The 2nd Gen. Abdulsalami A. Abubakar Foundation Annual Peace lecture was organized by the Abdulsalami A. Abubakar Institute for Peace and Sustainable Development Studies (AAIPSDS) in collaboration with the University of Ibadan on the 21st September, 2019. The Lecture was given by His Excellency the Executive Governor of Niger State, Alhaji (Dr.) Abubakar Sani Bello which was held at Justice Legbo Kutigi International Conference Centre, Minna.
The topic :- GOOD POLITICS AT THE SERVICE OF PEACE: THE ROLE OF EMINENT PERSONS IN THE PREVENTION AND MANAGEMENT OF CONFLICT IN NIGERIASpeech by His Excellency the Executive Governor of Niger State, Alhaji (Dr.) Abubakar Sani Bello
I would like to start this lecture by welcoming all our quests to Niger State. Before returning to my salutations and special recognitions, I would like to ask and answer a cursory question: Why are we here? We are here for three important reasons. The first is that today is the International Peace Day. The day, September 21, is set aside globally as a moment for deep reflections on how to make the mother earth a more peaceful place for us all. On this day, combatants all over the world are expected to have a temporary cease fire for humanitarian aid access. The day was first celebrated in 1981 and is observed by many nations of the world, political parties and groups, and military formations. The theme for this year’s International Peace Day draws attention to the importance of combating climate change as a way to protect and promote peace throughout the world.
Climate change causes clear threats to international peace and security. In fact, it has become a threat multiplier that has destabilized communities and induced or escalated small-scale conflicts over natural resource scarcity, drought and volatile precipitations have fueled violent conflicts in Africa as evidenced in the farmers-herders clashes we are experiencing today in our great nation. Natural disasters have also displaced three times as many people as conflicts, forcing millions to leave their homes and seek safety elsewhere. The salinization of water and crops is endangering food security, and the impact on public health is escalating.
Like we all know, peace can only be achieved if concrete action is taken to combat climate change because without peace, no meaningful development can be achieved in our society. By meeting here for this lecture today, we have separated ourselves from those engaged in violence; we are committed to peace and I pray it comes from our hearts individually.
The second reason for today’s lecture is the decision of the University of Ibadan to have an annual lecture series in honour of our own General Abdulsalami A. Abubakar: a man of several peaceful parts, paths, pacts and immense passion. The address of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, Professor Idowu Olayinka, is sufficiently illuminating and instructive on why General Abubakar is honoured this day. I would therefore not dwell so much on this at this point. Rather, what needs to be underscored here is the fact that this year’s lecture was brought down to Minna from Ibadan to honour the people and government of Niger State that produced the honoree-General Abdulsalami A. Abubakar. For this, I must warmly thank the management and students of the University of Ibadan for this handshake across the Niger River. May the almighty Allah honour you all. The entire state and government appreciate your efforts. We need more of this kind gesture to properly integrate the Nigerian state.
Beyond these two reasons provided above, let me call attention to the third reason for today’s event. It is that Nigeria needs more voices of peace at this moment. It is shameful that the country now groans under different forms of violent conflict situations. Eminent Nigerians are expected to lead the way out of this problem. Hence, I expect this kind of lecture to be taking place across Nigeria in which appeals should be made to our people to focus more on conflict prevention and management rather than the troublesome dispositions now experienced across the nation. We cannot continue this way. No region in the country is safe today. In the North East, we are faced with the Boko Haram menace which has continued to take human lives. In the North West, we are experiencing cattle rustlings and banditry. Until recently, herdsmen and farmers engage in bloody conflicts in the North Central. The people of the South East and South West are faced with cases of kidnapping, ritual killings and other heinous crimes and the Niger Delta crisis in the South-South is still food for thought despite the expensive amnesty programme initiated by the administration of President Umar Yar’ Adua in 2009.
These violent conflicts have destructive effects on the very fabrics that hold our nation together and must be dealt with utmost sincerity. The experience so far shows that finding lasting solutions to the violent conflict situations rests squarely on our shoulders. There is too little for members of the international community to do towards helping us. I like to use this lecture to make appeals to the eminent persons in different parts of the country to come up with suggestions on how best we can reduce tensions around the country. Nobody would do it for us better than ourselves.
