Conflict prevention: Gani Adams, Opadokun, others restate call for true federalism
• Urge establishment of Conflict Prevention and Management Centres
• Call for Nigerians to resurrect love for each other
Rising from a two-day summit on peace building and conflict prevention, stakeholders in the Nigeria project unanimously called for the enthronement of true federalism to reflect the aspirations of all nationalities in the country.
This, in fact, was the recurring refrain at the summit, which had as theme, Promoting Peace, Democracy and Stability in Nigeria through the Media, Socio-Cultural Institutions and Youth driven Community-Based Groups organised by Journalists for Democratic Rights (JODER) in collaboration with Ford Foundation.
Speakers at the event held at the Berkeley Hotel, GRA, Ikeja, Lagos, identified imbalance, discrimination, injustice, inequality, and unfairness as the root cause of agitation, insurgency, militancy and other forms of conflict in the country.
The summit agreed that these perceived imbalance and injustice gave birth to mutual suspicion and hate among all ethnic nationalities in Nigeria today.
Participants are of the view that as long as these persist and are not addressed, Nigeria may continue to witness outbreak of violence and communal clashes in many part of the country.
Executive Director, JODER, Adewale Adeoye, who opened the summit with a video of pictures of death and wanton destruction in the recent Mile 12 mayhem, set the mood for somber reflection among participants, as he noted that despite the gains of democratic governance since 1999, “we have had uprisings that remain dangerous signposts, which represent a constant threat to the desired aspirations for freedom and liberty of our people.”
According to him, some of these challenges are the deep mutual distrust that continues to dominate the country’s landscape. He said these, sometimes, take the form of ethnic and religious divisions that find expressions in violent forms that at times result in mass killings of innocent people, including women and children.
Adeoye observed that under military rule, Nigerians used to talk of violence being unleashed on citizens by the government, but today it is violence unleashed by citizens on themselves.
He said after the 2015 elections, bottled up disenchantments have refused to go. To him, elections have not been able to automatically resolve the contradictions of the Nigeria State.
“A part of the country is almost at war, while many parts are on the tenterhooks. Everyday, we read about unspeakable violence and killings, children being hacked down, wailing women and school children being kidnapped. We read about the growing distrust and divisions among our people and within the great faith of Islam and Christianity,” he said.
At the event, the Lagos State Governor, Akinwumi Ambode, who spoke through his Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Idowu Ajanaku, lamented the Mile 12 crisis, which resulted in loss of lives and destruction of properties.
Ambode stated that as a governor, who is the chief security officer of his state, he was supposed to have all the paraphernalia of security at his disposal to effectively secure the state, but this is further from the truth.
The governor said security agencies still clear his order from Abuja before anything could be done. He commended the media for their role in the entrenchment of democracy in Nigeria, particularly in checkmating the government during the third term agenda issue.
Ambode called for increase in media advocacy, greater media participation in governance to enthrone the best democratic practices in Nigeria.
In his keynote, the Second Republic Senator, Prof. Adebanji Akintoye, traced Nigeria’s woes partly to the partitioning of Africa by European powers.
In a paper titled, Facts, Realities and Challenges of Black Africa’s nationalities, he stated, “even if we the people of Black Africa had been free to formulate and delineate our own countries at the beginning of the 20th Century, we would still have needed to find ways to group our small nationalities into a manageable number of countries – and that would not have been an easy task at all.”
Speaking further, Akintoye cited Ethiopia and Liberia comprising many different nationalities as countries not founded by European imperialists. He noted that the European mapping of Africa was not to facilitate the unification or growth of any country, but to serve their own economic interests.
According to him, most colonial powers’ policies and practices were based on race theories developed in slave trade era and powerfully promoted in European scholarship during the 19th century.
He said the heritage of these theories and policies has been the growth of inter-ethnic animosities and hostilities even where none existed before colonialism and their intensification where some had existed.
Akintoye argued that Nigerians have had times in the last fifty years to smoothen out the imbalances, correct foundational weakness and adjust to providing a setting for harmony among various nationalities in Nigeria. Sadly, as he said, “we have failed to rise to that duty and respond to the opportunity.”
Former NADECO chieftain, Chief Ayo Opadokun, in his presentation on Conflict, Violence and the Task of Sustainable Livelihood in Nigeria, singled out discrimination, inequality, injustice, and unfairness as the underlining cause of crises in the country.
Opadokun laid part of the blame for Nigeria’s woes on the military incursion into governance. He said, “the removal of history as a subject in our schools robbed our youth of critical historical knowledge that would have ensured acceptance, cooperation and unity.”
While calling on the youth to stop being docile, he advised Nigerians to hold the government faithful to the constitutional provisions as contained in Chapter 11 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria dealing with Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy.
