2019 election should be a game changer that must be credible and peaceful

The imposing four-storey building stands alone, with a huge communication mast by the side, on Muhammadu Buhari Way, Central Business District (CBD), Abuja carries no signage; hence the identity of the occupants and their businesses/services remains obscure, at least to first time visitor.But the big frame group picture of top government officials, including President Muhammadu Buhari, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and Board members of the Savannah Centre for Diplomacy, Democracy and Development (SCDDD), strategically placed at the reception on the ground floor, gives an inkling of the likely services being offered there penultimate Thursday as The Guardian arrived for an interview appointment with Prof. Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, Founder/Chairman of the Board of Directors of SCDDD.

The pioneer Chancellor of Kwara State University (KWASU), Ilorin, and current Pro-chancellor and Chairman of the Board of Governing Council of Bayero University, Kano (BUK), Gambari has had an illustrious career, spanning the academia, government and international diplomacy, culminating in his appointment as the first United Nations Under-Secretary General and Special Adviser to the Secretary General on Africa (1999-2005). In that capacity, he worked closely with heads of government, key policymakers and institutions, especially in Africa to develop the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

During this period, he was concurrently the Resident Special Representative of the Secretary General and Head of the United Nations Mission to Angola (2002-2003), a delegate to the Assembly of the OAU/African Union as a national delegate (1984-1985) and member of the UN Secretary General’s delegation (2000-2012), as well as Chairman of the UN Special Committee Against Apartheid (1990-1994), during which he worked closely with African governments to coordinate UN policy to eradicate apartheid, thereby building trust and confidence with governments and policymakers in member countries of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Gambari was Under-Secretary General and Head of the UN Department of Political Affairs (2005-2007), operating as UN Scribe’s Special Envoy on Cyprus, Zimbabwe and Myanmar.SDDDC, a non-governmental think-tank on research and policy studies on conflict prevention and resolution, democratisation and development in Africa, occupies the entire 4th floor.Sensing the curiosity of The Guardian regarding a strategically-positioned portrait picture of Buhari receiving him at the Aso Rock Villa, Abuja, Gambari preempted the obvious question: “You see his (Buhari) pictures everywhere. I am not a member of his government. Although I was appointed the External Affairs minister 34 years ago during his first coming as military head of state, but I am committed to the success of this administration and the President.

“His success is of concern to all of us. If he fails, God forbid, the country fails. “I am just a citizen of Nigeria who has been his former minister and remains his friend and is available at any time, because his success is my success and the nation’s success. That is the way I see it. “In any case, what is the value of experience over the years that you don’t make available to whoever wants to use it?”.“Do you recognise who is in the other picture? That was taken a few months ago when I was received in Cairo, Egypt, by President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi,” he clarified, as the interview proper took off from there.

As a global citizen who has contributed greatly to conflict prevention, management and resolution, are you worried that your home country, Nigeria, appears to be in perpetual conflict, especially as the general elections draw closer?.
Yes, I am worried. I will draw your attention to a statement issued recently by the SCDDD on the situation in Nigeria. I am concerned for several reasons. Sommetimes, we Nigerians have short memories. In the 2011 general elections, we witnessed real tragedy of violence and in many ways, absence of free and fair outcome. We are proud of the fact that the 2015 elections were credible and peaceful. That did not happen just by chance; a lot of people were committed to that outcome.I am proud to say that SCDDD constituted a Council of the Wise, headed by retired Justice Muhammadu Uwais, while I served as coordinator, with a member each from the six geo-political zones in the country.

The Council, which was composed of non-partisan, but knowledgeable and experienced Nigerians, went to all the zones, conducting seminars, conferences and workshops on the promotion of peaceful and credible election. We talked to the key players and political parties, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), security agencies, private sector, the media, traditional rulers, religious leaders, former Presidents, wherever they may be, candidates for various offices, including presidential candidates of the two major parties- then President Goodluck Jonathan and Gen. Muhammadu Buhari.

We talked to them on the consequences of having another elections in 2015 that would go the way of the 2011 elections, in terms of manifest irregularities and violence. We talked to former Presidents Shehu Shagari, Olusegun Obasanjo and Gen. Yakubu Gowon. We worked with the Nigerian Peace Committee, headed by the former head of state, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar, of which I am a member. The SDDDC worked in parallel with them. At one of the public meetings, the late former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan and Chief Emeka Anyaoku were here together with the presidential candidates of the 12 political parties to sign the Peace Accord. All these things we did quietly.

