BY ABDULRAHMAN B. DAMBAZAU CFR PhD Lieutenant General (Rtd)
The theme “2015 Elections: How to make Nigeria the Winner” appears simple, but I found it very complex and thought-provoking. Certain assumptions could be made with regard to our theme today: first, that although most of the elections conducted in Nigeria in the past had presented some serious challenges, the 2015 elections are likely to present much more serious challenges that could jeopardize national security interests unless plans are made to ensure hitch-free elections; second, that going by what has been speculated within and outside Nigeria, there is the possibility that the country will disintegrate, and the 2015 elections would probably be the platform for it unless it is handled with care; third, that there is hope the 2015 elections would provide the opportunity to strengthen Nigeria’s unity and uphold her integrity; and fourth, that the 2015 elections would provide opportunities to elect good leaders that would clear the path for peaceful co-existence, security, and national development. Since this is a dialogue, I will be raising a lot of questions in an attempt to provoke discussions on how to make Nigeria the winner after the 2015 elections, which are just around the corner.
Winning itself in the context of the 2015 elections has its own implications: what stage of winning are we referring to, such as prioritizing into short, medium and long terms; or are we looking at winning in terms of successful conduct of the elections in 2015 in which they not only would be free, fair, all-inclusive, and credible, but also free from the type of post-elections violence we witnessed in 2011; or that the 2015 elections would lead to the long awaited consolidation of democracy in which good governance would be evident through accountability and transparency, and the respect for the rule of law and human rights; or ensuring that the aftermath of the 2015 elections does not lead to the disintegration of Nigeria as earlier predicted by some US security analysts? Would the 2015 elections bring about a radical change leading us to economic growth and political stability? Would they improve Nigeria’s corruption image in which the Transparency Corruption Index (TCI) depicts Nigeria as one of the most corrupt nations on earth? Would they improve Nigeria’s poor governance image as depicted by the 2013 Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance (IIAG)? IIAG defines governance as “the provision of the political, social and economic public goods and services that a citizen has the right to expect from his or her state, and that a state has the responsibility to deliver to its citizens.” The framework comprises four categories: safety and rule of law; participation and human rights; sustainable economic opportunity; and human management. Nigeria’s 2013 ranking was 41st among the 52 African countries assessed. Or would the 2015 elections provide the opportunity to improve Nigeria’s status in the UN Human Development Index (HDI) from being among the low developed to highly developed countries in the world? The 2014 Human Development Report (HDR), the latest in the series since 1960, ranks Nigeria 152nd out of the 185 countries assessed. In the context of human security, what would be Nigeria’s post-2015 development agenda? To what extent would the outcome of 2015 elections significantly reduce the risks of terrorism to which Nigeria presently occupies the 4th most risk position (even ahead of Somalia) in the world according to the 2014 Global Terrorism Index; or to turn things around in the world of cyber crime in which a computer crime and security survey ranked Nigeria as the most internet fraud country in Africa and the 3rd in the world. In other words, what is our target of Nigeria being the winner in post-2015 elections? And at what point after the 2015 elections should we feel comfortable that Nigeria is the winner, assuming we are able to identify the winning parameters and thus map out her winning strategy?
There is no doubt that as we move towards the 2015 elections the political environment in Nigeria has been anything but stable, accompanied by high tension signaling warnings of impending political instability and violence, added to the criminal violence resulting from such crimes as kidnapping, armed robbery, ritual murders, and rape occurring all over. Already, over the past five years the nation has been struggling with the Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast that is threatening our peace and stability, and to a very large extent, Nigeria’s sovereign and territorial integrity, bearing in mind that some parts of her territory are already under the control of the insurgents (according to recent reports, 20 out of the 27 local government areas of Borno State are under the insurgents, with the flag hoisted).
There is also the issue of recognition and ownership of Nigeria, and one may not be far from reality to assume that Nigeria is still struggling to be recognized as a nation by those who reside in her territory. To be the winner at anytime, Nigeria requires collective ownership to the extent that the approximately 170 million “citizens” see themselves first as Nigerians rather than clinging to their various ethnic and/or religious identities. We identify ourselves on the basis of our religion and ethnicity, and the only time we are Nigerians is when we identify ourselves at international borders holding the travelling passport. No wonder we find it difficult to conduct successful census that would enable us plan for development as a nation, mainly because we argue over which religious group, section or tribe is more in number, without focusing on the quality of the population.
