By Gabriel Ewepu
Awual Ibrahim Rafsanjani, is the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, in this interview cautioned activists over getting involved in electoral politics, and also spoke on issues affecting the civil society space.
Is it right for activists who have been fighting to ensure the citizenry enjoys constitutional rights and privileges to join active politics?
If you an activist you have to continue your activism because you are helping to be conscious of the nation and governance and you will be providing strategic suggestions that will ensure good governance and you can also to hold government accountable, but when you deviate and you go electoral politics and you don’t have what it takes to go into electoral politics you are likely going to misread.
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Unless you are given appointment by the President to come and serve based on your expertise, track record and you are bringing expertise into governance that is where I will not have objection for anybody to get into government. But if you are to say you want to get into electoral politics you are likely going to be messed up.
We have seen the example of some of our senior comrades who tried to go into electoral politics and because they did not invest their time and energy and they are not been able to build skills and expertise into electoral politics they didn’t succeed.
And they cannot do those things they have been preaching against. For example most of the people who engage in electoral politics you find them do undemocratic, unethical things. For example I don’t expect any activist to go and engage in political violence or support, encourage or align himself or herself with people who are determined, desperate to capture power. In most instances when they get there they are not able to exemplify themselves because it is a system that may not be able to allow you do the right thing.
My own appeal to my fellow comrades or activists is to say you have been engaging in the human rights, anti-corruption work use that to provide the necessary support and information to people who have the leadership responsibility because you cannot spend 25 or 30 years doing activism, serving as a conscious of the society, working for good governance, transparency and accountability and suddenly you go and join politicians who have no sense of responsibility, who don’t care about the nation, who promote violence, corruption, and if you do that you must have compromised your long standing integrity and commitment to serving the nation and humanity.
Like I said there is a difference between engaging in electoral politics, contesting, getting god-fathers, all sorts of violent, corrupt politicians around you to endorse you to their own political system, and there is a difference also between you being recognized as a human rights, anti-corruption, environmental expert and invited to come and support system that can actualize all the work you have been doing in that case you are not under obligation to go and be campaigning for anybody, to tell lies, mobilizing for thugs, engaging in exchanging money; it is not your own passion or work.
Therefore if you mistakenly go there you are going to be compromised and you will lose your credibility. That is why I personally don’t think any genuine activist should go and engage in any electoral politics that would promote violence, corruption, hatred, disintegration of Nigeria. I think politicians who are used in doing that they would not find it comfortable with you when you come they will frustrate you and may not give you space.
For me I want to continue based on the work I am doing and if I am invited based on the work that I am doing to support the good functionality of the system I will do that but not to go and do electoral politics.
I am not interested to contest any election because for now going into electoral politics is even carry out bad things that we are preaching against. So we will rather hold them accountable and insist and demand they should stop doing those things.
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Don’t you think they might have good intention to vie for political offices, what about that?
Even you have good intention given the character and nature of the political party system you have in Nigeria you are not likely going to succeed. First, look at the huge amount of money political parties are asking for even to buy a form.
Millions of Naira has been put forward for anybody who wants to become like House of Representative, Senator, Governor or President where will you have gotten this kind of money to come and buy the form? Secondly, we have been watching political parties in Nigeria as long as you don’t give money to political party leaders your ideas or progressive mindset would not count.
Even you have the popular support you are not going to emerge candidate because the system is corrupt that political party leaders they are not looking for people with expertise or skill, fear of God, knowledge and track record, but they are looking for people who will give them money and that is why at the end of the day many decent people who have gone there are not able to make it because they have not stolen enough in their to bribe politicians and political parties to emerge as candidate. It is a very difficult thing.
For me, let me continue to do the work I have been doing in the last 25 years everybody knows me for. Based on the work I am doing which is promoting good governance, accountability, rule of law, defending rights of Nigerians and on the basis of that there is recognition there is need to support the system and to strengthen it then fine and good we can do that. It important you are conscious of the society, to support government when they are doing the right thing.
For now we don’t have political party that activists will join and win elections, and when that time comes a genuine political party is established, right thinking people are in that party then I will encourage activists to go in there.
What about some activists, who are in government right now, are you saying you have lost confidence in them?
I have not lost confidence in anybody, but what I am saying is that it is very difficult if you are a genuine activist you got to a place 90 or 95 per cent you do not share the same aspiration, principle, background it will be extremely difficult to make any change there. You will be there and people will not notice you are there, not in that leadership position with the support of the people that are with you there to make the necessary change. So if you are a legislator in the House of Representatives you have 360 members and in the Senate you have 109 members and if you are just one in those chambers what impact would you make?
The system in the National Assembly is that if the Senate President does not want you to speak you will spend the next four years there you cannot speak likewise the House of Representatives. Tell me, how can you influence anything there if you don’t have the required number of people with the same vision and mission?
Even you are a Minister there is limit you can do anything and if you want to bring any radical change those civil servants will frustrate and throw you away.
The President to succeed in the fight against corruption he needs the critical mass of like-minded people not necessarily appointing people from this corrupt political system, the same applies to the Governor who wants progress, and with that he can make changes, but with that if you say you want go into electoral politics and you don’t have the required number to change the way and manner political parties do their things in Nigeria you will be consumed by the political processes that is so corrupt in Nigeria, and that is why I am making the distinction between going to contesting election or getting a President or Governor appoint you based on your expertise or track record to him deliver.
With the number of Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria, do you think all of them are operating and cooperating to hold government accountable?
Civil Societies have so many components. There are some on human rights, groups working on ant-corruption, environmental justice, health, education, water, and many sectors which CSOs are working in Nigeria. Getting one person to coordinate all these I don’t think it is going to even work, but you can have sectoral leaders.
For example in the human rights community we know when you mention some people you know they are human rights leaders, likewise anti-corruption, environment, communities and not all these faceless groups that some people will just come and say coalition of civil societies. Many a times they are they are faceless, state sponsored groups who don’t dare to do civil society work.
These so-called coalitions or networks do not exist, who in most cases support or protect criminals. There is no genuine anti-corruption organization that would say a corrupt person should not be investigated, protecting somebody who has violated the rights of people in Nigeria because he belongs to the same ethnic group or region. Politicians set up and sponsor such coalitions or networks or groups that are not actually verifiable; they don’t have office, registration, audited reports, board, structure and anything. They are confusing Nigerians.
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