Saturday 9 February 2019


Goodluck Jonathan Foundation (GJF) held a one-day peace conference in Abuja on the 7th of February, 2019 with the theme: 'Peaceful elections and national development'. GJF hit the ground running. It was launched on the 20th of November, 2018 at the public presentation of the book: 'My Transition Hours', authored by Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ), former President of Nigeria. See my blog post on the book launch via the link:

Some of the participants include:

*Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan - Chairman/Founder, GJF & Fmr. President of Nigeria (2010-2015)
*Dame Patience Jonathan - Former First Lady of Nigeria
*General Abdulsalami Abubakar - Conference Chairman & Head of State of Nigeria (1998-1999)
*Prof. Amos Sawyer - Special Guest of Honour & Fmr. President of Liberia
*Dr. Remi Ajibewa - Director, Political Affairs, ECOWAS & Rep. of Chairman, ECOWAS Commission
*Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, Lead Speaker & Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sokoto; Chairman/Founder Kukah Centre; Convener of the National Peace Committee (NPC)
*Prof. Al-Hassan Conteh, Lead Speaker & Ambassador Extraordinary/Plenipotentiary of Liberia to Nigeria, with concurrent accreditation to the Republics of Benin/Equitorial Guinea; Liberia's Permanent Representative to ECOWAS
*Dr. Fidele Sarassoro, Lead Speaker & Chief of Staff to the President of Cote d'Ivoire
*Inspector General of Nigeria Police Represented, Discussant
*Prof. Joy Ezeilo, Discussant & Dean, Faculty of Law, UNN/Founder, Women & Youth Advocacy Network
*Dr. Dayo Oluyemi-Kusa, Participant & Conflict Transformation Expert
*Bolaji Adebiyi, Discussant & Editor, ThisDay Newspapers
*Hamzat Lawal, Discussant &CEO Connected Development
*Olusoji Adeniyi, Moderator of Discussion Panel & Fmr. Chairman, UN Global Pensions Board

Former Head of State, General Abdusalami Abubakar of the National Peace Committee chaired the President of Cote d'Ivoire event. In his remarks, GEJ noted that the ten most developed countries in the world are very safe, while the least developed ten are bugged down by conflict! This is instructive. It implies that we need to ensure peaceful elections in Nigeria to avoid post election violence which could consume the country. In Africa, about 20 nations are set to go to the polls in 2019. What happens before, during and after elections in Nigeria invariably affects other African countries. The world is watching Nigeria as she goes to the polls.

Dr. Amos Sawyer, former President of Liberia, who was the special guest of honour said GEJ has demonstrated that there can be enjoyable life after occupying public office at the highest level. This is the very first election where the electorate is dominated by those born after military rule! I relate this fact to the statement by Hamza Lawal, (Chief Executive, Connected Development), a youth, and discussant at the event, who said he did not understand how we got to this level of violence in Nigeria, where human life means little or nothing! Hamza said he only hears that there was a better Nigeria from elders and he hopes to experience a better Nigeria in his lifetime.

I could relate to Hamza's comments in my intervention, where I categorically stated that because I'm in my 60's, I could relate to the comment on behalf of the youths of Nigeria via Hamza. When I graduated from the University of Ife in 1980, I already had at least three jobs waiting for me in blue chip companies and high profile agencies. But I elected to go back to the University for my M.Sc. degree in Political Science! Today, many graduates fail to secure viable employment ten years post graduation! They are then asked to set up businesses of their own by the same people who had the very best from Nigeria in years gone by - free education, immediate employment after graduation, efficient public service delivery, etc How do you expect such graduates to set up companies? - Revolving funds, entrepreneurial concerns to teach them the nity gritty of business ownership, a conducive environment to thrive...All these are non-existent. Then, the same 'elders' criticise the youth for abusing drugs...The idle hand is the devil's workshop.

Further comments made by me touched on the need for training in a finishing school for politicians who have been elected into office before they assume office. During the General Ibrahim Babangida regime, there was the Centre for Democratic Studies (CDS) where elected politicians and top public officers were groomed in the art of good governance. This should be revived. Besides, I said that in order to ensure that non-violence in elections is sustainable, we need to concentrate on the next generation. Parents and teachers have a big role to play in this regard. 'Since wars begin in the minds of men/women, it is also in their minds that peace should begin' (UNESCO). In this regard, we should catch them young. Parents should imbibe the culture of peace in their kids and Peace Clubs should be resuscitated in schools.