Today we talk of ethnic nationalities and the urge for self-determination for each ethnic group. No doubt there are people who do not believe in Nigeria as it is currently structured. Similarly, there are those who believe that the amalgamation of the north and south was either a genuine mistake or a deliberate gerrymandering by the British colonial government in line with its interests; still there are others who are convinced that the north and south do not share anything in common culturally, therefore it is impossible to live together as one nation; others feel that Nigeria is too large a country, therefore would prefer an arrangement that would give each region self-determination; and yet there are even those with separatist agenda, such as Boko Haram, NDPVF, MASSOB, MEND, and OPC, who believe that everyone should go his separate ways for whatever reasons they hold. From the foregoing picture, what has become very clear is the fact that the unity of Nigeria has been under intense threat, and with the current divergent political interests and the combative nature of most politicians in pursuant of do-or-die politics, what would likely be the picture post-2015 elections? As a matter of fact there are people who threatened to put the country on fire if their preferred candidate does not win the presidential election. How can Nigeria be the winner after 2015 elections against the forces of anarchy, violence, and disintegration? What should be the strategy for this winning agenda? The 2015 elections represent just the peak or high point of this contest, but there are many other factors that come to play in deciding the “how” to make Nigeria the winner.
The 2015 elections are not going to be the first in Nigeria, but there are signs that they would be the most critical in Nigeria’s history. These elections would hold in a highly charged political environment, a situation that began within the last 15 years but apparently reaching its peak currently. Although there are a number of differences between the current situation leading to the scheduled February 2015 elections and those relating to past elections in Nigeria, the most serious one however is the fact that at no time in the history of this country did we find ourselves so divided along religious and ethnic lines than now. Most politicians rely on the strength and efficacy of using religion and ethnicity as tools for political mobilization by taking advantage of the strong religious and ethnic sentiments among Nigeria’s populace. Hardly do politicians argue on the basis of the issues reflecting national interests and national development, and to a large extent, the bulk of Nigeria’s population neither understands nor appreciates the implications of such political manipulations. Furthermore, capitalizing on Nigeria’s unequal wealth distribution system, a rich natural-resource country but with over 70% of the population living below the universal poverty line, politicians have also introduced money as an additional tool for political mobilization. People are ready to do anything for money, including selling their votes and killing political opponents. It is very clear the extent to which politicians have used money to establish private “armies” used for political violence with the clear mandate by their masters to maim or kill whoever they consider an enemy, using all kinds of weapons (including small arms and light weapons). The last 15 years have witnessed the gradual militarization of politics which gave birth to, for example, the Borno ECOMOG, now transformed to Boko Haram; all manners of armed “cultists” groups, especially in Rivers; the Niger Delta militant groups, such as NDPVF and MEND; the Yan K’alare of Gombe; Ombatse of Nasarawa; the Area Boys of Lagos; the Egbesu Boys in Niger Delta; Sara-Suka of Bauchi; Bakassi Boys of Cross River; Yan Daba of Kano; Kauraye of Katsina; etc.
On the other hand, although one may argue that the process of politicization of the military began with the January 1966 Major Chukwuma Nzeogu’s coup which led to the termination of the First Republic and the beginning of an extended involvement of the military in politics, it is equally worthy to note that the last 15 years of the current democratic dispensation has witnessed a deeper politicization of the military and of course, the police. Both institutions have been distracted from their constitutional and professional responsibilities into carrying out tasks that seem to be geared towards regime security, rather than national security. Though there was an attempt to re-professionalize the military beginning in 2003 using a framework designed to transform the Nigerian Army over a ten-year period, there appears to be a derailment, though not in the form of direct involvement of the military in governance, rather it had to do with the deployments of the military to perform tasks that are outside their constitutional responsibilities. Almost all the states in Nigeria have maintained Task Forces, a combined military and police outfits, funded by the State Governors and deployed to conduct routine policing duties, a situation that is detrimental to the constitutional functions of the military in particular. By and large, if the initial phase of the transformation project designed to end in 2013 had succeeded the army would have improved on its professionalism, culture and values; curbed waste and corruption for greater efficiency; meet both local and international obligations at less cost; repositioned to effectively deal with its traditional roles based on new fighting concepts and broad range of threats; and developed lighter, lethal, sustainable, and rapidly deployable and responsive force (see Framework for the Transformation of the Nigerian Army in the Next Decade, Volume 1). Today the performance of the military against the Boko Haram insurgency has been below expectation, a situation that has been tied to both tangible and intangible factors such as discipline; inadequate or inappropriate equipment; poor leadership; and quality of personnel and troops morale. The professional conduct of our armed forces and police is being questioned by the international community following the accusations of human rights abuses; and our sincerity in dealing with terrorism is being doubted for various reasons. The situation is gradually reversing the position the Nigerian military held in the immediate past as one of the best in the world as a result of the leadership role we played in the Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Chad, Somalia, Sudan, and a host of other countries under regional and UN peacekeeping missions. It was not long ago in 2009 that the UN Peacekeeping Department honored the Nigerian Military with the accreditation of pre-deployment training package at the Nigerian Army Peacekeeping Center, the first in Africa to be so accredited, with the capacity to train two battalions simultaneously. With that accreditation we were in position to train UN peacekeepers from anywhere in the world, but I am not sure if that would be the case now. It is instructive to note that the military is one of the major instruments of national power, and no country can afford losing it. The insurgency in the northeast has exposed our weak capacity and lack of clear political will to deal with the situation. Would the 2015 elections lead us to an era in which this instrument of national power could be strengthened and made robust?
