and thank you.

Kemi Okenyodo

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