IDEAS Radio 11 January 2019

Aghogho Oboh: All right, welcome, welcome, welcome!  It’s five minutes past four and you’re welcome to Countdown 2019 on 99.3 Nigeria Info, where we discuss all the big and significant issues on the road to the 2019 elections.  Well it’s just next month now. You can follow the programme on Twitter @Countdown2019NG and @RotimiSankore, @NigeriaInfoFM as well as @ideasradiong.

On the IDEAS segment with Ayo Obe, we have two fantastic guests with us from the International Crisis Group.  First the President, Rob Malley. Great to have him join us on the IDEAS segment. And Nnamdi Obasi who is Senior Adviser and Researcher Nigeria, International Crisis Group.  They’ll be looking at a report and sharing their thoughts on hot spots ahead of the general elections.

Also remember, you can send your questions to our WhatsApp number which is 0809595 75 … 75805.  I’ll take that again: 08095975805.

And so, over to Ayo Obe.

Ayo Obe: Thank you Aghogho and welcome Rob and Nnamdi to the IDEAS segment of Countdown 2019.  Please also remember that you can check out the editions of this programme on our website which is www.ideasradio.ng and you can also tweet at us @ideasradiong.  And of course, you can get me at @naijama, which is me going on and on about things which may or may not be to do with Integrity, Democracy, Ethics and Accountability.

But the reason why we’re so happy to have Rob Malley and Nnamdi Obasi in the studio with us today, is that of course, this is Rob’s first visit to Nigeria, so he’s coming to us, to see us at a time when – I don’t know whether to say we are putting forward our best foot because every politician is showing how wonderful they are, or whether we are putting forth our worst foot because every politician is anxious to show how terrible the other side is.  But for us in this segment, what we are concerned with are the integrity of the elections … the electoral process, but also the question of accountability that follows before, during and after elections, because in a way, an election is a kind of holding to account of the people who have been exercising power.

And what I’d first of all like to ask Rob, I’m not going to go straight to the report that Crisis Group has just published on Nigeria, identifying  “Six States to Watch”; but to ask you more about, in the context of elections and the integrity of the process, what impact does it have on security issues, because we’ve seen situations where an election may or may not meet all the standards of a fully ethical election, and yet people accept it because they don’t want a situation where violence breaks out because of the dispute.  What are your feelings on this and how it inter …

Rob Malley:  Well, first of all thanks Ayo for having me.  It’s really great to be in Nigeria and to be on this programme.  And it’s a vast question you ask and it’s one that Crisis Group tries to tackle in so many different places.  First, there’s the obvious point that elections which are a … often a celebration, an extraordinary occasion also, can also be times of high risk.  They are magnifying glass on all of the problems in any society, here in Nigeria, in the United States, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, we’ve seen cases where elections are actually the moment where all the troubles of society surface.  So that’s one point.

But that raises the other point you mentioned, which is: what about this tension between elections and stability of the country, and that again arises all the time.  It just is arising right now in the Democratic Republic of Congo where there may be, we don’t know … I haven’t seen obviously the official … the tallies that we can judge independently, but there’s some controversy.  It is clear that President Kabila’s not going to be there any more, but which of the opposition candidates won, and if the one who proclaimed the winner is not the one who people believe actually won, will the country go through a huge … tumultuous period – instability and possibly violence and death.  Just as a footnote, even in my country, the United States, we had an election that was extremely controversial between Vice President Al Gore and then George W. Bush who became, who was elected. Many people think that it was not exactly the fairest election, but the side that lost, for the sake of stability, decided to go with it.

AO: Well, I mean, in a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo, where we know it’s first time that they’re looking forward to a transfer, a peaceful transfer of power.  That’s one thing, but in Nigeria now we’ve had a history of elections. And since 1999 we’ve had the handover of the incumbent president finishing his maximum terms, that was in 2007 and he left; we’ve had of course, a president dying in office; but then in 2015 we had an incumbent party being voted out of office and the current government coming to power.  So are the kind of things that we’re seeing in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where there is a real question about whether the results that are declared are the same, the question of: Well, this is the first time that they’re really going through a proper democratic process. Shouldn’t we be expecting more of a country like Nigeria where, we’ve been through the democratic process, and by now we are expecting that we should be perfecting the fit of the democratic clothing rather than just trying on the suit for a first fitting, so to speak.

