Peace is not the absence of conflict. Conflict is inevitable in any human society. However, a society is judged by how it is able to manage its conflicts to ensure peaceful co-existence.
The common refrain is that there can never be development without peace. Indeed peace is sine qua non to the development of any society.
Nations came into being because men realized that there should be peace, law and order that would ensure the fulfillment of their God given destinies.
If truth be told, Nigeria has had its fair share of development hindered by poor management of peace or lack of peace. We fought a needless and unnecessary civil war between 1967 and 1970 losing over three million Nigerians. At the end of the war we all hoped that we should never live to witness such wanton loss of lives and properties again.
Since those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it, we are again at a point in our national life where we wake up every morning with the news of killings in various parts of the country.
The killings are going on even when we are not at war in the real sense of it. But our soldiers who are confronting this war directly know that we are at war. There technical term for it is asymmetrical war.
When in the early and late ‘90s when Nigerians were unified in their quest to return to democracy after years of military dictatorship, many never envisaged that democracy would usher in such mindless blood suckers like the Boko Haram terrorists. The Boko Haram terrorists and those who aided and abated them are the reason why over 50,000 people have been killed and over two million internally displaced persons (IDPs) created in North East Nigeria and beyond.
When the military relinquished power to the civilians in 1999 there was great expectation that we are marching on the path to greatness, but this was not to be. What the Fourth Republic brought was selfish leaders who are more concerned about primitive accumulation of wealth than what would benefit the larger society. As the politicians become richer and the people become poorer, peace began to elude the society at accelerated speed.
Almost 20 years after Nigerians chased the military back to the barracks, we are witnessing unprecedented threats to peace, unity and national cohesion of our people, all due to what our leaders whom we entrusted our welfare and wellbeing failed to do. The politicians have divided this country along ethnic and religious lines due to their quest to grab power by all means fair and foul.
Today there are ethnic and religious suspicions in most parts of our national life. Suspicion breeds fear.
Those who wrote our constitution, especially the 1999 Constitution as amended, were well aware of this fear. That is why the constitution made provision for equity in the selection of leaders and in governance. That is why we have the Federal Character Commission. That is why we have separation of powers and checks and balances. However even with these provisions aimed at ensuring justice in the country, peace continues to be elusive.
The situation has deteriorated to the level where many communities in the country seem helpless as bandits, herdsmen, and Boko Haram terrorists lay siege on them while those who are supposed to protect lives and property and ensure peace look impotent. The farmers/herders crisis the cow rustling bandits and the Boko Haram are all clear testimonies of the lack of enduring peace in the country.
Even our highways are bereft of peace. Last Sunday bandits lay siege on Kaduna-Abuja expressway and attacked travellers which left several people dead, although Police account put the number of the dead at four.
Among the dead was a former commissioner of Education in Katsina State, Professor Halimatu Saadiya Idris. The Kaduna-Abuja expressway is among some of the highways of the country that have been turned to death traps by bandits who operate at will. It is precisely because of the notoriety of Kaduna-Abuja expressway for free reign of bandits that commuters between Abuja and Kaduna prefer the use of the rail transport linking the two North Central and North West cities in recent times.
I believe that what we want is a Nigeria where the farmer can till his land and harvest his crops without being killed; a Nigeria where the herdsman can tend to his cattle and not fear that a rustler will emerge from nowhere to kill him and disappear with his cattle; a Nigeria where it does not matter where the president comes from, as long as he would do justice to all; a Nigeria where religion is a personal affair and people are not victimised and terrorised due to their faith; a Nigeria where every man is judged by the content of his character and not by his tribe.
How can we build the peace that we desire for our country? The peace process should start from the top. When late celebrated author Chinua Achebe wrote in his seminal book, “The Trouble With Nigeria,” that Nigeria’s problem is squarely lack of leadership, he meant dearth of leaders who can inspire the people to do the right thing. Our leaders across board should work for peace. Recently, our country was ranked the poverty capital of the world. It is not a medal we should wear with pride. This is because there is a correlation between poverty and war or lack of peace.
We must have a short-term and long-term approach to eradicate poverty and ensure the equitable distribution of the nation’s wealth. In some countries that have reduced or eradicated poverty, they are closing down prisons, while nations like ours that allowed poverty to fester are building more prisons. Sweden has closed many of its prisons due to lack of people to put there. In the Netherlands the prisons are so empty that they are demolished and converted to housing accomodation, space for start-ups, schools, and shops. Let us emulate the nations that have established sustainable peace through the eradication of poverty. Let poverty eradication be the core of our national development agenda, so that we can have peace and live in peace.
– Aluta Continua!