By Talemoh Wycliffe Dah
The serenity and peace shared by a beautiful garden, a volcanic Crater Lake and a thick forest with its ‘natural’ beauty is an end product brought about by very widely different phenomena. The beautiful garden with its lush vegetation, carefully selected flowers, gazebos and fountains is a product of thought out ideas carefully implemented.
The volcanic lake had a cataclysmic event in its history that shattered rocks, spilled molten magma which killed life and over the years converted their carcasses to manure for the flowers that now surround the lake. The thick forest is a result of land covered with vegetation and left to happenstance over decades or centuries. In seeking a serene and peaceful Nigeria, we can choose any of the three pathways.
Presently, the forest pathway seems to be the one we have chosen by not doing things we should do and by such acts of omission allowing happenstance to determine our progress to peace.
We wait for things to happen, and then react verbally by pre-set politically and culturally correct statements. We react programmatically by pre-determined worn-out actions like sending the police or troops to the scene, followed reluctantly by paltry relief materials which are either diverted or selectively administered.
Because it is a ‘’watch and see’’ no-strategy, there are no strategic decisions and policies to permanently stamp out the problem. So it will take us decades or centuries to find the peace and serenity we crave for. And it may never come.
Happenstance will make progress, the glory for which will be claimed by the day’s government, and that progress will be undone by another happenstance, the blame for which will be hoisted by the government of the day on past governments. Sometimes it gets a rhythm, the two steps forward, four steps backwards Nigerian dance pattern.
The volcanic Crater Lake pathway is also chosen by sit-down-look. It will happen because communities are being forced to protect themselves since, as they wrongly assume, the government has refused to protect them.
The truth is that the government cannot, and no government in the world can, if, as assumed, protection is only by sending troops or the police. Even if half or all of the population were troops, the number is not enough to protect every community in the country.
Do the math; if all soldiers, police and civil defense personnel were to hold hands to form a circle around our boundaries, they will be inadequate. Even when they become adequate, the hinterland will remain unprotected. Communities trying to protect themselves will lead to an implosion, a national scale mayhem that will decimate the country’s population (aided by the resultant hunger, disease and deprivation) but bring in the post volcanic eruption serenity.
Lucky cowards, the invalids that survive and foreign invading plunderers will inherit and enjoy the serenity, not us. By not taking appropriate actions to bring about peace, we are daily inching towards the volcanic Crater Lake pathway that will consume all of us. Peace and serenity will be the final thing, though.
What is not only doable but certainly the best, safest and most reasonable pathway to peace and serenity for us all is the beautiful garden pathway. We must think out how we will like our garden to be, design it and implement it.
This will need the taking into cognizance by the horticulturalists (the political class), the nature of the terrain. This needs some will and honesty. We must discard our worn out actions and reactions and have collective strategies that will lead to desirable peace, given the nature of our make-up. What is the will that is needed and what strategies can we apply to give us our garden?
Our parties have ideologies and those in power have things they promised to deliver which they are working on. However, the overarching necessity of the moment for whoever is on stage must be the priority, more so if it is security and peaceful coexistence.
Luckily, security is one of the party promises for the ruling party and a top agenda for His Excellency, the President.
Here, we can’t beg or even pray for a political will because it should be there. What we will ask for is a rethinking of the major causes of insecurity. Common enemies, like Boko Haram, are not our major problems because they are uniting and they disturb the peace in a manner different from conflicts between and among communities.
Our real problems are the brewing hatred and animosity among peoples, cultures, religions, regions and communities. And the will to reverse the trend is the political will we need. For what is success against Boko Haram if there is hatred between Christians and Muslims or Fulanis and Tivs? The will we need and the one the President and the political class must cultivate is the will to kick out wedges of division among us.
What strategies can we apply to get garden serenity and peace? Where there is a will, there is a way, so goes the saying. And you will be surprised how simple and applicable they are.
The first and best strategy is to treat every case on its own merit. No two conflict situations are similar and so arrogating obviously religious issues to politics, for example, is both boring and capable of making the citizens feel they are taken for granted. Get to know what led to what, document it and discuss how to avert recurrences. Every case is different and these blanket categorizations should cease.
