A lecture by H.E Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for West Africa and the Sahel at the Realnews Fourth Anniversary Lecture – Abuja, 17 November 2016
DISTINGUISHED ladies and gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here today and honored to see so many distinguished personalities and friends of mine in the audience.
Before I start, I would like to express my sincere thanks to Realnews Magazine for inviting me to deliver its Fourth Anniversary Lecture on ‘Security and National Development in a Plural Democratic Society.’ I would especially like to thank Ms. Maureen Chigbo, Chief Publisher and Editor of Realnews.
I have been asked to talk about security and national development in a plural democratic society. This concerns the challenge of how to create an enabling environment for national development and democracy while ensuring the security of the State and its citizens. I would like to share some reflections on our topic with special reference to Nigeria and the West Africa sub region.
Today, Nigeria maintains the position of Africa’s largest economy. The diverse character of its population of over 170 Million, its youthfulness and multi-ethnic and religious composition make the country a peculiar mosaic. While others may see this as many mouths to feed, it is also good to point out that this population is a formidable market force and an asset to economic development, particularly if you take into account the entrepreneurial nature of Nigerians.
Allow me to commend the tangible achievements of Nigeria in promoting national development and human security. As highlighted by His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari in the End-point Report 2015 on the Millennium Development Goals:
“The Experience of Nigeria presents a bag of mixed results. On the positive side Nigeria improved its hitherto very poor health indices and low-gender parity index, among other indicators. This translated into the reduction of maternal and child poverty and getting Nigeria on the way to eradicating polio through effective national and international partnership. These efforts aided the reduction in the spread of malaria and HIV and AIDS; and achievement of higher net enrolment rate in basic education and gender parity in the primary school. They also led to improved access to safe drinking water.”
The President also highlighted that “on the negative side, Nigeria still has a lot to do to improve access to good sanitation facilities and curb the menace of climate change and other environmental challenges such as pollution, desertification, erosion and flooding.”
Maybe most important was the renewed commitment of Nigeria, reiterated by the President, to pursue the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), so as to many Nigerians out of poverty and deprivation.
Let me add here that the new development framework provided by the SDGs adopted by the General Assembly last year, reflects a new thinking on the linkages between development and security. The Goals related to achieving peace, security, development and the rule of law can, and should be pursued simultaneously. They are interdependent, in fact mutually reinforcing; – there is no development without peace, security and the rule of law. On the other hand no peace can be long lasting without development.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen
While I was very pleased to note the success of Nigeria in implementing the Millennium Goals, I was very sad when I read the following phrase:
“The net enrolment rates in primary and secondary schools which had registered commendable progress in the past have, however, been halted by the effects of insurgency in the North-east geopolitical zone”
This is an example of a situation where the absence of security has a direct impact on development. The ability of the State to provide education to its citizens and prepare the next generation to enter the labour market is compromised. Citizens are deprived of their right to education. This is reflected by my visit yesterday to Brono State where the UN is scaling up so as to meet the human crisis that is emerging as a result of Boko Haram insurgency.
This led me to reflect on the critical challenges Governments are facing in delivering services to their citizens and which may constitute obstacles to achieving the SDGs.
I have very grave concern with the threat that non-State actors are posing to development, peace and security, and the rule of law.
Transnational organized crime constitutes a major threat to Governments and communities in our region. In their search for profits they engage in trafficking in drugs, arms, and small weapons, human trafficking, and precious metal.
The resources derived from their criminal endeavors provide them with the capacity to corrupt our institutions and undermine the state and its law enforcement capacity.
Let me give you an example: According to UNODC, 18 tons of cocaine transit through the region per year. Their market value is US$ 2 billion. And there are other very worrying trends.
Criminals in Nigeria have, in the recent past, started to manufacture methamphetamines and several laboratories have been seized. These are some of the most addictive drugs which can easily flood our streets.
We must also think of the direct adverse impact on the health of the citizenry arising from drug addiction.
Organized crime makes a mockery of our porous borders and undermines our maritime security. They sometimes operate in the jurisdiction of the State with impunity. Corruption undermines the faith of citizens in their governments.
Our region has been the target of terrorist groups and violent extremists. They constitute the archenemies of our democracy and pluralistic society.
In the past year, we have watched with horror attacks carried out by militant groups in Bamako, Ouagadougou and Grand Bassam. Niger continues to be a target. We are also given daily and harsh reminders about terrorism and violent extremism in the northern part of Mali. Boko Haram is considered as the world’s deadliest terrorist groups, responsible for more deaths in one year than any other terrorist group in the world.