The point I am making is that as a nation, we should build on the success of those efforts, so that we will not relapse to a 2011 scenario in next year’s elections. But the country is even more divided now than before. Therefore, there is a need for people of goodwill, people who understand the consequences of a violent election, consequences of adding to the divisions to step forward and intensify the efforts. I understand, for instance, that the Sultan of Sokoto and John Cardinal Onaiyekan are working to see how they can also play a role. Same as Bishop Matthew Kukah through his Foundation and his person.

These efforts should be acknowledged, intensified and supported, because outcomes of a peaceful and credible election are too important to be left with the INEC alone. INEC is an umpire and there is a limit to what it can do to guarantee both peaceful and credible elections.So, are you planning to do the same thing towards next year’s elections?
That is our intention, but we are a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and a think-tank, our major constraint is funding. Meanwhile, we believe in that kind of sacrifice for our country, that is why we did the fundraising activity on Monday, August 27 in Abuja to support the programmes of the centre, particularly the campaign against hate speech, which we tagged, ‘Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech.’We did a lot of work again, conducting workshops and seminars aimed at sensitising stakeholders and people, talking to newspaper proprietors and editors, some operators of the social media, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) and all kinds of people on the need to curtail hate speech, because it is like adding fuel to fire.

If we had this kind of divisiveness in the country and you add the hate speech, the proliferation of political parties, of radio and television stations, it is not an environment conducive to peaceful and credible election and outcome. But I am still confident that all those who contributed last time are ready to do their best to sensitise and encourage the stakeholders to create the right environment for peaceful and credible elections.

There is this impression that Buhari is so rigid, maybe no longer dictatorial as he used to be, but too slow in responding to national issues. Can you share your experience working with him, having served under him 34 years ago as External Affairs minister?
Well, I don’t know. As I said, I am not part of the administration now; I am not an official adviser of any kind. I want the administration to succeed, but what I know from experience is that when he was head of state, as a civilian member and a minister in a military government and given a sensitive portfolio of Foreign Affairs, we would meet one-on-one every working day.

He used to see me, at least for 30 minutes everyday, during which I would brief him and later in the day hand over to him, personally, summary of official telegraphs from all our diplomatic missions into three categories: issues requiring his instructions; issues for further discussion and consultations with him; and issues for his information only. Within 24 hours, I would get a response in his handwriting to category one. That was my experience. I don’t know whether that is happening now or not.

Secondly, I must say that as Foreign Affairs minister, I was part of the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC). There were only 10 of us: himself and his deputy, the late Brig-Gen. Tunde Idiagbon, the three Service Chiefs- Vice Admiral Augustus Aikhomu (Navy), Air Vice Marshall Ibrahim Alfa (Air Force) and Maj-Gen. Babangida (Army); Maj-Gen. Domkat Bali (Minister of Defence), Maj-Gen. Muhammadu Magoro (Internal Affairs), Mr. Etim Inyang (Inspector General of Police) and head of National Security Organisation (NSO), Ambassador Mohammed Lawal Rafindadi. I was the only civilian and non-security member of the council, yet everybody could express themselves.

Finally, as a member of the Federal Executive Council, there were at least three presidential memos prepared and submitted by the head of state that some of us, civilians in a military regime, would have contrary opinion on and the memo would be withdrawn.You ended your lecture presentation on August 30 with the statement that ‘Nigeria is a natural leader in Africa, but she has to earn it.

How do you mean, especially now that the country’s profile in international politics appears to be declining?
That is the difference; a position of self-ascription and one that is earned and earned continuously, because we believe, probably with our huge population, size and resources, we should be natural leader. Yes, it is true that no nation is regarded great unless it has a sizeable population, landmass and resources. Even if it does not have physical resources, it must compensate for lack of physical resources by having extra-ordinary human capital, like Singapore, Japan and Switzerland.

We have all these things, but we have not been very fortunate, in terms of a cohesive and selfless national elite. For instance, there is no consensus among the national elite about where Nigeria should be headed, restructuring and the need to fight terrorism and violent extremism as a nation. When some parts of the country are on fire, some others parts feel less concerned. That should not be the attitude! But until we see a threat to the property of any Nigeria as a threat to all of us, that we all belong to this country and there is something in it for all of us and that we are greater if we are together we may not make progress.

