Towards A Culture of Peace in the Niger Delta
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE HONOURABLE
OF DELTA STATE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
By Akpobibibo Onduku
Department of Peace Studies, University of Bradford, United Kingdom
I intend to use this opportunity to share with the honourable members
of the Delta State House of Assembly and all Niger Deltans on the need
for a collective effort by all of us toward ensuring lasting peace in our
cherished state – The Big Heart.
The inauguration of the Delta State House of Assembly at the inception of this administration brought a lot of hope to all Deltans. I am happy to say that you have not failed us. You have begun to walk the long road to repair the wrongs and errors of the past and to build bridges to a better future for all Deltans. The chosen path may be harder and the rewards are slower than all hoped it would be when you began. But what is most important is that today you are moving forward and the entire State is moving forward. I personally acknowledge and appreciate your sincere desire for dynamism and hope, for peace and tolerance, for democracy and human rights, for equity and justice, and for economic growth and political balance.
But it remains to be seen what could be the starting point for the return to normal peace for all Deltans. It is imperative that our efforts at preventing violent conflicts in the State should be based on the aspirations and interests of the various sections. Peace is conceived not just as the absence of conflict and violence, but in a positive sense, as co-operation among individuals and groups to achieve justice and freedom.
The world today is dangerous not because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything. It is a commonly agreed notion that since wars and violence begin in the minds of men, women and children, then it is in the minds of men, women and children that the defenses of peace and non-violence must be constructed. So, if we don’t find sufficient mechanisms, sufficient solutions, in any and every area, then we can expect the same things as we can see with horror and hatred in our world, our nation and within our dear State. Therefore, the need for a commitment to a culture of peace by all Deltans cannot be over-emphasized. Our distinguished honourable members too should legislate with this intention of a culture of peace in as much as the honourable members fashions out legislations geared towards promoting democracy and good governance in the State. This would go a long way in complementing current governments’ effort in ensuring lasting peace in the entire State.
This concept of a culture of peace is based on the belief that we can build a better Delta State through discourse, mutually beneficial interaction and the determination of common values, developing skills of dialogue and negotiation and broad-based peace education.
Indeed, it is an incontestable truism that peace, development and democracy form an interactive triangle. Notable scholars in peace research like Johan Galton are of the view that “peace is politics”. That is to say, peace to a large extent is dependent on very concrete decisions made by elites, but increasingly by people doing their own peace politics, at the micro level of the family and the inner person (where there is always much to do): at the meso level, the society, and at the macro level of inter societal, even inter-regional conflict. There is politics in the sense of conscious steering in the direction of peace at all these levels.
Creating peace obviously has to do with the reduction of violence (cure) and the avoidance of violence (prevention). Knowing that violence is to harm and/or hurt, lets then assume the existence of something that can experience being harmed or hurt, and then lets identify that something with life. Therefore, life is capable of suffering violence done to the body and to the mind, referred to as physical and mental violence respectively. But life is also capable of experiencing bliss the pleasure that comes to the body and the mind; let us reserve the term “positive peace” for that experience.
So far we have looked at violence from the point of view of the receiver. If there is a sender, an actor who intends these consequences of violence, then we may talk about direct violence. If not about indirect or structural violence. Lets recognize the fact that, someone somewhere is suffering, hence there is direct violence somewhere. The position we might accept is that indirect violence equals structural violence. Indirect violence comes from the social structure itself, between humans, between sets of humans (societies) and between sets of societies (alliances, regions). Also, inside human beings there is the indirect, non-intended, inner violence that comes out of the personality structure.
The two major forms of the inter-structural violence are well known from politics and economics: regression and exploitation. Both work in body and mind, but are not necessarily intended. From the point of view of the victim, however, that offers no comfort.
It is also an indisputable fact that conflicts constitute one of the greatest challenges currently facing our nation, region and state. Issues of identity, governance, resource allocation, power struggle sometimes coupled with the personality question, have all conspired, not only to cause staggering losses of human lives, destructions of property and environmental degradation but also to make our Niger Delta region have the unenviable record of hosting the biggest number of uprooted communities in the nation in recent days.
Violent conflicts have reversed or prevented economic and social development in many societies. Societies in conflict or emerging from conflict constitute a majority of those furthest from widely agreed goals for economic well-being, social development and environmental sustainability. In addition, socio-economic disparities and injustices are persistent features of most conflict-prone and war-torn societies. For these reasons we all should strive to place a high priority on seeking a better understanding of the underlying causes and dynamics of our Delta situation with the aim of providing guidance for more effective conflict prevention and crisis management.
Furthermore, conflicts by nature do not disappear, simply through the invisible hand of God. Their causes and effects are always many and varied, their histories more complex than we normally think; their solutions more challenging than a remote observer could ever imagine. It should be understood that a conflict is usually the playing out of human needs and fears in society. In other words, a conflict is driven by unfulfilled needs of the people be it in terms of autonomy, sense of justice, identity, basic needs, rights of individuals, or whatever. Most of these needs are of a collective character, and are more often than not provoked by official neglect, persecution, denial of human rights, insensitivity or egoism as well as arrogance of power on the side of some leaders. These significantly contribute to the escalation of a conflict.
