In less than two months from now, Nigerians will be going to the polls to elect new leaders, the nation is on the edge, there is fear of a possible outbreak of violence during the elections, but project coordinator, National Stakeholders Committee on Peaceful and violence free 2019 elections, Mr Kayode Bolaji, in this interview with JOSEPH CHIBUEZE, unveils the plan of the organisation to ensure the country comes out of the elections more united than ever
What exactly is the mandate of the National Stakeholders Committee on Peaceful and Violent-Free 2019 General Elections?
The committee was inaugurated in June this year. The idea was to bring together stakeholders on security and peace to work out a plan that will ensure that the forthcoming general elections is peaceful and devoid of any form of violence. So we got the hard power agencies of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the Defence Headquarters, the Nigerian Police and the Immigration Service.
Then we have the soft power agencies like the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR), the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the National Orientation Agency (NOA), civil society organisations (CSOs) like, Peace Building Development Foundation and Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) among others. There is also the intelligence agencies, like the Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Department of State Service (DSS).
We also have faith based organisations represented by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs.
Since the inauguration what has the committee been able to do?
Part of our terms of reference is to analyse the current situation as it relates to security and peace. So to some extent, we conducted Intelligence Preparation of the Environment (IPE). We looked at the different regions to know what the people are clamouring for in terms of, is there some perceived injustice? is there some decisions that could cause mayhem?, how can we calm the situation? At the end of the exercise, we came up with a work plan, part of which is that we need to appeal to leading political leaders, the ones in government and the ones aspiring to be elected into office.
Another thing we did was to look at what the National Peace Committee is currently doing vis-a-viz what our mandate is. Because many of us are from soft power agencies and we know that violence actually happen at the grassroots, we know we need agencies that are in touch with people at the grassroots to lead this kind of programme. That is why the National Orientation Agency is the lead agency and of course we have the Nigerian Police Force, the National Security and Civil Defence Corps that are also in the 774 local government areas across the nation.
We have contacted the leaders of those agencies and we are also constituting the same stakeholders committee at the national level at that local level.
The first programme we are having at the national level is the national dialogue and dinner programme for a peaceful and violence-free 2019 general elections. We are inviting political leaders, religious leaders, Political leaders, presidential candidates, governorship candidates as well as national assembly candidates to basically provide a convivial atmosphere for us to reflect on the history of Nigeria, how leaders, including some of them that are political leaders now, have worked earnestly to maintain the unity of the country and the importance of keeping the country united and safe.
We will have some lectures by the chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof Mahmood Yakubu, elder statesman, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III and the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Dr. Olasupo Ayokunle.
We will also hear from some of the political leaders as they make passionate appeal to their followers that peace is very important and that they don’t want any bloodshed. Hopefully, we will use some of the audio visuals that we get from the meeting and cascade it to the states, local governments and the wards across the country.
Apart from that, we are doing a lot of sensitization, we are on radio, we are on social media, we try to bring the social media community together to join this platform to reduce the spread of hate speech and fake news. We want a situation where our website will be a one-stop platform where people can get authentic news about the elections because we have every stakeholder in our committee, we have INEC, we have civil society organisations and we are open to more joining.
Why is it on the eve of the elections that this committee is coming up when it should have been working right from the end of the last elections to build on the gains of that election?
We actually started in June this year when the committee was inaugurated. We monitored the elections in Ekiti and Osun States and we sent out our messages to different stakeholders. In fact part of our resolutions was one of the things that prompted the office of the National Security Adviser to begin the necessary training for the Police because we made some frantic resolutions that Police need to get more training to be able to tackle the forthcoming elections.
So we’ve been around. Of course we had some set back in that a lot of the stakeholders didn’t understand early enough the importance of the committee, if they had, we would have been able to make more impact.
What exactly do we need to do besides just making laws to check election violence?
We have so many laws, there are just too many of them. So it is not a question of not having laws in place. I think what we need to know is that Nigeria belongs to all of us and we have to make the decision to make it work. So whether it is a high profile person or a low profile person or just ordinary citizen, we need a Nigeria before we can say we are big men and so we need to make it work. Apart from the laws, we all need to make that commitment that this country must survive and work towards it.
That is why we need to do more orientation and sensitization. We need to let the hard power agencies to know that Nigeria did not put them there to use their guns to threaten people going about their legitimate business. I think we just need more sensitization, not laws. At that point everybody just behaves like an animal. We need to let our people know that there has to be Nigeria before one can be a lawmaker, you need Nigeria before you can be the president, you need Nigeria before you can be governor or before you can even go to your church or your mosque to preach. So we are all stakeholders.
