Building Peace In Nigeria: The Post-Jonathan Years

(c) Tellessa Myles

Nigeria’s Presidential Election have come and gone with all the apprehension and fireworks that accompanied it. After a very intense battle that pitched the candidates of the various political parties – that contested for the sole ticket on offer – against one another, the most popular candidate in the person of a onetime military Head of State of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1983-85), Rtd General Muhammadu Buhari, contesting under the banner of the All Progressive Congress (APC), emerged as the people’s overwhelming choice; a collective decision that has set the country on another political trajectory.

(c) Tellessa Myles
(c) Tellessa Myles

However, General Buhari has his work cut out for him as he will be inheriting a Nigeria in critical ferment; a country that has been plagued by animosities of startling hues from the cradle – ethnic, religious, political eta l: one civil war(1967-70) and several other – high and low intensity – insurgencies. With conditions on the ground still remaining bellicose, Buhari must get cracking immediately he steps into Aso Rock. Apart from manifest security issues like the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East – which will be high on his schedule of duties – wielding the various ethnic, tribal, religious and several other interest groups together will be his administration’s litmus test.

Nigeria’s evolution since the 1914 fusion has been defined by simmering animosities among the various disparate federating groups – Igbo, Hausa, Yoruba et al; arduous schisms that are attributable to several key factors: historical incongruities, institutional and structural contradictions, leadership failures, class wars, ethno-religious divergences, structural inconsistencies et al; multifaceted challenges that have stalled the nation–building process with its concomitant ricochet effects on the country’s development and growth. Buhari’s ability to speedily and decisively tackle the plethora of centrifugal forces that have gradually pushed the country to the precipice of balkanization will pave way for the smooth execution of his much touted transformation agenda for the country.

Poor governance at all cadres can be chiefly blamed for the disjointed relations among the country’s indigent groups. Successive Nigerian leaders have consistently failed to transform the adversarial relationships among the country’s heterogeneous groups – that where forcefully yanked together by colonial Buccaneers – through objective, result-oriented leadership that is devoid of primal sentiments. From both the founding fathers – with a few exceptions – to the most recent crop of leaders (both military and civilian) the story has always being the same. Rather than redressing the various inconsistencies in the system that have been stalling the nation-building process, past Nigerian leaders have leveraged on the festering animosities among the multifarious groups in the country to promote their debauched, greed-driven, personal cum group interests at the expense of the wider national interest.

The penchant by Nigerian leaders to play the cards of religion and ethnicity – covertly or overtly – in the governance of the country has made national unity impossible over the years. The intransigencies of these bigoted ethnic apologists are largely responsible for the ongoing distrust among the country’s divergent groups. Most of the national crises that have reared their monstrous heads across the country over the years are attributable to the prejudicial, prejudiced and capricious dispositions of the individuals that have been privileged to captain the country’s ship of state. When a leader favours only members of his own ethic group in the allocation of political positions, he courts trouble. When a leader concentrates on developing his region at the expense of other sections of the country, he courts trouble. Any leader with an “us” and “them” attitude is as dangerous as a cancerous tumor. The incoming President must avoid the temptation of stepping into the soiled shoes of his predecessors by striving to be different.

Stimulating the processes of genuine national reconciliation, through wide consultations, is the key strategy that can help arrest the strained relations among the country’s indigent groups. The incoming administration needs a lot of goodwill to properly takeoff. The build up to the recent general elections exposed the soft underbelly of the Nigerian union. The several alignments and realignments, which were based on primordial sentiments, were sad reminders of the fragile strands binding the country together. Buhari must assure Nigerians, through his words and deeds that he is not going to be a Hausa-Fulani President – like some of his predecessors – but a Nigerian President sworn to serve the people of the federal republic without bias. There are so many aggrieved groups in Nigeria in need of assurance; so many suspicious Nigerians who must be convinced that it’s not going to be business as usual; that the Nigerian state is going to be administered on behalf of, and in the common interests, of all Nigerians who have pledged their undying loyalty to the fatherland. Creating that sense of belonging among all the constituent groups in the polity will give Buhari’s administration the much needed legitimacy that will ease the speedy and lucid execution of his reform agenda.

On the strategic side of things, the new government must not be in a rush to do away with all – or any – of Jonathan’s ongoing peace initiatives in some of the conflict theaters in the country, to score political points, in order not to escalate these conflicts. Programs like the ongoing Amnesty Program – initiated during the Shehu Musa Yaradua years and continued by the Jonathan administration – in the Niger Delta region and other peace initiatives in other hotspots should not be toyed with by the incoming administration, as doing so will be tantamount to reversing the gains that have so far been derived from these programs. The relative peace in the Niger Delta region is largely due to the Amnesty Program. Before the brokering of this initiative, armed militancy had turned the region into a virtual war zone; a boiling point from where peace had taken flight; a conflict that was occasioned by oil politics. The Amnesty Program should not only be retained by the incoming administration, it should be improved upon.

The incoming administration is also advised to consolidate on the gains so far made in the ongoing anti-terror war in Nigeria’s North-East. The recent, even if belated, turnaround in the war against Boko Haram Insurgents, which is largely due to the new regional offensive involving Nigerian, Chadian, Cameroonian and Nigerien security forces’, in conjunction with the advisory inputs from the military’s of some Western countries, should be leveraged on by the incoming government, while making its own inputs. This will ensure continuity in the current war efforts. Other third party, non-adversarial joint-problem-solving peace initiatives, such as the moribund Amnesty Committee should be revived. A holistic approach to peace building, involving other critical stakeholders in the multi-track diplomacy spectrum should be adopted by the incoming government.

Building a positively peaceful, tranquil and progressive society is the fundamental objective of every responsible, responsive and people-oriented government. The Nigerian state has sworn to protect its citizens from threats of any form, using all legal means available to it (See Part 2: Powers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Section 11-subsection 1; and Chapter 2: Fundamental Principles and Directive Objectives of State Policy, Section 14 Subsection 2b. Constitution Of The Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999). The incoming administration must be guarded by these principles in the hashing out, and execution, of its national security policy.

All the confidence building mechanisms available to the government must be fully mobilized and deployed by the incoming administration to restore fast dwindling national morale. All the traditional Issues that are capable of triggering of violent conflicts must be proactively addressed. Nigerians, having lost faith in the national mansion, have been dwelling in tribal gazebos for too long, cohabiting as strange bed fellows in a supposedly united nation; a dangerous trend that does not bode well for the peace, development and growth of this vast treasure chest; this expansive plain of milk and honey – one that must be expeditiously arrested.

In summation, the incoming administration must ensure that a system of distributive justice is put in place as a conflict prevention mechanism. The truth of the matter is that Nigerians don’t really care which part of the country their leaders come from. What they need are humane leaders who are committed to providing the basic necessities of life – food, clothing, shelter, security et al – for them and their siblings. When people are well clothed, well fed, and well housed, they will have no time to complain or engage in violence. The most basic needs of every Nigerian must be catered to by the incoming administration to strengthen the basic foundations on which the Nigerian State is built and prevent any challenge to its legitimacy by dissent groups.

This column formally congratulates the incoming President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Rtd General Muhammadu Buhari, on his resounding victory at the recently held Presidential Elections. Here is hoping that this victory will herald the onset of a new era of a more peaceful, united and progressive Federal Republic of Nigeria; a nation bound in freedom and love among all its constituent groups. You are highly welcome on board, sir!

IMAGE: Tellessa Myles

Written by
Jude Obuseh
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