Let me plead for your understanding. As the last speaker, I may repeat what other speakers have said. If you hear me repeat them, just ignore me.
I align myself with those who have commended 21st Century Chronicle in organising this first Chronicle Roundtable to address issues that matter to us as a nation at this fork on the road in our long march to one Nigeria in which no one is denied his rights as a citizen by reason of his tribe, tongue or faith. Combating insecurity in our country this year should be the task that must be done. Insecurity has crippled the country. No place is safe. Human life in our country has become cheap. If there must be a future for our country and our children and grandchildren, then there is no better time than now to tackle this huge national challenge. Our country must be made safe again. The current reign of terror unleashed on us by assorted criminals must end.
I am fruly encouraged by the presence of his royal highness, the Emir of Suleja, His Royal Highness Alhaji Muhammadu Auwal Ibrahim, Senator Kashim Shettima, the immediate past governor of Bomo State, the Chief of Defence Staff, General Leo Irabor, the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba and Barrister Festus Okoye, among others, at this roundtable. Their presence lends considerable weight to the roundtable as not just another talk shop.
I salute our resource persons for their informed and enlightening perspectives on these horrendous challenges. There is no magic wand for solving security and other societal problems. Human beings cause problems and human beings must solve them. We are all in this together and we must resolve to get out of it together in one piece.
My topic: Media and Peace Building in 2022 is a fricky one. The media are not usually tasked with this sort of challenge. Perhaps, it marks a paradigm shift in the traditional role of the media. We should welcome it.
I have taken the liberty to recall past efforts at nation-building towards a peaceful nation in order to situate my humble contribution to the lively discussion. Let me tell you my story. In the second republic, Vice-President Alex Ekwueme continued with the tradition of monthly press briefing for media executives inherited from the Obasanjo military administration. At one such quarterly press briefing attended by President Shehu Shagari sometime in 1983, four of us were selected to keep the president company. I was editor of the New Nigerian. In the course of our discussion I asked the president if he was aware that the UPN supporters were condemning him for repeatedly saying that one of his achievements so far was peace in the land. The critics said that he was hiding behind a non-issue to excuse his failure to take on our national problems.
The president spoke at some length on the place of peace in all societies. He said the UPN supporters were ignorant. He made one very important point that set me thinking up to this very moment. He said peace was at the root of all human progress. Without it, few societies could survive, let alone make any appreciable progress.
Think about it. Peace is the most sought after global commodity. All countries seek peace within and outside their borders. No nation can close its eyes in sleep when it is threatened by another. All communities seek peace within and with their neighbours. Our political leaders constantly preach peace, even if they often speak from both sides of the mouth.
Alfred Nobel knew what he was doing when he instituted the annual peace prize to encourage individuals in every country to commit to peace-building and the promotion of peace at all levels. Our constitution does not talk of peace. Section 13 (3) (b) provides that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” It puts security first because in the traditional belief security is the first constitutional assignment on which all other assignments ride. In the course of these brief remarks, I would ask this distinguished audience to think more of peace as the first order of business in our country.
It is not unreasonable to argue that if a county is not secure, it cannot guarantee its citizens peace. Part of the problem is that peace is intangible. No one can measure the peace he brings to a particular community. We do not see the face of peace; we feel its presence. Building blocks of peace are many and varied.
Alfred Nobel insåucted the Nobel Committee to award the peace prize to the person who, in the preceding year, “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
The Nobel committee seeks out individuals whose efforts are potentially beneficial to peace in particular communities. Dr Wangari Muta Maathai, Kenyan environmentalist, was awarded the peace prize in 2004 for her work under the auspices of her Green Belt Movement She became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize and the first in the world to win it as an environmentalist. You may have some difficulty reconciling a clean environment with peace but a clean environment saves lives. Healthy communities are peaceful communities.
Mother Theresa was awarded the peace prize for her work in saving the poor and the truly wretched in India who were condemned by their own country to spend their last miserable days in gutters. Dr Martin Luther King Jr won the peace prize for human rights struggle through nonviolent means. Last year, two journalists Maria Ressa and Dmifry Muratov of the Philippines and Russia respectively were awarded the 2021 Peace Prize. It was the first time the peace prize was awarded to journalists. In its citation, the Nobel committee said: “Free, independent and fact-based journalism serves to protect against abuse of power, lies and war propaganda.” That should encourage our journalists to do more and aim at winning the peace prize too. These brief instances show that all of us engage in peace building in different ways towards the same commendable objective.
I wish to suggest that peace, not security per se, is the overriding objective of all countries. Peace rests on mutual frust. Ifl am at peace with my neighbour, I shall feel secure because he will have my back and I will have his. Peace is internal and mutual. Security is external and coercive. A lot in our country rides on peace forged on the anvils of fairness, equity and justice. Security is thus a mechanism for policing peace. Our security forces are statutorily permitted to kill to defend and protect peace. When General Irabor sends his soldiers to a community that has breached the peace, he does not impose security on the community, rather he restores peace to it and his men police it to prevent further breaches of peace.
Peace is also fragile. It is easily threatened for a variety of reasons. Peace is rapidly becoming a scarce commodity in our country. Every community in the country is today in mutual hostility. Guns are readily summoned to settle even minor personal quarrels.
