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Missing ingredients in Nigeria’s democratic consolidation (1)

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NIGERIA road signPEACEBUILDING and conflict management are such a noble task, that peace practitioners in our midst must be constantly commended and supported. The Christian religion recognises peace practitioners among the “blessed.” In Matthew’s Gospel (5:9), the Lord Jesus says: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” It is indeed a godly thing to be engaged in peace-building in a world of rampant violence and intermittent strife. It is a godly thing to be peace builders in a land devoured by murderous insurgents from the North, perverted by drunken militants from the South, ravaged by rancorous bigots from both the East and the West, shattered by hostile herdsmen and vengeful farmers in the Middle Belt, and a land wrecked, corroded and rendered desolate by a succession of degenerate rulers that have camouflaged as leaders at all levels and in nearly every sector.

It is a godly thing to be engaged in conflict mitigation and peace-building in an environment of widespread anger and bitterness, and hatred and resentment, on account of age-old ethnic antipathies, historical injustices, and real or perceived religious persecution, political isolation, ethnic marginalisation and economic exploitation and disempowerment – none of which has been seriously addressed in our structural arrangements, notwithstanding the many national conferences and commissions of enquiry that have been hosted or set up by successive governments and to which huge resources have been committed. It is a godly thing to be engaged in peace-building in a land where the political, economic and religious elite have become so blinded by the lust for power and greed for money; where the middle-class has become so criminally maladjusted; and where the poor masses have become so malleable and gullible that otherwise dangerous religious and ethnic sentiments are now regularly mobilised in individual struggles for economic opportunities, for high level public office, for private sector positions and for social status enhancement.

A brief survey of violent conflicts in Nigeria

Violent conflicts resulting in massive loss of lives and property are sadly a regular feature of Nigerian life. From the operation wetie that rocked Western Nigeria in 1964, through the unfortunate civil war of 1967 to 1970, to the Niger Delta militant uprising of recent years; and from the Sharia riots of year 2000 and 2001, through the sporadic carnage in Jos and its environs that has not abated since the year 2004, to the yet ongoing Boko Haram terrorist bombing campaigns, it has been a litany of violent conflicts that have tended to pitch the North against the South, Christians against Muslims, and the so-called Indigenes against the so-called Non-Indigenes, highlighting very graphically the failure of the critical institutions of state and the fragile and tenuous nature of our corporate existence as a nation.

If we identify the above incidents as high intensity internal conflicts, then there are others that will fall into the class of low intensity conflicts, even if equally devastating of our national landscape. We have witnessed intermittent inter-ethnic and inter-clannish conflicts all over the country, such as between the Tiv and the Jukun of Benue and Taraba states, the Ife and the Modakeke of Osun State, the Ijaw and the Urhobo of Delta State, the Umuleri and the Aguleri of Anambra State, the Egbura and Bassa of Nasarawa State, and that between Fulani herdsmen and local farmers across the entire stretch of the Middle Belt. We have seen sporadic violence at the hands of ethnic nationalists, such as the OPC among the Yoruba and the Bakassi Boys and MASSOB Fighters among the Igbo. Local Government, State and Federal elections have often seemed to some like a war to be prosecuted with machetes, machine guns, hand grenades and even home-made bombs, resulting in a flood of blood and tears. In a number of locations across the country, election days often feature soldiers in military fatigue, armoured personnel carriers and tanks and bomb detection and disposal squads on peacekeeping operations. This workshop is holding on the threshold of the 2015 general elections, and what we have today are clear indications of desperation, as many contenders to political office are once again approaching politics with a killer torch, and demonstrating that they would rather burn down the country than lose the election.

The high cost of conflict in Nigeria

On the whole, even though we are not prosecuting a war against another country, and though there are no natural disasters, hundreds of thousands of Nigerians have died, many of our children have been abducted and enslaved, while many others have suffered various degrees of physical injury, and property worth hundreds of billions of Naira have been destroyed. We have witnessed scores of thousands of internally displaced persons (or refugees), moving from North to South or squatting for prolonged periods in police and army barracks all over the place. Cameroon, Chad and Niger now play host to hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled from their now inhospitable homeland. Indeed many Nigerians have suffered emotional, psychological, economic and social trauma and dislocation on account of these crises, with little or nothing in the form of compensation from the authorities. The unfortunate impression has been left in the minds of many Nigerians that human life here is cheap, very cheap, and easily expendable. With the repeated failure of institutions of state to come to their aid when face to face with a violent aggressor, Nigerians have often resorted to jungle-style self-help, acquiring deadly weapons for self-defence and taking on revenge for losses suffered, and thereby aggravating the tension that already exists.

I am not aware of anyone or any group that has embarked on a comprehensive analysis of the cost of the numerous conflicts we have witnessed in our society since independence in 1960. We are not likely to ever be able to calculate in any detailed manner the cost of the many conflicts we have witnessed: from wasted lives to wasted property that could be reckoned in trillions of naira; the opportunity cost of school closures that keep the lives of young intelligent people on hold; the incessant dislocation in family life, the destruction of social infrastructure; the loss of investment opportunities on account of widespread insecurity; the environmental degradation and the destruction of the social and moral fabric of the nation; the effect of all these on our international image, etc.

The prevailing angst in the land

Even today, there is anger and resentment all over this country, for real and perceived injustices that are yet to be addressed sufficiently in the structural configurations of our country. You only need to glance through the newspapers or the social media these days of bitter campaigns to come to the recognition that many in the Igbo nation remain resentful of the rest of Nigeria for the injustices of the 1967 to 1970 civil war, the abandoned property imbroglio, and the alleged post-war marginalisation of Igbo people in some vital segments of the national economy and politics; many in the Yoruba nation are angry with the rest of Nigeria for the injustices associated with the June 12 election annulment, and the alleged post-June 12 persecution and marginalisation of Yoruba people; and many from the collocation of small ethnic nationalities which we call the Middle Belt, are vexed by the appendage status accorded them in the power structures of our nation.

Yes, in the course of the ongoing campaigns, we can see clearly that in spite of being the region that produced the sitting president, and in spite of many remedial measures in recent years to assuage the aggrieved people of the oil rich Delta Region, many of these people remain poised for a show down with the rest of Nigeria, because of the exploitation of their natural resources and the senseless devastation of their ecological environment for decades, while they were abandoned in a state of near destitution. Many among the Hausa and Fulani Muslims of the core North who reject the ideology of the Boko Haram insurgents, but who nevertheless desire to live under the supremacy of the Islamic Sharia are often incensed that the rest of Nigeria wants to jettison what they see as their religious freedom.

• To be continued tomorrow.

• Rev. Fr. George EHUSANI, Executive Director, Lux Terra Leadership Foundation delivered this as a Keynote Address at the 2nd National Workshop of Stakeholders of Peace Research and Conflict Resolution in Nigeria, Abuja, March 18, 2015



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