Now to the 2015 elections themselves which are not only central to this dialogue, but also significant in making Nigeria the winner. Of course elections are very important in democracy, especially in emerging democracies, like ours. It was the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Anan, who said that “when citizens go to the polls and cast their votes, they aspire not only to elect their leaders, but to choose a direction for their nation” and according to him, only elections with integrity can bolster democracy, while flawed elections undermine it. I agree with Kofi Anan’s assertion, but how do we ensure that the 2015 elections in Nigeria would turn out to be of integrity in order to avoid undermining our nascent democracy? How do we conduct elections with integrity using the so-called “stomach infrastructure” by attracting votes with 5kg bags of rice? How do we ensure elections with integrity in a situation in which almost all the outgoing Governors, regardless of party affiliation, anoint their chosen successors prior to elections, thereby disregarding people’s choices? And those who still have the opportunity to seek re-election for another term are given automatic ticket, regardless of their performance, thereby not only blocking other contenders from exercising their rights to participate, but also denying people the right to choose their leaders?
Closely linked to the success of the 2015 elections is the role of INEC in the conduct of free, fair and credible elections. There are quite a number of challenges the INEC is now facing, thus: if we have to count on our past experiences, there is some level of certainty that attempts would be made at various levels to rig elections, and the INEC would have to contend with how best to prevent it; likewise, previous elections were accompanied by logistics inadequacies, and it is hoped that INEC has done a lot of work in this regard so as to avoid delays in the movements of elections materials in particular; already there are problems with the Permanent Voters’ Card (PVC) and the registration of voters, and with the way things are going, there is likelihood that a large number of Nigerians (including me) would be disenfranchised; funding is another area of challenge, and INEC has made this known to the public several times that the government has not be able to provide it with adequate funds; and the fourth challenge has to do with the current insecurity in the country, particularly the northeast. How can Nigeria be the winner if these challenges are not addressed?
I want to emphasize the significance of security during elections, but in particular the 2015 elections. The INEC would conduct the 2015 elections in an environment that is confronting serious security challenges that are unprecedented, due to the insurgency in the northeast where a significant number of Local Government Areas could still be under the control of the Boko Haram as at the period of elections; where a sizeable number of Nigerians have been displaced from the homes and scattered in various make-shift camps and other places. In other places such as Taraba, Plateau, Kaduna, Benue, Zamfara, Nasarawa, and Katsina, there are people displaced as a result of either ethno-religious crisis or clashes between herders and farmers, also resulting in the displacement of significant population in the affected areas. According to a joint report by the Internal Displaced Monitoring Center and the Norwegian Refugee Council providing 2014 Global Overview, approximately 3.3 million Nigerian are displaced due to all kinds of violent crises (the figure must have increased by now). We must note also that there is equally a significant number of Nigerians who are refugees in the neighboring countries of Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Furthermore, the fact that a good number of these displaced persons and refugees are eligible voters, how can Nigeria be the winner of the 2015 elections without these people being able to exercise their rights to vote? How about the over 200 Chibok girls and other abductees who are still missing, and what is their fate? Can Nigeria still be the winner while these girls remain captives in the hands of the Boko Haram terrorists?