Don’t you think our electoral processes also need to be more transparent to avoid people having this feeling of injustice or that they have been rigged out?
Our electoral process from the beginning is faulty, that is also part of the things that we will be working on hopefully if we are able to scale through this election peacefully. Post-election training, orientation and sensitization is very important and we are going to make an appeal to the government to support agencies like NOA, Human Rights Commission, Institute for Peace, soft power agencies. They are the ones that can diplomatically take the message to the grassroots because you cannot counter perceived injustice by just talking about it, you need to re-orientate the people. They already have a particular belief system and that belief system is what becomes a world view to them. So you need an alternative truth to sell to those people and that is not something you do with an event. It took many years for them to develop that world view, it will take a lot more years for them to counter it, or for you to help them counter it. So the soft power agencies will need to do a lot of work and government, whoever gets in there after this election will need to consider diplomacy rather than hard power.
As of changes in our electoral process, I know the national assembly has made some recommendations to the presidency and I am sure the presidency also has reason why he refused to assent to that law. It will be beyond our mandate to begin to make recommendations. Our focus is to make sure there is peace and the election is violent free and to encourage people to come out and vote.
Are you involving the traditional rulers?
Yes we are, that’s why I said we are also involved at the zonal level because that is where the traditional rulers have their influence. At the national level, we will be talking to people considered to be national traditional rulers like the Sultan of Sokoto, the Obi of Onitsha, the Ooni of Ife, the Elkanemi of Borno and so on.
With less than two months to the elections, what gives you the hope that this committee will be able to make impact?
That is why we need the support of every Nigerian, we are talking to people in government that we need their support. They are beginning to realize that peaceful election is not about event, it is not just about signing the peace accord, it’s about sensitization, it’s about orientation, it’s about changing the concept of perceived injustice, its about encouraging Nigerians that things will go on well, staying at that level, being mediators between people who can instigate violence and people that can actually do the violence.
Knowing Nigeria is a country that has multiple layers of trauma, violence is simmering everywhere just looking for opportunity to explode. We are aware of some of those things, those are the things we analysed before the inauguration of the committee. So with the help of a lot of Nigerians, with the help of traditional institutions, the religious institutions, the political institutions, with the security and non-state actors, we will be able to achieve our mandate.
Do you think the NOA is equipped enough to carry out its mandate?
Certainly not. Every time I come to NOA I feel very sad, not just NOA, all the soft power agencies. Every time I go to Human Rights Commission I feel very sad, every time I go to the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, I feel bad. Some of them don’t even have fuel to run their generators and you want them to do research, you want them to mediate, you want them to talk to people. They are not equipped to do the job that Nigerians are expecting them to do.
Have we learnt anything from what happened in 2015, are we in any way working towards building on it?
With the signs that we are seeing, we have not learnt anything from the events of 2015. As we are talking now, nothing much has changed with the way people see election, it’s more like a do or die affair.
President Goodluck Jonathan made a very good contribution to democracy in Nigeria in that powerful statement that his political ambition is not worth the blood of any Nigerian. We don’t hear that any more. We are supposed to take that higher, not going backwards like we have seen already in the few elections we have experienced since 2015, there was violence. If we don’t take violence very seriously, we can’t take peace very serious.
The youths are the ones used to perpetrate this violence during elections, why have they refused to learn that they are only being used?
It is a psychological thing for the youths because if somebody is poor and you make him poor, you can redirect his perception and that’s really what is happening. So if you have a bunch of poor, uneducated and unemployed youths sitting down at home, they will go with anything that has to do with money because for them it is about survival. That is very sad. Even going into election it is not just about politics alone. That is why I said that our country has a multiple layer of trauma, we are traumatized as a nation, our youths are traumatized, our older ones are traumatized and we are transferring some of those aggressions on the coming generation. How do we knit that kind of community together? That is why committees like this should be supported. A committee that can appeal to those who are governing and the governed. We need a committee that can bridge the communication gap between the people in government and the people in the grassroots so that they can have a common understanding and build an atmosphere where peace can prevail, where healing can take place.
What do we need to do to ensure peace in Nigeria?
I know we have multiple problems in Nigeria, but we need to understand where Nigeria is in the comity of nations. If we begin any conflict here in Nigeria, no country will be able to help us. We need to understand and look at our environment, the nations surrounding us will even deny us entrance into their countries. We need peace, we need to lead democracy in Africa and we need to encourage one another to maintain peace. I know it is going to be difficult but we will make sure that every channel of communication or resolution is achieved, every channel for justice, is achieved. We plead that there should be no violence.