I wanted to become a pilot – Fagbemi

Ayokunle Fagbemi, the Executive Director of the Centre for Peace-building and Socio-Economic Resources Development (CePSERD), is a security and defence management expert who had worked in different areas across democracy and governance; security and defence management; as well as civil society and the media.
In this interview with ADAM ALQALI, he speaks on his education and working career and proffers solutions to the Boko Haram phenomenon

Let’s begin by knowing about your background?
I am the fourth child of Sir Joel Fagbemi who is the Odofin Iluga of Temidire, Ekitiland and Late Comfort Arinola Fagbemi, was from the Kobiowu Ruling House of Ibadan. I was born on April 21, 1963. Our parents invested in our education, thus I had the opportunity to study in various schools and universities in Nigeria and also trained at other institutions across the globe.

I graduated with a political science degree from the University of Benin in 1985 and also bagged a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Ibadan in 1987. I later delved into the study of national security and defence management alongside peace and conflict studies.
I started my career with a stint in the media working at the Radio O-Y-O, the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS). I later worked with the then Mass Mobilization for Self Reliance, Social Justice, and Economic Recovery (MAMSER)], which later became the National Orientation Agency (NOA), between 1988 and 1995. At MAMSER, I worked as officer at the research, monitoring and evaluation department under the late Ken Saro Wiwa.

Thus, I have in the course of my carrier worked in the public sector, the private sector as well as the non-profits. From 2005 to 2008, I served as a member of an organ of the African Union, the Economic, Social and Cultural Council (AU-ECOSOCC) working alongside icons like the late Nobel Laureate, Prof Wangari Maathai.

Moreover, I have been an active participant in the ECOWAS Peace Exchange Forum as well as the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) which I served as Coordinator for Nigeria. As a foundation member of the Network on Police Reforms in Nigeria (NOPRIN), I was the chair for the subcommittee on police operations and accountability and later capacity building and training.

I was also the pioneer National Network Coordinator (NNC) for the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) in Nigeria and also provided technical support services to the Early Warning Directorate of ECOWAS particularly in the conceptualization and development of the National Early Warning Mechanisms for Member States. I am presently the Executive Director of the Center for Peace-building and Socio-Economic Resources Development (CePSERD).

You have in the course of your carrier worked across different areas including conflict management; democracy and governance; security and defence management; as well as the media. What would you say influenced your carrier choice?

Interestingly, I was a science major student in secondary school and while my parents wanted me to be a Medical Doctor, I was interested in studying Aeronautics and becoming a commercial pilot. Thus, I would say, I ended up a being rebel by studying Political Science. However, I think my inspiration or rather what shaped my carrier choice was my father who happened to be in the governance cycle as a civil servant working under the then Western State and later Ondo State through my travels with him to some of his duty posts.

When I got to the University of Benin, I was also under the tutelage of scholars like Professors Omo Omoruyi mni, Sam Oyovbaire (both of Political Science) and Anao (of Accounting) along with Comrade Paul Nwagbafor, Dr. Mae King and now Senator Odion. It was during my UNIBEN days that I met the lady I am married to for about twenty-three years. She is Ifeoma, nee Udolisa; a medical practitioner by profession.

You are presently the Executive Director of the Center for Peacebuilding and Socio-Economic Resources Development (CePSERD).What is the mission of the Center?
Yes, and CePSERD is an attempt to bridge the gap existing between state and non-state actors – particularly the civil society – mindful of the fact that, often times, the state and civil society see policy issues from divergent viewpoints as such do fail to constructively engage each other.
Thus, as a non-profit, it supports and encourages cooperative responses, experience and information sharing; produce resource materials and develop mechanisms and frameworks for the emergence or sustenance of viable partnerships amongst stakeholders.

The idea is for us to attain a position where we can truly engage one another and we discovered that in the course of seeking to engage one another, there is a gap between research, theory, policy as well as practice, which we are trying to bridge by making sure all stakeholders, particularly the government and non-governmental organizations, are able to work together especially in the area of peace and security

We are proud to say we have been able to impact on the Nigerian state, the West African region as well as the African continent particularly in two major areas of our thematic focus which are the preventive peacebuilding, conflict mitigation and transformation thematic thrust and the Governance Democratic Sustenance and the Public Policy (GDSPP) thematic thrust.

