From Aminu Kano, Attahiru Jega, Alao Aka-Bashorun, Beko Ransome-Kuti and Olisa Agbakoba, he has drunk deep from the well of activism. Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) told Funke Olaode that he has done nothing else all his adult life than engage in the struggle to guarantee justice and equity towards a better society

It is a road less travelled; made even more precarious because it is a rough and hard road, but this path overwhelmed on all sides by an ever-present cloud of danger is the choice career route for Auwal Musa Rafsanjani.

Born in Kano City to parents who were traders and Islamic scholars, Rafsanjani looked beyond his immediate family for inspiration. His earliest influence was the revered Mallam Aminu Kano, the strong man of Kano politics who was very popular at the grassroots.

There was something about the way Aminu Kano mobilised the ‘talakawas’ (commoners) that struck a lasting chord in Rafsanjani. Although he was not a rich man, he was very influential and respected by the downtrodden whose cause he championed. From an early age, Aminu Kano became his role model and he very much wanted to be like him.

Times and circumstances have changed; and although Rafsanjani would never compare himself to his revered hero, Aminu Kano, he is just happy to say that he has taken the struggle farther by deepening the conversation and extending the perspectives from which to look at the enduring class division in the society.

While Aminu Kano’s image loomed large in Kano and its environs with an impressive incursion into other parts of Nigeria as he campaigned vigorously to govern Nigeria, Rafsanjani has built bridges and worked with Nigerians from all over the country while tapping into a pool of international connection that may not have been available to Aminu Kano.

Perhaps, his study of Political Science at the Bayero University Kano accounts for the expansion of his radicalism. He would later cut his teeth as an activist under the tutelage of prominent Nigerians and academia. There was Professor Attahiru Jega, whose recent national assignment as boss of Nigeria’s election umpire earned accolades from far and wide.

Not a few know that Jega’s activism as head of the Academic Staff Union of Universities recommended and prepared him for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) job. Jega and other prominent Political Science teachers groomed him. From them, Rafsanjani learnt political economy and activism.

His ambition was fired so much that in year one, he was already an active participant in Students’ Union Government of Bayero University as one of the executives. There has been no looking back since then, even joining and working with groups like Women in Nigeria (WIN) that appeared incongruous.

But for every action, Rafsanjani has an explanation. “We believed that to deal with the issue of women marginalisation, exploitation, gender equality and development of women, you need both men and women to put hands together.” He was in the university at the time. In 1992, he became the Assistant-General Secretary of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).

Juggling academics with activism was not the easiest thing, but there is always a way for a determined soul. As critics of the system, students like Rafsanjani perpetually placed the burden of morality on themselves. More than anything else, they had to be outstanding in their studies to be above the board of dangling sword from authorities which were ever-ready to either cut them to size or eliminate them completely.

It was a sacred responsibility they owed the activist community. For those of them in the social sciences, the political education from political activism stood them on good ground. It enabled them to have a better understanding on how to approach their studies.

Although many a time they were out there mobilising the Nigerian people against the military dictatorship of the then General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida and the late General Sani Abacha, they were ahead of many students that were in the class room because of their exposure and political education from senior comrades.

Rafsanjani sees himself as a general in the civil liberties army. Of course, it goes without saying that he has tell-tale scars from many battles. Confronting the authorities always left bruises, especially during the military era. He was not afraid of being incarcerated, having been tutored that genuine political activism attracts victimization by the authorities.

A number of times Rafsanjani and his comrades in arms were rusticated or suspended from the school, but with the collective intervention of the then ASUU and senior comrades, they would be recalled.

Coming to the national stage of the students’ body meant interacting with older and seasoned activists. He was in the nucleus at the formation of Campaign for Democracy (CD), an organisation led by the late Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti. He was also part of the Democratic Alternative led by the late Dr. Alao Aka-Bashorun, and also a member and coordinator of United Action for Democracy (UAD) led by Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN.

As one who had known no other life, his youth service year between 93/94 in Abuja was not different. It was a particularly tempting period for Rafsanjani. Coming from northern Nigeria, it was a make or mar decision period for him. He could choose to walk on easy streets by turning his back on activism forever. In his mind’s eye, Aminu Kano’s image would not be erased.

He also recalled many of the fiery speeches of his mentors like Jega, Agbakoba and Ransome-Kuti. But more importantly was the condition of the downtrodden and working class Nigerians who he had sworn to defend. Instead of seeking employment with multinational organisations, he immersed himself deeper into activism.

