A Report of a One-day Policy Dialogue on Promoting Political Pluralism in Kaduna State held on Wednesday 27th July, 2022, Organized by the Organization for Community Civic Engagement (OCCEN) with Support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
The policy dialogue which took place at Bafra Hotel in the city of Kaduna had in attendance members of the civil society groups, political activists, politicians, academicians, persons with disability (PWDs) and people from the media houses in Kaduna state. The program started with an opening prayer and self-introduction by all participants.
OCCEN Democracy Drivers Coordinator of Kaduna state in person of Yusha’u Abubakar made the opening remarks where he welcomed all participants and thanked them for honoring the invitation and as well their commitment towards having a tolerant and peaceful democratic atmosphere in the state. He added that the theme of the dialogue is a well thought one because it will go a long way in ensuring the sustainability and continuity of democracy and also in choosing the best candidates to represent the people at all levels of governance.
The opening remarks and objectives of the gathering was delivered by the convener of the meeting, the Executive Director of OCCEN, Mr. Abdulrazaq Alkali. He informed the gathering that OCCEN is working on the promotion of democracy, rule of law, human rights and peace building in Nigeria and mostly work with young people in building their capacity to promote democracy and political accountability in specifically five northern states of Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Jigawa and Zamfara states. He added that OCCEN has a very active platform of democracy drivers network who have been doing a lot in terms of promoting democracy. He stated that OCCEN is in Kaduna to talk about the issue of “Political Pluralism” and that the choice of the topic is timely considering the polarized nature of the polity of today and as such we need to start the conversation because we all have a responsibility to promote pluralism. He maintained that Nigeria is a plural state that is comprised of diverse group of people with different religious, ethnic and tribal affiliations. He further added that since Nigeria operates a multi-party system, people have the choice of voting for a party they are comfortable with.
Mr. Alkali further made a presentation where he gave an overview of the concept of political pluralism. He stated that pluralism is a theoretical concept used to analyze political actions in modern democratic states. It is a concept promoted by liberal democrats to promote engagement between different actors that come from diverse backgrounds be it religious, tribal, gender, age, or political philosophy. Additionally, in modern democracies, political parties are supposed to be guided by ideologies; Some have business ideologies to proffer solutions to the economic problems, some are labor oriented to strengthen labor relations in order to deliver dividends to the society. Some pursue their ideology through improving agricultural production for a country to be self-sustained and productive in terms of agricultural development. He added by saying that the very essence of political pluralism is bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and engaging themselves in the consolidation of democracy.
The term is widely used and has a variety of connotations and meaning, some look at it from the religious perspective while others look at it from the ethnic and tribal perspective. He stated that for a system to be considered as a successful plural system, it has to consider these connotations in order to ensure it is balanced so that each and every member of the society will feel among. He further added that in sociological term, social pluralism is used to characterize a society in which different religious, cultural, tribal or other groups live together. Additionally, Mr. Alkali said that there is the process and content perspective of pluralism. Pluralism as a process refers to ways of recognition in which democracy and democratic process are crucial in the practice of pluralism while on the other hand, pluralism as a content refers to diversity to differences in values and beliefs. The very essence of pluralism is to ensure that the rights of minority in every gathering be it political, social or religious is guaranteed and protected. He finally stated that the concept of democracy and pluralism are not incompatible but they are mutually reinforcing the foundation for a healthy and prosperous society.
A remark was made by a political activist in person of Abdul Bako. He started by appreciating OCCEN for working tirelessly in order to see that Nigeria’s nascent democracy is well nurtured and fully sustained. He stated that if the people of Kaduna state can have the spirit of “Ubuntu” which translates into “I am what I am because of who we all are”. He stated that our democracy is in its trying times, a time that Nigeria and Nigerians are ravaged with issues of kidnappings, banditry, political thuggery, sectarian violence, religious and ethnic violence and above all weak economy that has crippled the livelihood of the common man. All these issues combined have bitterly divided the people along ethnic and religious divide. He added that it is only when Nigerians learn from countries like the USA which has more diverse and heterogeneous population that the country will prosper and overcome its challenges. He said that can also be achieved when we sit down and talk to each other on platforms like this organized by OCCEN. He urged participants to take the message down to their various communities.
Another political activist in person of Hon. Zailani Yusuf Adamu while making his remark stated that lack of political pluralism especially among the youths of Kaduna state has led to a serious polarization in the state to the extent that voting of credible people into political positions has been compromised. People vote those that they feel they share either ethnic or religious affiliation at the expense of credibility and the desire to serve the people. He stated that it is only when Nigerians learn how to balance their interests between and among the diverse groups that unity can be achieved and democracy will thrive. Using religion and other form of sentiments to impose candidates especially on the majority will not in any way help in strengthening the already polarized political system. He equally called on politicians in the state to stop making fake promises and device ways of mitigating violence and conflict in the state.