Mr. Speaker and Honourable members, it is these felt needs that can create resistance to change. In fact, most societies have always been in potential or actual conflict because some segments of the population yearn for change to fulfill their needs and fears, while others fear change and its threat to their interests. Most fundamentally, because change in many instances is not merely inevitable but desirable, for a conflict transformation process is effective only to the extent that parties to a dispute are helped to cost accurately the consequences of their resistance to change without short-term gains and interest.
This observation is made in the spirit of demonstrating the imperative
necessity for we all to remain sensitive, (and I repeat to remain sensitive),
to the scourge of conflicts and to strive to analyze critically through
solid and objective evaluation of the issues and options involved in crisis
prevention in our State. This is to assist our various levels and
arms of government that often find themselves party to conflicts and all
concerned in formulating meaningful policies relating to crisis management.
Our policy makers should be encouraged to take the lead by formulating policies in redeeming or rehabilitating those who have been exposed to trauma in situations of war and generalized violence. This is an option for post conflict reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation.
You would all agree with me that, we live in an era in the history of our State when there is greater need more than ever for coordinated political action and responsibility. Perhaps our most urgent task today is to persuade all citizens of the State of the need not to put to risk the survival of future generations as we embark on current development options. This is to say that, we should opt for sustainable peace in Delta State which is the key to sustainable development. These important issues need to be handled with a new dynamism and a sense of urgency. Peace is not only indivisible but also a collective effort, and the need for us all to develop and own sound and coordinated policies and strategies with which to foster conditions of peace, security, stability and development in Delta State has never been more pressing than now.
Our nascent democracy depends upon a political culture that welcomes spirited debate without letting politics become a blood sport. It all depends on strong institutions, an independent judiciary, an uncompromising legislature and a firm and visionary executive control of the administration for effective governance. I must say, I am glad to see that our various arms of government in Delta State have not failed us but a lot still need to be done in this regard.
Every successful political change must begin to improve people’s daily lives lest it is not a political change. That is the democracy dividend Deltans have long waited for and are currently beginning to enjoy. But let us not expect that all the damage done over the couple of years can be undone in a day. Real change demands perseverance and patience. It demands openness to honourable compromise and cooperation. It demands support on a constant basis from the people of this State both within and outside. It was E.F Schumaker who said that, “development (in its entirety) does not start with goods. It starts with people and their education, organizations and discipline … development … can succeed only if it is carried forward as a broad, popular movement of reconstruction with primary emphasis on the full utilization of the driven enthusiasm, intelligence and labour power of everyone.”
This notion ought to create a society full of contractions we might say, but human life has meaning only to that degree it is lived in service of humanity. A contemporary challenge in ensuring lasting peace in societies compels us to create and make trends for the future rather than subjecting ourselves unto analysis of the future. This informed the very essence of this clarion call on the honourable members of the Delta State House of Assembly to work towards a culture of peace in the State.
It is noteworthy that, a culture of peace embraces the values, principles
and practices based on respect for life, human dignity, inter-cultural
understanding and solidarity, dialogue among all peoples, care of the environment,
social justice, sustainable equity-led development, human rights, democracy,
freedom from all forms of violence, and the cultivating of inner peace.
Most importantly, is the fact that building a culture of peace in our State will require an equitable sharing of resources and fulfillment of all human rights of all group of peoples especially the marginalized communities or rural poor, urban poor, the elderly, the people with disabilities, women and children. This is the most serious alibi for violence in the State. Thank God that a bill for the disabled is already being considered on the floor of the House of Assembly.
In all, a key strategy for building a culture of peace lies in education and training based on the principles of conscientization or critical empowerment. This education/training must foster a deep understanding of the history and culture of the people – the Igbos, Ijaws, Isokos, Itsekiris, Ukwuanis and Urhobos on the contemporary realities of our state. This would seek to enlighten and empower the people of the State towards understanding the root causes of problems and conflict with local and national contexts and the formulation of possible solutions and alternatives to address these problems and conflicts.
Let me also assert that, a vital and necessary step in building a culture of peace lies in organizing, mobilizing and advocacy for: sincere economic, social and political reforms through administrative orders and new legislation; a sustenance of the democratic process to determine the will of the people and issues related to autonomy; the formulation of an independent multi-ethnic commission to oversee implementation of peace building processes and proposals in our State.
Our media should be seen contributing positively to peace building and peace education rather than a culture of violence. A campaign against war toys and media violence is fast becoming imperative. Another area of concern to Deltans is that of reforming the educational curricular in our schools - the primary, secondary and tertiary to incorporate peace education, and to inculcate in the minds of our children at a very early stage, norms and values relating to peace and a culture of tolerance. The Holy Writ states: "Train up a child in the way he should grow: and when he is old, he will not depart from it". Train them in the way of peace, then peace will be in their hearts, minds and actions.
There should also be continuous tri-people dialogues and conferences. This would be essential in strengthening commitment and solidarity among all peoples and sectors to the building of a culture of peace. Such dialogues should reach the grassroots level. These inter – and intra cultural dialogues should be intensified.
