Auwal Ibrahim Musa Rafsanjani, the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC); the pioneer legislative civil society organisation in Nigeria, is a leading voice of the civil society in Nigeria. In this interview with ADAM ALQALI, he speaks about his passion for the protection of the rights of the common man; CISLAC’s efforts of strengthening the legislature in Nigeria, as well as the enormous challenges facing Nigeria today.
How was growing up like?
I was born, brought up and educated in Kano where I attended the Bayero University, Kano (BUK) and graduated with a Bsc in Political Science in 1994. I have also attended several courses (in Europe and America) across areas like governance, transparency and accountability, conflict resolution as well as electoral reform.
During my days at BUK, I was a student leader – both at university and also at national level. I served as food director in my university before I was elected as Assistant Secretary General of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) in 1991. As a student activist, I was involved with pro-democracy and human rights movements like the Campaign for Democracy (CD) and the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR).
After my graduation, I joined the Community Action for Popular Participation (CAPP) and worked as program officer in charge of community development projects. I later moved to the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) where I led projects in diverse areas including legislative advocacy, local democracy, good governance, as well as constitutionalism and development. In 2005, having studied the gap existing in the area of civil society’s engagement with the legislature, I felt there was a need to focus more attention on the legislature towards strengthening them. So, I resigned from CDD and conceptualised the formation of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and then reached out to my colleagues in different CSOs who came together and assisted in the setting-up of CISLAC.
Since then, the organisation has been working in the area of strengthening the legislature as well as creating a space for the CSOs to engage with the legislature at both state and federal level on issues like bills, electoral transparency, accountability as well as capacity building for the legislatures, their legislative aides, the CSOs as well as media reporters to be able to effectively and constructively engage and legislative process in Nigeria.
Other than CISLAC, I am also involved with many civil society coalitions like the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), United Action for Democracy (UAD), among other movements working in the area promoting democracy and good governance. I am also the contact person of Transparency International in Nigeria; the chairman of the Zero Corruption Coalition (ZCC); the Nigeria Coordinator of West Africa Civil Society Forum (WASCOF) as well as a Zonal Coordinator of the Citizens’ Forum for Constitutional Reform (CFCR).
You have been involved with activism right for your days in the university, what would you say inspired you to join civil society activism from such an early age?
Well! You know Kano people are activists by nature and also very consciouspolitically. So, as someone born and brought up in Kano, I will say activism is in my blood. Also, the foundation built by the likes of Aminu Kano on the ideology of the emancipation of the talakawas is one that many people in Kano are still trying to live up to. That has really helped influenced and shaped my person with this idea of helping the ordinary person when he facing any a difficulty.
Thus, when I went to the university, I tried to explore that in a broader context towards ensuring the socio-economic and political wellbeing of the masses. So I was also interested in issues like human rights and justice, transparency and accountability, and a violence-free society; all in trying to emancipate common man of this country on the ideology of ceton talakawa (emancipating of the masses) pioneered and championed by the late Aminu Kano.
You have been the Executive Director of CISLAC, the pioneer legislative civil society organisation in Nigeria, right from its inception in 2005 to date. How far has CISLAC gone in strengthening the legislature towards an effective legislative process in Nigeria?
The reality is that there has been a serious gap between the electorates and the legislature because of the kind of democracy we are practicing – one that is not participatory, responsive, and grassroots oriented. So, there is a challenge in terms of who even becomes a legislator; what they should do and what the electorates expect them to do. What we are trying to do as an organisation is bridge the gap between the electorates and their elected representatives – to make the representatives accountable and transparent and the electorate able to engage in legislative activism. For example, if you are elected as a representative, are you able to consult with your people on key legislative issues; have you been consulting your constituents on what are their needs before you go and table it before the National Assembly, as well as, do you even have ideas on how to function effectively as a legislator.
Legislative representation is not just about representing the people, it also about giving feedback to the constituents. It is just not enough to go and attend wedding or naming ceremonies in your constituency. It is a constructive opportunity for ideas as well as information sharing and that, unfortunately, has not been the case with most of our legislators, some of whom do not even have offices in their constituencies.