In the Niger Delta, new militant groups are emerging, attacking oil facilities and threatening strikes on other government targets. And the clash between farmers and herders in the Middle Belt continues. In addition, grievances from the time of the Biafra civil war also loom large. These developments have contributed to undermining the security and development of Nigeria.
These are the challenges we face and which we must collectively address in order to maintain the rule of law, ensure peace, security and national development.
This may seem like a bleak picture. Let us look at our response.
I am very confident that we are making progress. I would like to highlight the resilience of Nigeria.
An interesting example is the Bring Back our Girls movement, which united Nigerians across ethnic and religious lines to fight aggression by Boko Haram against the nation. One of your Nigerian poets, Ben Okri, has referred to this resilience as Nigerians’ capacity to be greater than their suffering.
In the mist of all these challenges, what has stood out most conspicuously is the determination of the Nigerian people to overcome the challenges confronted. We must not forget the entrepreneurial spirit and prowess of Nigerians, the innovative zeal of its youths and intellectual capacity. These are indicators of a promising nation. I remain, therefore, always hopeful that the best is yet to come.
Nigeria set an extraordinary example in the general elections of last year, with a peaceful transfer of power. All the odds were against it. All the countries of the region were watching with keen interest. The outgoing and incoming Presidents were true statesmen, placing the security of the nation first. They refused to use Nigeria’s security challenges as a pretext for compromising the election results.
This is a lesson for West Africa but also for other parts of the continent where we see security concerns being manipulated to undermine democracy. And in my work in the region I always cite the good examples of Nigeria.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen
A very positive development in the region is the strengthening of democracy. General elections have been held peacefully in a number of West African countries in the past year. In addition to Nigeria, elections were held this year in Niger, Benin and Cape Verde. Elections in Ghana next month are expected to run smoothly. West Africa can serve as a model to other regions. We must also recognize the role and contribution of ECOWAS, particularly in monitoring elections.
This is first and foremost a reflection of political commitment to the respect for the rule of law, consensus building, and recognition that peace and security are fundamental to development.
Regional organizations such as ECOWAS are playing a critical role in tackling cross-border challenges in West Africa, both through the adoption of normative frameworks and through operational partnerships with Member States and regional and international entities.
Governments are working closer together to counter the threat to national security. Nigeria has played an important and critical role, dating back to the civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia. And today, its leadership of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF), fighting the Boko Haram insurgency, is decisive. We at the UN are very pleased with the partnership we have established with the four countries countering Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin.
Let me refer to a landmark development in the region with regards to security and development: Military coups d’états, or self-appointed leadership, to call things by their names, have become a phenomenon of the past in West Africa. Empowered by social media, citizens are increasingly speaking up for democracy, against protracted regimes associated with the past. This is good news. In our region we have a zero tolerance for non-constitutional regime change.
Another important opportunity for national development in Nigeria and the region is the role of civil society in promoting a pluralistic society. West Africa has an exceptionally vibrant and well-organized civil society with broad exposure to and knowledge of democratic governance. In many ways, Nigeria could perhaps be seen as the ‘cradle of civil society’ given the multitude of strong voices and advocacy here.
Engaging civil society in our efforts to find peaceful solutions to national and trans-national security challenges lead to building societies based on the rule of law and peaceful coexistence. We must embrace all our constituencies, including teachers, shopkeepers, medical personnel, religious leaders, farmers and herders, women and youth.
The developmental solution to today’s challenges lies in the hands of entrepreneurs operating in key economic sectors. They are the drivers of growth and prosperity upon which Nigeria depends.
It seems very relevant therefore, to listen to what the business world, and the private sector in particular, has to say about the current development opportunities in Nigeria. An environment of peace and security is essential for business to thrive and for the private sector to make their contribution to the creation and distribution of wealth. While the private sector play a key role in poverty reduction through the creation of wealth we must make sure that the prosperity that is created in all-inclusive. When the creation of wealth leads to the concentration in a few hands we undermine our long-term security.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen
National dialogue is a critical process to rebuild societies after conflict. Nigeria has organized a number of such national conferences in the past to promote national unity around key issues.
I am a strong proponent of such dialogues. At the same time, we need to invest more resources and new thinking into making national dialogues more inclusive and representative. We must address the unmet grievances of populations at the periphery.
We have to deal with the source of decades-long crises and conflicts, often manifested along ethnic, religious and cultural lines. This is essential to securing the nexus of peace, security and development.
Dialogue as an essential pillar for peace, security and development is championed by the United Nations. The healthy dialogue which has upheld and sustained Nigeria all these years should be harnessed and strengthened. But we must also build the courage to act on the outcomes of national conferences and consultations. What we are weak at is early warning, early intervention and action in preventing conflict from breaking and spreading.
