Organizing to bring together people of different backgrounds can be tasking. During the Plateau Unity and Peace Discourse held at the Hill Station Hotel Conference Hall was instructive. The birth of the Plateau State Peace Building Agency was in 2016 to resolve and prevent conflicts for societal growth and development’ was needed, as KATDAPBA Y. GOBUM revisits the meeting.
The Unity and Peace Discourse organized by the Plateau Peace Building Agency (PPBA) as part of activities to commemorate the 2019 United Nations International Day of Peace celebrated every September 21 each year, held at the Hill Station Hotel Jos, Thursday, September 19, 2019, lived up to its billings, drawing like it did on the occasion of the Plateau Peace Walk held two days earlier all categories of stakeholders in the peace process.
On this occasion however, the fact that a keynote address was presented by Mallam Haroun Audu was enough to generate some take-always from the cream of discussants as well the participants at the event. The discussants were impressive of their credentials as was the presenter of the paper; made of Major General Augustine Agundu, Commander of OPSH, Dr. Ahmed Yasin of HD, who came all the way from Kenya, Prof Rahila Gowon and Barr Fatima Suleiman, all giving an account of their proficiency in the area of peace.
The Director General of the Plateau Peace Building Agency, Mr. Joseph Lengman, couldn’t have been down to earth in his remarks: We need to teach our young people to become a new ‘generation of peace’, not violence and not drugs or cultism, a generation that practices compassion and service to others. We must show our young people that diversity can be embraced, not feared; and that our differences of race, religion, ethnicity, and culture can make the tapestry of mankind and even more beautiful and even more meaningful.
‘This is a time for new and rededicated commitment to forgiving the past and moving ahead towards a new future. It is time to be true to ourselves, accept and appreciate one another, show compassion to one another and most importantly learn to be selfless in the spirit of service.’
There cannot be any persuasive remarks than this; indeed one that appeals to the people’s humanity; and which makes the people accept the fact that the journey must be all encompassing. That set the tone of the day’s meeting.
With a theme: Climate action for peace: Promoting healing, forgiveness and reconciliation in Plateau State’, the discourse was worth drawing all the stakeholders together. The paper emphasized that Plateau State, being a heterogeneous state; the need for peace cannot be underestimated in the face of the enormous responsibilities of the citizens of the state to be involved.
From the above, the speaker took leverage of the fact that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria expressly provides the basis for the fundamental rights as preconditions for peace in the state and all parts of the country. This, for all who understand, is the basis which the promotion of social and economic justice is achieved.
But this cannot be built upon, except institutional roles at all levels of government are engaged in peace building are, but more importantly if the legislature whose constitutional responsibility is to enact good laws that are backed by funds to execute all peace initiatives and measures.
The speaker is of the view that social justice, equality and the need for restitution are necessary to build and sustain peace in any society; and which must be core in the task for peace in the state. But apart from justice that is primary, healing, forgiveness and reconciliation must not be a function of parliament; rather it must be expressed from the heart and acceptable by all even as breaches must be sanctioned.
That is why leaders at all the levels available; political, religious or community must show sincerity and be involved in the building process. Once there is respect, openness, and compassion; which are pillars of peace, it is possible to forgive and let go all negative tendencies. That is the basis for peace.
Like any of the scheduled activity meant to have been held for the same purpose, this event was an opportunity to speak truth to one another in the fashion that the people are able to see reason for their humanity; principally to want to ever live in peace within the various communities.
The discussants in various modes directed their energies to areas that would effectively occupy the space and engender peace. Even at that, there was no total agreement with the points raised by Haroun; particularly the OPHS Commander, Major General Augustine Agundu who, to the consternation of many feels that every Nigerian should be said to be an indigene of any state. Difficult as that may to take, it has become one of the contentious points to speak on without raising tempers.
While indigeneship is hard to accommodate, it is perhaps easy to talk about in the Nigerian context. In several parts of the country, various classes are ascribed to people depending on where one is from and what political class, tribe or religion such a person belongs to. At least, it is better for such to be expressed; at the best we are able to decipher how we regard ourselves; and even for the children who were part of the discourse to chart a new direction.
The experiences of Dr. Ahmed Yasin and Barr Fatima Suleiman, speaking from different experiences are better qualified to swing and mould opinions about communal togetherness. The Kenyan election violence and the family experience of Fatima in that order is, in the main, directed to serve as a lesson.
If these experiences are not supposed to serve as a direction for the future, Prof Rahila Gowon’s prognosis of having peace messages for the society to be part of the school curricula is acceptable. If children grow with negative tendencies, the society is the worst hit; therefore it would be profitable if they are taught to appreciate others and respect their humanity from childhood. That is the basis for the assemblage.
Governor Simon Bako Lalong of Plateau State represented by the Secretary to the Government of the State (SGS) Professor, Danladi Atu, said the epoch making event was to assess the agency’s performance in the on-going peace process as well as chart new paths to reinforcing measures already taken to achieving lasting peace in the state.
He was full of commendation for the agency for being able to bring communities together as part of a broader effort to entrench peace on the Plateau, adding that the agency was established in 2016 to promote the culture of peace and to also ensure a harmonious coexistence between the diverse ethnic-religious groups in the state.
As a result, the agency has been working closely with several stakeholders at home and abroad to deliver on its mandate of several fronts in peace promotion through dialogue, education and advocacy. Organizations such as security agencies, Civil Society Organization (CSOs) Community Based Organization (CBOs) Faith Based Organizations (FBOs) Traditional Institutions and other state actors have all significantly contributed to reducing the spate of violent conflicts in the state.
Currently various strategies have been adopted in the search for lasting peace, people must however begin to pay attention to issues of transitional justice mechanisms such as forgiveness, healing and reconciliation as these were essential tools to achieving and sustaining lasting peace in the state.
The task of building peace was usually a slow process but one that would ultimately succeed when there was cooperation and sufficient buy-in from all stakeholders, adding that he recently gave a formal approval for the commencement of operations of the Multi-Door Court House as part of the efforts to encourage dialogue and compromise.
The Divisional Police Officer of Nassarawa Gwom, SP Musa Hassan at the occasion was presented with an award for special recognition professional approach to conflict.
One important point which the agency also celebrated is the recognition of an octogenarian, Isa Muhammadu, who for over 10years running now offered to religiously clear gutters and grasses in a community that he was displaced from during the crisis. Being a Muslim formerly resident at Jenta Makeri, a Christian dominated community in Jos, the capital of Plateau State was sacked during the 2008 Jos crisis with his house demolished.
However, from Magama village of Bauchi State, some 40kms away from Jos, he returns to offer every year, to offer free sanitation services for a week.”If there is anything that exemplifies service, forgiveness and reconciliation, it is this old man,” said Joseph Lengmang, the Director General of the Agency.
If the peace process is slow, it is understood; there must be ‘buy-ins’. But there must be a willingness on the part of all communities in the state to be involved in driving it. Anything short of it will not meet its desired target.