Effort to create a well-informed society about various African Union Protocols which Nigeria is signatory to, resulted in the introduction of a live radio programme titled, MY AFRICAN UNION, MY VOICE by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) under the aegis of State of the Union Nigeria-Campaign Platform (SOTU N-CAMP). On 11th September, 2014, in this interview by O.J Matthew of Vision FM Abuja with the Project Coordinator SOTU N-CAMP, Okeke Anya and Austin Erameh of CISLAC, the Platform reveals how Nigerian citizens could benefit maximally from the golden opportunities brought by SOTU to effectively demand accountability. Excerpts:
What is this programme about?
ANYA: My African Union, My Voice is actually a programme of the State of the Union Coalition (SOTU). SOTU is a coalition of Civil Society Organisations in Africa that advocate for the ratification, domestication and implementation of key African Union Treaties and legal instruments. Some of these treaties include the African Charter on Human and People Rights, African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and so on. We would come to that later.
Basically, My African Union, My Voices is trying to bring to the door steps of Nigerians, the decisions that have been taken at the level of the African Union that will benefit Nigerian citizens and how they can go about engaging the relevant authorities to ensure that these instruments are implemented in Nigeria for their benefits.
What do you have to say concerning this?
AUSTIN: Well, as far as Nigeria is concerned, so far, Nigeria has been doing fairly well as regards ratification, domestication with certain number of African Union instruments. Where we have not done fairly well is at implementation. So, State of The Union in collaboration with the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) brings this programme as a way of informing the citizen on this African Union instruments as well as Nigeria’s implementation strategy that we have adopted, as well as the level of implementation with these African Union instruments. So, it is a way of sensitization, a way of allowing Nigeria’s citizens to know what their rights are as members of the African Union as well as the number of instruments we are working on.
What is the connection between CISLAC and SOTU?
ANYA: Like I mentioned earlier, the SOTU is a coalition of civil society groups in Africa and CISLA, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, is implementing the SOTU programmes in Nigeria. However, there are other Nigerian coalition partners that are part of what we call, State of The Union Coalition Campaign Platform. Austin will speak to some of those members, but CISLAC is the lead implementing partner of SOTU in Nigeria.
So Austin, what do you have to say in this regard?
The Tate of The Union Nigeria Campaign Platform has a number of organisations, about 23 of them. It’s actually a coalition of Nigerian Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO), that are working across broad number of developmental issues, from good governance, to democracy, to anti-corruption and various other sector. So, we have about 23 organisations spread across the 6 geopolitical zones of Nigeria, and the secretariat is CISLAC, which is based in Abuja. You have organisations from the 6 geopolitical zones targeting various thematic areas in governance and key governance implementation strategies.
What actually gave rise to SOTU?
AUSTINE: SOTU was actually borne out of the passion that government institutions across the continent actually have for citizens. It is funded by Oxfam International. It is actually a means of holding government accountable to their commitments in terms of protocols, conventions and other instruments at the continental level which is the AU. So the whole idea is actually to bring Civil Society groups and citizens at large to actually begin to hold government accountable to this commitment. In terms of ratification, they can go ahead and ratify these instruments, it’s not just ratification but as well as domestication and implementation of these instruments. So, it is borne out of making governance accountable and also government instruments.
Some will be wondering about this laudable project that you people actually have. Is SOTU also working with other Civil Society Organisations in Nigeria apart from CISLAC?
OKEKE: Basically, that is what Austin tried to mention earlier, that the organisation has different Civil Society groups cut across the different geo-political zones. I will just mention some of the names, I know that other members will understand that we have limited time and we cannot call all the organisations that are part of this coalition. We have the Zero Corruption Coalition, the National Association of Nigeria Traders, the Alliance for Africa, Centre for Leadership Strategy and Development, Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement. These are just a couple of organisations which are also doing varying works in different areas.
Just to re-emphasize what Austin has said, part of what gave rise to SOTU was actually the absence of citizens knowledge on what happens at the AU level. Most Nigerians, maybe they just see our leaders go to Addis Ababa, attend meetings and come back. They don’t know there is disconnect between what happens there and what happens at home. So, what this programme is trying to do is to bridge that gap, to ensure that citizens understand and make demands on government on what they have signed into. For instance, if you listened to the jingle, our National budget on health based on our commitments at the AU level should be 15%, but the past 3 to 4 years, you would find out that it is between 6 and 5% and with the whole health programme we are having. We saw how Ebola happened in Nigeria, we saw how it is stretching towards us.
Austin, can you quickly tell us what AU instruments the SOTU coalition is looking at as we speak?
AUSTINE: The number of instruments that the State of the Union is looking at the moment include: the African Charter on Human and People Right in Africa; African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance; Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community; African Union Convention Preventing and Combating Corruption; African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources; African Health Strategy; Protocol to the African Charter on People and Human Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa; and African Charter on the Right and Welfare of the Child.
How has been Government’s response to CISLAC and SOTU as we speak?
ANYA: I will say that the reactions have been that of a mixed bag. In some cases, you find out that some government agencies are willing to open their doors to talk to you and also willing to partner to ensure that we live up to our continental assignment. In some other, it has been foot-dragging. There is a lack of clarity and understanding of what the Civil Society are doing, when you come around, it looks as if you are just attacking government, no. The whole idea is not to attack government but to say, this is what is supposed to be done, let us partner, what is the gap? Where can we help? Where can we come in? These are some of the things however, I think there has been some useful collaboration with government but we hope to see it properly taken to a new level.
Austin, what do you have to say?
AUSTINE- Well, just to buttress what Mr. Anya has said, one of the objectives of the programme is actually to bridge the gap between the government and the citizens because of the mistrust that has existed over time. So far, the reception has been of a mixed type and we have had collaboration across certain level of MDAs. We hope that, as we go forward, there will be further welcoming reception to other government agencies that have not been brought on this campaign. This is a continental campaign and we hope that what we are doing will receive great publicity and wider reach, acceptability on the part of government towards ensuring and seeing civil societies as partners and not antagonists.
How do you look forward to seeing the dissemination of information on this programme; My African Union, My Voices?
ANYA: What we want to see is that we meet up, government begin to react to meet up with its commitments. AU for instance, in 2012 agreed that all African countries should ratify every of the instruments that they have come up with, and I think one of the first things we want to see, is Nigeria taking the lead and ensuring that, they ratify those instruments. Since this was a collective decision that was taken at the AU level, it is important that we live up to our words.
Then, we would also want to see the National Assembly, because the law says that, any treaty signed outside the country must be taken to the National Assembly for domestication. We want to see the National Assembly domesticating the owe ones that need laws to be passed, to pass law around. Then, we also want to see going back to the Executive again, to implement fully the instruments. The instruments are 14 in number, Austin mentioned 10. We want to see the Executive implement and the Legislature carry pout oversight to make sure implementation is properly carried out.
Austin finally, how do you look forward to seeing information dissemination in the programme, My African Union, My Voices reaches out to a lot of people out there?
AUSTIN- Beyond this programme or prior to the commencement of the maiden edition, we have engaged other channels of information dissemination. We have been having sub-national engagements as well as engaging other media institutions across the country. Going forward, we brought this initiative having this maiden edition of this programme to the city center, the FCT, targeting those government institutions that are based here, which is the seat of power, so that they can begin to see that there are better collaboration between the citizens and the government. So, we hope that, going forward, the programme will be a platform for collaboration and a wider reach to citizens and government.