Washington, DC — Following is the text of remarks for Professor Ibrahim Gambari at the Center for Strategic & International StudiesForum on Security and Nigeria's National Elections.
Let me start by thanking the Director of the Africa Programme at CSIS, Jennifer Cooke, an old collaborator and friend, for inviting me as Founder & Chairman of the Board of Directors of Savannah Center for Diplomacy, Democracy & Development (SCDDD) based in Abuja to make a contribution to this discussion on "Nigeria's 2015 National Elections and Security Challenges: The Way Forward".
May I also recognize the presence of my compatriots who are participating in this discussion... in particular my former colleague at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim and also a former colleague in the Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Clement Layiwola Laseinde, and my fellow delegate at ongoing National Council, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani).
Within the time allotted to my presentation, I would only raise five key issues here as a prelude for what I expect to be rewarding interactive session. First, the security challenges facing Nigeria as the country moves closer to the 2015 elections are more than physical in nature. The Nigerian government, through its military, police & security agencies, has demonstrated in recent times that it could create safe and secure environment for hosting the World Economic Forum in Abuja and the recent elections in Ekiti State. Even then, these are localized events and the challenges of providing physical security nation-wide elections remain for the military force, police and other security personnel, which are already over stretched in coping with acts of insurgence, militancy in Nigeria.
In my view, the greater and non-physical challenge is the absence of consensus around the planning, conduct and outcome of the elections of 2015. I will be making a recommendation on how to promote such a consensus in the emerging political context in Nigeria which would contribute to the integrity and acceptability of the elections bearing in mind that the experience of elections in Nigeria have been major drivers of conflict and insecurity before, during and after elections.
Second, this point of view, is not aimed at downplaying the traditional security challenges facing the country such as the endemic conflicts and violence in the North East, in particular, which has necessitated deployment of troops to the region since 2009, elicited declaration of State of Emergency in 3 of the six states of the North East geo-political zone over a year ago and renewed recently. Still in 2014 alone, over 4000 lives were lost including school children, villages, razed and massive internally displaced persons. Over 1/2 of people of Borno state now live in Maiduguri. The abduction of 270 school girls in CHIBOK shocked the world conscience. Then there is the ethnic settler dichotomy and the security challenges emanating from the conflicts between the two have worsened in North Central and North Western states. We are familiar with the militancy and oil theft in the South South, and human trafficking and kidnapping in the South East. Terrorist acts and bombings have been taking place in Kano, Jos, Kaduna, and Abuja. It is in this climate and despite the best efforts of the government... that elections at the state and national levels would be taking place only seven months away. It is clear that even greater efforts must be made by the government and spectrum of the Nigerian populace to greatly reduce the level of violence so as to produce relatively safe and secure environment prior to and during the actual casting of ballots throughout the country.
In this regard and third point, the Combating Violent Extremism (CVE) Programme rolled out by the NSA on 18th March, 2014 is a step in the right direction in dealing with the most vicious and relentless acts of extremism of the BoKo Haram in the North East... in particular. We must, however, recognize that Nigeria is in for a long haul and there can be no quick fixes in meeting this challenge. The solutions to the phenomenon have to be comprehensive carefully calibrated and sustained. This must begin by:
a) recognizing that this is a national not a regional problem
b) dealing with and overcoming the 3 layers of mistrust.
(1) between insurgents and the Federal Government
(2) between the Federal Government & the State in the North East
(3) between the Nigerian government and neighboring countries. There is need for greater synergies with all of them bilaterally & unilaterally through the Lake Chad Commission.
Fourth point; beyond or in addition to the security of voters and candidates there are numerous issues relating to the rules of the game which must be addresses before the elections and broadly endorsed by major stakeholders in order to reduce their risk of becoming further drivers of violence in Nigeria. There are real concerns that the longer the delay in dealing with them the higher the possibility that they would not be addressed before the elections ... because in Nigeria "governance" tends to stop and politics take over 3 - 6 months prior to elections just about now. Yet the stakes are getting higher especially given the re-alignment in the political landscape--with schism in the ruling party and unity of efforts among the opposition parties which may further polarize the contest ... especially given the "do or die" mentality of the political gladiators during the electoral battle.
Hence, for the integrity of the elections and the prospects of accepting the outcome which could also reduce the prospect of post-election violence there is need to pursue the following specific objectives which SCDDD is proposing.
a) foster consensus on major issues likely to drive violence in 2015
b) strengthen communication and interface between civil society groups and key non-state actors engaged in the planning and conduct of the 2015 elections. ( end of page four)
c) facilitate confidence and trust building among key state and non-state actors engaged in the elections by this regard. SCDDD would be establishing a "Council of the Wise" consisting of respected and eminent Nigerians to foster consensus and peaceful resolution of important issues around the planning, conduct and the outcome of the elections of 2015. The Council would, in this regard, lead efforts to engage Nigerians in several Town Hall settings to address the citizens on the "Nigerian Project" using largely the language of peace, reconciliation, collaboration and partnership as oppose to hate language and other forums of extremism consistent with one of the four streams/elements of the NSA's soft approach to countering terrorism publicly articulated in Abuja on 18th March 2011.
Finally Nigeria is not the only country in the developing world which has had to battle violent extremism and still hold country-wide elections whose outcome broadly reflect the will of the people. Hence the experiences of such countries should be carefully examined and appropriate lessons learned and applied. If they can do it; Nigeria can surely do it and the stakes in Nigeria are particularly high.
A peaceful, united, prosperous and just Nigeria is not only good for Nigerians.It would have demonstration effect and impact on West Africa, the African Continent especially and the world as a whole. And as stated in one of the recommendations of an ICG Report on Nigeria, there is a need for federal, states and neighboring governments of Nigeria to work together to "develop and implement comprehensive plans to tackle not only physical security but also grievances that fuel insurgency which ultimately calls for radical reforms of governance as well as Nigeria's political culture".