Young leaders of ethnic and socio-political groups in Lagos yesterday resolved to continue to work together to ensure peaceful coexistence in the country. The participants said a major conflict in Nigeria has the potential of engulfing the entire West Africa sub-region.
Some of the groups included the Miyetti Allah, Oodua Peoples Congress, (OPC), Ijaw Youth Congress, (IYC), Igbo Youth Congress, (IYC), Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, (AYCF), Oodua Nationalist Coalition, (ONAC), Agbekoya, Middle Belt Indigenous Peoples Congress, (MBIPC) among many others.
A retinue to civil society groups working on conflict and peace building also attended the event. The groups also identify corruption as one of the major causes of conflict in Nigeria.
The groups said in a joint statement issued at the end of a one day training with the theme Engaging the Media, Community Based Groups for Peace building and Conflict Prevention” organized in Lagos by the leading media rights concern, the Journalists for Democratic Rights, (JODER) with the support of the Institute for International Education, (IIE) and the Ford Foundation, West African Regional Office.
The participants urged the Federal Government to intensify the mopping up of illegal weapons across the country and initiate the process for continuous dialogue driven by the people themselves. They also promised to strengthen and promote a National Working Group for Peace and Conflict Prevention across the country.
Speaking at the training programme, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, Akinbayo Olasoji said crisis in Nigeria has continuously been fueled by corruption, greed and the self-serving interests of some religious, political and community leaders.
He commended the coming together of young ethnic leaders and their desire to address the problems of conflict in the country.
Leader of the African Conflict Prevention and Peace Network, Mr Sina Odugbemi who spent six months travelling from Nigeria to Libya by road where he spent about 15 years in the desert area, said his experiences has shown that extremism and violence in Nigeria cannot be fought without a keen understanding of the Maghreb Region.
“The flow of arms and the threats to stability in Nigeria cannot be resolved unless we have a deep understanding of the proliferation of arms in the Magreb region. Nigeria is surrounded by French speaking countries. The free flow of movement of people in that area is an indication that Nigeria will remain unsafe unless there is a strong and effective border control mechanism,” Odugbemi said.
The Vice President, Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, (AYCF) Mr Tijani Suleiman said “As a people we have the responsibility to work towards peaceful co-existence. Violence is an ill wind that blows no one any good. We can make the choice on the part of honour by preventing conflict in Nigeria.”
The President of Agbekoya, Chief Adekunle Oshodi, said his group was excited to participate in a forum initiated for stakeholders on conflict in which the people are the drivers of the process. HE said apart from the effort put together, Nigeria lacks a creative platform where actors in the major crisis across the county come together out of their own volition. He said most peace initiatives are driven by electoral interests of the political class.
The participants said the ordinary people are worried about the spate of violence in some parts of the country and that bringing an end to chaos can be achieved when the people realise that they are the main actors and that they have the capacity to make a lot of impact in conflict prevention and peace building.
Speaking in his presentation, Zannah Yusuf Mehid representing the Kanuri Traditional Council, said networking among the various ethnic groups was essential for peace and prevention of outbreak of hostilities.
Col Tony Nyiam (rtd) whose training was on “Strategies for Peace Building and Conflict Prevention” said one of the most crucial ways of preventing conflict was for the people to engage themselves out of their own freewill. He said many countries are confronted with long lasting crisis because opportunities were not given to the younger people to constructively engage themselves at the budding state of every conflict while political interests seize such moments to fan the embers of chaos and instability.
He urged the various state, local and federal authorities to establish sports and games centres adding that the decline in sports facilities continue to fuel a large army of idle youths who take into or are employed for violence.
“Nigerians want to live in peace. There is no one that would prefer conflict to peace. What we have seen is a situation where platforms for conflict prevention are lacking while the leaders run up and down to douse the fire when it is too late. The best way to peace is to prevent conflict. This is the reason this kind of training is essential for peace building across Nigeria”, Nyiam said.
He took participants through the various causes of conflict and how they could be prevented through active and robust engagement between the stakeholders adding that “Conflict that is addressed at its budding stage is unlikely to mature while those left unattended to lead to chaos and violence”,
The representative of the Ford Foundation, Mrs Onyinye Onyemobi said she was impressed by the mention of the relationship between poverty and conflict adding that the involvement of young people in the conflict prevention training was a good initiative.
She said the Ford Foundation would continue to support efforts aimed at eliminating poverty and building the capacity of young people to enhance their contributions to sustainable development.
The Executive Director, Journalists for Democratic Rights, (JODER), Mr Adewale Adeoye said, “peace building should not be left for the government along. Conflict prevention is not the property of the government. It is the property of the people. They own it. They have the right to come together to make a great impact through constructive engagement.”
He said further that, “We cannot continue to wait for the government all the time. The people should complement the efforts of the government especially when we realise that the first consideration of political power is not necessary public peace but the kind of peace that sustains political and economic interests of politicians.”