With regards to the governance democratic sustenance and public policy thrust, we have been involved in lots of Democratic Sustenance Watch (DSW) and capacity building programs. The most unique aspect of this thrust is preventive peacebuilding for partisan politics. From the realization that partisan politics usually contribute to the way conflict occur in most polities, particularly Nigeria, we evolved this initiative with which we have successfully implemented some interventions over the years. They include the Pre-2009 Ekiti Governorship Rerun and most recently the Pre-2014 Plateau State Local Government Council Elections.

In Nigeria and West Africa as a whole, you discover that, often, the dynamics of intra-party politics like in Ekiti and Osun States – where the PDP primaries – if care is not taken, will affect the pattern of inter-party politics between the PDP and other contesting parties for the governorship seat.

Like we had at the national level in 2009/2010, prior the 2011 general elections, wherein the intra-PDP challenges concerning the handling of President Umaru Yaradua, his passage amidst the dynamics of the geopolitical zoning formula culminated in the kinds of challenges we later faced in the Nigerian state. Thus, under our DSW we are already working on the appropriate intervention packages ahead of the 2015 General Elections.

These help CePSERD in interfacing correctly through constructive engagement by bringing civil society to participate in the development of policy initiatives; and then helping government(s) express issues correctly or clarify to the people while also doing some mobilization and sensitization in such a way that we are building a vortex of consensus and understanding around issues.

It was against this background that we were opportune to participate in helping the Nigerian state develop a Conflict Early Warning/Early Response Model. The model is helping in the area of data gathering for the stakeholders to be able to activate an early response mechanism. The model includes data gathering, analysis and reporting. We were equally privileged to have contributed to the series of the African Union consultations leading to the Post Conflict Reconstruction Framework for Africa and the Livingstone Formula for the activation of Article 20 of the Peace and Security Council Protocol.

In the build-up to the local government elections in Plateau State, CePSERD organised a stakeholders’ forum on preventive partisan politics. Do you have plans to organise such forums in Ekiti and Osun states now that governorship elections are around the corner in the 2 states?

The stakeholders’ forum was just a one day event that was made public; however, we have the Democratic Sustenance Watch portfolio as well as the Democratic Sustenance Intervention Scheme. In the watch, we continue to gather data while interfacing with stakeholders on what should be done to mitigate what have been observed towards correcting them. Whereas, in the democratic sustenance intervention, what we do is advocacy and consultations with relevant stakeholders.

For Ekiti and Osun states, we have a democratic sustenance package we are trying to build upon. And like what we did in Plateau, we are planning for jingles that will be aired on radio and television as well as hang banners, post posters, share handbills and pamphlets. We did the same ahead of the governorship re-run in Ekiti in 2009 when we produced banners and IEC materials targeted at ensuring a peaceful election. We targeted critical stakeholders like the traditional and religious institutions, the union of road transport workers, as well as youths and women.

So, we are planning the same programs for the forthcoming elections in Ekiti and Osun and we hope to scale-up and be able to observe the election proper – when we get accreditation from INEC. Once we are accredited by INEC, we will gather Election Day related observation data through two categories of Observers – neighborhood watch observers and strategic observers, analysts and reporters.

The neighborhood watch observation platform relies on voters who along with the performance of their civic obligations participate in “i-Reporting” format through their postings via social media platforms or can report (via SMS) the conduct of elections in their neighborhoods.

As a security and defence management expert, what is your appraisal of the now over 4 year old Boko Haram insurgency in Northern Nigeria?
Get me straight! We have always been trying to make the Nigerian-state, media, analysts and commentators understand that we are not dealing with a mere religious sect; instead, a phenomenon that has nothing less than 9 components – depending on the prism you choose to use your school of thought – of which the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal Jihad (JASLWJ) constitute less than 5%. It is interesting to note that if it was just the JASLWJ alone it should have fizzled out the same way the “Maitasine” episode faded away.