RM: Absolutely, and you know, every election is different.  The dynamics in every place are different given on the … based on the political stage that that country is at.  I think in Nigeria you’ve had, as you just said, different, an evolution in which the last election was the peaceful transfer of power between an incumbent who lost the election, and the challenger who won, a challenger who by the way, could have complained about certain elections.  President Buhari obviously had reason to feel that in the past maybe he was cheated of elections, so this was a positive step and one would hope that the more this continues, the more you would see peaceful transfers of power, but also transfers of power that fundamentally reflect the will of the people.  In other words that the elections are marked by Integrity, by Accountability, by the Rule of Law and by independent verification of the results.

AO: So when you talk about issues like the Rule of Law, a country like … I mean I’m still sticking with Nigeria obviously.  We have, there are a lot of questions that arise about it, partly because we are in some ways in a war situation, and that’s in the North East, the insurgency in the North East and we’re also facing a lot of problems from criminal gangs in other parts of the country.  But in the North East in particular, we talk about the Rule of Law, and we had a situation just recently, where the … a newspaper was alleged to have published the deployment plans of the Nigerian Army, and the newspaper was invaded. And so you have that on the one hand in which the Army is justifying its behaviour because it’s saying: Well, we’re fighting a war!  We can’t have this sort of thing. And on the other hand, you have most of the rest of the country saying: But we’re in the middle of an election! If this is how people are behaving, how does that fit in with the Rule of Law?

RM: First of all, so I was in Abuja the other day, and we met with the editor-in-chief of that newspaper and had a chance to discuss it.  And you said it earlier, that elections are when people put their best foot forward and their worst foot forward. I think the point is, every election is every election shows the best and the worst of any society.  This is one example. I mean the worst is obviously barging into a newspaper and arresting somebody … or doing what happened is never something that one should be particularly happy with, but at least what we heard there was that there’s a  mechanism to try to resolve this in a better way. Is that going to, you know, we’ll see what happens, but there seemed to be a counter-pressure from civil society and from others to say: This is not the way to deal with problems. You have to go through a court of law.

Elections the same thing. You know, when I come here, I look at it and compared to many other countries that I deal with, many Middle Eastern countries where most of my background is, I read the newspapers, there’s a lot of criticism of the incumbent, there’s a lot of, you know, there’s a very vibrant press, I see demonstrations, I see rallies.  So the glass is half full in that respect, again, a peaceful transfer of power in 2015. The glass half empty would be the things that are being reported about the overzealousness of the security services, the possible partiality of the security services, particularly worrisome as you enter into elections. So, you know, you could look at it either way.  In the case that you mentioned, again what we heard from the editor-in-chief was a mixed story which was not obviously entirely positive, not entirely negative either.

AO: Well, I think that with regard to this, of course, we have the situation with the Daily Trust, but we also have a situation where the identification of one or two people and having them locked up and so on, is seen as having a dampening effect on the freedom of speech of others.  So that you have I think, an activist called Deji Ayandeji (I’ve forgotten) …

AgO: Adeyanju.

AO: … Adeyanju sorry.  And er … who is – I mean, he’s a political activist – but nonetheless he is an activist, and the government had arrested him, and so that was police arresting somebody, and then bringing up a murder charge, which I mean, I appreciate that you may not know the details of it.  But when you have a situation where the police is also perceived as not totally impartial, do you think that those perceptions can affect the integrity of an election, or is it that people are determined to see partiality where there may not be any … any partiality?