Thus, CISLAC is continually advocating for the bridging of these gaps by giving the constituents the opportunity to provide offer useful pieces of advices and suggestions to their representatives. Likewise, the legislators should be consistently briefing them on the crucial activities of the legislature; in terms of issues being debated in the National Assembly so they can always know what the stand of their people is and abide by it. For example, during the Third Term Debate, some of the legislators didn’t go and consult with their constituents before they took a stand.
Likewise, during budget process, some legislators would be pushing for one constituency project or another without having consulted their constituents to know whether or not they need such projects. So, we believe constituency accountability and effective representation is paramount. In terms of oversight duties, which are integral to the work of the legislators, we also provide them with useful information on what they should oversight and how they should do it. Thus, legislative oversight shouldn’t be seen as a legislative extortion or blackmail; instead, it should be seen as a process of investigating government’s projects and policies towards ensuring that they are well implemented.
In terms of law making, CISLAC has also been providing capacity building to the legislators to ensure that they make laws that will help us grow in terms of good governance as well as transparency and accountability. So, we have organised a lot of trainings and interactive sessions for the legislators and their aids on the type of laws Nigeria needs, to be able to move the country forward; in terms of addressing conflicts, unemployment and poverty as well as creating an enabling framework that will deal with the issue of corruption in Nigeria. In summary, these are what CISLAC has been contributing to the legislature (at federal and state levels) in order to improve our legislative engagement and democracy generally.
Of recent, scores of Nigerian legislators defected to the opposition APC, from the ruling PDP; how good do you think that is to Nigeria’s emerging democracy?
The reality is, when politics is not practiced on the basis of any ideologies, occurrences like this become inevitable. So, politics in this country is neither issue-based nor on the basis of any ideologies; instead, it is purely opportunistic, as such, once the condition in one party doesn’t favour the politicians, they would want to move to another party. Thus, decamping from one political party to another that is not guided by any ideology and that is not out of the concern to bring about change in Nigeria’s economy; to bring an end to injustices in our system and move away from the status quo, as far as I am concerned, is not a cause for celebration. This is because the same defectors may end up going back to the same party tomorrow. So, the defection only becomes meaningful if it helps in checkmating the various excesses going on in the country today and also brings about sanity in the polity.
Recently, INEC conducted a governorship election in Anambra State, which many have described as a sham. What do you make of that election and to what extent do you think it was a litmus test for what Nigerians should expect in 2015?
I think the Anambra election was a clear indication that INEC is not prepared for the general elections in 2015. It also showed the extent to which politicians are not willing to organise credible debates as well as discussions to be able to convince average Nigerian voters on why they should elect them in 2015; it was clear that the use of state resources and violence to manipulate the outcome of elections is what is set to happen come 2015. So, the Anambra election clearly demonsatrated that more efforts need to be made in order to be to be able to guarantee free and fair elections in Nigeria come 2015.
Nigeria is currently facing enormous challenges which many believe are posing a serious threat to the corporate coexistence of the country as a nation. What do you make of these challenges?
Absolutely, these challenges pose serious threats to our corporate coexistence as a nation because on daily basis, Nigerians are losing their lives to ordinarily preventable causes like armed robbery, road accidents as well as bombings. Nigerians are becoming poorer, youths are unemployed and the all you continue to hear is killings, bombings and looting. Unfortunately, this administration has proved to be an accommodator of impunity and promoter of corruption. Yet, all sorts of calls for the government to address these challenges fell on deaf ears. Governance is continually being abused and the only thing that thrives in this country today is incompetency, deceit, corruption and impunity – by leaders at all levels.
Nigerians have lost confidence in the present leadership because the leaders are unfortunately not leading by example. Insecurity has unfortunately become so evident that no one is safe, and beyond Boko Haram insurgency, you have militants who have renewed their commitment to bring about instability. There is also the threat of groups like MASSOB and OPC. These challenges are not about ethnicity or religion instead, about lack of honest, transparent and competent leadership that will be able to lead us out of our myriad of problems.
Interview originally published by Abuja-based Blueprint Newspaper.