Security challenges: Nigeria must renegotiate ECOWAS Protocol to avoid war – Shehu Sani

Senator Shehu Sani represented Kaduna Central in the Senate during the eight legislative Assembly. A civil rights activist and public commentator, Sani has always been outspoken on national and international issues. After his brief stint in the Senate, the Senator has decided to try his hands on something different, setting up a centre that will help address the ills of the African continent. In this interview with Tony Akowe, Senator Shehu Sani speaks on his new centre, illegal migration and security situation in the country. Excerpts

You just opened the Africa Centre of Freedom, Peace and Development after your four year stint at the National Assembly. What is the centre all about?

The centre is a think-tank and advocacy platform that will focus on key areas of democracy, peace and development in Africa as a continent and our country Nigeria in particular. It is a centre that will be involved in research and advocacy in key areas such as democracy and political freedom. It is a centre that will provide the platform for resource persons, intellectuals, organisations and individuals who are interested in promoting political freedom, democracy and good governance. Secondly, this is a centre that will advocate for economic and social justice. It is a centre that will be fully involved in performing an independent oversight on institutions that are directly related to economic progress of both the country and the continent.

The third issue for the centre is the issue of peace and security. Nigeria and indeed the whole of Africa have been facing series of security challenges from sectarian strife to terrorism to religious and ethnic violence. This centre will key into the aspirations of the African Union so that issues of peace and security would be of major importance to us.

Aside these issues; how will the centre benefit other African countries?

This centre will host national developmental policies and programs. One problem we face as a continent has always been that nations have been shunning policies and programs to reconstruct their nations and also reach to their point of progress which they aspire to, but the inhibiting factor has always been lack of coordination and synergy within the continent itself. Now with the signing of African Continental Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA), there is need for advocacy by organisations and individuals and this centre will play a key role to see that it is not only an intergovernmental affair, but also an idea that would be rooted in the heart and minds of Africans. Environmental issues are also issues we are going to tackle in this centre. We cannot divorce some of the conflicts we face as a nation from the very fact that environment play a key role. The farmer/herdsmen clashes and the migrations that we have been saying in the last few years cannot be divorced from environmental issues. We will also be interested in protecting the fundamental rights of citizens and ensuring that government within the continent adhere strictly to the protocols and conventions of the African Union and ECOWAS as it relates to universal freedoms and rights. This centre will also be working towards stemming the tide of irregular migration.  This centre already has about 55 academics from universities across the country who have voluntarily offered themselves to be part of this new initiative. It is going to be a think tank and an advocacy centre.

Considering your political interest on the issue, how do you think the centre will be acceptable to Nigerians?

There is no individual that is denied the right to set up an organisation based on what our constitution says. Even though it is a political organisation, my political affiliation and interest does not in any way affect the centre. I believe there would have been conflict if I am still holding political office. But the fact remains that I am not holding any political office at the moment.

Will the centre also operate as a pressure group?

As for the centre, ours is to provide the necessary material resources and ideas for others to act and that will include government. So, as far as we are concerned, we are not a pressure group. Our relationship with government is to assist where our services are needed. We would provide solutions to security challenges confronting Nigeria; whether it is banditry, insurgency or herdsmen violence. I think these are the major challenges affecting us. We will also provide the same solutions to other African countries. We have sent out the necessary correspondences to governments across the continent.

One can say without doubt that you are back to your days of activism. But the problem we have in this country is not policy formulation, but policy implementation. How would the centre make sure that those who are supposed to implement these policies do so?

As a country, we have problem with implementation of our policies and programs and I think that is why our crises and problems have prolonged. But that should not stop us from advocating for what should be done and why it should be done rightly.

What will your centre do about reintegrating victims of human trafficking into the society?

As a senator, I have raised issues on human trafficking and migration on a number of occasions. It is unfortunate that African leaders have not taken the issue of migration seriously. Hundreds of Africans risk their lives crossing the Sahara, getting into terrorist enclave in Libya and most times, dying in their attempt to cross to Italy. But you don’t see that issue occupy the front burner of discourse whenever African Heads of States gather. That is because the pressure on the African leaders to act is coming more from the European side than from African groups, individuals and institutions. Many of our national anti- human trafficking agencies are grossly under-funded and so, they depend on donations from Europe for them to act. They don’t have vehicles, they don’t have navigation equipment. They don’t have even the resources to advocate, to reach out to universities and young people for them to stop crossing the Sahara. That should not be the case. This centre will work assiduously to make sure that we stem the tide of young people crossing the Sahara, to Libya and to Europe. We would do that by reaching out to those that are directly involved.

Nigeria is currently overburdened with the issue of debt both foreign and local. As someone who headed the Senate Committee on foreign and local debt, what do you think your organisation can do to rescue Nigeria from huge debt?

Nigeria’s current debt stands at almost $24trillion and by 2015 it was about $15trillion. The issue is that there is lack of awareness on the part of the citizens as to what that is all about. Governors simply request for approval from the State Assemblies and the State Assemblies approve it without any public hearing. Civil society groups appear to be more interested in what happens at the National Assembly and not State Houses of Assembly. Because of lack of advocacy on the issue of debt, governments simply get away with it. By 2006, we were out of the debt trap and now we have risen to $24trillion. The position is that, when the awareness on debt is high, there would be less and less desire for government to borrow.  They are exploiting the ignorance of people on debt and we are simply pilling up debt. Many states are unable to pay their workers’ salaries and execute their capital projects because of the previous burden of debt that has been left behind. This centre will provide citizens with the necessary information they need to know because you will never get any serious information from those in government.

On irregular migrations to Europe, considering the comment of a former Ministers that Doctors for example are free to leave the country, in what way will this centre focus on to make sure that these people have conducive environment to stay back?

There is a difference between what the minister said and what we are trying to do. The current approach of the government and the nation to irregular migration is simply allowing people to move to Libya. If they cross to Europe then they are lucky, if they are deported back by Libyan Government to Lagos or Abuja they would be received, camped for two or three days and then allowed to move round and then they would go back to where they were deported from. Now we cannot solve the problem of migration like that. There is a danger to irregular migration. The first has to do with the fact that the victims are being either attracted by fool factor that there is paradise in Europe. They are also being sent out by what I call the push factors. They claim there are economic factors that made them to leave their homes. This centre will focus on targeting young people who have been used and misinformed of greener pasture that exists on the other side because these victims either fall as terrorists’ foot soldiers in Libya, or they just fall into prostitution ring in Europe or they become drug traffickers. So these are the kind of things that happen.

On security you talked about the need for relationship with neighbouring countries for effective handling of security issues. We do know that Nigeria as it stands today, has such exciting relationship with our neighbours but our security situation is still nothing to write home about. What is your take on the existing relationship among countries, especially in the sub region?

I think in view of the crises we are facing as a country today, the violence and the killings; we must renegotiate the ECOWAS Protocol on issue of migration specifically as it affects our own security challenges as a country. We must enforce laws that will protect our country. When herdsmen move from other nations with arms to our nation and we fold our arms in the name of protocol, they will end up destabilising our country. Our concern is why are there no herdsmen violence in Ghana, in Guinea, in Burkina Faso, in Niger Republic? Why are there none in Togo and Guinea Bissau? Why only in Nigeria? These are questions that we need to ask. If you are coming into our country with weapons; we cannot allow you to come in the name of protocols. That should not be acceptable because allowing these herdsmen to come into our country and unleash mayhem and kill people has a capacity of igniting a civil war in Nigeria. We can’t allow such to happen in the name of protocols. We have to have a country first before we belong to a union. That is my view on that.

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