I also mentioned in the lecture that some of those who thought that solution to the challenge of nation-building is separation are regretting it now. It doesn’t work! You don’t preach separation when the trend in the world is towards integration. The trend is for the larger unit not to shrink. Even the British who decided to exit from the EU, there are some people who really want a second referendum. They may not succeed, but the fact that they are asking for it shows that separation is not really the answer.

The point is that we have everything it takes, except for lack of a selfless cohesive national elite that agrees on the direction the country should follow. They ought to have settled all these fundamentals, so that we concentrate on moving ahead.

How do we get that needed cohesion in the faces of ethnicity, religious division, regional and sectional differences?
Leadership is key, because frankly speaking, if the leadership is seen to have a vision and is inclusive, there will he cohesion.A friend of mine, I won’t mention his name, said part of the problem is that we have a leadership surrounded by people who should be far away from governance than people who should be close to governance. This is because you need knowledge, experience, people whose vision is wider than self, but that is not always the case in our country. This is not limited to this administration.

We need a cohesive and purposeful and committed leadership, as well as national elite, because if you have it, people will follow. You can’t tell people, ‘I am a leader, and I want people to follow me.’ They would have the right to say, ‘to where?’ Another question is whether these divides- ethnicity, religion, culture- are really the divides or the manipulation of these divides? Different religion, culture and ethnicity are mere diversities that can be asserted, but some people are manipulating them just for power. And power for what? Power to capture national resources for themselves and their families.

There is also what I call ‘audacity of hypocrisy.’ You find people would steal money, public funds, building big mosques and churches. Some of the northern leaders often praise the late Sardauna, but do they follow his legacy of selfless leadership, deliberate mentoring of capable officials, inclusiveness and policy emphasis on education, agriculture and industrialisation?
I am also concerned that many of our elite seem content with the expression of and action on opinions not based on facts or sound analysis.

But some believe Nigeria got it wrong when at the advent of the current democratic dispensation in 1999, some committed politicians, including those who were there in the Second Republic, were not allowed to take charge?
We are still in the process of evolution, because the challenges are so many. We used to think the solution is to bring the new breed of politicians, now we have tried them and the result is there for everybody to see. We used to think it is the military, we have tried them and we have seen the result. We thought that it was impossible to defeat a sitting government, but we have succeeded in doing so. Let us also recognise that some things are changing, so, let us be part of the evolution. What should be of concern is that we should be far ahead than we are. At the point of independence, our per capital income was at par with Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, etc, but today, people look at that and wonder why we are not in the same league with them. Something happened.

Of course, the civil war and prolonged military rule are setbacks, but military rule is over now, first from 1979 to 1983, and later since 1999 till now. We should be building blocks. Let us build on things that are good and work and avoid those things that will draw us back. The leadership must be going in a right direction. If you are building blocks and no sense of direction or purpose from the leadership, that is a problem that I hope we will be able to address. Sincerely, the political parties have a role, as I said, to throw up candidates that can compete based on competence, commitment, character and courage.

You participated in the 2014 national conference and one of the issues today is the refusal of the current administration to implement some of the resolutions of the conference, especially as it concerns restructuring. What is your take?.Yes, we were 492 Nigerians as participants, and my belief, as a political scientist, is that if you gather 492 Nigerians together and they spent five months and produced 20 reports on every aspect of our national life, it would be unfortunate and even a waste of natural resources to thrash all the recommendations.

The reports were produced by Nigerian citizens, so in my view, the reports of the conference should have been implemented.However, I disagree with some people who criticise this government for not implementing the conference recommendation, but did not criticise Jonathan administration for failing to implement the recommendations or at least start implementing those within its competence before leaving office. Three categories of recommendation came out of the conference: things that can be done by the government within their competence; recommendations that need change in our laws, which requires the National Assembly; and recommendations that require the amendment of the constitution by both the national and states assemblies.

By the way, the most critical of this present administration are those who supported the previous administration. But on the other side, those who are saying the conference was Jonathan’s hidden agenda, did he get what he wanted? The hidden agenda, I understand, was that he wanted a new constitution that he would use to recommend a presidency of single term of six years, and which he would be able to start. But did he get it? The answer is no.

Therefore, we should not throw away the baby with the bath water; we should look at it critically. On herdsmen-farmers’ conflict, national security, foreign policy, every sector was captured and adopted by consensus. We had the provision to vote, but we didn’t vote; we agreed among ourselves. Sometimes, we abused each other, but in the end, we agreed.