There is an increased awareness today in West Africa of the importance of promoting women’s leadership and participation in governance.
Without inclusivity and women’s participation, development will be skewed and that will undermine democracy.
It is no longer tenable to lock out more than 50% of the population from critical leadership positions across all sectors.
I have been impressed by efforts of several governments in the region to prioritize the participation of women in governance.
Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Cabo Verde, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Niger have provisions in place to increase women’s participation in national parliaments and electoral processes. They have quotas and gender parity laws for this purpose. Most of these countries have a 30 percent quota for women’s participation in parliament. Senegal has a 50 percent gender parity law; Togo has gender parity provisions in its Electoral Code. However, merely having these affirmative action provisions is not enough. They must be implemented to truly empower women. Both Ghana and Nigeria are lagging behind and we must do a special effort to catch-up.
As head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, I am working with ECOWAS and key UN partners to promote the participation of women in the political process as critical pillar for the strengthening of a democratic and plural society.
We engage in advocacy around elections to encourage national electoral commissions to embrace gender-responsive electoral laws. We support gender-responsive constitutional reform processes. We have done this in Liberia (2011) and Sierra Leone (2012) for example.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen
I would like to stress that it is so important to invest in education and income-generating activities for youth. This is because it is a sure investment in development and peace building. It is an investment in the future.
President Buhari has repeatedly emphasized the need to boost the education of youth as a counter-balance to Boko Haram’s appeal to them. Unemployed youth are vulnerable to joining violent and extremist groups.
Involving youth in the development process, consulting representatives of young women and men, is critical in ensuring their participation in development initiatives.
In order for these appeals to be reached the targeted audience, the media must play a strong role in the promotion of peace, security and development. This is because terroris thrive on their distorted narratives. We must be aggressive in presenting counter narratives to the terrorists.
The kind of mobilization required to reverse the current security threats in Nigeria requires a committed, dutiful and vibrant media which places national interest and social cohesion above all sectional concerns. Freedom of expression equally implies advocating for nation-building, national development, the defense of the values of pluralism, and accountability of public officials.
It is indeed encouraging to observe that social media is thriving in this country with the active involvement of enthusiastic young people. We are here today to celebrate Realnews for its achievements.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen
Let me turn to the new approach taken by the international community, through the United Nations, in promoting security and national development to strengthen democracies and build long-term peace.
A new vision and thinking has led to the adjusting of the UN’s current peace, security and development toolbox to a changing global environment. First, there is a common understanding that military and law enforcement responses alone are not adequate to counter terrorism, prevent violent extremism, and ensure peace and security.
Alternative approaches addressing the conditions conducive to terrorism; respect for human rights; building strong institutions for development and promoting the rule of law are equally essential. In other words we must tackle the root causes of terrorism.
In this regard, we need to think harder about how to tackle security threats without hampering social and economic development and without infringing on fundamental human rights. The new approach also highlights the important contributions of women to peacemaking and development.
In his address on the 2016 International Peace Day in September, Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, called for a new paradigm shift on how we approach peace. He qualified the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as pillars for peace. In this way, peace becomes the centerpiece of all development endeavors.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen
I have presented to you some of the important threats our young democracies are facing. Countries emerging from conflict and investing their resources in nation-building have also to address the ruthless threat posed by organized crime and terrorism. I have also expressed to you my assessment that we are making progress in spite of the challenges that we face and we have to acknowledge.
The nexus between democracy, the rule of law, development and peace is getting clearer and the efforts to achieve them more holistic. We are making progress. I have also mentioned some of the key ingredients for our success, such as the involvement of civil society, the full participation of women, the private sector, the media and youth in the development process. I have also mentioned the resilience of Governments of the region, particularly Nigeria, in ensuring the development of their people and their efforts to meet the Sustainable Development Goals. These goals need to be embraced at all levels, just as we did for MDGs in measuring progress towards development. A meeting with the private sector and Secretary-general last year provided us with the opportunity to gauge how the private sector was supporting Government in addressing the Goals. The implementation of the SDGs will be equally important as a comprehensive framework for initiatives in the North-east of Nigeria in countering the social and development damages resulting from Boko Haram insurgency.
While we need both visionary leadership and the active participation of a robust civil society to ensure continued national development in a plural democratic environment, I would like to insist that we all have a role to play as citizens. This is well enshrined in the Constitution of Nigeria that starts with the words: “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
Each Nigerian has a role to play and each has a stake in our democracy.