The struggle by tribes, sections and communities for a fair deal has a long history in our country. They arise from real or perceived cases of unfairness and injustice. Marginalisation was once a major battle cry that threatened peace in the land. Various legal and administration efforts were instituted at various points in our national history to manage groups that could not be part of the first eleven either by reason of their poor performance in the labour wards or by reason of historical factors such as education. Quota, later formalised in the constitution with the Federal Character Commission were genuine efforts aimed at what is now known as managing our diversities as a nation. The Public Complaints Commission was meant as an alternative conflict resolution mechanism with the legal mandate to seek justice and fairness for individuals who feel wronged by public and private institutions.
Power shift or power rotation remains a contentious political problem in the land. In 1983, NPN settled in principle for a rotational presidency between the north and the south. Its commitment to it would have been tested in 1987 but the generals returned and put an end to the second republic. When the generals were departing in 1979, they recognised five power centres that must be taken into consideration in succession plans at the federal level. These are the three big tribes, Hausa/Fulani, Ibo and Yoruba; northern minorities and southern minorities. The late General Sani Abacha went one step further with the zonal arrangements by which power and the national cake could be shared in peace. It is necessary for every tribe to have access and receive its share of the nation cake for the country to be at peace with itself.
Still, the complaints persist. The agitations persist. And the threat to our corporate existence becomes a critical challenge. Ralph Uwazuruike formed MASSOB in 1999 because President Obasanjo did not appoint an Igbo man as a service chief. To him, it suggested his people were no longer wanted in Nigeria. You can see how easy it is for a local champion to twist things out of shape in pursuit of a group agenda or interest. All hare-brained agitations have takers and supporters.
It should not be difficult for us to admit that peace has become elusive because we have systematically sabotaged our best efforts at collective nation and peace building. In the vicious competition for ethnic advantages, honesty is in short supply; fairness is in short supply and justice is in short supply. Consequently, peace is in short supply. Our tribes and tongues will always differ but they were never meant to make our tribes small islands unto themselves. We must find ways and means of re-building the nation, re-uniting the people and committing to one nation, one destiny.
I need to mention the systematic erosion of the traditional authority in our various communities as a contributory factor to lack of peace in our communities. The traditional institution, once the protective cordon around our cultures and traditions, has been denied the commendable role it played in the past in initiating peace-building and sustaining peace in our communities. Without the respected authority figures of the traditional institution the bottom of our tradition has become a sieve. It can no longer hold water. If we must build peace in the land, we must restore the traditional authority to the traditional institution and give back to our traditional rulers the power to build peace, sustain peace and police peace in their communities. I know it is difficult to wind back the hands of the clock; therein lies the challenge of peace-building in our fractured republic.
The media were part of all these instances of efforts at nation and peace building. They were part of their successes and they were part of their failures. And they were also part of the cynical sabotage of their own efforts by our political leaders who are averse to building on a foundation laid by other people. The media never adopted siddon look as a policy of calculated indifference. Is it possible for the media to do more on their own to engage in peace-building this year? What role should they play to make peace-building a collective national process with all hands on the plough?
The inherent weakness of the media is that they are not allowed by tradition to make the news. By their nature, the media are reactive rather than proactive. Their workers are called reporters. They see what others do and report; they hear what others do and report.
But I submit that the media can play as critical a role as other national institutions in building peace in our country. If you deny them the right to participate in it, you do violence to peace and peaceful co-existence in all our communities. For them, siddon look is not an option. The full participation of the media in all the actions and decisions of the government is a constitutional duty imposed on them by section 22 of the constitution. It places on the media the critical burden of holding the government accountable to the people. It is an important watchdog role recognised by all countries with varying degrees of tolerance.
The media may not initiate peace-building but the initiators of peace-building must enlist them as active partners in a worthy cause driven by zealous patriotism. Journalists are patriotic men and women who want the best for their countries. When they expose wrongdoing in government they do so as a patriotic duty to the fatherland and in keeping with their watchdog role. What we seek is not peace of the grave yard; it should be active peace and the freedom for all citizens to stand shoulder to shoulder with one another in the pursuit of the best for our country through peaceful rather than violent means.
During the Obasanjo military regime, General Shehu Yar’Adua proved to be the best media manager we have had so far. He brought the media and the government together by taking the media into confidence in almost all major decisions by the administration. The media responded in kind and the two sides forged a synergy we have not seen since. That administration had the best press in the land. Their mutual trust and support did not prevent the media from doing their duty to the county and its people but they did so as parmers rather than as antagonists. It built government-media peace and the country was the true beneficiary.
Rulers, by whatever titles they are called, who treat the media with disdain and number them among their political enemies make serious mistakes. After all, the media will have the last say about their place in our national history. If a ruler treats the media as irrelevant, the media will respond in kind. If the media are side-lined, they respond in kind too. The real character of a government is reflected in its attitude to the media.
It is not too late for the present federal government to initiate the process of government media partnership to bring about peace and make peace building a joint effort. That is one way to help patch up the tears in the fabric of our national unity; that is a sure way to rebuild our fractured republic; and it points the way to a nation at peace with itself.
I submit that the media can take on the challenge of peace building in 2022 and beyond. But the trigger is in the hands of the government. Thank you.
Being a contribution by Dan Agbese to the First Chronicle Roundtable, held at the Shehu Yar’adua Centre Abuja on February 23, 2022