We are not attempting to deny the existence of the ethno-religious component of the dynamics; we are only seeking to draw attention to the others. From our perspective, the international dynamics of the Boko Haram phenomenon is about 55% while the political aspect of it has to do with the legitimacy of the Nigerian state; the state governments and governance service delivery; as well as the security and law enforcement components within the dynamics already highlighted.

These are the realities and that is why we are now happy that eventually, the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), based on the legal framework on anti-terrorism in Nigeria, has now come up with a counterterrorism strategy that is talking about countering violent extremism using the soft approach. As such, if you look at the component of that strategy, you will understand that it is a holistic approach that is bringing about a multi-track dispensation into play, and not just doing that alone, instead, by interfacing with our neighbouring countries.

You describe the international dynamics of the Boko Haram Phenomenon as about 55%; to what extent do you think the internationalization of the insurgency has made it difficult for the Nigerian government to overcome it?

If you look at the conflict and violence entrepreneurship connected to terrorism, you will begin to ask questions like where do the firearms come from, a nd who are the manufacturers of the firearms and the components of the IEDs being used by Boko Haram. Also, how comes there is a connection between the escalation of the phenomenon in Nigeria and the fall-out of the Arab spring, the Libyan civil war and the Tuareg rebellion in northernMali.

You also need to look at the fact that we are surrounded by francophone countries as well as the continues manifestation of the agenda that portrays a deliberate attempt by an international syndicate of crime and terrorism; the military industrial complexes and the multinational system to keep developing countries in perpetual conflicts that will eventually lead to their self-destruction. For example, take a look at Syria and ask what led to the stalemate and who are arming both sides in the conflict. You will understand that the more arms and equipment are sold (to either the government or the rebels) the more jobs are being created back in the homes of the military industrial complexes.

Now, do you think Nigeria is capable of ending the Boko Haram Phenomenon and how?
Yes, Nigeria, the Nigerian-state is capable of ending the Boko Haram phenomenon with or without international assistance. What is required is the political will to end it. There also has to be concerted efforts by all stakeholders, as such, the Nigerian government will have to engage the services of experts that are not in government as defined by the soft approach strategy to countering violent extremism so as to have a comprehensive and holistic approach to countering the phenomenon.

Henceforth, there is need for the Nigerian government to do some outsourcing by relieving its apparatuses of some of the burdens they are currently carrying, including aspects of data gathering which revolves around the third party intervention program and which has to be done through civil society and religious organizations so that the state’s role will be tackling issues of policy, pursuing crime and criminality as well as directly dealing with the insurgency in terms of armed engagement while the civil society-security components deals with the soft facets.

We also need to concentrate on the indicative causes we have seen because there has been a seeming failure of governance service delivery in that region (North-east) which has to be re-invigorated in terms of provision of basic social amenities like hospitals, roads and education and once the governance service delivery. if re-invigorated, investors will come, businesses will spring-up and jobs be will be created.

There is also need for the reconstruction of the value system towards attitudinal and behavioral reorientation and change through concerted efforts by both state and non-state actors, which means NOA should be deeply involved while the civil society also interfaces with religious groups towards ensuring that only the right set of people are allowed to preach (either as Christians or as Muslims) so that whatever hits the airwaves or is contained in CDs and Cassettes is an information that is in conformity with good tenets. Furthermore, the traditional institutions need to be made understand that they are part of the peace and security architecture and that they have a responsibility through a clearly defined role.

At the international level, we must truly and genuinely understand the dynamics of all existing regional, bilateral and multi-lateral treaties we are party to. We have just activated the Lake Chad legal framework whose peace and security component allows for the ministers of defence and service chiefs of Lake Chad states including Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad to meet and brainstorm on peace and security issues.

We also need to activate the Nigeria-Cameroon bi-national commission on Bakassi, whose formation the UN office in West Africa was involved in. As well as make sure that, apart from the new arrangement, we have sign more bi-lateral agreements with all our neighboring countries including Niger, Benin, Chad and even France.

Finally, there is need to do more in terms of managing the proliferation of light arms across the country by doing an audit of our firearms system which should include the audit of the arms and also the personnel that are authorized to own such arms.

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