For two days last week, over a hundred participants gathered in Lagos for a capacity building summit and training programme conceived to build and ensure sustainability of peace in the country. Themed Promoting Peace, Democracy and Stability in Nigeria through the Media, Socio-Cultural Institutions and Youth Driven Community Based Groups, the summit was organised by Journalists for Democratic Rights (JODER) in partnership with Ford Foundation West African Regional Office.
The goal, explained the summit organisers, is the creation of a sturdier people-driven process for conflict prevention and management, justice and peace-building.
Participants were drawn from ethnic nationalities across the country, civil society groups, security agencies, Christian and Muslim organizations, traditional religion adherents and other representatives of diverse strains of social and non-governmental groups.
It kicked off on 26 April at Berkeley Hotel, Ikeja, Lagos, with a paper delivered by Ambassador Olu Otunla, former ambassador to Ghana, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe. Titled"Ethnic Nationalities, Conflicts and Future of Democracy in Nigeria," the paper X-Rayed the challenges of peacebuilding in Africa.
It drew heavily from Otunla's vast experience in peace building, garnered from serving in Nigerian foreign missions in many African countries and international organisations such as the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN).
The keynote address was delivered by Professor Banji S. Akintoye, an eminent teacher of History and Second Republic politician. It was titled Conflict, Democracy and Future of Ethnic Nationalities in Nigeria.
Other presentations included Conflict, Violence and the Task of Sustaining Livelihood in Nigeria by Chief Ayo Opadokun, Convener, Coalition for Democrats on Electoral Reform (CODER); Nationalities and Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria: A Peoples Alternative to Peace by Otunba Gani Adams, National Coordinator, Oodua People's Congress (OPC); and Role of Traditional Rulers in Peace Building and Conflict Prevention by HRM Onikun of Ikun Ekiti, Oba Olusola Olatunde.
The audience also had the opportunity to learn from papers such as Islam, Conflict and Faith Relations: The Prospect and Challenges of Peace Building in Nigeria presented by Imam Abdullahi Shuaib, Executive Director, Conference of Islamic Organizations; The Role of the Military and Security Agencies in Ethnic and Religious Relations, Democracy and Peace Building in Nigeria by Colonel Gabriel Ajayi (retd.),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 of the Department of African Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka; and Conflict in the Middle Belt: A People’s Alternative by Mr. Abukar Onalo, a lawyer and President, United Middle Belt Youth Congress.
The second day of the programme took in a training session featuring 25 peace actors drawn from select community-based platforms.
Participants were trained in skills and given exposure required for conflict prevention and management as well as made to understand strategies and approaches for peace-building at the community level.
The training sessions and role-play activities dwelt on strategies for organising community for peace, deploying individual and organisational capacities for peacebuilding, understanding and deploying negotiation skills and strategies for effective networking and building alliances for peace.
Deliberations on presentations centred around how communities and non-governmental entities can fashion a people-driven process that complements subsisting conflict resolution initiatives.
The proceedings yielded rich analyses of the history, nature and forms, dimensions and prevalence of conflicts in the country. Participants suggested an appropriate mechanism for creating and sustaining peace building initiatives.
They came up with a series of observations on the combustible nature of the Nigerian society, noting for example, that the country has been a place of conflict since independence. This situation, they reasoned, was responsible for grotesque, but avoidable crisis recorded in the 1960s.
Participants also observed that the return of democracy in 1999 has failed to curb the trend of violent conflict, which occasionally manifests as civilian-on-civilian confrontations. These, they noted, have yielded underdevelopment, misery and death.
It was similarly observed that the current scale of conflict is alien to the religious creeds in the country as well as to primordial values and traditions.
Despite the plurality of faith and nationality, democracy remains the best route to the sustainability of development in the country, the summit asserted.
It is regrettable, it noted, that the country is yet to fully explore opportunities for non-violence and peaceful co-habitation. It was also highlighted that elections, rather than water democracy and togetherness, have usually created chasms by stoking distrust and mutual suspicion, the lifeblood of conflict.
Participants reckoned that clashes in the country were worsened by divisive politics, which pushes collective aspirations to the back burner.
Also, they identified the age-old contradictions in the country's federalism as a huge contributor to the country's increasing susceptibility to conflict. Religion and ethnicity, the gathering also noted, provide vested interests with tools for manipulation.
They recommended an urgent reform of the country’s institutional paradigm in a way that places the accent on investment in education and youth empowerment to curtail youth restiveness.
The summit also urged governments at all levels to exhibit demonstrable commitment to equity, fairness and justice as a way of arresting the growth of conflict in the country. This they suggested, should take the form of according the fears of minority groups the desired attention and urgent action. They similarly suggested making basic human rights and peace education part of the school curriculum from post-primary school level. History, as a subject, they added, should be reintroduced in schools.
At the end of the training session and summit, participants pledged to make a difference in their respective communities, using the knowledge they acquired to ensure conflict prevention and peace building in the various communities.
They agreed that traditional rulers are well placed to play a crucial role in peace-building, with participants promising to sensitise their traditional rulers to peace-building among faiths and nationalities in those communities.
Leaders of ethnic and religious groups also agreed to promote greater interaction among leaders of the various groups as a way of eliminating or reducing the potential for conflict.
The summit advised state and local governments to establish conflict prevention and management centres to conduct research into conflicts, identify threats and opportunities and arrest potential sources of conflict and resolve existing differences. It also counselled that sensitive legislations and policies in states and local councils should take into consideration the diverse nature of such societies before they become operational.
To further firm up peacebuilding efforts, the summit recommended the conduct of a survey of prevailing and potential ethnic conflicts as a means of obtaining information that could assist prevention and management.
In similar vein, it suggested the establishment of a civil resource centre for the dissemination of reliable information and collation of database of community-based organisations involved in conflict management to strengthen peace -building alliances
Another prescription of the summit is that
actors in the print, electronic and social media should adopt peacebuilding as an agenda by proactively reporting living stories in addition to other peace-promoting initiatives.
Also prescribed is the formation of a national strategic group on conflicts to mobilise support of community leaders for conflict prevention. The summit ended with a request that its recommendations be presented to the head of relevant authorities, including the Presidency, state governments and security agencies by hand or through their official emails.