From Magnus Eze, Abuja
Director General of Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Prof. Oshita Oshita is worried about the increasing threats to national security, why the national peace policy was yet to be institutionalise and, how to make the 2019 general election peaceful. He speaks on various issues.
Nigeria is facing security challenges here and there; how does the institute see all these?
The Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution was established in 2000 and right from when it was established, the first thing the Institute did was to conduct a national strategic conflict assessment in 2002 and then published in 2003. As at that time, the signs that if no serious interventions were undertaken that Nigeria was going to be confronted with so many dysfunctional conflicts became very clear because there was a national action plan that was developed from the first strategic conflict assessment in 2003. The idea was that, that national action plan was to enable Nigeria address all the root causes of conflict, both existing and potential conflict based on that study. However, it was not possible for the national action plan to be implemented to the letter because of the problem that the Obasanjo Government had between the president and his vice president, Atiku Abubakar; who was by the nature of the arrangement the chairman of the Presidential Implementation Committee that was set up on the strategic conflict assessment. That affected the whole process of trying to implement the National Action Plan. In a way, we can say that that process derailed. What only survived were few elements that later resulted in the draft National Peace Policy and how did that survive, it survived because UN agencies, mainly UNDP and the UNICEF offered to take on some of the aspects of the national action plan. So, the UNDP was then facilitating the draft national peace policy or supporting the draft national peace policy while the institute was facilitating it across the country. UNICEF decided to support what we called mainstreaming peace building in development programming; that document emerged because from the studies, it has been discovered that there were a lot of conflict generated around the whole idea of trying to develop the country and so the mainstreaming peace building development programming was therefore, an intervention to try to take peace to development programming so that development programming will not be the source of dysfunctional or violent conflicts. So, those were the two that survived. As we speak, they were many other things that were in the national action plan of the strategic conflict assessment (SCA) of 2003. Another thing that happened was that the United Nations, when the advocacy of the strategic conflict assessment was going on, noticed that the SCA of Nigeria which was the first in Africa anyway, the first to be conducted by a country; and decided to advice other countries in the world when the advocacy was second to the UN headquarters in New York, the secretary general then advised all the countries to do such a study as a prelude or as a condition precedent to their development efforts which was a very important success recorded by the Institute. Now, over the years, the strategic conflict assessment had been reviewed and revised at least two other times. The third one we are doing now, the strategic conflict assessment 2016 is being collated. In fact, the institute had a retreat on the draft report of the 2016 strategic assessment in Nasarawa State just last week, in order that we can look at how the new configurations of conflict in Nigeria look like, the idea is to see whether there has been significant shift in terms of the dynamics of conflicts in the country. So, the UNDP again is the one supporting this and then the Nigeria Stability and Reconciliation Programme (NSRP) is also supporting aspects of the 2016 strategic conflict assessment.
So, what caused the derailment?
Well, for us, we think that the derailment of the National Action plan of 2003 as a result of the politics of power during the Obasanjo regime can be said to be responsible for why we could not address the sources of conflict that is now tending to overwhelm us. So, what we are trying to do with the 2016 strategic conflict assessment is to say that well, it’s been a long time and so much has gone wrong; of course, you know that with dysfunctional conflicts, if you do not attend to the issue, they tend to snowball and escalate and we usually use the example of the dung beetle (this beetle that rolls dung of cow, as it moves on, it gets larger and larger) so that is the nature of conflict. So, what we are trying to do with the 2016 strategic conflict assessment is to say that it must be accompanied by another National Action Plan so that Nigerians can see clearly and we will try to make a linkage between this SCA and the SCA of 2003 so that we can now see how we can religiously follow a new National Action Plan and ask the government to take it serious because if we don’t do that, the way we are going is definitely not a sustainable road. It’s not sustainable in terms of how conflicts are rearing their heads almost everywhere and almost in every sector. So we are concerned. The institute is mobilising key stakeholders including the National Assembly members. In fact, what we are trying to do now is to mobilize the National Assembly to say look, this draft national peace policy can become a law. If you make it into a law, then issues of peace would then be better enhanced in terms of the conversation that goes on in the country and the attention that is given to issues of peace. Right now, people think that this is just something that you can choose to do or not to do, forgetting that ultimately, we are all collectively vulnerable and this is not the right way to go. If you check our country now, we now have flashpoints in every geopolitical zone. It is either this kind of conflict or the other. In some places, we have insurgency, in some places, we have kidnapping, in some places, we have cattle rustling; in some places, we have call for separatism and things like that; militancy in some parts. Generally, we want to be able to address each of these typologies of violence conflict properly so that we will know the required diagnosis to apply and then the mitigation and strategies to adopt. We are really worried and we are however happy that the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has many times said that peace and security are a priority. We know that our country has not been working consciously toward integration of the diverse groups but we want to develop programmes in the institute this programming year that will help to re-enforce our integration so that we stop paying lip service to national integration. So peace is important and everyone must realize that and we must also pay for peace.