The letter sent to me by the University of Ibadan to deliver this lecture is dated May 22, 2019. In it, the University provided a brief information on the genesis and goals of the lecture series and that I am the second to deliver it. I feel highly honoured to do this. The maiden lecture was personally delivered by General Abubakar on 21 September 2018 at Trenchard Hall, University of Ibadan on the topic “Collaborative peace building in Nigeria”. It is supposed to be a pathfinder: a lecture to show subsequent lecturers the preferred way to follow. I was told that the Ibadan event was attended by stakeholders across the nation, including the Governor of Oyo State who served as the Chief Host. I am the chief of today’s lecture; I am also the guest lecturer. In other words, I am wearing two caps as I stand before you. I will try as much as possible not to disappoint your expectations of me. While delivering his own lecture on September 21, 2018 General Abubakar made a statement I like to recall. He said:
The Annual Abdulsalami Abubakar Lecture that starts today would hopefully contribute to the process of institutionalizing non-violence in Nigeria. Those invited to give the lectures would hopefully speak frankly about the problems facing us as a nation and make actionable recommendations on how to deal with them. May the Almighty Allah strengthen our hands as we launch out on this nation-building project. I thank him for granting me this permission. I will speak with frankness on the topic given to me. Hence, I do not expect us to see this lecture as another scenery in the Nollywood film. The issue I would be raising calls for sober reflections. They affect you and I; they also affect all of us. I expect us all to leave this lecture devoting better attention to the roles that each of us should be playing at making Nigeria and our respective states a more peaceful environment. If you are in this hall-sent invitation letter and allowed to come into this hallowed hall then you are an eminent person. My role is to talk to you on the need to dialogue around the survival of our dear country. We just have one country-Nigeria. We must all preserve it and eminent persons should be the first to take the lead.
The title of this year’s “Peace Day lecture, is “Good politics at the service of Peace: The role of eminent persons in the prevention and management of conflict in Nigeria”. The summary of General Abdulsalami’s lecture in Ibadan is that “peace building or security management is everybody’s business: the young and old, men and women, politician and non-politicians”. I absolutely agree with him. More often than not, we all look up to the government alone to bring peace to the society. This is half the truth. There are things the government must do and what each of us must do. When any of us slacks in our duties, we end up getting messed up as we now witness across the land.
Let me move the discourse forward by arguing, “Everybody’s business is nobody’s business”. In other words, the word “everybody” is nebulous. When you set out to attain a goal you allocate responsibilities to specific individuals are groups and do not give the work to “everybody”. We are majestically seated in this hall today because over the past four weeks, some specific individuals were given certain roles. The assignments were given not to everybody nut specific persons. The point I am trying to make is that, conflict prevention and management entails individual responsibilities. Hence, in bringing peace to a society, we must move beyond what “everybody” should do towards a clear articulation of what the Governor must do and what the other individuals in Niger State must do. If I do my own bit and the rest of you fail to do yours, Niger State may not experience any developmental change. Hence, what today’s lecture is asking me to do is not to talk on what everybody must do but rather what is expected of the eminent persons in preventing and managing conflict in Nigeria. Who are these eminent persons that we are talking about? These are individuals that have been blessed by divine grace, hard work, and the privilege of standing out in the society in terms of having the capacity to do good. They are achievers with far reaching personal credibility in the society. They are political leaders, captains of industries, traditional rulers, opinion leaders, captains of industries, traditional rulers opinion leaders and the like in the society. These are men and women of repute; individuals that are highly respected in their community or around the world. They are power brokers; often stylish, talented, witty they command respect wherever they go or are found. You mention their names and things get done.
We have eminent personalities across the globe. A former Nigerian leader called them “men of timber and caliber”. The list includes those jokingly referred to “ex-this-and ex-that”. They exist in any Nigerian and global community. How do we use them to prevent and manage conflicts? How do we make them agents of peaceful transformation in our society?