RM: So, as you say, I’m not, I don’t claim to be an expert after being here six, five or six days.  But clearly what I’ve heard from members of civil society from members of the media, from others, is that there is a concern about the perception of the partiality of the security  forces, some of the bye or earlier elections or bye-elections that took place apparently were marked by that, exacerbated that concern. So there’s no doubt that, and what is clear is that if there is impunity when things happen that ought not to have happened, like what happened with Daily Trust, it’s an indication that people felt that they could get away with it.  That’s, whether there’s a correction now or not, the fact that people in the security forces felt that they could do, act in such a way, means that they felt that they would not be punished. And the same goes if there are infractions to the integrity of elections, if people are engaged in it, it’s a reflection on what came before. That people felt that they could do it, they would get away with it, that they wouldn’t be punished and they would take advantage of it through the electoral results.  So again I can’t answer the specifics of what you’re saying, but what I’ve heard is people are concerned about that, and they hope that this election will be, won’t be marred by partiality of the security forces which are so critical to the good conduct of any elections.

AO: Well of course the President says that he has given instructions that anybody who attempts to rig elections and so on, and in a way, the tendency is to say in the famous words of Mandy Rice Davies: Well he would say that wouldn’t he?  But is it enough for a president to just say things, or do we … is there something that security forces themselves need to understand about impartiality that perhaps doesn’t always get through?

RM: Again, I couldn’t speak specifically to this case.  But I think you’re right. That it’s not enough to say something, because again, if people act that way despite the President having spoken in that way, it means that they believe that the words are not going to be translated into consequences.  I mean, that’s the test. The test is – there are always going to be cases where the security forces are either partial or over-zealous, or biased … the question is: What’s the response to that? And if the response is not holding people to account at whatever level they need to be held to account, then that conduct is going to repeat itself despite whatever nice statements, positive statements may come from the Head of State or others.  So there has to be a process of training of the police, obviously and education, training, and … but there also needs to be a process of holding to account those who would be violating the rule of law.

AO: Ok.  Finally before you go, as I said, our concern, the concern at Crisis Group is avoidance of conflict and of strife, and I wonder whether you can speak to any elections, I mean is it always the case that people accept a bad election, or that there’s violence but in the end the bad result stands, or is it that the bad result can actually be overturned if the people make enough … protest well enough?

RM: Well there certainly are cases in history where elections have been rigged and where the protests have been so significant, so large scale, that it simply was untenable to hold to that result, I think you’ve seen.  Or, sometimes the outcome is in between, is somewhere in between where those who claim to have won the elections but did so in a falsified way have to reach out, form an inclusive government, agree to concessions such as that they would step down after a year or two.  So I think all of those are options, and I think, as you say, for Crisis Group, the principle, the North Star, is avoidance of violence, avoidance of harming civilians. Now you have to also be principled when you do that, so it’s not … you’re not going to accept stability at any cost, but we try to find ways that are consistent with the long term democratic transformation and evolution of societies, but in a way that doesn’t come at the cost of average civilians who, as you know too well, always carry and suffer the brunt of civil wars.

AO: Well I want to thank you very much Rob, but before I let you go, I should also, I should just refer to the report that Crisis Group has given out, which is “Six States to Watch” and I wonder what, because we know that Crisis Group in the run up to the 2015 elections, had put out a report which well, I think at Crisis Group they like to claim it anyway, that it led to the watchful eye of other governments on the electoral process in Nigeria and in fact the visit by … who was then the Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, whereby he secured the agreement of all the major contenders to abide by the results of the election.  How do you see this kind of report, if it has any impact at all, being able to impact, to affect the way that the authorities behave?

RM: So, I have an anecdote I was told about you the other day, that somebody reacted to that report by saying well, Crisis Group which had warned against possible violence and problems with the elections, the fact that that didn’t occur, it didn’t occur as badly as Crisis Group had feared, said: Well, Crisis Group failed.  And I understand that you responded: “Would success have been to see widespread violence?” But that’s the point. I mean obviously, the best – the most successful impact we have with a report is when we warn of a crisis, we warn of potential conflict and that doesn’t happen, in part, maybe modestly we could say, in part because leaders, civil society, members of the media, members of the opposition heed our advice and to some extent as I say, put it into practice.  So I think we try to do that. We don’t, we are not here in Nigeria or elsewhere on a sort of a campaign to denounce anyone. We’re here to give constructive advice. Obviously it’s up to the political parties, up to civil society to take of it what they want, but we do it simply with one goal in mind which is to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.

