Year 2012 started, for Nigeria, with violence, threats, terrorisms, and civil unrests that almost culminated into civil wars. Nigerians have watched the Arab Spring unfolded and the growing relevance of Occupy Wall Street. Nigerians have read about how protesters were being shot down in Syria and those alive are not being deterred by this and how Bahrainis are torn apart by a civil unrest that gives the impression of a people fighting their government, at the same time the impression of a people fighting themselves. Finally, Nigerian government, criticised for security and economic failure, gave the populace a chance to revolt with a step towards full deregulation of the downstream sector. At the same time, the terrorist group, Boko Haram made good her threats of destroying anything western-cultured in the country by bombing churches, police stations and attacking villagers. Amidst this chaos, it is not impossible that one’s mind could only see war and war.
Nigerians saw a déjà vu of what preceded the Biafran War, as Igbo Nationalities were leaving their homes and properties in the North and relocating to the South. Infact, Boko Haram gave Southerners a 3-day ultimatum to leave the Northern region. Every tribe including Hausa was threatened with the insurgence of Boko Haram. Hundreds of people were killed at the bombing of Kano, including Hausas, Muslims, Christians and Igbo. Economic activities were paralysed as there was a second bombing in same Kano just days after the first.
The protest against fuel subsidy removal had signified the beginning of a civil war but for the quick call-off of the organised labour’s strike. Many were brutalized and killed by security operatives during the unrest. When all efforts to stop protesters failed, soldiers were introduced as anti-riot squads. Vestiges of the protests were demobilized with tear gas and military threats. Nigeria was lucky. But that tinge of luck may not be sufficient to move the nation from the verge of civil war. This is because peace is not just the absence of violence but the quintessence and existence of fairness to all people, sameness of all minds and rightness of all actions.
Peace has three focal points: the people, their minds and their actions. Peace efforts would therefore fail if it is cosmetic, solely military. Military actions rather contain insurgence, it had never quenched one. It has ended up aggravating crises and provoking more violence. Afghanistan has never remained the same after America invaded the poor nation. Peace is still elusive in Iraq, after the dictator, Sadam Husein was hung and occupational forces were introduced. NATO forces helped Libyans toppled Muhammed Ghadafi but could not help Libyans stop a looming civil war. Nigerian Police killed Muhammed Yusuf, leader of Boko Haram in 2009 but the few foot-soldiers he led has since grown into an invincible army which operates with incredible strategies, techniques and weapons. We must understand this fact: that the muzzle of gun could be too cold to melt the violent heart; that bullets could not penetrate the terror-minds and that violence would only begets violence. The authority must understand that military is also a symbol of violence and thus, it is not a strategic step towards absolute peace.
How do we engage the people, their minds and their actions towards building peace?
First of all, the people must be free in terms of human rights and economic emancipation. A peaceful environment is built on a healthy economy and people-oriented economic reforms. Governance must be about people and people only. Governance must gesture a passion for the people and thus earn loyalty, trust, respect and love of same. Also, the people must understand what the government is doing. The people must be taken through a change-plan whenever a new policy is being introduced. The people’s voice must be heard and must count whether it is complex or not. The people make violence inevitable when authority proves their voice is unacceptable. People who have inadequate or no access to education, electricity, health care, employment and hygienic environment would easily revolt at slight provocation. Majority of those who were involved in religious riots of the North are homeless, young almajiris. The government have just groomed terrorists consequently, by abandoning the homeless, needy, illiterate kids who roamed about streets of Kano, Kaduna, Jos and other northern states, begging for alms. Those bred-with-poverty kids have now grown to become terrorists, fanatics and criminals. The government is held responsible for this avoidable social transition. Fairness demands that all enjoy the dividends of good governance.
The second focal point is the people’s minds. Our people are yet to comprehend the difference between peace and war. We were ruled for forty years by the military. In the middle of the military rule we experienced Biafra (civil) war, had our political leaders incarcerated, maimed and murdered, had our tertiary institutions grown into a hub of cultism and notorious killings, almost had genocide as some tribes fought others, pan-ethnic militant groups evolved and even unleashed terror on their clans, arm robbery became a national threat, and many atrocities became normal happenstance. The reality of the day is not yet understood by the government, even as it has agencies such as National Orientation Agency (NOA). The reality is that people’s minds need to be equipped towards peace. Uninformed minds would create a deformed nation. There is need for a shift in perspective on national issues. Nigerians must first see Nigeria as a possibility, not Lord Lugard’s experiment. Nigerians must also see violence as a wrong tool of seeking peace. Nigerians must be exposed to other alternative approaches to influence government decisions, relate their opinions and take back their mandate, if need be. Nigerian government can discourage civil unrest (instead of frustrating it); being receptive to people yearning is sufficient to teach their minds that protest is unnecessary. Also, conflict resolution and sustenance of peace should be introduced into adult education programme and tertiary education’s curriculum. Society leaders, religious leaders and traditional leaders should be allowed to lead this initiative. If people don’t see the need for peace, undisturbed peace, then there would not be peace in the land. If people do not see peace as a possibility, then war becomes the necessity. If people don’t see it as a civic responsibility, to stop violence, make peace and sustain peace, then we shall continue to experience the pseudo-peace – which is just for a short moment. For peace to reign, our minds must see the same picture of peace, we must see ourselves all taking same role to ensure peace, we must all see what a great nation we can build with peace.
Our actions should be representative of our values. But it is unfortunate that Nigeria is a nation without values. Here some people can go on radio to speak in a way that abuse the cultural identity of some others. Here, some people can use tax payers’ money for selfish purposes. Here some leaders would take appointees from majority tribes and leave out the minority. Here anybody can behave unethical and churn out some set of values to defend his/her actions. If we are ready for peace, our actions must be right, not by personal standards, but by collective standards. As long as government makes the law but goes ahead to acquit and release some offenders while other offenders by same laws languish in jail; as long as police can shoot innocent citizens and explained such gruesome murder as “accidental discharge”; as long as people’s votes don’t count; as long as the rich reaps from the hard-working poor; as long as sanity is alien to our systems, violence would keep erupting for some reasons. The fact is terrorism rises where tyranny thrives, where corruption reigns, where looters are celebrated, where jobs are reserved but for the dumb who’s got the right connection, where banks give loans to only the likes of Aliko Dangote, Femi Otedola and Jimoh Ibrahim, where families won’t allow their daughters marry from another tribe or another religion, where nothing is wrong! Such an environment stimulate and even catalyses terrorism. Our actions must be right. Our response to crises must be strategic. Our counter-terrorism tactics must though take the form of post-9/11 strategies but most importantly suit our peculiar circumstances. If we profess peace but our actions speak otherwise, we can’t be justified as peace-seeking. There is need for attitudinal and behavioural change, yes we agreed, but there is also need for change of approach by the government and security agencies. If security operatives hack down a militant while they should be hacking internet for information, this would be futility. If the counter-insurgence Joint Task Force (JTF) is shooting down militants in Kano while new breeds of militants are crossing the border of Nigeria on their way to Pakistan for military training, this would be a failure. Our approach must encompass local and global perspectives. Our actions must be right, always. The nation is presently clueless; we must not be for long.
In finding peace for our land, we must start by finding peace for individuals and families; for marriages and homes, for churches and mosques, for villages and neighbourhoods. Let the peace start from you. Perhaps it would spread to the whole nation.
Olufemi Babalogbon is part of founding team for InspireUnity – a non-profit group with mandate of reinstating and sustaining peace in Nigeria. He can be reached via email@example.com (@Babalowise) or firstname.lastname@example.org (@inspireourunity) for feedbacks or enquiries.