Donated by General Abdulsalami A. Abubakar on November 1998 and commissioned by former President Olusegun Obasanjo on February 2001, the Abdulsalami A. Abubakar Postgraduate Hall, University of Ibadan, arguably boasts the largest postgraduate residential hall in Sub-Saharan Africa. If General Abubakar, who has now retired into Agbada, were told that almost twenty years since he donated the hall to the university, he would be summoned to deliver a peace talk on behalf of the hall, he would have probably doubted it.
However, as providence may have it, he mounted the Trenchard Hall podium of the university, on September 21, which commensurated with International Peace Day, with the theme “The Right to Peace”, to deliver his lecture titled “Collaborative Peace Building in Nigeria”. The lecture was the maiden edition of the annual General Abdulsalami A. Abubakar Foundation Peace Lecture organised by the management and residents of the postgraduate hall.
One would not be wrong to ask: What does a soldier of more than thirty years, who has fought wars, know about peace? Some may believe he is not qualified to speak on matters relating to peace. Others strongly believe the general is the most qualified person to preach about peace. Both parties could be right. However, Abubakar’s professional and leadership track records, when it comes to peace and security matters, speak volume.
In his short reign as Nigerian head of state, he succeeded in initiating a democratic government in 1999. After his retirement, his numerous mediatory and peace talks in the country and across the world, show that he is an epitome of peace. The book “Perceptives of Peace and Conflicts in Africa: Essays in Honour of General (Dr.) Abdulsalami Abubakar” indicates that, even pessimistic academics, recognise him as a peace-loving man.
Abubakar’s preamble to his lecture was inspiring:“Though retired from the military, I am not tried of contributing the task of making Nigeria and Africa a better place for humanity.” He said this while speaking about the Abdulsalami Institute for Peace and Development Studies which he established at the Niger State College of Education in Minna. According to him, the institute was established to help Nigerians deal with their local issues in the context of what is generally called “African solution to African problem.”
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Bearing in mind the social, political, ethnic and religious upheaval rocking the country, the general lamented that the warning signs indicate that things might get worse for the country if they are not properly managed. With these disturbing facts, he stated that it is time to put Nigeria in order. “I come to you this day with the quest for all of us to think and reason together on how to prevent the Nigerian state from sliding into complications,” he said. Then, he asked two fundamental questions: “Therefore, what should we do since we do not want a broken nation? What should be our guiding principles?”
Before doing justice to the questions, the general, armed with the quotes of Dalai Lama XIV, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, and Nelson Mandela, stressed that peace is not the absence of disagreement, that every normal society must have disagreements. He stated that there is nothing wrong with people having disagreements, that what is expected is that when people have disagreements they should find peaceful solutions to the issues.
On the other hand, his reaction to these differences was: “The nations that flourished are the ones in which people are ready to face the realities around them by investing sufficiently in finding peaceful solutions to the problems besetting them.”
He emphasised that no group is best entitled to set Nigeria on the part of progress than the youths. He added that they do not only own the future, but also the today that has been damaged by violent conflicts. On the other hand, he commended President Muhammadu Buhari for signing the Not-Too-Young-To-Run bill into law, which would give Nigerian youths more opportunity to contest for leadership and political offices. However, he lamented, “Getting into political offices is not as difficult as having what it takes to hold a country together.” With this, he advised the youths to invest more in acquiring tools for managing conflicts.
The General confessed that his generation could be found wanting in certain respects, but advised the youths not to make the same mistakes his generation made. “We are struggling to make amend. Your own generation might not have such opportunity if you fail to start working for peace now,” he said.
While speaking on Boko Haram insurgency, armed banditry, cattle rustling, herdsmen crisis, kidnapping and hostage taking, he stressed that the politicians should work with professionals and other people of good will on how to make a difference in trying times like this. He said Nigerians want to be told that Nigeria could get out of the social, economic, environmental and security challenges they are facing. “Politicians would be disappointing all of us if all they do now is to be discussing how to displace one another. Nigerians are getting tired,” he said.
He noted that the security situation in Nigeria shows that elections are not a silver spoon and that a credible election does not lead to sustainable peace. He argued that if this was so, Nigeria would not be bedevilled by many violent conflicts it is witnessing. Whether this violence is blamed on poverty, ignorance, religion, ethnicity or politics, he said the youths are the ones used to perpetrate the heinous crimes. “We need to reason together on how to check these problems. What is needed now and here is a change of attitude by all of us. Let us give more attention to what unites us together than what divides us,” he added.
As regards the ongoing crisis between the herdsmen and some communities in the north central of the country, he said he is more concerned about the realities of the situation beyond what is reported in the media. Some of the pressing questions he asked in line with the herdsmen crisis were: “Are they the local Fulani people that we have always known around us in Nigeria? Are they mercenaries from outside Nigeria? If yes, what do they want? Are the herdsmen killing because of anti-grazing laws? Then, why do we have similar crisis in states of the federation not having anti-grazing laws?”
He emphasised that these questions should not be left alone for the politicians to answer. He enjoined intelligence communities and academics to become more proactive in answering these questions and addressing the menace more professionally. He noted that for a better solution to the crisis, academic research must move Nigerians understanding of the situation beyond what it is. “Books and journal articles must be published on the issue. Seminars, workshops and lectures must be organised to get Nigerians better educated about the situation,” he said.
The general noted that some Nigerians are advocating for the dismemberment of the country, which is not the right thing to do. He stated that Sudan did it, but the crisis in Southern Sudan, is today, greater than what was experienced when Sudan was united. He further noted that people of Nigeria are many and of different identities. “When brought together, the image of Nigeria is that of a rainbow. How do we leverage on the beauty of the rainbow rather than focus endlessly on the fact that the rainbow has many colours?” he asked.
General Abubakar concluded his lecture with the quote of Late King Hussein of Jordan: “‘I have said this in the past, and I will continue to repeat it. As long as I live, whoever tried to hurt our national unity is my enemy.’” What that, he admonished Nigerians to work for the unity of Nigeria, to work for peace, to think positively about Nigeria. “We have no other place to run to should the country be engulfed in a fire,” he concluded.
Kingsley Alumona is with the Nigerian Tribune