AO: Ok, so I want to thank you very much Rob for being my guest on IDEAS radio.  I know that Rotimi is champing at the bit to have a bite of you before you depart the studio, so I will …

RM: Thank you.

Rotimi Sankore: Welcome again, so Nnamdi is, Nnamdi Obasi is here as well, to talk about the details of the Report, but it would be fantastic to have a sense from you of the work that Crisis, International Crisis Group does globally.  But, you know, to the basics first: How old is International Crisis Group?

RM: It’s about a quarter of a century old, we’re going to celebrate our 25th anniversary in 2020.

RS: Ok, Excellent, so …

AO: I should declare an interest by the way.  I’m a Trustee of the Crisis Group.

RM: Not a minor one!

RS: I’m sure many people will know this.  Ok. And how many countries does International Crisis Group work in?

RM: So let me first say, I mean our, the way we operate is we try to be present in the countries that we cover.  Nnamdi lives here in Nigeria and we try to be present in every country that we cover because we believe in ground truth.  We don’t believe in people sitting in their offices in Brussels, or in Moscow or elsewhere commenting. Now it’s not always possible for security reasons; you can imagine it’s hard to have a presence in Syria today.  But we do our best to be present everywhere in one capacity or another, and we cover – to that degree – we cover about 30 countries. We cover more from a distance, but about thirty countries where we are either present on a continuous basis, or we are sure to have people go in and out in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, Europe, but also for the last two years and I must say I’m very proud of this, we now have a US programme because people have told us: “What, the US is not responsible for conflict around the world?”  And they had a fair point, so we inaugurated our US programme about a year and a half ago.

RS: So it’s safe to say that we may be seeing an International Crisis Group report on the US soon?

RM: We’ve already had some, but not yet about violent conflict in the US, but about US immigration policy, counter-terrorism policy, policy in Afghanistan … policy …  we will do one day some on US policy towards Africa which I’m sure will be quite quite enriching.

RS: Ok, I ask this question because often critics of reports that seem to be critical of countries like Nigeria, say: Why are they publishing this report on Nigeria?  Why are they publishing it now? They are unduly critical of Nigeria! And it’s always important to point out that international organisations like International Crisis Group, Amnesty International, have been at work for 25, 60 years, work in 30  to 160 countries, hold governments account, even governments that are seen to be governments of so-called super powers. So there’s nothing really peculiar about International Crisis Group issuing a report on Nigeria. It’s not like you are picking on Nigeria.

RM: No, I’d make two points about that.  First, Crisis Group was born mainly as an effort to look at Europe.  It was a time of what was happening in the Balkans, in Bosnia and Kosovo, so that’s where it started.  Second of all, I really would urge readers – everything we do is publicly, is public online at our Crisis Group website.  Go see what we said about Western policy in Africa in particular, or in Iraq, or in Afghanistan. I think people who would read that would not come out with the impression that we are picking on countries, African or of the Global South.  We are very critical of the policies of the West that have led to many of the very unfortunate situations we face today.

RS: And summarily, what are your areas of focus globally?

RM: Global.  I mean really, we have a programme on Africa, where, obviously … in Nigeria.  We mentioned the DRC, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan. Then there’s also North Africa, the Middle East heavily, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Palestine.  In Asia, Afghanistan, Myanmar; in Europe, Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh; and in Latin America, Venezuela, Columbia and Nicaragua. I could go on and on but what we do, you see there are two … there are three criteria: the conflicts that are deadliest, that are causing most casualties, that’s such as Yemen or Afghanistan or Syria.  The conflicts that have a geopolitical real risk of changing the geopolitical map, like North Korea; and then those that are not covered enough, that people tend to ignore, like Cameroon or like Venezuela. So we look at … those are the criteria. We don’t sort of always run to the ones that the media tend to run to. We have those three criteria in mind and that’s what’s given us the menu of countries we cover.

RS: Ok, thank you so much Rob Malley, President of the International Crisis Group.

RM: Really appreciate it.