Examining the current challenges, particularly the challenges of insecurity in Nigeria as a whole, and the insurgency in the northeast in particular, there are people who think that the elections should be postponed. If this should be the case, then this dialogue we are holding today becomes irrelevant. Therefore, we should also attempt to look at the alternative scenario in terms of the impact postponing the elections would have in the polity. If the elections were not to hold, what would be next line of action in terms of ensuring peace and stability? Would the suggestion of postponing elections not introduce another set of problems? Although some people have suggested an interim government or government of national unity, who would such a government and what would be the nature of its composition? While I do not expect Nigeria to be an instant winner with just the 2015 elections, the elections would certainly lay a strong foundation for ultimate victory if they are violent-free, and perceived to be free, fair and credible. This goal can be achieved through the combination of efforts by INEC, Security Agencies, Political Parties, the Media, and Voters themselves: First, INEC must not only be neutral, but must be seen to be neutral and truly independent, by ensuring that no contestant is shortchanged; that there is a level playing field for all parties, so that no party is disadvantaged; that the electoral laws are fully adhered to and enforced, while violators are sanctioned accordingly; that adequate logistics arrangements are made to ensure that election materials are delivered accordingly, in addition to strict adherence to timings and programs; and any attempt by any participant either as individuals or parties to rig the elections should be rejected. A situation in which the people believe that elections are not free and fair, governance becomes difficult, if not impossible, due to the fact that political leadership would fail to be recognized by those who feel betrayed, as such would continue to struggle for legitimacy until next elections. This is even more serious when complaints are not addressed and resolved either politically or legally. Second, security agencies have a tremendous role to play in support of INEC by ensuring that they not only provide adequate security during the elections, but that they also remain neutral. Not only that security agencies must as a matter of necessity stick to their constitutional role to ensure that law and order are maintained, but they must also not allow themselves to be used to intimidate voters. Third, the role of political parties in driving the campaign in orderly and peaceful manner is very significant in the success of elections process. Where national interests are threatened, for example, parties must put aside their differences to work together towards protecting such interests against violation. Parties must stick to the rules of the game and avoid mud-slinging or casting aspersions against political opponents. It is equally important for the political parties to maintain focus and avoid statements that would overheat the polity. Fourth, the media (both electronic and print) is a very critical and vital institution in this project. As a public agenda setter; a gate keeper on public issues; a watchdog of political transparency and fight against corruption; and a fourth estate which provides the needed checks and balances in relation to the three branches of government; the media has a crucial role to play in national development. However, to succeed in their role, the media must be professional and objective, therefore must avoid bias, sensationalism, propaganda and distortions, particularly in a society like ours with many fault lines. For the 2015 elections, the media must lead the civil society in ensuring that the elections are free, fair and credible in the overall interest of the nation. Fifth, Nigeria will win if the voters themselves vote freely to elect credible people not on the basis of religion, ethnicity or monetary inducements. Voters must not engage in any acts of violence and brigandage that could lead to the destruction of lives and properties. Matchets, knives and daggers are not the weapons of voters, but rather the most potent weapon for the voter is his or her vote which he or she must use wisely to vote for the candidate of his or her choice.
Post-2015 elections Nigeria cannot be the winner if the current insecurity environment is sustained, particularly the threats posed by terrorism and insurgency of Boko Haram in the north. Every day we live with the hope that the insurgency in the northeast would end using multi-dimensional approach so that the future would not experience such threats that have had devastating effects on our lives. How can Nigeria be the winner when the vast majority of people live in perpetual fear? Freedom from fear is not only a fundamental right in human security, but it also compliments the freedom from want. Unfortunately both freedoms are under serious threats. Educational institutions, markets, worship centers (such as mosques and churches), and motor parks, that are the major areas in which the bulk of daily activities of Nigerians are concentrated have become the main targets of terrorist attacks. Such attacks cripple the educational system; immobilize the movement of people; deny people the means of sustaining their lives; deny them their fundamental right to practice their faith; and above all, deny people the right to decent living (the insurgency has taken away their food, housing, education, and healthcare). In the southeast and south-south, people cannot move freely due to the fear of kidnappers and violent cultists. In the south west, ritual killers are lurking around for unsuspecting victims, especially women and children. How can Nigeria be the winner if the people residing in her territory are experiencing such hurtful disruptions of their daily lives? According to the first UN Human Development Report (1994), human security involves a “process of widening the range of people’s choices” in which “people can exercise these choices safely and freely, and that they can relatively be confident that the opportunities they have today are not lost tomorrow.” How can Nigeria be the winner if the choices of the people residing in her territory are narrowing instead of widening?
Beginning 1999, it is now 15 years of democracy in Nigeria, but we are yet to consolidate it. We have already discussed the first step towards consolidating democracy, that is, free, fair and credible elections. Next, is the issue of good governance manifested in clear observance of democratic tenets, imbedded in adherence to the rule of law; respect for human rights; accountability; transparency; inclusiveness; and popular participation. Next, is strengthening of democratic institutions, and ensuring that there are adequate arrangements for checks and balances among the executive, legislature and the judiciary. Although there have been major challenges in the last 15 years, the Fourth Republic has been the longest so far in Nigeria’s democratic experiment. Is there any possibility that the 2015 elections could usher in the path for democratic consolidation in Nigeria? Yes, there is. But this is only possible when the right people are elected: people who are competent and of high integrity; people who are focused and selfless; people who are courageous and loyal; people who respect human rights and appreciate the rule of law; people who would be transparent and are ready to be held accountable; people who understand the essence of human security; people who are ready to once more make Nigeria the giant of Africa; people who appreciate that without peace and security there will be no development; and above all, people who believe in Nigeria as a united, indivisible nation. These are the kind of people that would guarantee Nigeria’s economic, political and social stability to put her on the path of sustained growth and development.
I have attempted to suggest a path to follow in order to make Nigeria the winner come 2015 elections. While this may not be the only path, I believe following what I have provided for this dialogue will go a long way in ensuring that we at least achieve very reasonable level of peace and stability. I do hope that my points would encourage or provoke enough discussions in this dialogue.