In his lecture titled, Islam, Conflict and Faith-Relations: The Prospects and Challenges of Peace Building in Nigeria, Executive Director, Conference of Islamic Organisations (CIO), Imam Abdullahi Shuaib, argued that restructuring of Nigeria is not the only panacea to move the country forward.
He said there are gray areas Nigerians needed to work on; otherwise, even a restructured country might fail. According to him, “Nigerians do not approach national issue with open mind, but rather view each other especially Muslims and Christians with mutual suspicion.”
Shuaib pointed out that conflict exists even in the home, “and we always managed to handle it.”
He wondered, “why we failed to manage conflict in the larger society. The Cleric accused Nigerians of lacking in love for one another, which is why we failed to resolve our differences.”
Shuaib noted that Nigerians should endeavour to be conversant with each other’s religions, cultures and languages in order to appreciate the differences and embrace the uniqueness.
He prescribed the pluralist and accommodationist approach as the way out. According to him, “the pluralist approach postulates a framework of flexible and responsive polity that can hold together the diverse ethnic and cultural groups ensuring proper and adequate share in power and resources to all group. The accommodationist approach on the other hand wants to accommodate the interests of all minority groups by giving them necessary concessions and protections and thereby fostering a sense of equal partnership in running the state and government.”
Speaking on Nationalities and Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria: A people’s Antidote For Peace, National Coordinator, Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), Otunba Gani Adams, said the people remained divided owing to the lack of shared national ethos, culture and values, compounded by the lack of an inspiring leader that genuinely wants to heal scars of the past and open a new frontier of national renaissance. He warned that if leaders in the country were not careful, conflict would consume them.
He, however, frowned at Nigerians continue disinterest in their own emancipation, adding that comfort has made some people to run away from the struggle for a better Nigeria. “Nobody with AC in his room, AC in his car, and AC in his office is willing to die for our fatherland,” he quipped.
Former Nigeria Ambassador to Ghana, Ambassador Olu Otunla, called on Nigerians to manage their lives to ensure tomorrow’s sustainability.
He advised the Federal Government to give states economic stimulus, boost power generation, provide free health service from childhood to 16 years, and provide free university education for science and technology, among others.
On his part, the Onikun of Ikun-Ekiti, Oba Olatunde Olusola, in his, The role of South West Traditional Rulers in Building National Peace and Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria, said injustice is the root cause of violence in the country.
The monarch, who berated Nigerians for their docility, argued that no one could get anything on a platter of gold.
Olusola pointed out that identifying the basis of conflict is also important in resolving it. He added that traditional leaders are essential to resolving conflicts, pointing out that everyone belongs to a culture.
Olusola also lent his voice to the call for the enthronement of true federalism. “Our system of government as practiced can hardly guarantee peace and harmony, because of the lopsided nature of our federal structure, the skewed class public laws and practice, the unfavourable living environments that impose hardship on the masses of Nigerians, the insensitivity of the ruling class to the plight of the citizens can rarely spare the country of violence and crises-induced possibility at all times,” he said.
The Chairman, Supreme Egbesu Assembly, Chief Werinipre Digifa, talked on Democracy in Nigeria: Oil, the Niger-Delta, Peace-Building and the Crisis of Sustainable Development, called for a roundtable of all nationalities and the recognition of minorities and their rights.
While advocating a review of gun laws to allow Nigerians own guns to protect themselves, Digifa said, “Nigeria must wake up from the odd tradition of repression and practice federalism the way it has been defined by originators of that system of government.”
President, International Foundation for the Advancement of Social and Cultural Rights, Rtd Col. Gabriel Ajayi, who traced the evolution of the Nigerian military from inception, said the military was originally conceived as a force of pacification.
According to him, the military institution introduced to Nigeria was primarily meant to be an instrument of oppression. He argued that this is why the doctrinal direction within the Nigerian military has always being tilted towards identifying the people as the enemy of the country rather than external forces.
He, however, noted that the institution could surmount its foundational weakness to undertake psychological operations in the arena of conflicts resolution.
President, United Middle Belt Youth Congress, Abukar Onalo, said, “in the cause of restructuring Nigeria, there should be equality for all ethnic groups. We do not care about your numbers, how many millions you are. Whatever number you have as a tribe is for yourself.”
At the end of the summit, it was the consensus that to strengthen a people-driven process for conflict prevention and management in Nigeria, formation of a national Strategic Group on Conflicts (SGC) for the mobilisation of supports for community leaders for conflict prevention and for coordination of activities of community-based peace actors in Nigeria is very essential.
The summit also recommended for states and local authorities to initiate Conflict Prevention and Management Centres to research on conflict identify threats and opportunities and arrest potential sources of conflict among others.