‘Why I am committed to activism and humanity’
Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) hails from Kano State. This amiable graduate of Bayero University has toed an unusual career path since his childhood days. His life revolves around activism as he sleeps, breathes, and eats activism. His passion for humanity has taken him round the globe where he has met with presidents, international leaders at the World Bank, United Nations, Bill Gates and other philanthropists working on development in Africa. Recently, his NGO opened its first international office in New York, United States. In this encounter with The Guardian, he speaks about his international presence and why he is passionate about humanity
At what state did you embrace activism or did you inherit it from your parents?
I have embraced activism in the past 25 years. Though I was born in Kano city to parents who were traders and Islamic scholar but traits of activism, which later manifested in Bayero University where I studied Political Science had always been in me. Again, I was born and brought up in Kano City where the late Sir Aminu Kano hailed from. I already had orientation for political liberation. We grew up with the conscious of fighting for poor people in the society and liberation of the masses and social justice since when I was young. It wasn’t difficult to adapt by the time I got into the university.
Who were your role models in this unusual career path?
I first caught my teeth as an activist under the tutelage of prominent Nigerians and academia. I was fortunate to be in Kano where former INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega and other prominent Political Scientist lecturers groomed me. Prof. Jega was my classroom teacher. They taught us political economy and activism. While I was in my year one, I was in the Student Movement. I was elected into the Students’ Union Government of Bayero University as one of the executives and subsequently, in 1992, I became the Assistant-General Secretary of National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS). Since then, I have been in activism. Also, while I was in the university, I was a member of Women in Nigeria (WIN) a political organization. Though a women’s gathering, we believed that for you to deal with the issue of women’s marginalization, exploitation, gender equality and development, you need both men and women to put hands together. While fighting for the cause of my fellow students as an undergraduate, I was already hobnobbing with older activists outside the campus. I was part of the group that formed Campaign for Democracy (CD), an organisation led by the then late Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti, Democratic Alternative led by the late Dr. Alao Aka Bashorun, and also a member and coordinator of United Action for Democracy (UAD) led by Mr. Olisa Agbakoba, SAN.
How did you combine academics with activism?
Apparently, in most of the student activists, you find out that they are both combining the two and they are able to balance the two because we never fail in our academic responsibilities as students. And because of the political education we get from political activism, we are able to have a better understanding on how to approach our studies. Even though many a time we would be out there mobilising Nigerian people against the military dictatorship of the then General Ibrahim Babangida and the late General Sani Abacha, we were ahead of many students that were in the classroom because of the exposure we had coupled with political education we received from senior comrades.
At what stage did you launch out, fully establishing CISLAC?
After my youth service the Community Action for Popular Participation (CAP), a human rights organization that was organised by progressive minds led by the late Emma Eze Azuh as Executive Director invited me. I was the first Programme Officer in Abuja in 1995. I was with them till 2001 when Center for Democracy and Development led by current Minister for Solid Minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi as an executive director invited me to join the organization in the Abuja office. I worked for this group for some time and resigned in 2005. Having worked with other civil organizations, I felt there was a huge gap in the way civil societies are advocating on issues in Nigeria. And having struggled with others to disengage the military before 1999, I thought that the civil society should constructively engage the legislature who have the constitutional and legislative power to make laws and remove those laws that impeded on human rights of Nigerians.
I came up with an intervention that would help. And through the mentorship of people like Dr. Abubakar Momoh, General Ishola Williams, the late Emma Eze Asu, I was able to form CISLAC and carried out its mission. Today, CISLAC is one of the most famous legislative and policy engagement organisations in the country. CISLAC mission is to strengthen the link between civil society and the legislature through advocacy and capacity building for civil society groups and policy makers on legislative processes and governance issues. The organization is also interested in the well-being of Nigerians particularly in the area of the extractive industry (oil), which is the major source of revenue for the country.
CISLAC was established 13 years ago. What prompted the decision to open an international office in New York last September?
Well, we are not trying to play to the gallery by spreading our tentacles abroad. The decision was born out of our thirst for advocacy abroad. CISLAC was officially launched in New York last year September. We also launched SDG 16, the Nigerian Permanent Representative to the United States, 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 UN General Assembly 72 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. Also, the key thing for our communities is advocacy for peaceful, inclusiveness and corruption free society that will in turn translate to the sustainable development that we seek.
Can you throw more light on SDG 16?
SDG 16 shadow reports which focuses mainly on anti-corruption agenda more specifically it 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 the 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 effects of corruption as it relegates development efforts to the background, plunging countries into underdevelopment. A society free of corruption is healthy, wealthy, well-respected and well developed.
What effort has your organisation made to intervene on the above issues mentioned?
On March 14th 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 given necessary attention in terms of healthcare system, lack of education, forced labour and forced 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.
Nigeria has the highest number of out of school children in the whole world. How do 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 producing productive human resource in Nigeria. Every nation and country in the world relies on human capacities as potential for turning the economic 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 United Nations 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 culprits caught in imposing early marriage on the under-age. We have an existing law on Child Rights, unfortunately, it has not been complied to 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 costs associated with school attendance such as uniform, transportation fee etc. I am sure government’s 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, motor parks because they have been abandoned by their parents, and this can be a problem for the society because they face uncertainty.
How do you juggle your activism struggle and the home front?
I have been able to combine my activism with family life with the help of my amiable wife, Maria Sheriff. Luckily, my wife understands, family and everyone knows that I was a product of struggle, it is in my blood. As a responsible family man I try to balance my family life with activism. I have been happily married to my wife, Maria Sheriff since 2001 and blessed with three children- two girls and a boy. She understands the need to support me to be able to accomplish the struggle. She is also making her own contribution taking care of the home-front.
How do you relax?
Relaxation? Well, as an activist, I don’t think I have all the time as the popular cliché says “struggle continues.” Nevertheless, when I am around, I relax with my family.
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