To educate effectively and systematically for a culture of peace, the major themes and issues should therefore include: personal peace; all human rights for all peoples, sectors and communities; values, knowledge and skills for people’s empowerment; formation of peace centers in our State’s colleges and universities to promote education and advocacy for a culture of peace. This should also involve the integration of peace education in all subject areas, and preparation of curriculum modules to facilitate such integration.
In all, for long lasting peace in Delta State, I would borrow the words of a Mozambique village elder who once said, “you can bring the culture of war in a plane and humanitarian aid in a truck, but you cannot bring us the culture of peace because it is a tree with its roots deep in our land”.
This tree has to be nurtured taking into cognizance the peculiarities of our location, resources and needs. Similarly, in promoting a culture of peace, appropriateness of the approach to existing conditions is of prime importance. But for peace education to be effective in its mission, we have to be open to certain changes and re-orientation of our views, attitudes, skills and practices. In some instances, our own conversion or personal transformation becomes necessary.
Mr. Speaker and Honourable members, we are all not unaware of the challenges before us in the forthcoming elections. This process comes with sincere opposition leading to competition. But this is the joy of democracy and my prayer is that all of you are returned to represent your constituencies in this House. Competition basically is understood as part of human existence, deeply ingrained, profoundly enduring and there is need to look at it more closely. Competition motivates us to do our best. It is an unavoidable fact of life. It all has to do with the win/lose framework. But let me add that we can both accomplish a task and measure one’s progress in the absence of competition. This is substantive defense of competition. But structural cooperation encourages us to coordinate our efforts because I can succeed only if you succeed, and vice versa. Therefore, a reward is based on collective performance. That is the notion I want we all to imbibe.
You would now reason along with me that, the struggle to acquire power is sometimes seen in terms that are similar to war. At its best however, it seems as a game. But even in a game the invincibility of your act determines whether it would arose controversies. Most of our politicians are tacticians. Maradona who scored a goal with his hand and not with his foot in a game of football between Argentina and England, said the goal was scored by the hand of God. He was not punished for his action rather it was the referee who was suspended. So I urge our lawmakers to avoid actions or decisions that would inflict sufferings on Deltans rather our actions should lead to progress and peaceful coexistence. We therefore, need to be very frugal with our intentions.
We all know the political environment of our State. We have lost too much of lives from ethnic crises in this State, from major oil pipeline explosions like the Jesse and Oviri Court episodes, from hazards of oil spills and et cetera. The forthcoming elections must not lead to any further loss of a Deltan. We must note that to establish a culture of peace in our State, a free, fair and competitive election is a sine qua non. This we should all protect and safeguard. As we engage ourselves in competitive elections, lets make it enjoyable, productive and stimulating.
In all, let the past be buried in our minds and face the future with great strength. All ethnic groups must work hand in hand, making Delta a great place to live in justice, equality, security and harmony as a means of peace. I urge you today to sincerely lend a helping hand.
Mr. Speaker and Honourable Members, it is time for we all to rise and
be proud and make Delta State great once again. Our charismatic and
dynamic Governor has started it by making Delta the number one State in
relation to the issue of resource control. We can all identify with
this struggle in our own little way. It is an issue worth fighting
Just like the American dream of becoming a world superpower that is now a reality despite the recent aerial attacks by terrorists, we must begin our own dream that someday, the whole of Delta would genuinely come as one. All people helping one another. An Ijaw young man with his Itsekiri schoolmate working hand in hand on the streets of Ogbe-Ijoh or in Ode-Itsekiri, or an Urhobo man and his Itsekiri friend having dinner together in each other’s residence with all joy, pleasure and smiles. What a beautiful sigh would it be right before our eyes. Our children playing together underneath the sun listening to our please. If only we have love, then there would be no war and we will all enjoy absolute freedom making the whole of Delta State to be filled with the peace of the Lord that passeth all human understanding.
Our interactions would not be of any eternal relevance if we chide away from the Biblical injunction in Hebrews Chapter 12 verse 14, which urges us to “follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord”. Deltans of all religious background should heed to this by living together peacefully. This will make the essence of our existence a more fulfilling one even as we sojourn on earth here. We would have also obeyed the greatest commandment of God, which is to show love to our neighbours as ourselves.
Finally, I wish to reiterate that lasting peace is a prerequisite for the exercise of all human rights and duties. It is not the peace of silence, of men and women who by choice or constraint remain silent. It is the peace of freedom - and therefore of just laws of happiness, equality, and solidarity, in which all Deltans count, live together and share.
Once again, I urge all Honourable members, to work assiduously to let the little light of Delta State shine. We have to let it shine to its fullest. Let us ride the wind together and frankly work towards making our dreams come true, then we will see new tomorrow of peace, with smiles and happiness. Together we can climb the mountains so beautiful ahead of us. Together we can cross the river so deep with bridges. Let us all give a helping hand and live together in peace. Let this whole war stop forever by breaking the spiral of hatred amongst our people. Our State is one flowing with milk and honey for us all to share. Let us sincerely forget the past by inviting daylight after nightfall. Let’s move the future of Delta State together.
God bless you all as we strive towards living with a culture of peace in our State.