Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
I want to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation for the opportunity offered me to attend and contribute in this International Meeting for Peace which has the central theme: “Peace is the Future – Religions and Cultures in Dialogue, 100 years after World War I”. The theme is timely and of tremendous importance, and could not have come at a better time than now, when countries like mine have for several decades been plagued with various episodes low level, high intensity and collective violence in forms of riots, communal and religious clashes, and of recent, the Boko Haram insurgency.
I am particularly delighted to observe that there is significant presence of many leaders of great religious and personalities of the worlds of culture and international politics.
More significantly, the meeting will strive to analyze the role of formal and informal authorities in conflict resolution and management especially the roles of traditional rulers and religious leaders.
It is pertinent to know that while peace building and conflict resolution in Nigeria come under the purview or exclusive mandate of the formal state authorities due to their more material and sometimes coercive powers, informal authorities on the other hand play important roles shaping public intergroup perception and demobilization of collective violence. In fact, authorities outside the state have considerable potentials for influencing dialogue over conflict and their resolution and management.
Traditional rulers in the Nigerian context when expounded will show that they are such individuals or a group of individuals validly nominated, elected or selected and enthroned or installed in accordance with the relevant Customary law of the land to which they belong becoming the fathers to all subjects. By virtue of these positions they are unable to distance themselves from the incidence of several conflicts.
Nigeria is a country where traditional leaders and religious leaders are held in high esteemed.
ROOT CAUSES OF CURRENT CRISES IN NIGERIA.
Investigation have revealed that there are both remote and immediate causes of the current crises in Nigeria which have been pinned down on several factors, many of which have been responsible for violence occurring in different States in the Country and now threatening the entire Country. The factors responsible range from political, economic and socio-cultural realms of human existence, most of which are:
i. Contest for Political Powers
Throughout Nigeria, the strong desire for self-serving politicians to control government machineries and state resources and perpetuate their political influence even after leaving office runs deep and has been responsible for the numerous crises that have caused numerous losses of lives and wanton destruction of properties over the years. Elections are sometimes marred by post election violence when they are not seen to be free and fair or when Opposition Parties do not easily accept defeat at the polls.
Even though the principle of secularism has been enshrined in all our Constitutions since Nigeria’s Independence, nevertheless, the role of religion in Nigerian Politics has often been seen in negative terms and in recent times, the manipulation of religion has become a common feature of our politics and intergroup relations. Since the return to democratic rule in 1999, religion has assumed a potent but secondary factor that has continued to reinforce underlying tension such that various contestations over land ownership, economic resources and political control tend to be expressed in religious terms.
Ethnic factors are closely related to religious factors and are sometimes intertwined as the cause of the current crises in Nigeria. In fact, ethno-religious sentiments are often regrettably deployed to fuel political conflicts in many areas and the moment; there is virtually no part of Nigeria that has been spared from ethno-religious conflicts and crises.
iv. Communal and Tribal Disputes/Land Ownership (Indigene – Settler Divide)
These are potent sources of tension and crises which are common in Nigeria. Ancestral lands, farmlands, ancient religious shrines and border disputes fuel instability and crises. There is also race for tribal supremacy which results in minority and majority tribe syndrome that always fuels the embers of socio-political problems. Often, indigene/settler claims of ownership of lands with group anchoring its claims on fact of history and the two sides becoming diametrically opposed in their views about ownership. Those areas of disputes remain potential flashpoints and Nigeria Government is in the process of resolving them through constitutional means.
v. Real and Imaginary fears of Marginalization and Domination
The expansion of political space due to the return of democratic rule in 1999 has brought about the resurgence of political demands based on ethnicity, such that groups and communities that hitherto felt excluded and marginalized are seeking to be accommodated. Hence, unleashing forces in the context of multi-party system and competition for power, which are forcefully drawing attention to the need for power-sharing as a means of guaranteeing stability. It can correctly be said that the democratic space seems to have provided a launching pad for the current spate of crises in the country, either in the context of the north and south divide for fear of losing political relevance in the political equation, or in determination of minority tribes not to submit to the domination of the majority tribes.
vi. Unemployment, Poverty Level and Restiveness
In Nigeria today, investigation have shown that there is dearth of unemployment especially of young, educated, literate or semi-literate, able-bodied men and women, with attendant increase in poverty level and growing danger of youth restiveness and social unrest. They are found as willing tools by unpatriotic politicians and engaged to unleash terror on their opponents, and are also easily exploited by insurgents and terrorists like Boko Haram and other ethnic militia to commit heinous crimes in the Country.
vii. Proliferation of Arms
Proliferation of arms all over Nigeria and most particularly in the north central and north east zones has been recognized as an alarming trend for several years. Equally worrisome is the presence of militia and thugs for hire in all the states in the two zones known to have serious security challenges.
