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.
In 2016, you delivered Realnews lecture in Abuja on security. Since, do you think anything has changed, especially in security issues around the Lake Chad Basin?
Yes, since that lecture the territory in which Boko Haram was effectively running a state within a state has been drastically reduced. They’ve been chased out of Sambisa Forest in Nigeria, out of Diffa in Niger, out of the extreme north in Cameroun and out of the lakes part of Chad. So, that is one. Two, since then, the Multinational Joint Task Force, MNJTF, has been put in place. And today, there are much more effective intelligence sharing and joint operational activities by the four countries of LCBC (Lake Chad Basin Commission) than was the case. So, that is very important to the extent that with these kinds of terrorist activities, you need a sub-regional joint effort, they know no boundaries. So, if you’re going to fight alone in your own country, it’s not effective.
So, this is very important to them in this area. And that’s why the countries of the Sahel are emulating this example and also trying to establish their force, and it’s taking them much longer than it did in the case of the LCBC. Also, because of Nigeria’s lead role in initially financing the MNJTF, which is what has kept it growing now, so what is called the J5 Force in Sahel is copying this example. What is true, however, is that just because there have been successes doesn’t mean that anyone should relax and think that Boko Haram is defeated. The international terrorist organisations have networks. They know when to lie low. And they know how to now adopt proper terrorist mode of operation, which is what the experts call a symmetrical warfare. And it seems that that’s what they’ve reverted to do now. They’re no longer going to come as if they’re a standing army. They’ve been broken; but as a small group they can still attack; you can see they’re attacking. They’re still sending suicide bombers, very unfortunate, using women and children, which tells you the depravity of their mind; using innocent women, girls, children to go and perpetrate this heinous act. So, that’s the state of play now. In fact, in most of the countries – Niger, Cameroun, here in Nigeria, Chad, that freedom and that impunity of claiming verse territories of land is no longer there. They’ve been pushed out of; they’ve been defeated in that contest. But that is not to say the war against terrorism and in particular Boko Haram, is over. It is still a fight that must be fought with all vigour and determination.
Taking you back briefly to politics, there is this sit-tight tendency among African leaders which you hardly see in the Western world. Barack Obama before leaving office was in Africa and he lamented. In fact, he couldn’t understand it. So, what is it about African leaders?
First of all let me say in that regard we have seen tremendous progress in West Arica, the area that I cover for the UN and the Sahel, in the sense that in our West African sub-region, we have had a strong regional organisation, the ECOWAS, which has its protocols. These protocols encourage free, fair, transparent elections and code of conduct as to what constitutes a credible, free, fair election and what does not. And ECOWAS has not just left it at just adopting these protocols and leaving it there. They’ve been active to ensure that member states comply. They are active in different countries working with civil society to raise awareness about these protocols and urging civil society in each country to zero standards. They have laws which prohibit changing major electoral legislations or acts six months prior to elections unless there is a wide national consensus. So, if the National Assembly of Nigeria (both sides) agree something can be done, it can be done, there’s no problem. But if government comes, an opposition loudly rejects it and government tries to go ahead in any West African country, that law will not be recognised.
Secondly, we’ve worked directly with national electoral commissions, training, giving capacities to other institutions charged with conducting elections. We’ve worked with security agencies to alert all to their responsibilities, the professional standards expected of them in the conduct of elections. So, in the face of all that what we’re seeing is that in West Africa, this sit-tight syndrome has become a thing of the past. First of all, all West African countries are now implementing two-term limitation. It is in their constitutions, except Gambia and Togo. But even as we speak now, in those two countries, the governments themselves have now committed to amend their constitutions and to adopt that. So, by the time the constitutional processes are completed in both Togo and Gambia, let’s say 2019, all West African countries will have term limitation embedded in their constitutions. So, for West Africa, that will solve the problem that you are raising of sit-tight. It is true that in Central Africa, our neighbouring region, this phenomenon is very much the order of the day. For instance, let me not even name names; but we know that in Central Africa that’s the case, reason is because they don’t have term limitation in their constitutions. Two, in fact, they have very weak civil societies, independent civil societies, raising issues and being heard. And three, they also don’t have an equivalent of an ECOWAS. The ECAS does not have the same kind of protocols that ECOWAS has –protocols that are respected, that are binding and that authorise the ECOWAS to play the active role that ECOWAS plays during elections, working with civil societies, with media to independently monitor state institutions and in a way to keep them in check.
Let me take you back to Northeast Nigeria – the humanitarian crisis going on there. What is actually going on vis-à-vis the killing of health workers and the rest?
It’s very unfortunate. In fact, it is again showing us the callous face of Boko Haram. These are very barbaric and very callous terrorists; honestly. They have no limit to how far they will go. To pick a mother whose only crime is that she was there in the IDP camp. The IDP camp is a camp of suffering people, people who have been chased out from their homes, being dehumanised, prevented from living their normal lives. And somebody who has gone to give care to such a community of distressed people cannot by any imagination be seen as an enemy to anybody, to be killed in very brutal and barbaric manner as they were killed. But that’s the face of terror. That is why we cannot be compromised with terrorists. They do not understand the language of logic; it is completely incomprehensible to them and they must be defeated. And every effort that is being made for their defeat needs to be encouraged.
You are a negotiation and conflict resolution expert, and Nigeria is presently being plagued by serious industrial dispute. If care is not taken the Nigeria Labour Congress will shut down the nation and this is not good for the economy. ASUU is already on strike. What advice do you have for the parties involved?
Well, that they should use dialogue and negation, which is what they’re doing to seek common ground. But it cannot be a process that leads to winner and loser. There must be an attempt to find a consensus and a win-win. I’m not a labour expert; I’ve not followed the details of this particular mediation or negotiation. We have ILO, which is the UN specialised agency on labour matters. And I know that they work with tripartite partners in this country – labour itself, employers (including government, which is the major employer in this country) and, of course, the private sector. As you said, if this brings Nigeria to the ground; it creates a problem immediately for its neighbours, because Nigerian economy is inextricably linked with the economies of West African states. Nigeria had a recession a few years ago and the regional economy shrank by two percent. In other words if the regional economy was growing at five percent, it came down to three percent. This is the reality and so it’s highly important that they continue this negotiation in earnest and there will be transparency and openness on both sides and frank desire to provide a solution that does not lead to winners and losers. That is my humble opinion on that.
– Jan. 8, 2019 @ 16:05 GMT |