Rafsanjani: A Violent Society Cannot Achieve the SDGs

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The executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), a not-for-profit organization, Mr. Auwal Musa Ibrahim (Rafsanjani) shared useful insights on development issues with Funke Olaode on the sidelines of the recent Spring Meetings of the World Bank /International Monetary Fund, held in Washington DC, USA

CISCLAC has been operating in Nigeria for the past 13 years, what influenced your decision to open an international office in New York last September? 

CISLAC has been advocating in Nigeria nay Africa in the last 13 years before it was officially launched in New York last year September. We also launched Sustainable Development Goal 16, while the Nigeria Permanent Representative to the US, Prof. Bade as well as UN officials were present at the CISLAC Global in US, which means it is registered and established. We are about to get a work station office here in Washington DC. The aim is to bridge the gap between the Missions, the Diaspora and the NGOs. The Diaspora have been contributing significantly to the economy without any influence on political participation. The launch of CISLAC United States office coincided with the 72nd UN General Assembly in 2017 and the International Day for Peace.

This happens to be a critical period in our national and regional lives as Nigerians and Africans. We are well aware of the religious, socio-cultural, political and ethnic turbulence threatening to tear apart the fabrics of the society we live in. For this purpose, it has become imperative that as civil society organisations, we take up the mantle of our constitutional mandate to steer the tide of peaceful and just society. As CSOs our key mandate to our communities is to pursue and advocate peaceful, inclusiveness and corruption free society that will in turn translate to the sustainable development that we seek.

What is SDG 16 all about?

SDG 16 which seeks to promote peaceful and inclusive societies, focuses also has an anti-corruption agenda. More specifically it has targets 16.4, which is on illicit financial and arms flows, target 16.5 on reducing bribery and other forms of corruption and target 16.10 on access to information. The very idea of sharing a shadow report at this juncture is to key into the current effort of the Nigerian government in advancing the fight against corruption. We are very much aware of the harmful of effects of corruption as it relegates development efforts to the background, plunging countries into under-development. A society free of corruption is healthy, wealthy, well-respected and well-developed.

Since your international move, what effort has your organisation made to intervene on aforementioned issues?

On March 14 this year we were in New York for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) to examine legislative intervention regarding early marriage, health situation, education and irregular migration as it affects women. Our aim as a CSO is to ensure that we make concrete recommendations to African countries, to ensure that women particularly rural women are giving necessary attention in terms of health care system, lack of education, force labour and force marriage, which is a daily occurrence.

We came up with some recommendations for both government in Nigeria and Africa. We have noted that many women have been subjected to undue stress due to early marriage as some of them are forced out of school which increases the number of out-of-school children. This causes psychological devastation. CISLAC organised this sideline meeting at the United Nations to advocate to the Nigerian government and African governments to improve on the policies and legislations that will stop early marriage.

Ahead of 2019 elections, arms proliferation in the country is a cause for concern. What can be done to avoid needless electoral violence?

Civil society groups including CISLAC have been working to ensure that we reduce political violence in Nigeria because the level of violence in terms of herdsmen versus farmers, communal, religion and even electoral violence going on cannot help us realise the Sustainable Development Goals. We need the actors involved such as politicians to stop using energy of young people for their own selfish interest. Early April, CISLAC and other organisations had a meeting with Centre for Democracy and West Africa Peace Organisation.

In that meeting former INEC Chairman, Prof. Attahiru Jega came and gave a warning that we need to do everything possible to de-escalate violence otherwise we won’t be able to have a free and fair election. Unless government take drastic action violence will characterise 2019 elections and it is very clear the matter of herdsmen and famers is promoting more dissatisfaction. Government must come out to ensure that they promote peace and stability because it is their responsibility to protect every Nigerian.

Nigeria has the highest number of out of school children in the whole world. How can it be addressed now that you are close to UNICEF and other international agencies?

It is a very disturbing issue because the rate of out-of-school children in Nigeria is alarming and that shows you that our political class is not focusing on harnessing productive human resource in Nigeria. Every country in the world relies on human capacities as potential for turning the economy into a positive development. Unfortunately, the leaders have not paid attention to providing qualitative education for children. Therefore, it is very worrisome that even our national budget is not meeting up with the required budgetary allocation for education system. The budgetary allocation in terms of healthcare system is also not being provided. The meeting we had at the UN Commission on the Status of Women in March clearly came up with some recommendations on how government can deal with these issues and we believe they (government) can do a lot to ensure that they demonstrate great political will in enacting new legislation, enforcing existing laws on culprit caught in imposing early marriage on under age.

We have an existing law on child rights; unfortunately it has not been complied by all states especially in Northern Nigeria. So it is important that government should remove all barriers that make young girls not to go to school, including cost associated with school attendance such as uniform, transportation fee etc. I am sure government intervention in these critical areas will help to reduce the number of out-of-school children. The almajiri system in the north is very alarming and disturbing. A lot of these kids are dying on the streets and motor parks because they have been abandoned by their parents and this can be a problem for the society because they face uncertainty.

What impact is the CISLAC US office expected to have on the fight against illicit financial flows, corruption and arms proliferation which are part of SDG 16?

Well, CISLAC decided to expand its presence in the United States and later United Kingdom because of many cases regarding illicit financial flow and asset recovery. We realise that advocacy to stop illicit financial flow and return of assets stolen by unpatriotic leaders in Nigeria and Africa in US and United Kingdom is very poor. So  that is why CISLAC felt it is necessary to take advocacy to these countries to ensure that we work together with local organisations abroad to ensure that asset and illicit financial flow, which have been one of the major challenges that we have, that make development impossible for us in Nigeria, is actually addressed so that money stolen, properties acquired with illegal pubic funds are returned and  put to good use for the benefit of Nigerians and other Africans in case of other African nations faced with such.

Also, we are very worried about lack of civil society synergy in effective participation at most of UN activities. So CISLAC wants to make sure that the Diasporans have opportunity, given the contributions they make to the various countries in terms of economy, to have a strong voice that will help to influence positive policies and legislation back at home. We want to serve as a catalyst for galvanising the views and aspiration of Diaspora groups in the US. Also, one of the things to encourage CISLAC foreign office is to see how we can leverage from the experience of democratic institutions in the United States in term of deepening parliamentary engagement in Nigeria and Africa so that we would be able to deepen our democratic governance in Africa by learning from good practices over there.

Also, that office is meant to look at how we can galvanise support on how we can get effective implementation of the SDG because we need to mobilise local resources to harness and ensure effective compliance of achieving the SDG. The role of legislators is key in terms of actualising that. We are also looking at the issues of irregular migration as a lot of Nigerians have been brainwashed to travel abroad particularly United States, leaving their good jobs in Nigeria only to get to US and be doing menial jobs. In the process, their rights are trampled upon; we want to work with many American NGOs to ensure that those who have complied with the laws in their host country are not maltreated as many are being deported without due process.