Let us not look at the motivation of whoever set up that conference, forgive those who are supporters of the previous administration who did not press for the implementation of the recommendations that were within the competence of the government at that time and let us look at it and see what we can use from it to move our country forward. Frankly, it is frustrating, but the national elite do not agree on what restructuring means, because to some, it is recipe for the break-up of the country. Let us get together to agree on a common definition of restructuring, so that we can move on.

Every country must adapt to changing character of the nation. We have a nation where people of under 40 years old are in overwhelming majority, the world is changing, Africa is changing, but Nigeria still wants to remain the same. It is not possible!

You always talk about two bosses at the UN that remain dear to you. Who are they and why?
This is because they are the people I served more closely with. I am very privileged to serve or work under four Secretary Generals of the UN.My papers as an ambassador of Nigeria to the UN were first submitted to Javier Perez de Cuellar in January 1990, then Boutros Boutros-Ghali came in and I was the ambassador, and the third one was the late Kofi Annan. I served partly as an ambassador and later in December 1999, he asked me to join the UN secretariat as an Under-Secretary General, which was the highest grade next to the Secretary General then before the creation of the office of the Deputy Secretary General.

Annan left in December 2006 and then a send-off party was being organised for me, because I had also planned to leave along with Annan. I even invited Mr. Ban Ki-moon, his successor, to my party to say goodbye. At some point, Ban was asked to say a few words and he said; “I don’t know why we are calling this a send-off party for Prof. Gambari. I won’t let him go, in fact, he is going to be busier now with more assignments than before.”

The rest of course is history, as I stayed from January 2007 till 2012, serving as Special Envoy dealing with conflicts in Darfur, Myanmar, Iraq and other places. One of the two that had tremendous impact on me was Boutros-Ghali. We were initially working together as African ambassadors to say that the time had come for an African to be appointed as Secretary General of the UN. We worked very hard, the OAU at Summit level then was supportive and we pushed very hard and got an African elected from our list.

Other candidates included former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was of course, my candidate as the ambassador from Nigeria. The military President Ibrahim Babangida was then the Chairman of the OAU Summit, so I had two hats: one was to get my candidate elected and two to get an African there. I was pushing, but then the big boys vetoed him. At that time, he was Gen. Obasanjo and I was campaigning vigorously that he was the most qualified, a former head of state, who handed over power voluntarily and a member of the Group of Eminent Persons who got the late Dr. Nelson Mandela out of the prison.

Immediately I finished, a diplomat representing a permanent member of the Security Council said: “When we, the big boys, are looking for a secretary general, the emphasis is on secretary and not on general.” That statement was very profound. The permanent members, when they say that, they are invariably saying they want somebody who will take their dictates, not somebody who will be giving them orders.

Although, sometimes, they think they are getting a secretary, but they end up getting a General. But they do something about it. Boutros-Ghali gave them tough time, they thought they were getting a Secretary, but he became a General, but he only got one-term. As for Kofi Annan, they thought he, too, was a Secretary, but towards the end of his first term, he also became a General and he was nearly punished for that. You remember the oil-for-food scandal almost tarnished his image and he almost resigned.

So, there must be a balance. In the case of Boutros-Ghali, he was the one we worked for to get an African to occupy the seat as Secretary-General. Annan was first Secretary-General from the sub-Sahara Africa, but more importantly, the first from ECOWAS. They denied Boutros the second term. America had the veto, as 14 other members wanted him to continue, but America said, no! They now conceded that Ghali’s successor must be an African and that was how Annan came.

Later, his second term also became an issue that we had to fight for again. At that time, out of the six candidates, five were from ECOWAS, just as Annan, who was not just from sub-Sahara Africa. That, for me, was a sense of affinity. As a former ambassador of Nigeria, I worked with him, because he was head of peacekeeping at one time, and his first wife, Titi Alakija, is a Nigerian and two of his children are partly Nigerians.

Finally, Boutros-Ghali was an intellectual; he was a professor of Law. I knew him earlier as minister of state of Egypt when I was the Foreign Affairs minister. We helped him to get in there, and so he was the first post-cold war Secretary General after the dismantling of the USSR.He was asked to produce a blueprint for what the world’s pre-occupation should be in the post-cold war era, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the unification of Germany. For all of these, he produced an Agenda for Peace and an Agenda for Development. As mentioned earlier, Annan produced his own report, titled: ‘In Larger Freedom.’ These were highly cerebral reports by global diplomatic icons from our continent.