Most of us in this hallowed hall today, listening to my lecture, belong to this category of citizens. I saw the evidence in the protocol list for today’s event. I saw it in the brand of cars parked around this complex as I walked into this hall. I see it in the expensive robes and shows we wear. I can even perceive it in the perfumes we wear. We are not ordinary Nigerians but eminent persons. The salutations we got from the security operatives around this complex and the attention we get from the officials of today’s meeting all shows that indeed, we are eminent citizens. But every status comes with responsibilities. That is what my lecture is all about. You have responsibilities. That is what my lecture is all about. You have responsibilities as eminent citizens; I don’t want you to be carried away by the fact of your prominence in the society. As you enjoy the peaceful ambience created by others, you must be prepared to serve as agents of peaceful change in your communities. That is what my lecture is all about: no more, no less!
For the purpose of this lecture, I like to draw attention to two types of eminent personalities: (i) those in active public service (ii) those in retirement from active public service. These two categories of eminent personalities have cross-cutting influences and can easily relate with the other categories across the land. They are therefore very influential and could make things happen nationally and internationally. We expect these people to be working at communal, state and federal levels at dousing tensions across Nigeria using their “good offices”; personal, procedural and institutional credibility. There are several of these people in the North-East, North-West, North Central, South-South, South-East and South-West today that can play pivotal roles in ending the crisis in their various regions. It is sad to say that many of these people are not doing enough. In most cases, they complain about what the government is not doing.
It is now a common phenomenon to find some of these eminent Nigerians who should be working for peace engaging in demonization of other’s ethnic and religious categories. In some cases, they twist the history of Nigeria to support some misleading conclusions. When we look around us, it would be easily observed that the Nigerian media is no longer interested in the news that could build the Nigerian nation. They give more attention to what could divide us. Hence, they chase our eminent persons around the country prompting them to say what could further divide us. I try as much as possible in this lecture not to name specific individuals involved in this kind of problem. But we are Nigerians and do know the extent of this problem. While the older generation of Nigerians controls the print and electronic media, our young ones use the social media to promote fake news and hate speeches. The situation gets worse on daily basis to the extent of setting one thinking thus triggering the thoughts of what happens to the future of the country. No nation survives with this kind of hate crime and disorderly social and political environment we have today. We need to draw some cursory lessons from the crisis in Rwanda in 1994 to illustrate the kind of future that awaits us if the eminent persons in this country do not arrest the situation quickly. As a result of the 1994 crisis, between 800,000 and one million people got killed in Rwanda-a very tiny African country. It all started with hate speeches between the Hutus and Tutsis. The crisis started on April 7 1994 and lingered on for about 100 days. The country is still struggling to recover from the scourge. Those familiar with the history of the crisis in Rwanda would definitely be worried by the present state of things here in Nigeria. Our eminent citizens must stand up now and be counted amongst those to save the nation. We must caution ourselves in what we say and do invest more than ever in the promotion of the culture of peace. Some Nigerians call for a revolutionary violence to address whatever quarrels they have with the status qui. They need to study more closely what is going on in Syria and Yemen. Even in Tunisia and Egypt where they experienced violent protests that did not escalate to war dimensions, the much expected “political miracles” have not taken place. The lessons in these countries are that it is better for the citizens to find solutions to their national questions in a peaceful manner. Some Nigerians believe that the only way to make Nigeria a better place is to import into the country strange religious ideologies that enjoins them to disrespect the state and its leadership. There are several lessons on the global scale showing that this is unhelpful. If Iran opposes the interference of other countries in her affairs, it becomes very difficult for us to understand how such a country should be the one to determine how Nigerians should relate with their own governments and leaders.
Some Nigerians openly call for the disintegration of the country forgetting the lessons of the civil war of 1967 to 1970. They forget all that we benefit and have benefitted from our togetherness so far. The present situation in Nigeria may not be the best but there are lessons for us to learn from the unfolding scenarios in the two Sudans. Sudan broke into two nations in 2011. The two countries, most especially South Sudan that prides itself as the youngest nation in the world today, are in deep crises. The citizens of that country kill themselves even more than they ever experienced when they were part of the main Sudan. There are also some lessons from the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, which in the 1990s split into seven countries. Each of these countries has different kinds of problems today. The lesson here is that we have a lot to gain from remaining one indissoluble nation. This message is best preached to our people at the local level by the eminent persons in the society.