“We were fully on ground to ensure that the campaign for military disengagement from Nigeria’s political terrain was sustained. After my youth service the Community Action for Popular Participation (CAPP), a human rights organisation which was organised by progressive minds led by the late Emma Ezeazu as Executive Director invited me.

“I was the first Programme Officer in Abuja in 1995. I was with them till 2001 when Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) led by current Minister for Solid Minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi as an executive director invited me to join the organisation in the Abuja office. I worked for this group for some time and resigned in 2005.”

To Rafsanjani, activism has given him the same if not more privileges of seeing the world and interacting with distinguished leaders as he may have had working for any global blue chip company. His passion for humanity has taken him round the globe where he has been able to meet with presidents.

He has equally met with the international leaders at the level of the World Bank, United Nations and many international fora. In the private sector, he has interacted with the likes of Bill Gates and other philanthropists working on development in Africa.

“It is a platform that has given me opportunity to meet world leaders locally and globally. I was nominated and appointed as one of the civil society delegates to the last National Constitutional Conference,” he said.

After 25 years of the struggle, Rafsanjani is still revving his engine to fire on. Pooling the experience of working with other civil organisations, he noticed a huge gap in advocating on issues in Nigeria. And having struggled with others to disengage military rule, he thought that the civil society should constructively engage the legislature that has the constitutional and legislative power to make laws, particularly to remove laws that impede human rights.

He later came up with an intervention. And through the mentorship of people like Dr. Abubakar Momoh, General Ishola Williams, the late Emma Ezeazu, he was able to form the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), a non-governmental, non-profit, advocacy, information sharing, research, and capacity building organisation. Today, CISLAC is one of the most famous legislative and policy engagement organisations in the country.

Rafsanjani is the Executive Director of CISLAC, which is headquartered in Abuja. He is also the representative or contact person for Transparency International, the regional General Secretary of West Africa Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) and the Chairman of Zero Corruption Coalition (ZCC).

According to him, the mission of CISLAC is to strengthen the link between civil society and the legislature through advocacy and capacity building for civil society groups and policy makers on legislative processes and governance issues. The organisation is also interested in the well-being of Nigerians particularly in the area of the extractive industry (oil), which is the major source of revenue for the country.

To him, getting policies and legislations that would ensure accountability and transparency on how Nigeria’s resources are managed through extractive, taxation and public procurement is very important. And that is why CISLAC is at the fore front of advocacy for legislation that would ensure prudent management of Nigeria’s resources.

Reeling out its achievements, he said the organisation has played key roles to pass certain legislations. “We played a big role in the adoption of Freedom of Information Act (FOI) in Nigeria, sponsoring bills and policies that will enhance transparency and accountability and improve the well-being of Nigerians. We laid the enactment of the Public Procurement Law. Before this law, we all know that in every one Naira in Nigeria, 60 kobo was lost to corruption.

“We also led the enactment of the Fiscal Responsibility Law. In the past, there was reckless borrowing. Together with other civil society organisations we ensured the law was in place. Of recent, we have also participated in ensuring that we have the National Health Act in place. We were also at the United Nations (UN) 70th General Assembly in New York, USA which took place in September, 2015, where we advocated for the adoption of the new 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to ensure a better world.

“Also, CISLAC with other civil societies in the world was at the recent 2016 IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings in Washington, USA. The aim was to meet with development leaders, finance ministers and other stakeholders across the world to discuss how to finance development, how to ensure that World Bank is more transparent and the money countries are collecting as either loans or grants are transparently utilised.

“I am very happy that we have raised the level of confidence between government and civil society. They now see that we are not noise makers but working towards improving the lives by ensuring that transparency and accountability are mainstreamed in government. Through our work, we are able to monitor elections. I participated in the formation of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG). I was one of the founders.”

For Rafsanjani, life is a one-way street. He was born to fight for social justice, democracy and human rights. This is where he is in his elements and he dutifully channels all his energy into it.

“That is why I continue with struggle that we must work toward eradicating poverty, address conflict, address injustice in Nigeria, address inequality, environmental abuses and degradation and monumental corruption that has led to under development in Nigeria. I am interested in seeing for the rest of my life how I would continue to play this role by ensuring that I give my maximum contribution to a better Nigeria.”

By far the biggest gain from giving his life to activism is the set of skills he has acquired over time. “Because of the work that I do, I have developed some expertise, which some organizations and people at different levels call me from time to time to share my ideas and do some works. I get remunerations from that. I am also contented with little things that come my way.”

A devout Moslem, Rafsanjani’s typical day begins early in the morning when he says his prayers. Piety is as important to him as the love and understanding he has secured from his wife, Maria Sheriff, of 15 years. Together, they have three children.