viii. Resource Allocation
Agitation for resource allocation by oil producing areas in southern States of the country and also recently by other States that are naturally endowed with mineral resources is equally an area of great tension and crisis. This is typified sometimes by criminal activities by militant that take the forms of killing, stealing, kidnapping, looting, arson, destruction of infrastructure and the near halting sometimes of economic activities.
ix. Pastoralists – Farmers Conflicts
Pastoralists and Farmers conflicts have recently aggravated resulting in loss of lives and properties in many parts of Nigeria. It has become more frequent and widespread. Although misunderstandings between farmers and pastoralists are age-long phenomena, they had never assumed the wide scale and volatile nature, as in recent years in the history of Nigeria. Whenever they occurred, the socio economic and political repercussions and losses are immense. The most common source of this type of conflict is crop-damage by animals of the pastoralists or the encroachment by farmers on what the pastoralists regard as traditional grazing land, all of which usually attract violent response from the aggrieved parties.
x. Insurgency and Terrorism
Even though not a very old phenomena, it is now a recurring decimal causing serious calamity to our country with the north eastern zone of the country being mostly affected. The Boko Haram insurgency is the most dangerous thing since the Nigerian civil war. The sheer impossibility of their mission and the violent and elusive manner the sect pursues its agenda is quite unique, potent and dangerous. Suicide bombing which was hitherto strange to Nigeria is the order of the day and is growing at an alarming magnitude.
SPECIAL ROLES OF TRADTIONAL RULERS IN THE NIGERIAN SOCIETY
Under the Nigerian Constitution, the functions of Emirate or Traditional Councils which are headed by Emirs/Traditional Rulers are purely advisory and include but are not limited to the following:
a) Formation of general proposal and advice to Local Government
b) Provision of advice on religious matters
c) Support for arts and culture
d) Chieftaincy matters and control of traditional tittles and officers
e) Mobilization of people for self-help projects
f) Assistance in the collection of levies and local revenue
g) Making presentations to Government on matters referred to their Council by Government.
Membership of the Emirate or Traditional Councils which are headed by the Emirs or Traditional Rulers also include District and Village Heads. The District Heads are the most senior administrators and community leaders in their areas and derive their authority from the Emirate/Traditional Councils and Local Government Council and are appointed, disciplined and paid by the former these duties are:
i. Responsible for the maintenance of law and order
ii. Collections of taxes and other revenues
iii. Initiative of development at local level and mobilizing people to undertake communal works to this end or in this respect,
iv. Charged with the responsibility of educating people on government policy.
The Village Heads on the other hand work under the District Head and their duties include:-
i. To tour frequently and acquaint themselves with the feelings of the people
ii. Must keep their Emirs and Traditional Councils informed of local developments/happenings
iii. Submit regular reports on range of matters;
iv. Perform the role of Emir/Traditional rulers in their respective communities and command wide respect for this.
The Emirate System is the only one of its kind in the country that in true federal spirit because:
- District Head for example are in some instant appointed to districts different from their places of origin.
- The system is aim at uniting people irrespective of ethnicity and religious belief.
- Various interest groups from within the Emirate meet periodically to discuss local and national issues.
- Traditional rulers act as advisors to all Local Government Councils within their domain.
- Local Government Chairmen are ex-officio members of the Emirates Councils; they have no votes but are free to take part in council debates and express their opinions.
HOW ISLAMIC LEADERS ARE CONTRIBUTING TO PACIFICATION AND RECONCILIATION.
Before examining the avenues of their contribution to pacification and reconciliation in crises situations, it should be understood that Emirs are both Traditional and Islamic leaders. By their positions, they not only chair traditional councils of the administrative areas of their domains, they also head and or advice umbrella Islamic organizations in their States and Local Government Areas. By their dispositions and together with other Islamic Leaders, they are always expected to examine avenues of conflict prevention, resolution or reduction.
ROLE OF TRADITIONAL RULERS/ISLAMIC LEADERS IN PEACE MEDIATION
One possible Nigerian Traditional/Islamic Leader’s role is that of providing leadership in conflict resolution. Leadership could be physical, symbolic or a combination of several variables which make Leaders valuable in each regard. Emirs mostly command very high respect and obedience from their subjects and communities. In fact, they are better trusted by their subjects and in most cases, convey government policies, decisions and directives to them without resistance.
They are mostly proactive and in most circumstances employ Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism. In event of misunderstandings or tensions, which can vary in causes and magnitudes, and before they escalate into conflicts or violence, Emirs do the following:
1. They admonish their subjects on the virtues of peaceful coexistence and advise them against violence and embrace dialogue as a means of settlement. They do that during the five daily prayers or when they give sermons during bigger events like Eid-il Fitr or Eid-il Kabir which are each observed once in a year,
2. Where the magnitude is great, wary factions to the dispute in the same community or different communities are called to a round-table to dialogue and reconcile in the presence of the Emir, the Chief Imam and Ulamas, and other traditional title holders; and in most cases agreements are reached and peace is brokered.