If we don’t see anything good in ourselves, then it is difficult for outsides t consider us good. For example, a lot has been said about the increasing xenophobia against Nigerians and other Africans in South Africa. The fact remains that where we do not treat ourselves with respect back home; it is difficult for us to be considered a respectable people abroad. No investor would come to a country where the citizens do not see anything good in one another. The goal of my lecture is not just to lament this ugly situation but more importantly to call us to action on how to critically engage with them. The University of Ibadan must have engineered this lecture based on the current situation in our country and unless we have a change of heart, this country might not do well in the nearest future. It is our collective responsibility to save the situation.
The title of this lecture talks about “Good Politics at the Service of Peace”. I must say something on this before focusing on General Abdulsalami Abubakar in whose honour we are so gathered. Aristotle, a Greek philosopher noted that, man by its very nature is a political animal. In our society today, there are good politicians and there are bad politicians. The bad ones can never be counted amongst the eminent persons that this lecture talks about. The bad politicians incense community members to violence. They engage in activities that make the society to become more stressful. They promise during elections to unite the nation but end up after coming to office doing something sinister to the growth of peace. Political actors who indulge in politics of bitterness are regarded as political demons as their acts have the potential to derail the democratic gains Nigeria has made and also create instability within the political system. These bad politicians through their utterances and actions can plunge our great nation into mayhem.
As we celebrate the International Peace Day today, I can only appeal to those in this category to rethink the unacceptable things they do. Political candidates should strive to practice politics without bitterness by making frantic efforts to inform or persuade electorates rather than deceive them with enticing words. They should adopt simple expressions to communicate their political agenda without the use of force, violence, destructive tendencies and unhealthy rivalry. As much as possible, they should avoid negative expressions that can promote conflict during political campaigns. They should refrain from the politics of desperation which oscillate the polity and sling it to the precipice of violence. We should avoid the use of ethnicity and religion to galvanise support and polarize the polity. We should avoid religious deception and ethnic chauvinism which stirs up sentiment and sparks violence perennially in our great nation. Let us work more committedly for the good of our land.
Ladies and gentlemen, as I race towards concluding this lecture, I want us to draw some lessons from General Abubakar who has committed his entire retirement times to the cause of peace in Africa. For this, he is today recognized as one of the most respected eminent persons in the world. He is celebrated both at home and abroad.
Gen. Abubakar left office in 1999 after transferring political power to the civilians. He authored the civil rule which we are enjoying today. The global community remains grateful to him for this. But he has not rested since then. He has been working for the peace of Africa. He does not seem tired of contributing the task of making Nigeria and Africa a better place for humanity. We all have a similar responsibility and there are some critical lessons that we must draw from him as eminent citizens.
Shortly after dropping his military uniform in 1999, he was appointed by the united Nations’ Secretary General as a Special Envoy for managing the crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo. His assignment in this respect included getting the conflict parties to adhere to the terms of the Lusaka Agreement and related UN Security Council Resolutions. In 2004, the burden fell on him to end the Liberian crisis. This he did excellently and that country is experiencing peace today. Nigeria is thanked for this but our dear General was the main force behind it. In his capacity as the Chairman of the African Union, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him as his Special Envoy to Sudan and Chad in July 2004. After embarking on these, he remembered to come back home to establish Abdulsalami Abubakar Institute for Peace and Development Studies at the Niger State College of Education in Minna as a strategy of building the capacity of Nigerians to be able to deal with their local issues in the context of what is generally called “African solutions to Africa problems”. Since then, the Institute has graduated hundreds of highly skilled Nigerians currently working for peace across the nation. Many of our graduates came from the security and public sectors. The Institute partners with the University of Ibadan for organizing today’s lecture. It is an institutional member of the society for Peace Studies and Practice (SPSP) and several other working groups across the nation. The government and people of Niger State are ever grateful to the Institute for bringing us to global limelight in peace studies. With time, the status of the Institute would be upgraded for better performance.
