PLAC BEAM spoke with Idris Miliki Abdul, Founder and Executive Director of Conscience for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Centre (CHRCR).
On the origin of the organisation and its work:
Basically, what we do by virtue of the name are: we stand for justice, we work for justice and human rights and we work in peace building, because if there is no justice, there would be no peace. We fight for the rights of the people and advocate for peace, conflict resolution and mediation. We counsel, conduct research, facilitate training, and we work on election and democracy.
It actually started with Gender Violence Action Network in 1999 in Kaduna. But when I was a victim of Sharia and I was a displaced person, I had to run for my life, and came here to Abuja in 2000. Based on some of those things existing that time, that a man should not lead a gender-focused organisation, some of my senior colleagues advised me to change the name. So, after attending a programme and seeing the challenge we had in the north-central zone, I came up with the Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution in the same year. As we moved on and I started having some interventions from partners, I registered the Centre in Kogi State in 2007. Furthermore, our partners advised that I go back and do an incorporation. So, we were registered in March 2019 as Conscience for Human Rights and Conflict Resolution.
Of course, gender is very critical to us. So, we do marriage and children counseling. We also do legislative activities and sponsor bills. In the entire northern Nigeria, I was the one that facilitated the sponsoring of the Gender and Equal Opportunity Bill in Kogi state, which was the first that was passed in the entire Northern Nigeria during the immediate past government. Unfortunately, it was not assented to.
“We are threatened every day because they think we are confrontational and you can see our history from the military for those of us who were privileged to have worked during the military era, who were also victims of these threats. They still believe that Civil Society Organisations are confrontational and, therefore, in whatever they are saying they do not want to see from the angle of justice and human rights”
On advocacy for citizen awareness of their political rights:
Our main instrument of our work right from time is the use of media, both radio and television. Constantly, we do press statements and author articles on various issues that have to do with democracy. We also observe elections. I’ve been observing elections since 1999. Currently, I’ve been working on issues that have to do with elections since 2003 in Kogi State till today and that is what brought me to the Situation Room. I belong to several networks. I’ve coordinated the Transition Monitoring Group. In 2010, I was the one who coordinated the voter registration observation on behalf of Alliance for Credible Elections (ACE) under the leadership of the late Emma Ezeazu of blessed memory. These are some of the things we do.
Election is very key, and it is a roadmap to democracy. Even at the student union movement level, even traditional rulers conduct a form of election. Even if you go to the parks the drivers themselves conduct elections. So, we are very interested in elections of all categories and I always tell people when you want to conduct or work on anti-corruption in elections, you don’t have to look at partisan elections alone. What we are trying to do now is to see how issues of anti-corruption become a campaign issue in 2023. So, we are getting support from MacArthur to work towards 2023 on elections. We have a civil society media platform created by my office and we have launched a platform called NATA (Network on Anti-corruption, Transparency and Accountability), hosted and established by my office. It is a network of people we work with, who understand our own way of doing work, but the concept of that network is to share information on anti-corruption and get feedback, so when we have any issue or information, we put it on that platform.
We have two platforms: One specifically on the issue of anti-corruption for everybody that works with us and the other on CSO media. We have not less than 30 journalists on that platform and several other people. These are the things we do in our organisation and in Kogi State, despite the environment not being conducive for us to work. We are threatened every day because they think we are confrontational and you can see our history from the military for those of us who were privileged to have worked during the military era, who were also victims of these threats. They still believe that Civil Society Organisations are confrontational and, therefore, in whatever they are saying they do not want to see from the angle of justice and human rights.
“…you cannot do this job without resources… There are legitimate and illegitimate resources…. if you collect money from the government to do civil society work when there are no independent partnerships and arrangements, as far as I am concerned, it is illegitimate money because these are monies they are supposed to use to build roads and hospitals. You are contributing to corruption and underdevelopment.”
On major challenges faced by the organisation:
Of course, you cannot do this job without resources. Resources are in two ways. There are legitimate and illegitimate resources. We are grassroots workers who go to rural communities. What I mean by legitimate resources is like what MacArthur is giving us. They monitor what we are doing, and we must be accountable. We preach accountability ourselves; we must be seen doing the job that we are asked to do. But in my own opinion, the illegitimate resources are when the government now wants to decide, “What do we do to reduce this guy’s trouble?” and a bribe is offered. I remember vividly in 2006, I was to be given a million naira by the then government after I had left the CONFAB. Somebody went there and said the job this man is doing needs to be supported but I rejected it. Then, things got very difficult. I could not even pay rent for two years, but I stood my ground. So, if you collect money from the government to do civil society work when there are no independent partnerships and arrangements, as far as I am concerned, it is illegitimate money because these are monies they are supposed to use to build roads and hospitals. You are contributing to corruption and underdevelopment.