3. Where communities in different administrative areas are involved, informal meetings are arranged by the Traditional rulers of those communities to try to solve the problem. But the peace meetings are sometimes formal when they are held under the auspices of their Local Government Councils.
4. However, when preventive measures fail and conflict erupts, Emirs must take the lead to investigate, de-escalate, manage, resolve or redirect the conflict as time and circumstances would require or permit.
5. Emirs pursue impartial mediations among tribes and clans, taking win-win resolutions and guarding their utterances to promote decisive and carefully established mentality and justice.
6. They also make greater and better use of authority and power of patronage and cooperation, identifying the root causes of potential and actual conflicts or the areas of the conflicts and lead in the resolution of such conflicts. They are at the forefront or are closely integrated to Alternative Conflict Resolution practices and instructions.
7. They play key roles in brokering peace and unity between the people and the State, enhancing neutral identity, resolving minor and major conflicts and providing an institutional safety-valve for often inadequate State bureaucracy.
8. They partner with Government to encourage dialogue and reconciliation amongst relevant stakeholders as a way of building confidence and resolving the disputes amongst contending parties.
9. They partner with Government to strengthen their roles as Emirs/Traditional Rulers who are the custodians of the people’s customs and traditions and with other religious leaders, constituting into Peace and Security committees towards providing an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism which is the vogue in contemporary dispute resolution techniques worldwide.
10. As Religious Leaders, they take responsibility of dousing tension by erasing wrong impressions of perceived threats to religion and religious identity which have become entrenched in our adherents’ daily lives.
11. They actively participate in the State Inter-Religious Committee (SIREC).
Another practical way of actualizing this peace is to put in place permanent structural administrative arrangements from Local, Zonal, State, or geopolitical zone or Federal level that can be named peaceful co-existence committee here under.
STRUCTURAL ADMINISTRATIVE ARRANGEMENT FOR PEACE SUSTENTANCE.
1. VILLAGE PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE COMMITTEE
2. DISTRICT PEACEFUL CO-EXISTENCE COMMITTEE.
3. LOCAL GOVERNMENT PEACEFUL CO-EXISTENCE COMMITTEE.
4. ZONAL PEACEFUL CO-EXISTENCE COMMITTEE.
5. STATE PEACEFUL CO-EXISTENCE COMMITTEE.
It is to be noted that similar peaceful co-existence committee could be upgraded to the levels of Geopolitical Peaceful Co-existence Committee whose structure would as well take the pattern of all stakeholders involve. Of further special note is the design and planning of areas of discussion in the meeting which should basically consist of matters of desires, needs, drives or impulsive which usually serve as possible areas of conflicting interests specifically and generally.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The foregoing has left little doubt that practicalising the arrangement will enable having an enduring mechanism for:
i) effective usage in mediatory/reconciliatory endeavours;
ii) conflict prevention;
iii) peace promotion and consolidation; and
iv) conflict control.
I suggest committee constituted for peace should be invited to:-
i) accept the necessity for sustaining the peace in Nigeria;
ii) accept the use of the foregoing structures as veritable mechanism for peace sustenance; and
iii) recommend its actualisation by the all level of Governments and proper funding accordingly.
Government should intensify effort at implementing programmes that have multiplier effect on employment generation and improvement of livelihood, and also create enabling environment for the private sector and Non-Governmental Agencies to increase their capacities to reduce the high unemployment rate in our energetic, resourceful and employable youth. It is one positive action that guarantees social security and poverty reduction and by and large, curtails sectarian violence arising from fundamentalism and extremism in Nigeria.
Government at all levels to shun and fight corruption in order to be on the moral high grounds in the vanguard of societal reorientation that is aimed at eliminating violence, attacking its root causes and making Nigerians cultivate positive attitude towards government and develop overriding loyalty to the nation, respect for mankind and believe in the sanctity of life.
Government should overhaul the security apparatus of the nation to effectively patrol our porous borders, prevent external aggression and internal conflicts.
Intelligence gathering Agencies should be more proactive in identifying flashpoints and situations with likelihood of escalating into crises and the general breakdown of law and order.
Religious leaders are to form into inter-religious committees and Government should regulate their activities and modes of preaching. They should be made to guard their utterances.
School curricula to be reviewed be include respect for others religious beliefs and practices.
It is advisable to engage the Traditional Rulers the more, especially in the areas of nation building, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), restorative justice, and most importantly, as catalysts and role models in the transformational arena in Nigeria.
Thank you for listening.