Major stakeholders in Nigeria in Lagos launched fresh effort towards peace building and conflict prevention amidst real and imagined threats to stability occasioned by a wave of violence and hate killings spreading across the country.
The opening ceremony of the initiative was attended by over 100 participants mainly leaders and youth representatives of Nigeria’s diverse ethnic groups, civil society, security operatives and top government officials.
The programme was put together by foremost Nigerian media group, Journalists for Democratic Rights, (JODER) and the New York based Institute of International Education, (IIE) facilitated by the Ford Foundation West Africa Regional Office. The project focuses on Lagos, Nigeria’s former capital, the country’s most significant State and host to the country’s different and diverse groups.
The 12-month programme involves extensive training for youth leaders and community based groups, CBOs on strategy and tactics of peace building, management and prevention of conflict. It also involves advocacy visits, media outreach, workshops and community engagements.
After the opening ceremony, the Special Guests left leaving about 35 participants for the training on negotiation and setting agenda of peace conducted by a former United Nations, (UN) peace keeping officer, Lt Col Ayo Ajayi.
Participants held that the summit was coming at a difficult moment for Nigeria, a country of 190 million people bedeviled by recent mass killings, kidnapping for ransom, violent extremism, ethnic suspicion and terrorism. The organizers put the programme together as a people-driven initiative aimed at free, prior and constructive engagements of stakeholders towards prevention of the myriad of potential conflicts that star constantly put the nation at a cliff edge. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes has estimated about 64,000 Nigerians are murdered every year in Nigeria. Homicide rate is put in the North East at 70 percent of 100,000 inhabitants and 65 percent for the same number in the North-Central
The Guest Speaker, retired Head of Department of African Studies in many American Universities including Harvard University, Prof Banji Akintoye said Nigeria was at a critical junction in her history.
He said “We are facing a terrible hydra-dreaded monster of ethnicity, extremism, mass killings in the face of a grossly incompetent political leadership. We hundreds of people killed everyday. Gang banditry is taking firm roots in Nigeria. Killings and maiming of innocent people have become a way of life. The security operatives appear helpless. There is the real fear that something terrible may happen unless efforts life this are put in place.” He said the prospect of a government-driven peace and conflict prevention mechanism in Nigeria is remote.
Other speakers were Sec General, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dim Uche Okwukwu, Secretary General, Ijaw World Congress, (IWC) Mr Digifa Werenipre, representative of the Eze Ndigbo, Pastor Joe Ihitegbulem, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, (AYCF), Suleiman Tijani, The Etsu Nupe of Lagos, Alhaji Jubrin Dogo, the Onu of Igala, His Royal Highness, Sanni Yakubu Ejima and others
Apart from terrorism, Nigeria is confronted with the problem of kidnapping and herders-farmers violent clashes blamed largely on Fulani herdsmen. An estimated 30,000 Nigerians are believed to have lost their lives in related conflict in the past few years.
The leader of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association, (MACBAN) Alhaji Abdullahi Lailiga whose group is blamed largely for the kidnapping and banditry in some parts of Nigeria, said his nationality has been demonized through ethnic profiling and stereotyping which he said are promoted by the media. “We are not all bad people. There may be a few bad eggs but these elements are in all the ethnic groups in Nigeria,” he said. He added that the summit provided the first opportunity for the Fulani people to meet those who see them as “murderers” saying his group is ready to share their fears and aspirations with other Nigerians.
Speaking at the programme, the Executive Director, Journalists for Democratic Rights, (JODER) Mr Adewale Adeoye said “We have designed this peace building and conflict prevention project to last for one year, bringing together the variegated colours of our diverse people, exploring their rich indigenous knowledge, walking with them and creating a nexus that will strengthen the bond of peace and brotherhood.”
He said further “We move from the premise that peace is indeed possible. Peace is cheaper. It is cleaner. It is friendlier and more comfortable to live with than violence and conflict.”
He said “We shall be working with organized youth groups, leaders and members of ethnic associations, leaders and members of community-based organisations, (CBOs), civil society, professional groups with records of active involvement in disputes. We shall organize training, advocacy visits, campaigns and programmes aimed at ensuring peace and conflict prevention in Lagos and by inference in Nigeria as a whole.
Some of the aims of the project are to prevent a major ethnic backlash, rebuild fractured solidarity and friendship among the various ethnic and social formations in Lagos State, subdue and prevent a major conflict in Lagos between the different ethnic groups, use Lagos as an example of cooperation and peace building among Nigeria’s ethnic groups and also identify the key actors and facilitate constructive round table engagements towards peace and mutual cooperation in Lagos and Nigeria at large.
Other participants at the event included representatives of Ijaw, Shuwa Arab, Igbo, Hausa, Fulani, Yoruba and other nations, Oodua Peoples Congress, (OPC), O’odua Liberation Movement, (OLM), Ohanaeze Ndigbo, United Middle Belt Indigenous Peoples Congress, (UMBIPC), representatives of professional bodies, labour, artisan groups among many others.