More so, resources are a major problem that I face in Kogi, and if you don’t have resources, you cannot handle your job properly. If I tell you what my own monthly take home from the project I’m doing is, you would be so surprised but notwithstanding, money shouldn’t be a determining factor. I believe that if civil society can get independent funding to do their job, they would do it better. Passion, commitment, consistency have taken me to where I am today. I always tell people: “When you plant a tree and you water it to grow, if it doesn’t provide you with seed or fruit, it will provide you shade”. So, the organisations have provided me with a shade.
Acceptability is also something that even the citizens you are fighting for, sometimes look at you, that this guy is either making too much noise or making unnecessary trouble. Is he the only one there? And yet you are fighting for society. Then, society imposes so much responsibility on you. If you don’t talk on everything, if I don’t talk in Kogi State, it means I have been compromised. Why is Miliki not talking again? Yet I am not an elected person or paid to talk but people just believe that no matter how dangerous the situation is, no matter how sensitive the matter is, they need to hear the voice of Miliki.
“We need to do more work as CSOs working on election and democracy. We need to engage political parties from the national to the state and local governments. We need to educate them so they can produce good candidates for the primaries”
On major challenges to Nigeria’s electoral process:
The major problem we have is the party system and then the quality of persons that find their way as members of political parties. Today in Nigeria, we don’t have independent candidates, so you must go through a political party run by those who claim to own or established the party. You will need to follow the process, procedure and protocol of the political party. So we need to do more work as CSOs working on election and democracy. We need to engage political parties from the national to the state and local governments. We need to educate them so they can produce good candidates for the primaries. Who emerges from the primaries of the political parties are the ones that you and I will go and vote for in the name of performing our civic responsibility. We need to work with INEC and the National Assembly to review the party system in Nigeria. At national level it is even fair; just go to the states, we are not even talking of the local government, and see the quality of people that claim to be party leaders. So, number one, we need to go back to the drawing board to engage political parties.
The conduct of elections by INEC itself, the quality and character of those who are in INEC, also matter. The current Electoral Act that we have, all of us collectively, worked together to make sure that we have some level of independence from INEC in terms of processes and procedure for announcing results and collation. We have gotten there, but now there is another controversy by these political parties, particularly when it comes to the issue of governors. Just like what I said on the primaries, how does a candidate emerge in the political party? People just sit down in their bedroom and say, “Oh, sister Nkiru, is the person we trust, we don’t trust Miliki, and so she must be our candidate”. That is why we support the direct primaries. So, we have secured INEC’s independence, now we need to make noise over the fact that the President should assent to this Bill. Those who are against it, where were they when public hearing was conducted? Do they lobby their members? And is it only PDP and APC that are against themselves? We have 18 extra political parties and even in National Assembly we have more than two political parties there. Why is it that the two leading political parties are trying to now create and dictate the pathway for democracy and electoral process in Nigeria? We need to do more with this National Assembly.
“We started during the military era and we put our lives on the line. We were more committed; nobody was paid per per diem.”
On how CSOs can push back against a repressive government:
We started during the military era and we put our lives on the line. You remember that there was a time when Clem (Clement Nwankwo), they went to the streets of Lagos. We started the issue of sit-at-home. May God bless the memory of Chima Ubani. We were more committed; nobody was paid per diem. We know the situation has changed now, we need to be more professional and be more specialized, so that when you talk, you are talking as an authority. We have seen people who are jacks of all trades. They are in micro credit, they are everywhere. So, if you are a jack of all trades you master nothing. If you are working on democracy, you need to study it, conduct more research, make more noise, since they call us noisemakers. We need to involve intellectualism, and we must continue to monitor ourselves? What is Miliki doing in Kogi state and what is somebody doing in Maiduguri and in Sokoto?
CSOs need to create their own platform. In fact, I’m saying that for instance we need a radio station now. If CSOs can have their own radio station for instance in FCT, like I have my own magazine now, I publish what I like in that place within the frame of the law. In my radio programme that is being paid for by MacArthur, I speak what I want on that radio within the range of the law. So, you cannot wait until you are invited to radio stations to come and talk. What if they don’t invite you? Or you issue a press statement, and nobody carries it. Thank God for online now; we have social media we can use to propagate and promote our view. Civil society needs to sit down and re-evaluate, 21 years down the line of democracy or thereabouts, where were we before 1999 and where do we really want to be in the next 20 years?
These are some of the things that we need to ask ourselves to draw an agenda. I don’t know whether we have drawn an agenda to 2023. We shouldn’t behave like the citizens who only wait until the day of election. We must be talking about 2023 now. Politicians are strategizing towards 2023 to be able to survive. We need to work with relevant institutions and work as a team so that when we speak, we can speak from the knowledge and not be speculative. Election is very key, and we must take it very seriously.