Paul Obi pays tribute to Ariyo Dare-Atoye, a human rights activist

No fundamental social change merely occurs because the government acts. It’s because civil society, the conscience of a country, rise up and begins to demand – demand – demand change.”

Joe Biden, US President 

As Nigeria heads to the polls in three months’ time, there’s a palpable hope of assurance that true democratization is about to take deep roots. Hope built on the influence of technology – capable of preventing elections riggers and those who will thwart the will of the people at the ballot. The introduction of the Bimodal Voting Accreditation System (BVAS) has increased that hope that the will of the voters can somehow prevail and change the course of democratic governance and Nigeria’s electoral democracy. 

This hope became feasible through the dogged push by the civil society for the passage and signing of the 2022 Electoral Act. One of those at the forefront of that movement that culminated in the enactment of the new Electoral Act 2022 which embraced technology in both accreditation of voters and transmission of elections results was no other person that the Co-Founder, the Centre for Liberty and member of the Abuja School of Social and Political Thought, Nigeria, Ariyo Dare-Atoye, who, the excruciating fangs of death took away on Thursday, 27th October, 2022. His sole aim then and even now in death was exigency of using technology to block the merchants of elections rigging and the forerunners of Nigerian deep state.

Despite contributing enormously to various civil liberties projects in Nigeria, Ariyo’s contributions and exceeding resolve to ensure that the country has a testable electoral law that will remain timeless and a historical monument even as he joins his creator today in Igbara-Odo, Ekiti State. In one of his interviews with a national daily, Ariyo pointedly laid down the urgency of a people-centred electoral act, arguing vehemently that, the 2022 Electoral Act was indispensable if Nigeria intended to advance the course of electoral democracy.

He maintained then that, “we don’t want this bill hurriedly passed sometime next year and we will be struggling to use it to test some of the innovations in the general election. We also want electronic transmission of results to be expressly stated in the Act. We have seen a copy of what is currently before the National Assembly and Section 50 subsection 2 gives INEC the discretion to use electronic platform or not. But we are saying based on what we saw post-2015 elections when people went to court to challenge the fact that the Electoral Act did not capture the card reader, we don’t want the coming elections to be caught in the same legal lacuna. Therefore, we want the use of electronic transmission of results to be expressly captured in the Electoral Act.

“We have reasons we are trying to make a case for this. Number one, in view of the fact that Nigerians have lost hope in the electoral process, the National Assembly must be able to do something. That will restore the confidence of Nigerians in the electoral process, that will make Nigerians to show commitment to the process and the issue of electronic transmission of results in one important provision that will help to rekindle the hope of Nigerians in the electoral process. Number two, insecurity is rising and we must be able to eliminate levels that will be so burdensome to the electoral process. We want a situation where we are able to evacuate results from the first port of call, which is the polling unit. And that is what is being done globally. It is an archaic system.” 

Notwithstanding Ariyo’s efforts and the enactment of the Electoral Act, there’s still a palpable air of unease and fear that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is not likely to safeguard the democratic mandate of voters in next year general elections. The fears are genuine, given the level of brigandage we have seen with the conduct of elections by the current INEC leadership. From the last Kogi State gubernatorial elections, the 2019 controversy to the present dilly-dallying in issuing Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs), it is doubtful if the Prof Mahmood Yakubu-led INEC will be transparent enough to guaranty credible elections. Will INEC overcome insider’s complacency and complicity? Will INEC be bold enough to prevent voters’ suppression in places like Lagos and other places? These are the salient questions Ariyo – the Aristotle would have posed were he to be alive. 

 As the 2023 presidential election beckons, Ariyo passionately stood for social justice and equity, such that, he never minced words for the support of 2023 Presidency of South East extraction. He understood well, the injustice and the deployment of clannish and state apparatus to marginalize the Igbos of the South East politically. That therefore, informed his allegiance to the 2023 Presidency, with Igbos as the presidential candidates of the major parties in Nigeria. In all, Ariyo was unfriendly to social injustice, born to rule mentality, the primitive state capture that Nigeria currently suffers from. 

 Ariyo had a way of advancing democratic course without manufacturing enemies and trouble. He had a penchant for making his points without de-marketing others. Ariyo was naturally a human rights activist – not the stomach-infrastructure induced ones that parade today’s civic space. He was humble but firm on issues he was convinced about. From the cradle, right from his days in Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Ariyo had a clear-head about defending democracy and civil rights. No man is infallible, but Ariyo had an edge: his likeable persona, his calm mien and pursuit for public good, are all a combination of what made Ariyo ahead of his time. Overall, it was difficult to pigeonhole Ariyo, he was a journalist, right activist, public servant, analyst. The most evidence-based sacrifice of Ariyo for democracy was his decision to resign from public service to join civil rights activism.  It will not be out of place to name the Electoral Act 2022 after him. 

At the Abuja School of Social and Political Thought, the process is already underway to immortalize Ariyo. Led by the Director of the school, Associate Prof Sam Amadi, there are plans to establish the Ariyo Dare-Atoye Lecture on Citizenship and Electoral Democracy as part of the resolution to keep Ariyo’s legacies alive. For now, as the remains of Ariyo Dare-Atoye will be committed to mother earth today in Igbara-Odo, we can only pray that God Almighty grant him eternal rest. He lived a short life, but worthy of emulation. Although, he left behind a wife, Abiola and three children, Ariyo’s epochal voyage on earth, particularly in defence of Nigeria’s democracy will definitely stand the test of time.

Obi is a journalist and research fellow at the Abuja School of Social and Political Thought

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