A civil society activist in the state, Mr. Yusuf Goje while making his remark thanked OCCEN for organizing an event with a topic like this in Kaduna state considering the forthcoming 2023 general elections and the dangers before Nigeria and Nigerians. He added that 2023 election is going to be a turning point for the country for either good or bad. Furthermore, he added that the choices Nigerians make in the elections will determine whether Nigerians truly understand what plurality means or not. He said for us to really understand the issues at hand and to see if Nigeria is really moving towards the right direction, we need to first understand our differences and in doing that history must be told to the youths of today. He stated that the present day Nigeria is a creation of the British and they brought us together not because they want us to unite and live together in peace and harmony, but for their own selfish economic interest of exploiting the abundant natural resources in the regions. In their quest for economic advantage in the regions, they amalgamated people with different religion, culture, values and belief system into one single entity called Nigeria for their own administrative expediency. He also stated that in order for the British to continue with their exploitation agenda, they ensured that these different nationalities are in war with each other and as such that lack of unity and hatred among these divergent groups still lingers till today and form the basis of our present day challenges. Mr. Yusuf added that there is a blessing in our plurality but we have been conditioned to think that it is only when a leader is from our tribe, religion or region that things will work well for the country. According to Mr. Yusuf, even within Christianity there are denominations, within Islam there are sects, within tribes there are clans and all are fighting each other. He cited an example by stating that the current president of Nigeria is a Muslim and from the Northern region, but has that improved the lives of Muslims and Northerners? He also stated that our constitution has recognized our diversity and there are mechanisms put in place to ameliorate the tensions associated with plural and complex societies like ours, he pointed out that it is only when our leaders think of ways to address our challenges that Nigeria will overcome the present debacle.
Dr. Abdulkadir Rabiu, a lecturer with the Kaduna State Polytechnic also stated that the choice of the topic in a state like Kaduna is well thought of and he commended OCCEN for engaging especially the youths in the area of promoting democracy, human rights, rule of law and peace building. Dr. Abdulkadir stated that we can only develop as a nation when we embrace, respect and tolerate each other. He added that pluralism is all about ensuring equity, justice and fairness in the distribution of power and allocation of available resources within and among the diverse people living together despite their differences. He urged all participants to always think of ways to promote pluralism through advocating for policies and ideas of social cohesion and community resilience. Nigeria is for all and leaders come from within us and as such we must look beyond issue of religion, ethnicity and tribal affiliations, we should vote for people with integrity and unquestionable antecedents.
Participants were given the opportunity to also make give their inputs on the subject matter. The first speaker stated that the use of religion and ethnicity by politicians to divide the masses has always been the biggest challenge to overcoming the problems of achieving political pluralism in Nigeria. Another speaker added that the youths are the backbone of any society and that it is only when the youths of Nigeria understand that there is unity in diversity that the country will develop. From another point of view, another participant stated that politicians are taking advantage of our differences by fanning the embers hatred, discord and using violence for their selfish and personal political gains. Another speaker called on especially the youths to always engage in critical thinking that would sharpen their understanding of how countries like the USA despite having the most heterogeneous population is seen and regarded as one of the best examples of a plural democracy. Other participants in the event spoke on ways through which civil society organizations, the media and government agencies will work on enlightening the people on the need to tolerate and accommodate all people without subjugation, marginalization or prejudice. People should learn to live in peace and harmony because social, economic and political development can only thrive in an atmosphere of peace.
Giving the way forward remarks, Dr. Abdulkadir Rabiu of Kaduna Polytechnic called on the people of Kaduna state and Nigerians at large to accept the fact that no people of ethnic or religious group can live in isolation, we must live and interact with each other. He urged Nigerians that when voting for leaders in the forthcoming elections, they should look at a candidate’s antecedents, track record and pedigree instead of his tribal or religious affiliation. It is only when we have visionary and unifying leaders who can lead by example that we will accept our diversity and live with each other in peace and harmony. He also called for more collaborations between religious and traditional leaders because they are the custodians of our cultural heritage and they are as well regarded with high esteem in the society, they should device more ways of preaching the very essence of peaceful co-existence between and among the diverse subjects they have in their domain.
Making the closing remarks, the executive director of OCCEN appreciated all the participants for honoring the invitation despite their busy schedules and as well for their contributions and remarks. He equally appreciated the democracy drivers network members in Kaduna state for the wonderful work they are doing. He also thanked the media houses present at the event and called on them to help in airing the program and the takeaways for the larger population. Additionally, he stated that the recommendations and ideas shared in the event will be documented and shared with across for people to read and also internalize.