What is the difference between your new UN job as one of the five members of the Independent Eminent Experts on the Implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and your responsibilities at the world body between 1990 and 2012?
First and foremost, my present job is not a full-time appointment; I am just a member of body. There are only five of us and one from each of the continents. In a sense, I am to bring to the table the things that are of concern to Africa, the things that will benefit Africa in terms of observance of human rights, and these are staring us in the face?
Durban is in South Africa where xenophobia is taking place. Racism is not dead; it is still alive in South Africa. There are violations of international humanitarian laws and human rights in conflict areas in the continent, in addition to violent extremism and terrorism. We are to look at how the UN, through the observance of the human rights, can contribute to both prevention and management of those conflicts.

So, the assignment is tougher in a way, as I am part of the group without full staff, as it is not full time, and we meet periodically. It is tougher in that I don’t have the kind of support I had when I was an ambassador to the UN, where I had a whole permanent mission. When I was Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs, I held a whole department. When I was Special Envoy in Myanmar and in Darfur, Sudan, especially in Darfur, I was like a mini head-of-state, with 30,000 personnel, including 16,000 military, 6,000 police personnel and the rest civilian, with helicopters and other logistics supports.

The thing is that I am not really representing Africa in the real sense, because the group is an independent panel of experts. That is the major difference.I am not speaking for Africa; I am chosen to be a member because of my experience in the international human rights situations and to bring Africa’s concerns to our people, in terms of human rights and how the international community can partner in addressing them.

But you are right that as an African, you will feel it, particularly as people don’t realise that violent conflicts are going on in Africa. You have conflicts in Mali, Libya, Somalia, Lake Chad Basin, Central African Republic, South Sudan, etc that are yet to be completely resolved. We are spending too much of our energies and resources on putting out fires, when the whole world is moving. Africa has potentials, but those potentials are not being fully realised because one of the fundamental things- peace- is missing.

That shows the continuing relevance of the seminar report by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, called an agenda for peace, where he argued that there would be no development without peace and he followed it up with an agenda for development, in which he argued that ‘without sustainable development there wouldn’t be durable peace.’Fortunately, Kofi Annan, who was the first UN Secretary General from sub-Sahara Africa, in his report called “In Larger Freedom,” argued that in a larger framework, there would neither be peace nor development without respect for human rights and democracy. I was serving with the masters and that was what inspired me to come back home at the end of my term to set up this think-tank and NGO to see how we can contribute to understanding the nexus between peace and democracy and development through research and publications, advocacy and training.

How realisable is the agitation for Nigeria to become a permanent member of the Security Council of the UN?
Part of the problem is that to get Nigeria to be a permanent member or anybody else requires a change in the Charter. And you cannot have the Charter changed except with the concurrence of the five permanent members. It is very clear that it is a privileged club and people who have power don’t give it up voluntarily. You must be organised to do that. In Africa, we are divided, as we would start to worry about who would go there among Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt. There is no consensus on this.In Asia, there is division also. India is an obvious candidate, but Pakistan would be opposed. You go to Latin America, the obvious candidate is Brazil, but then you have Mexico and Chile pushing also. In Europe, Italy is not favourably disposed to Germany becoming a permanent member if she is not considered as well.

So, unless there is a consensus on the candidate and in their respective regions and then we find a way of really persuading or compel the permanent members to open up, to see that it is in their best interest to have a security council that is legitimate, representative and inclusive.They talk about democracy. The big boys hitting us on the head, shouting democracy, but are they willing to practice diplomacy in the UN Security Council? I told you 14 members supported Boutros-Ghali’s second term, only to be vetoed by America. Is that the proper way of using veto power? Is it possible for the veto to be suspended for a huge humanitarian crisis, as the case in Syria? These are some of the reform ideas. The hope is that in 2020 when the UN will clock 75, maybe that will be a time to try all these reform ideas.

What is the wisdom behind the diversity in your name, Ibrahim Agboola Gambari?
This is because I am from Ilorin, Kwara State, which is multi-lingual and multi-ethnic. You find Gambaris, Fulanis, Yorubas, Gobirs, etc, there. I guess the same way as you have Hausa-Fulani, Kanuri-Fulani, Nupe-Fulani, you can have Yourba-Fulanis in Ilorin. Most Ilorin people of my older generation are bi-lingual; we speak Hausa and Yoruba, and many regard themselves as residing in a state that is the most southern part of the north and the most northern part of the south and they live in the middle of the count

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