What are the benefits of these strategic conflict assessment studies or reviews?
In terms of take away, part of what we have focused on is to generate research data that we can use as early warning for planning purposes. So we are better assured that look, in this part of the country, it is important you observe so and so sensibilities in planning, making planning inclusive and making sure that people are not left on the margins. That has resulted in a document that we call mainstreaming peace building in development programming which planners and development practitioners may use in trying to get any development intervention carried out without generating violence conflicts and there would be a backlash because people think that development is always a positive thing, no! Development always creates some disconnect that changes the status quo, once the status quo is changed, some people will feel that they are losing, others will feel that they are gaining, that situation creates conflict. In terms of the draft national peace policy, it was something that came from the strategic conflict assessment that there was need, that unless we have a draft policy, we have a peace policy or as the new thinking is, we have a National Peace Act, that there will always be a gap in terms of power. And you know Nigeria has been very visible in international peace support operation and yet we do not have a kind of platform upon which we define the exertions that we will carry outside the country. So, we want to use that peace policy document or the law to provide both for our domestic activities around peace and for our international peace support operation that we carry outside. That is one specific take away that we have from the whole idea of carrying out strategic conflict assessment. But even speaking more generally, a lot of specific interventions come out from the recommendation that comes from the strategic conflict assessment. It is like the road map for interventions which the institute carries out; which development partners leverage to do the work they do in different parts. For example, we are doing some work in the North East with UNACR, building capacities of communities to be able to increase resilience in the face of insurgency and its dislocations. So we derive the concept ideas from the findings that come out from the previous conflict strategic assessment and we inform our partners, and then we use that as a basis for planning. Even the other programme that we are doing now; the infrastructure for peace is also derived from the findings from the strategic conflict assessment. For instance, the institute hasn’t got offices in all the states. So what we are trying to use the infrastructure for peace programme to do is to identify strategic stakeholders which include civil society organizations, community based organizations, some government agencies that have wide spread, and then community members including age grades, we identify them, we build their capacity so that they can understand how to carry on with dialogue.
Elections have become warfare in Nigeria; how can elections become peaceful?
If we focus more on governance rather than the importance of politics, our election will be less heated, because elections get heated up because people are just focussing on the politics and not governance. We need to be more serious about governance and less about politics, because with what happened in Edo, Rivers states indicate that the focus of the election was just for the personal aggrandisement of political leaders. It’s a big problem and looking at 2019, we need to get a few things right and stop heating up the polity.
What concrete things do you think should be done before the 2019 election?
The thing to do, with the lessons from these off season elections; particularly that of Rivers state is that we need to sit down and plan better; plan better from the point of view of all agencies that are involved; INEC, security agencies, CSOs, communities themselves and prioritise peace above every other agenda knowing that if there’s no peace, we can’t carry out any activity whatsoever. I think we still have some time, between now and 2019 to do this planning. We must also between now and then, begin to show examples that our law can bite. A lot of people have been acting in very licentious ways which lead to the point of impunity. The laws are meant to work, so let’s begin to make them work. Really, if our laws are just treated with ignominy, then we will be heading for some form of chaos; then anything goes. What I mean is that we must ensure that the rule of law is enthroned; democracy can only function well where there is rule of law. If there is no rule of law, may be the rule of the wild will prevail.