Dr. Amos Sawyer continued that the negative influence of social media through the spread of fake news could fan the embers of violence. Election related litigation over-tasks the judicial system. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), especially Mediation could be employed in this regard. Litigation should be the last door in the spectrum. New procedures in the electoral system, like the Card Reader in Nigeria could elicit glitches. There should be transparency in the use of such relatively new technology. Besides, the integrity of the judiciary should be left intact. Dr. Remi Ajibewa, Director, Political Affairs, represented the Chairman of the ECOWAS Commission. He urged all parties to sign the Peace Accord proposed for February 13, 2019.

Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah lit up the hall with his charismatic and enervating speech. In a satirical mood, he said violence could have its benefits for those who engage in it in the poor areas of town, where they could loot TV sets which they hitherto never owned! Violence does not take place in the elitist areas of town. 'We all believe that death is a bad thing. But it is a beautiful happening for the coffin maker!'. There is cynicism about democracy in Nigeria. We assume that elections lead to good things. This is not necessarily true. For example, Mussolini was democratically elected, but he became a fascist in power. Democracy is irritating to many politicians because it could force them to surrender power, which they often assume is their birth right! We also forget that there's a gestation period for violence. Violence is a process, not just an event. We often ignore the early warning signs (EWS) of violence. Early warning(EW) should be complemented by early response (ER).

Bishop Kukah said the Rwandan violence started in 1990 when the Kangora newspaper published thus: 'Hutus should not marry Tutsis. Tutsis are cockroaches. Hutu women are superior...' Those responsible for monitoring EWS of violence looked the other way when hate speech was rife in Rwanda. The result was the Rwandan genocide that claimed about a million lives! Nigerians have refused to confront the details of our history. Such antecedents could come back to haunt us! Prof. Al-Hassan Conteh gave a rather academic paper on 'The effect of crises on national development in Liberia & Sierra-Leone'. The main gist is as follows: Crisis is a nebulous concept. There was cumulative causation as regards the war in Liberia and Sierra-Leone. Both countries are in the Mano River Region, so the crises were inter-linked. The availability of small arms & light weapons (SALWs). The military junta manipulated the elections. (SALWs) fueled the crises. Sierra-Leone was ravaged by corruption, weak infrastructure, single Party constitution (where the opposition was banned and there was room to install a President for life). There was also the issue of 'blood diamonds'.

The lessons for other countries, including Nigeria, from the Liberia/Sierra-Leone wars are:

*Democratic institutions should be established and strengthened in all democracies.
*There should be clear separation of powers between the three arms of government.
*Jobs should be created for the youth.
*Good governance through the enactment of laws that would improve the lives of the citizens.
*Corruption should be eliminated.
*The opposition Political Party should not be unnecessarily harassed.
*SALWs should be mopped up from the system.
*The negative effects of conflict could become trans-national, especially when refugees are produced.
*There should be zero tolerance for hate speech.

Dr. Fidele Sarassoro, Chief of Staff to the President of Cote d'Ivoire talked about 'The effect of the 2010 impasse on Cote d'Ivoire. The crisis was as a result of the refusal of L. Gbagbo to accept the result of the 2010 elections. The following factors were the triggers for the crisis:

*Manipulation of ethnic differences for political ends. The constitution was used to exclude a strong contender.
*Illegal use of security forces.
*The failure of the diplomatic shuttle by ECOWAS under GEJ to quell the crisis. Other creative ways of ending similar conflicts in the West African region should be explored.

Some of the other suggestions at the conference were:

*GEJ deserves an international Peace Award for voluntarily relinquishing power in 2015.
*SALWs are the the weapons of mass destruction in Africa and they should be mopped up.
*The scope of intervention by the GJF should be expanded.
*Nigeria should learn from the experiences of Rwanda, Cote d'Ivoire, Sierra-Leone, Liberia and prevent crisis pre, during and post elections.

On the whole, it was a stimulating and timely conference on the eve of the 2019 elections in Nigeria. Violence in any form retards a nation. Conflict is inevitable in any human interaction, but violence is a choice. I must point out that the Communique should have been ready before participants left the conference hall. A communique not ratified by the whole house is null and void. I really wanted to comment on the 'communique' presented to us, but the compere rather impolitely said that since the chairman had handed the microphone to him, no one else could talk. I have been compere at various events in the past thirty-five years, and this is not the norm. GJF should look into the 'muzzling' of potential commentators who are experienced enough to add value to the subject matter. The whole essence of the gathering was to elicit refreshingly different and constructive viewpoints from concerned citizens. This should not be slaughtered on the alter of any compere's ego! Finally, bravo to GJF for a successful outing. I admire GEJ for the good work he is doing via GJF. GEJ is indeed a statesman per excellence...

Related Links

*Hate speech increases in conflict& natural disaster areas

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