I noted earlier that General Abubakar is celebrated at home and abroad. For me as a politician, I would like to specially recognize and thank him for ensuring that our democratic governance in Nigeria does not falter since the 1999 transition from military to civil rule. During every election since 1999, he tries his best at ensuring that the presidential candidates have no room to disagree too sharply as to hurt the electoral process. During the 2007 elections, he worked closely with the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA) to ensure that power transferred peacefully from President Olusegun Obasanjo to President Umar Yar’Adua. He did something similar during the 2015 elections. Working with other eminent Nigerians in a group now popularly known as the “National Peace Committee”, he committed the presidential candidates into signing peace agreements which went a long way at ensuring that the outcomes of the elections were peaceful. In 2019, the Committee came out once again to provide a good example on how eminent citizens in a society could organize themselves for peace. Without the work of his committee during the 2015 and 2019 elections, one wonders where Nigeria would be at this moment. You would all recall that it was predicted by some international folks that the Nigerian state would collapse in 2015. The tension witnessed by Nigerians during the 2015 elections moved us very close to that dooms-day prediction until Gen. Abubakar and his committee members stepped in before and after the elections to stabilize the system. I thank him and other members of the committee.
In closing this lecture, let me observe that this lecture series goes beyond the honoree: Abubakar. It focuses on conflict prevention and peace building in Nigeria and should be therefore be regarded as a national project. I would therefore advise the Organizing Committee to raise funds for moving the lecture round different parts of Nigeria. This is the only way for making it sustainable. Even if the lecture is not taken to other parts of Nigeria and is held perpetually at the University of Ibadan, it needs a strong financial base for making it sustainable. I invite the eminent persons in today’s occasion to join me in reasoning around this fund-raising task. Niger State is not a rich state but could serve as a convener of a meeting to discuss this.
I like to conclude this lecture in a participatory manner. I started this lecture by establishing the fact that conflict prevention and management should be the business of all and sundry. General Abubakar’s lecture in Ibadan on September 21 2018 dwelt extensively on this. I have also established this point in my own lecture that I have delivered today that if you succeeded in getting inside this hall today you are definitely an eminent Nigerian. You definitely have a duty towards conflict prevention and management in Nigeria. The best way to defend Nigeria is to ensure that we do not do anything that could divide it or break it up. What is expected of us, is to be committed to anything that could become one of the most united nations in the world. May the almighty Allah help us as we renew our commitment into making this possible.
What is left is for me to do, is to get us permanently committed to becoming agents of peace. I will do this in a creative or participatory way by reading the second stanza of the National Anthem and then you all say Amen at the end of it. Here I go:
O God of creation,
Direct our noble cause
Guide our leaders right
Help our youths the truth to know
In love and honesty to grow
And living just and true
Great lofty heights attain
To build a nation where peace
And justice shall reign
Amen. Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you for being an excellent audience.
This is a prayer of personal commitment. By saying Amen, we are all saying that henceforth we would work for the peace of Nigeria. May the almighty Allah grant us the enablement.
Once again, I say thank you to the University of Ibadan and the Abdulsami Abubakar Institute for Peace and Development Studies for putting today’s event together. I thank the Organizing Committee cutting across the two academic institutions and the Niger State government for working so hard to ensure the success of this event. I thank those of you that honoured our invitation with your physical presence despite your busy schedules. Last but not the least, I being so lavishly celebrated in your lifetime. May the almighty Allah grant you long life to witness many more of this beautiful even celebrated here today.
May I observe that this is not the first time that the University of Ibadan is honoring or celebrating General Abubakar. A postgraduate hall in the University was named after him. The University published a book in his honour. The University also gave him an honorary doctorate degree. The lesson in it all is that it pays to be good. We can only ask General Abubakar to do more in the service to the nation. Congratulations Your Excellency and I thank you all.