Youth groups across the country have suggested ways of stemming the current wave of rising ethnosectarian tension.  The suggested solutions to the raging problem were made at two summits in Kaduna and Abuja.  The first of the summits, which held at De Nevilla Hotel in Kaduna on June 12, had the theme: “Promoting Peace, Democracy, and Stability in Nigeria through the Media, Socio-Cultural Institutions, and Youth-Driven Community.”  It was organized by Journalists for Democratic Rights with the support of the West African office of Ford Foundation.

The second, a two-day affair, which ended on 14 June at Denis Hotel, Abuja, was a talk shop on peace building and conflict prevention. It was equally organized by JODER with support from the Ford Foundation regional office.

The first, which featured representatives of ethnic, cultural, religious and social formations in the 19 Northern States, also included a training program, declared open by Mr. Samuel Aruwan, who stood in for the Kaduna State governor, Mr. El-Rufai.

The Northern youths said they chose Kaduna as the venue because of the political significance of the city since 1966 and the fact that it was the venue of the press conference where some Northern youth organizations issued an ultimatum to Igbo people resident in the North to move back to their home states by  October 1.

The groups said they have observed that the North has recently become a hotbed of a variety of conflicts, including extremism, killings, the proliferation of small arms in the hands of non-state actors and dispute over grazing routes.

They contended that democracy remains the best system of government for the country, noting that conflict, which is a major cause of underdevelopment, is a fixture in the North.

According to them, the North is experiencing problems that include extreme poverty, exclusion, women rights abuse, child trafficking, child labor and begging as a means of survival, notably among school age children.

These problems, they explained, have been exacerbated by religious extremism, violent crimes and the upsurge in suicide bombings, using children, and resulting in large populations of Internally Displaced Persons(IDPs). 

They equally observed that the current tension, which has resulted in ethnic and religious profiling, landlordism and threats, poses a great danger to the region.  

After extensive deliberations, the youths resolved that the various social formations, ethnic groups and religious groupings in Northern Nigeria have lived together for centuries, and in time past, had various degrees of conflict, many of which were resolved using indigenous knowledge through their traditional representatives.

 “We affirm that these striking examples in our communities are still possible to explore today. Local communities resolving their own differences, will to a very large extent, complement many other efforts, including but not narrowed to government efforts,” declared the groups.

They also posited that dialogue, constructive engagement, peace, and stability are key pillars of democracy and sustainable development in Nigeria. As such, they announced a commitment to ending various strains of tension, which have led to the death 10,000 people.

 “We regret that during these unfortunate incidences, families have been displaced or separated, children killed, homes razed spurring a high number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in some parts of Northern Nigeria,” the youths said.

Equally, they declared greater willingness to discuss and bring about peace in the areas they have inhabited for centuries.

“We strongly affirm that irrespective of the numerous conflicts in some parts of Northern Nigeria, peace is achievable through this current Ford Foundation-supported initiative, and as kick-started by the Kaduna Declaration. In this direction, we are now more committed to fair-minded and constructive engagement of ourselves either through our own initiatives or fostered by a credible third party,” declared the youths.

This, they said, will be done through consultations, but warned that peace is achievable only if the people are the critical stakeholders.

The organizations called on the government and relevant institutions to develop the framework for the constructive engagement of youth groups in Northern Nigeria in a non-partisan manner.

The groups noted that the situation in the country is worrisome and in view of the strident claims and counter-claims of antagonistic interests, requires discussions to avoid a national calamity. and bloodshed in Nigeria.

They requested the governments of the 19 Northern States to facilitate the establishment of a peace and reconciliation Commission to address the grievances of ethnic and religious groups.

At the second summit attended by over 300 ethnic groups from all parts of the country, also organized by JODER with the support of Ford Foundation (West Africa Region), the acting President, Mr. Yemi Osinbajo, was represented by Mr. Babafemi Ojudu, Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Political Affairs. Also at the event were Mr. Abdulrahman Dambazau, Internal Affairs Minister, who was represented by Mr. Ita Bassey, Presidential Adviser on Amnesty; and other top government officials.

The organizers noted that the summit came at a very important time in the history of the country, given the nature of the conflict currently ravaging the polity.

They observed that the current situation threatens social advancement, as all Nigerians, irrespective of religion, class distinction or ethnicity need peace to thrive.

Participants identified various conflict types and causes. These, they said, include conflict of economic survival, communal conflict arising from competition for land and natural resources, grazing opportunities and pastoralism, ethnicity, disagreement over ownership of territories, ethnosectarian dichotomy, religious extremism, terrorism and other violent crimes.

These were attributed to economic exclusion, religious intolerance, climate change affecting most of the Northern states, armed conflict in the Middle Belt and in the Margreb region, which continues to fuel migration of displaced persons to Abuja and its environs; and environmental pollution and dislocation of human and natural resources in the Niger-Delta.

Delegates at the summit stated that the country, despite returning to democratic rule, has remained fragile because of weak institutions.

“We observed that at present, the country is plagued by several other challenges, including ethnic suspicion, dwindling moral values, violence, mutual distrust and other social vices that threaten peace and harmony in the country,” they stated.

The also noted that hate speech, ethnic profiling, unwarranted threats and total disregard for the culture of robust and healthy debate constitute threats to the survival of the country. Delegates advised citizens to stop viewing the government as the only peace-building entity, but to rather become peace ambassadors through indigenous and people-driven initiatives.

Participants resolved, among other things, to create platforms for the peace, happiness, and prosperity of the participating communities and Nigeria.

“In this regard, we the representatives hereby set up the Nigerian Working Group on Peace Building and Conflict Prevention. The group, which is to be coordinated by JODER, should also serve as a Rapid Response group to potential flash points of conflict across the country,” said the delegates.

They also resolved that JODER and Ford Foundation should facilitate periodic meetings between leaders of ethnic, religious and cultural groups to build bridges of understanding

“The periodic meetings should also include representatives of the various government institutions, including but not restricted to democratic institutions and the three tiers of government,” they concluded.

Wale Adeoye

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