Abdulrahman Bello Dambazau, PhD, a retired general who as chief of army staff (2008-10) led the Nigerian army, works with faculty and graduate students at the McCormack Graduate School’s Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development (CPDD) in his role as a visiting senior fellow.
With 36 years of military service and frontline observations of an environment laden with political and religious challenges that often impede conflict resolution, General Dambazau helps CPDD Executive Director Darren Kew with the center’s work supporting the Interfaith Mediation Centre (IMC) in Kaduna, Nigeria, where Kew and his colleagues provide cutting-edge help to support IMC’s unique reconciliation services to Christian and Muslim communities torn by bitter strife and threatened by terrorists and extremists.
“The general brings us a rich firsthand perspective and offers strategic advice on enhancing IMC peace efforts and channels of communication with policymakers,” explains Kew. “He offers sound guidance on how religious institutions and interfaith NGOs can scale up the impacts of their local projects to have national impacts. He is also deeply familiar with grassroots organizations striving to end religious divides in Nigeria and helps us to expand our network there.”
Currently, the military is deployed in 33 of the 36 Nigerian states to maintain peace throughout the country, an effort that includes addressing the insurgency group Boko Haram in the north and militias in the oil-producing communities of the Niger Delta in the south. Nigeria has undergone multiple military coups and a civil war since receiving its independence from the United Kingdom 54 years ago, making its democracy a hard-sought endeavor. The country will hold a presidential election in 2015.
“We are still in transition to democracy,” says General Dambazau, who joined CPDD two years ago. “It all has to do with good governance,” which Nigeria does not have yet, he says, because “for democracy to be consolidated, elections must be free, fair, and credible, while governance must be transparent and accountable.”
To achieve good governance, the general says, the Nigerian government needs to elect politicians who have “the national interest at heart.” The democracy “must make sure that every part of the system feels that it’s part of what is going on,” and that it demonstrates the “capacity to bring development to create jobs, harness the quality of education, and … provide at least minimal health care services.” The general acknowledges that getting Nigeria to reach this level of democracy is challenging, given its multiethnic and multi-religious population, “but it is not something that cannot be done.”
Kew, who has over twenty years of experience in conflict resolution issues in Africa, particularly in Nigeria, says that General Dambazau was chief of army staff during a particularly difficult time for the country. As then-President Umaru Yar’Adua grew sick and eventually died in 2010, the Nigerian army came under increasing pressure to stage a coup. General Dambazau resisted these pressures and “kept the military in the barracks and kept them professional,” explains Kew. “If the military were to stage a coup in Nigeria, it would be a tremendous blow for democratic development and could lead to the country falling apart.” The military ruled Nigeria for all but four years from 1966 to 1999, a period that saw the Nigerian standard of living drop nearly 75%. In that regard, the general is seen much like George Washington, who rejected pressure to stage a coup during the tumultuous years at the dawn of American democracy, Kew says. General Dambazau resisted “the urge to politicize the military,” and “stayed loyal to the government and to the institution, and to democracy in Nigeria.”
General Dambazau is working on a forthcoming book about civilian-military relations in Nigeria with editing and research support from Kew and a few CPDD graduate students. The book is an analysis of the role of the Nigerian military under a democracy and will look at institutional changes needed in the Nigerian military and how it can keep the country stable and democratic. The book, which will be completed in 2015, may result in a two-part series.
According to Ira A. Jackson, dean of the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, “The Center for Peace, Democracy, and Development and our college are growing an important expertise in conflict resolution and governance in Africa. With General Dambazau here, it’s a sign that we are attracting some important leadership in Africa that wants to come and be with us, and to engage and help in the work that we do.”