Strengthening the national bond amid agitations
Beyond display of maximum force that seems to have characterized the invasion of the South East by the military, there exist several other approaches to douse the growing waves of agitations in the country.
Chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria (FEHN), Allen Onyema and his Emory University partners on non-violence education and peace around the world, Bernard LaFayette and Charles Alphin, are not only convinced that Nigeria would fair better in an atmosphere of peace and unity, they also appear to have understood dialogue as a potent tool to foster peace in a multiethnic setting like Nigeria.
To that extent, FEHN brought together representatives of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Arewa Youths Congress (AYC), O’dua Peoples Congress (OPC) and Niger Delta youths in a five-day training to douse tension in the country and foster a stronger, indivisible country.
Onyema had said in his opening speech that tension was already high in the country. He was right! Events around the country and particularly in the Southeast in the last couple of days had proved him right.
It was an emotion-laden event, to say the least. First, the opening ceremony was marked with reminiscences of the late former President Umar Musa Yar’Adua years that were marked by the Presidential Amnesty Programme for Niger Delta Militants in which Onyema played a prominent role.
Second, the sitting arrangement in training hall of the Limeridge Hotel on Chevron Way, Lekki, was marked by discrepancies as the different groups sat according to their ethnic nationalities. But at the end of the first day, all the participants had become friendly as they charted freely with one another, having, in all modesty, discarded all ethnic barriers.
Third, Lafayette, who teaches at the Emory University and Chairman, Board of Directors of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference gave the participants a food for thought: “The world needs Nigeria and the huge natural and human resources it has to offer. Nigeria should live in peace and end all the agitations and violence. The country must be an example to the rest of the world.”
What’s more, Onyema, who went down memory lane, said the country was in the situation it is today because a section wants to appropriate its resources to themselves to the detriment of the other sections.
He used the analogy of three brothers who own a bottle of water but which the eldest had claimed belonged to him alone.
“If the two other brothers approach their elder brother through violence or threats, they may not get some of the water in the bottle, but if they dialogue on the need to share the water, applying wisdom and tact, they may convince the senior brother to share the water equally with them,” he said.
To that extent, he was quick to add that the other sections that are feeling cheated should use dialogue and non-violent means to demand their rights rather than violent agitations and threats of secession. He charged Nigerians, especially the younger generation to stand and fight together, rather than fight themselves.
In his words: “We have to join hands together to confront the common enemies who have held our great country by the jugular. We have to come together to change the old order.
“We have to fight for each other rather than fight each other. Until we learn to fight for each other, national unity will continue to elude us. We must address the conflicts to be able to cohabit peacefully together in a greater country.”
Having said this, Onyema stressed the need for participants to interact and make friends with one another, insisting that at the end of the training, each participant would have made at least two or three friends from other parts of the country. The arrangement worked like magic as the sitting arrangement along ethnic lines on the first day of the programme gave way to a community of friends sitting together and agreeing on a stronger, indivisible country.
Participants who spoke to The Guardian during and after the training could not agree more that the programme came at a very auspicious time in the history of Nigeria.
President of Arewa Transformational and Empowerment Initiative (ATEI), Mohammed Danjuma, said his hope for the continued existence of Nigeria as a country in spite of the differences, was renewed. He expressed willingness to work with youths from the Eastern part to move the country forward, saying Nigerians must close ranks and come together for the good of Nigeria.
Danjuma, who observed that Nigerians were so engulfed in self-preservation and seeking justice for themselves and their ethnic groups, while fighting each other, said the training has brought home the lesson that injustice anywhere was a threat to justice everywhere.
“The common enemies of Nigerians are poverty, insecurity, joblessness and a host of other social issues, which do not discriminate between the Igbo man, Hausa man or the Yoruba man. So, we might as well come together and close our rank to see how we can fix this country because it has the potentials for us to prosper together,” he said.
He urged the northerners to see how they could work with their brothers from across the country in an era of inclusiveness, togetherness and prosperity rather seek sectional interests because a stronger and bigger Nigeria is better than Biafra, Arewa or Oduduwa republics.
The younger brother to the leader of IPOB who led the team from the East, Emmanuel Kanu, who also shared gifts to the participants from the North, said the move symbolised peace, a new and better understanding between the two ethnic groups and others in the country.
Commending the northern group for their declaration of support, Kanu said the move was the right step in the right direction. He, therefore, urged IPOB members both at home and in the Diaspora to make non-violent agitation their objective.
Responding, Onyema, who doubles as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace Limited, lauded the peace accord between the two parties, said the country would surely change for the better.
I think conflict in itself is not too bad, it can be a catalyst for positive change and we see that the tension that has been generated in the country today will lead us to a new Nigeria, which all of us can be proud of without shedding blood or having any issue”, he said.
A participant from the OPC group, Kayode Ariwayo, said the training brought home the essence of love and peaceful coexistence in the country.
FEHN is sponsoring about 50 of the participants, who passed an oral and written test at the end of the training are proceeding to the Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, United States of America (U.S.A.) for a nonviolence education programme.
He hoped the Federal Government would replicate and facilitate this kind of programme in the 774 local governments in the country to promote peace, understanding and love for each other among Nigerians.
Speaking to The Guardian, a former Niger Delta agitator who had benefitted from the Presidential Amnesty programme, who also attended the training, appealed to all ethnic groups in the country to tow the line of peace and non-violent agitations.
“I appeal to all groups to embrace peace and non-violence in their requests and agitations. More importantly, the Federal Government should minimise the use of force on civilians seeking their rights. You use force on animals and not citizens. Let the government and the people embrace peace so that the country can move forward.”
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