In an exclusive interview with the Realnews team of reporters, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, the United Nations envoy, emphasises the need for Nigeria’s election to credible, devoid of violence and financial inducement of voters
What do you think about the political atmosphere in Nigeria, especially now that we’re in political transition? Do you think we’re getting it right?
Naturally, this is a moment of very heightened political activities. Nigeria is preparing in earnest for general elections in February. Party congresses have just been held more or less. Anywhere when party congresses are held, there will be issues arising from it – disappointments, failed ambitions and clash of egos. So, I imagine that each party is very busy now trying to manage all these consequences from the primaries and selection of candidates. From the UN point of view, what we’re interested in is to ensure that this is reflected in deepening democratic culture and that internal democracy was deepened within the parties. But especially, that all of these transpired in a political manner without recourse to violence, and so far we’re quite pleased that these intense internal elections, political selection processes were not violent. Of course, you always have to measure it against previous exercises. And in 2015 I must tell you that the National Human Rights Commission in its report expressed alarm at the level of intra party violence ensuing from it. This time around we’ve been very keen to media reports and we’ve seen a considerably lower level of casualties, lower level of violence emanating from selection processes that various political parties have used. And that is healthy, and perhaps it is an indication also that this whole process will be very peaceful. And this is our wish as United Nations.
You have been going around involving in transitions around Africa, what do you think is wrong? Is there no political education for our people on how to get people elected or is it because democracy is still young in Africa so to say?
You’ve hit the nail on the head. You know even today’s discussion at the Realnews’ anniversary is on transitions. The truth is that we’re at what some political scientists call transitional democracies, some say young democracies, some say growing democracies, and all of that is true. If you take the case of Nigeria since 1999, Nigeria is starting all over again. If you take Ghana, it’s the same; it’s the end of the road. A period Ghana went into its current fourth republic, it’s starting all over again. And it is true across the continent but we’re moving from autocratic military personal rule to multi-party competitive democracy. So, that comes with its challenges. So, we’re in many ways just climbing the learning gear. Don’t forget that in so-called mature democracies, in many of them, it’s only in the last two or three decades that women and minorities like blacks in the US were fully enfranchised. And even today, there are still remnants of this fight for civil rights in mature democracies. So, we should see it as a continuum. It is an evolving process. For me, I think that some progress is being made. But the level of poverty is still very high in many of our countries, including here in Nigeria. Consequently, there is a temptation for people to sell their votes. And that takes us down towards the narrow part of corrupting politics and manipulation etcetera. There is an issue of lack of efficient political education and awareness, as you said, linked also to high level of illiteracy prevailing in our society.
You mean it’s very difficult to eliminate money politics in Africa?
It’s a challenge, but we have to keep fighting at it. The media have a role to play in that. The civil societies have a role to play. Political parties themselves must put in place measures to restrain themselves from excessive monetisation of politics. Then, the state must put in place effective regulatory mechanisms. Some people have even called for special tribunal on electoral violations. This is the call across West Africa, including here in Nigeria. But in other words, these are healthy debates going on about what to do to minimise the role of money in our politics. And, incidentally, in Europe and America the lively debate there is about campaign financing. So, it is an issue in a democracy. How do you make sure that the role of money is not overbearing as to influence the real outcome of election and in a way deny the people of their true choice?
Apart from security challenge ahead of 2019 elections, another challenge that Nigerians will face is vote buying like what you said about money politics. Is the UN doing anything to collaborate with either INEC or the federal government to see how to minimise this incidence?
I have to tell you that in the UN we have our own limitations also. The UN support is by and large technical support. When it comes to matters of internal enforcement of existing laws in the country, that’s where our own role ends, because that then falls within the ambit of national authorities. And this phenomenon is something that all stakeholders have a responsibility to curb, to condemn, and the citizens themselves should be the ones to resist an attempt to influence their votes with money. So, I think it’s an issue that is there. I’m happy that Nigerians identify it as one of the challenges to democratic consolidation, and there is a lively debate about it. My expectation is that it will lead to some concrete recommendations and suggestions which Nigerians themselves will make. As far as the UN is concerned, we encourage this debate. We think it’s healthy. And if at any time there are fora, whether they’re organised by civil society or even by the INEC or any state institution and they like the UN to bring some experts to throw more light on this, we will be very glad to identify experts both Nigerians and those from other countries, to come and share experiences on this phenomenon of the role of money in elections and how in different jurisdictions it has been tackled. Then it will help Nigerians to compare and then pick up the best practice that they can adopt to curtail this menace.