We should have the boldness to name things correctly because this attitude of giving ready-made names to serious issues and thus glossing over them is about to consume us. Any person who decides to stick to the old way is likely to be enemy of peace.
The next strategy is to get communities or interest blocks talk with one another. Dialogue should be continuous until an understanding is reached and solutions fashioned out. The resulting peace is long lasting. Should any issue arise after that, the established channel of dialogue should again be trodden to arrive at a truce.
The pointers and signposts previously established (like agreements) will make subsequent processes easier. At this juncture, it will not be superfluous to suggest the creation of a Peace Commission with the members of this commission given the mandate to ensure the unearthing of every root of crises and deal with them. Such a Commission will know early warning signs and move to avert crises.
If we are sincere, we can point to peace-loving Nigerians who should be appointed into this Commission. The commission should have state branches for ease of operations. It will be under the presidency and report directly to the President.
A strengthening and better use of the National Orientation Agency (NOA) can be very instrumental in changing the mindset of Nigerians concerning peaceful living and brotherliness. I believe this suggested expansion of function beyond the ruling party’s mantra is already part of NOA’s mandate and only needs to be acted upon. This strategy should be combined with regular press briefings by the NOA to dispel, with facts, the rampant rumours peddled by mischief lovers.
Similar to the expanded use of the NOA is the use of the clergy. Instead of preaching and inciting trouble, they can be used to inculcate peaceful co-existence. What emanates from the pulpit works, which is why the different Islamic and Christian sects and denominations behave true to type. Even if it means paying them (which is much cheaper than buying warships and guns, treating injuries and being bereaved) they should be made to preach peace and brotherliness every day or week, year in year out. This constant discourse will change them and the people who listen to and trust them.
This strategy should also be used to reduce the alarming rate of drug abuse in our society, a malady that is sometimes the sole cause or adjunct to causes of conflicts. The clergy are also the ones who can persuade people against obstinacy, grandstanding and unforgiveness, three enemies of peace and catalysts of conflict.
When these are done by the clergy, added to their usual character building roles, we will have garden peace and serenity.
Another strategy is the strengthening of peace and national integration initiatives established by previous governments. We must find ways to restore confidence in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Scheme and make it serve its purpose.
Youths discover other people’s culture and develop respect for them while clearing wrong-held beliefs and stereotypes. They develop love for them and sometimes settle in those communities when they are offered jobs. Needless to say, you cannot wish for a nuclear weapon to fall on Lokoja, for example, if your nephew is living there.
The Unity or Federal Government Colleges even serve the same purposes to a greater extent. They offer long lasting friendships and cause the young people to see the towns as their second home. Many people considered moderates in their beliefs and cultural tilts today were students in unity schools. Other unifying things are national sports festivals, national cultural festivals, national quiz competitions, and the like.
To bring unbiased perspectives to issues and to serve as alternative representing voices, the Senate and the House of Representatives should have unpaid members who do not have voting rights. These members should be nominated from the Civil Society, Trade Unions/Professional Associations and Military/Paramilitary formations who presently have no voice in the legislature. They will broaden discussions and bring views not hitherto represented in these hallowed chambers. They will stand for unrepresented voices and complement the peace efforts of these legislative bodies.
A last strategy, and to make all the above strategies start and work well, is to secure and make a declaration, endorsed by all (president, governors, traditional rulers, civil societies, legislators, judges, etc) through a massive campaign and persuasion, asking for cessation of conflicts, a forgiveness of wrongs and a new dawn for peace. We can draw a line to forget our past wrongs and signal the beginning of a new nation. Then when conflicts come, we take them as discussed above.
A nation where peace and justice shall reign is our thought out garden. We should join hands to apply the strategies above to achieve garden serenity and peace. They are additions and not replacement for ‘’good governance’’, a phrase which is a summary for foresight, fair play, inclusion and the right deployment of resources by those elected or appointed. And, please, those who have ears to hear and who should hear and act should take this seriously.
●●Dah, a consultant gynaecologist is based in Abuja, and sent this via firstname.lastname@example.org