The United States (U.S.) yesterday urged Nigeria to look beyond a military option in resolving internal conflicts.
The appeal was made under the auspices of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) in Washington DC when the agency convened a gathering of U.S. officials, diplomats and Nigerian leaders.
The conference focused on “Peace in Nigeria: How to build it, and America’s role” and explored possible options beyond military operations. The symposium agreed on the need for the Nigerian government to strengthen the responsiveness of state institutions, address grievances and perceptions “before they become reality and improve accountability and transparency.”
Thomas Hushek, Acting Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, U.S. Department of State, in his concluding remarks said “durable peace” in Nigeria “will require a painstaking dialogue.”
Apart from the 15-year Boko Haram issue in the Northeast, Nigeria’s military is grappling with widespread conflicts within the country’s borders, the most current being the second phase of its “Operation Python Dance” in the Southeast that has put soldiers in direct confrontation with the self-determinist Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). Military authorities have also proscribed IPOB and declared it a terrorist organisation following which they announced imminent operations in South-West and South-South regions — a decision that has drawn the ire of civil society groups and human rights activists.
Re-echoing General Martin-Luther Agwai’s introductory remarks on the centrality of the country to potential peace in Africa, Hushek describes Nigeria as a very critical U.S. partner on the continent but added that the President Muhammadu Buhari government must in its pursuit of peace first identify the options that citizens want to be implemented.
The country is warming up to charged elections in two years and the U.S. assistant secretary believes the “2019 election will be critical to Nigeria’s continued prosperity and stability.
“Achieving stability or building political peace is a political endeavour,” he said, just as he explained that responsiveness to people’s needs would “build trust and encourage durable peace.”
General Agwai, former Nigerian Chief of Army Staff and former commander of the combined United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, Sudan is one of the members of the Nigeria Senior Working Group that participated in the conference on peace in Nigeria. In his opening remarks, Agwai described himself as a simple old soldier humbled by the presence of the State Department and the U.S. and “privileged to stand and talk to learned people across the world about what we are doing.”
His submissions on peace in Nigeria equating peace in Africa kicked off the first panel discussion involving Pauline Baker, President Emeritus of the Fund for Peace and Senior Advisor, Creative Associates International as moderator; Yau, Yunusa Zakari, Director, Centre for Information Technology and Development, Kano, Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, Senior Fellow, Centre for Democracy and Development – West Africa; and Ambassador Fatima Balla, former Nigerian diplomat, civil servant, and politician.
While declaring the discussion open, Baker made specific reference to agitations in the South-East and urged discussants to be informal. “We tend to look at the outside without looking at the inside,” she remarked, adding that it would be important to think about the fact that Biafra agitation still thrives many years after.
The conference agreed that “Nigeria under President Buhari has made military gains against the extremist fighters of Boko Haram” but observed that Nigeria’s varied conflicts have kept more than two million people displaced and weakened stability in the Lake Chad Basin and the Sahel region. “Peace and security will not be achieved purely through armed force,” the USIP said.
It further noted that peaceful Nigeria is vital to long-term U.S. interests as well as to a reduction in the world’s refugee crisis, and to the stability of Niger, Chad, Cameroon and other nations of the Sahel.
“Fortunately, President Buhari’s election in 2015 marked an advance for democracy as the country’s first peaceful transition of power to an opposition candidate. U.S. policy has supported his government’s campaign to push back Boko Haram.
The conference also built on what the organisers said was months of USIP-coordinated dialogues among the governors of northern states and civic leaders, including diplomats, retired civil servants, and scholars. “These dialogues join government officials and civil society in shaping more inclusive policies that can help prevent violent conflicts.”
The highlight of the event was a conversation among three of Nigeria’s most noted figures—Cardinal John Onaiyekan; Dr. Usman Bugaje, a senior advisor to the Sultan of Sokoto; and Dr. Oby Ezekwesili, a former vice president for Africa at the World Bank, a former Nigerian cabinet minister, and co-founder of the anti-corruption group Transparency International and the Bring Back Our Girls Movement.