The concept of national peace in Nigeria resonates. In a country polarised by politics, tribe, tongue and creed, there is need for peace to be the cardinal principle. Therefore, the establishment of the National Peace Committee, with such eminent Nigerians as former military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, ex-Chief of General Staff, Commodore Ebitu Ukaiwe, revered spiritual leader and Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, fearless Catholic priest, Bishop Matthew Kukah, and others as members, is not only auspicious but also most commendable.
It is obvious that Nigeria as a country and Nigerians as a people desire peace. Ravaged and traumatised by such vices as terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, corruption, mutual suspicion, ethno-religious cleavages, winner-takes-all disposition and greed, it is only peace that would bring about unity and progress. Peace remains the bedrock of nationhood. It is the fulcrum on which development revolves.
In its 62 years chequered history, Nigeria has seen the good, the bad and the ugly. Events have proved that the country makes no progress whenever peace becomes difficult. The civil war period was indeed an example of what lack of peace could cause a nation. Despite the fact that the government declared, at the end of the civil war, “no victor, no vanquished,” it was obvious who the loser was. A country that lost about three million people in three years, a country that had one of its component parts devastated by bombs, malnutrition, disease and hunger, a country whose socio-economic development was stalled in one region, a country where a seed of hatred was sown in the hearts of its citizens against each other is surely the prime loser for lack of peace. Nigeria was the loser of the civil war. Were peace to have prevailed at that time, the losses incurred would have been averted. Peace, therefore, becomes inevitable.
Incidentally, one has observed that the activities of the National Peace Committee, as noble as they are, are not prevalent in all facets of life in the country. While one expects the intervention of the committee in everything that would cause breach of peace in the country, one has seen a committee that is only alive during the time of elections. It is common to see the peace committee visiting political parties’ candidates, talking to them about peace and making them to sign undertakings that peace would prevail during the electoral exercise, only when there are elections. This looks good, but we know that elections are not the only issues Nigeria is contending with. While elections come periodically, every four years, there are daily activities that cause a breach of peace in Nigeria. One expects the National Peace Committee to step into such matters. In doing this, the committee should be proactive and reactive, depending on the circumstances.
Before the political parties picked their candidates at all levels, one had expected the National Peace Committee to take the responsibility of meeting with their leadership and getting their commitment to take only actions that would not only be in national interest but also not cause breakdown of peace. The natural excuse would be that the committee should not be seen to be interfering with the activities of political parties. Of course, yes, but it is also given that advice from a committee of eminent personalities set up to work for peace in the country is not interference. Advice could prevent a mistake or wrong that would snowball into breach of peace. Keeping quiet, in order to be politically correct or in order not be accused of interference, could cause collateral damage.
No doubt, the decision as to who becomes the presidential candidate of a political party, for instance, is the prerogative and business of the political party. However, advice by people who could be perceived as outsiders but who owe us a duty to serve as the conscience of the nation could shape the perspective of the political party, for the sake of peace and unity. Today, there is an issue about same-faith ticket, which is causing contention in the country. Such contention could bring about breach of peace. This same-faith ticket for the presidency did not just happen. Nigerians suspected and saw it coming. A peace committee whose duty is to prevent breakdown of peace could have anticipated this and attempted to forestall it. Advising against such a decision before it is taken is not interference. It is being pre-emptive, for the sake of peace. As this choice has divided the country, with Christians feeling alienated and Muslims feeling that there is discrimination against them, the need for preventive measures has become very clear. The peace committee could have done this.
Disregard for prevailing zoning arrangement by political parties is a topic being hotly discussed across the country. Talking with the political parties before their presidential nominations may have changed the narrative in this regard. One expected mediation of a committee working for peace of the country, prior to the breach, to ensure equity, fairness and respect for Federal Character principle. Keeping quiet and allowing the wrong thing to happen is conspiracy of silence. The fallout of the breach of zoning in political parties is antithetical to peace.
The agitation and restiveness in the South East, which have led to economic downturn and breakdown of peace, caused by the abduction of Nnamdi Kanu in Kenya and his incarceration as well as trial in Nigeria, should ordinarily be of concern to the peace committee. People have talked about political solution. Government has talked about legal solution. The intervention of a peace committee in this face-off could have made a difference. There should have been a meeting with Kanu, even though the government says that he leads a proscribed group, and the federal government team, to find a middle ground in resolving the impasse.
Sunday Igboho is in detention in Benin Republic primarily because of the fact that the Nigerian government is fretting over his self-determination posture and agitation for a Yoruba nation. He was arrested at the instance of the Federal Government as he was fleeing Nigeria to Germany, via Benin Republic. As long as he remains in jail, awaiting trial, his situation will continue to provoke sympathy and resentment in Nigeria. A political solution to his matter could prevent future breakdown of peace. This is one matter the peace committee should take interest in.
One expects the National Peace Committee of Nigeria to do much more than only coming out during elections and preaching to political parties and their candidates about peace. The committee could actually be at the centre of peace in the country by making interventions that could prevent problems. Some of the members of the committee have individually spoken against vices in the country, but Nigeria expects them to act as a committee, mediating in things that cause problems in the country.
Having said this, one must add that since the committee has always stepped out at the time of elections, now is the right time for its hand to be seen, as the 2023 general election draws near. There is need for the committee to get the commitment of political parties and their candidates to peaceful elections. There is need for the committee to get political parties and their candidates to commit to violence-free and transparent elections. There is need for the committee to get the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to commit to free and fair elections, following all the rules it has set. The committee should also get the commitment of the government and all agencies that have one role or another to play in the elections to be neutral.
Most importantly, the committee should directly talk to Nigerians on the need to participate in the electoral process and to conduct themselves responsibly. Voters should be allowed to exercise their franchise without any hindrance. The electorate should be allowed to vote for candidates of their choice, without any deprivation or intimidation. The votes of the electorate should determine winners in the election. The outcome of the election, representing the will of the people, should be used as foundation for peace in the country.
The National Peace Committee should know that peace is not only pursued during election period. It is holistic and all-embracing. Peace makes a whole lot of difference. It changes situations. As former United States President, John F. Kennedy, said: “Peace is a daily, a weekly, a monthly process gradually changing opinions, slowly eroding old barriers, quietly building new structure.” Peace is inevitable.