Disturbed by the seemingly unstoppable conflicts trailing Nigeria since independence, opinion leaders from all parts of the country, gathered in Lagos recently to proffer solutions that can lead to a peaceful co-existence in a country from where tranquility seems to have long taken flight; reports GBOYEGA ADEOYE.
Dateline: Tuesday, April 26, 2016. The usual serenity of the popular Isaac John Street in Ikeja Government Reserved Area, (GRA), was obstructed by influx of students, artisans, pro democracy and human rights activists cum leaders of pro-self determination groups, across the country. They thronged Berkley Hotel, venue of a two-day summit on capacity building programme on how peace could be achieved in a nation so enmeshed in crises, like desperate ants struggling for a bite from a cube of sugar.
The summit, organized by Journalists for Democratic Rights, (JODER), in partnership with Ford Foundation with the theme: Promoting Peace, Democracy and Stability in Nigeria through the Media, Socio-Cultural Institutions and Youth Driven Community Based Groups, aimed atstrengthening a people-driven process for conflict prevention, conflict management, justice and peace-building in Nigeria.
These, JODER in collaboration with Ford Foundation, aimed at achieving through training of leaders of these groups on how to restore peace back to the country, so they can go back to their various locations, to impact same to their followers.
According to Adewale Adeoye, Executive Director of JODER, the summit was a child of necessity as despite the myriad of achievements recorded in Nigeria since independence, there are still some dangerous signposts that represent a constant threat to the desired aspirations for freedom and liberty of the Nigerian people. He cited mutual distrust among the ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria as one major factor stunting the development of the country.
The first day of the capacity building programme was attended by more than 100 stakeholders from various platforms of ethnic and faith-based groups, security operatives, non-governmental organizations, youth associations, artisan groups and the media.
The opening remark at the Summit titled: Ethnic Nationalities, Conflicts and Future of Democracy in Nigeria, was delivered by Olu Otunla, Former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Ghana, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe who gave an overview of the challenges of peace building in Africa, drawing from his experiences, having served in the Nigerian foreign missions, with many Africa countries and various international organisations, including the African Union, the European Union, and the United Nations, on peace building initiatives.
The Keynote Address titled: Conflict, Democracy and Future of Ethnic Nationalities in Nigeria, was delivered by Professor S. Adebanji Akintoye, Professor of history and former Director, Institute of African Studies at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife.
Other presentations at the Summit are: Conflict, Violence and the Task of Sustaining Livelihood in Nigeria, by Chief Ayo Opadokun, Convener, Coalition for Democrats on Electoral Reform; Nationalities and Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria: A Peoples Alternative to Peace, by Chief Gani Adams, National Coordinator, Oodua Peoples Congress; Role of Traditional Rulers in Peace Building and Conflict Prevention, Onikun of Ikun Ekiti, Oba Olusola Olatunde; Islam, Conflict and Faith Relations: The Prospect and Challenges of Peace Building in Nigeria by Imam Abdulahi Shuaib, Executive Director, Conference of Islamic Organizations.
Others are: The Role of the Military and Security Agencies in Ethnic and Religious Relations, Democracy and Peace Building in Nigeria by Colonel Gabriel Ajayi, (Rtd), President, International Foundation for the Advancement of Social and Cultural Rights; Democracy in Nigeria: Oil, the Niger Delta and the Crisis of Sustainable Development, by Mr. Werinipre Digifa, Chairman, Supreme Egbesu Assembly; Beyond the Contest for Political Supremacy: Reappraising the Historical Basis for Igbo-Yoruba Relations, by Dr. Tony Nwezeigwe, Department of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Conflict in the Middle Belt: A People’s Alternative, by Barrister Abukar Onalo, President, United Middle Belt Youth Congress.
At the end of the day’s session, participants who spoke to Daily Timesexpressed satisfaction with the conduct of the summit, saying it was one that came at the right time.
Abukar Onalo, (Oma baba), Chief National Legal Officer for the North Western part of Nigeria and President, United Middle Belt Youth Congress, said there could be no better time for such conference than now. “How I would have wished JODER and Ford Foundation replicate something like this in the North West. It would go a long way to right some wrongs, send positive signals to the displaced that are still sceptical about coming back to their base as well as placate and build confidence in those that are already on ground,” he said.
On the second day, 25 peace actors drawn from select community-based platforms were engaged. Participants were trained on knowledge-based information, skills and exposure required for preventing and or managing conflicts as well as strategies and approaches for peace-building at the community level.
The sessions of the training as well as role-play activities explored strategies for organising community for peace; deploying individual and organisational capacities for peace building; understanding and deploying power of negotiation; and strategies for effective networking and alliance building towards peace process.
And following exhaustive review and analyses of the history, nature and forms, dimensions and prevalence of conflicts in Nigerian by participants, they jointly proffered suggestions on mechanism for achieving an enduring and sustainable peace building initiatives.
Participants were also taken through strategies for deploying required capacities for engaging conflicts by stakeholders at the community level. They dwell on mechanisms for dealing effectively with potentials issues that predispose and escalate conflicts at the community and national level and thereafter proffered effective partnership and networking amongst stakeholders and actors at the community level towards enduring conflict prevention, conflict management and peace building.
At the end of the jaw-jaw, participants agreed to make a huge difference with a remarkable impact in their communities when they return home, with a pledge to speak out, work and walk against any form of conflict especially those that can lead to violence and killings in their various communities.
It was also agreed that participants will go back into their various organisations and communities to duplicate the experiences learnt during the training so as to ensure conflict prevention and peace building in their various communities.
It was observed that traditional rulers have a crucial role to play in peace-building, hence, participants are enjoined to return to their communities and sensitise their traditional rulers on peace-building among faiths and nationalities in those communities through an endeavour driven by indigenous knowledge.
Leaders of ethnic and religious groups are also admonished to go back home to encourage greater interaction among leaders of relevant groups so as to eliminate or reduce sources of conflict.
On the side of government, state and local authorities are advised to initiate Conflict Prevention and Management Centres to research on conflict, identify threats and opportunities and arrest potential sources of conflict.
Promulgation of laws and policies in states and local government councils should also involve divergent leaders of ethnic, social and religious interests in the different stages, including that of conception, with prior and informed knowledge of end users.
They agreed on a survey of prevailing and potential ethnic conflicts in Nigeria for the documentation of information and data that would assist in monitoring of communal conflicts for early warning and effective conflict prevention, conflict management as well as peace building process.
The need for the establishment of a Civil Resource Centre for mobilising and disseminating credible information as a way of responding to conflict situations for conflict prevention, conflict management and peace, is also recommended.