PEACE AND DIVERSITY: THE NIGERIA EXAMPLE
Nigeria is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse African country with an estimated population of over 170 million consisting of more than 250 ethnic groups and 500 languages and split almost evenly between Muslims and Christians. There are many factors that usually lead to conflicts in Nigeria but Religion remains on top of the list.
Nigeria is not alien to violent and devastating conflict linked with Islamic fundamentalism; the most recent is the Boko-Haram violent crisis. Empirically, the main menace to national security in Nigeria since the transition from military to civil rule in 1999 has been Religious violent behavior, championed by some Islamic sects in the northern Nigeria – in particular Borno, Kano and Bauchi States. These reasons for the Islamists in engaging in extreme violence include the opposition of Christians to sharia legal system 1999 and 2000, US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the publishing of cartoons on Prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper. It is worthy to note that before the transition from military to civilian in 1999, the country has been plague with conflicts that were orchestrated by Islamic fundamentalism. These include the Kano city riot 1982 &1991, nationwide crisis over Nigeria’s membership in the Organization of Islamic Country all in 1986, /Kaduna/Zaria/ Funtua religious riots 1987, Kaduna Polytechnic riot 1988, Bauchi/Katsina riots1991 just to mention a few. All this conflict and many others have led death of hundreds of thousands Nigerians with billions of dollars worth of properties loss.
The real issue is not North or South, Christians or Muslims, Ijaw or Fulani. In Nigeria we are naturally distinguished and united by differences and similarities, according to gender, age, language, culture, tribe, religion, geography, and even income level. Such diversity must be seen as positives that challenge our intellect and emotions as we learn to work and live together in peace and unity. I chose to define diversity based on my perceived idea of culture and not necessarily the traditional culture of the various ethnic nationalities in Nigeria. Diversity is the totality of positive socially transmitted behaviour, patterns, beliefs, institutions and other aspects of our humanity, which generates positive thoughts and actions for the benefit of the general good of our community.
In any diverse society such as Nigeria, it is essential to ensure harmonious interaction among people and groups with plural, varied and dynamic cultural identities. I think, accepting our humanity first and foremost should give policy expression to the reality of our diversity. Policies that are designed for the inclusion and participation of all citizens irrespective of differences can guarantee social cohesion. Such policies when well thought out can check the ill tactics of divide and rule often employed by politicians. In any democratic framework there must be strength in diversity; this is because our communal needs are conducive to cultural exchanges, which adds to the flourishing of creative capacities that should sustain national unity and progress.
However, in order to contribute my quota to the peaceful coexistence of my country using our diversity as the strength, I initiated two projects; the first one is tagged “Youths and Religion tolerance. The project aim is to achieve a peaceful society that is devoid of religion chauvinism because Nigeria is a secular state that allows freedom of religion practice. I achieved this by organizing series of meetings, conferences, publications and often encourage inter-religion visitation at worship place of different religion to worship together so as to establish trust and confidence. Sometimes share scare text from their holy books to understand what each religion preaches about peace. I activated networking relationship with religious leaders, government ministries, NGOs and faith based youth’s organizations..
The second project was tagged Crossing Borders. It is a concept about global citizenship, peace and tolerance to achieve development in the society, to be more aware about the rising issues in international and local development and taking tangible steps to change the world. To be able to understand that race, religion, culture, region, colour, language etc. should not be a barrier to individual freedom, security and development. The project aimed at orientating and enlightening the youths and the masses to understand that every life is important and they must think outside the box. To create awareness among the people that they are responsible to humanity preservation from extinction, make change and take the driven seat for global peace and development. I aimed at motivating people to always approach issues with closed eyes and an open mind because when approaching issues with open mind, the borders to human development will be destroyed and a new dawn will emerge.
Nevertheless, a major problem that relates commonly to the issue of diversity is the search for equity. There is a friction in balancing diversity and equity. Often conflict inevitably occurs. As has been the case since time immemorial, differences in ethnicity, culture, religion, gender, language or political affiliation have all been at the root of conflict. Any form of group identification, ethnic, religious, social and other forms of group identification can trigger violent conflicts especially when mobilized and manipulated to do so. Dialogue of any kind, intercultural, religious, political or social, is a prerequisite for, and a cornerstone of, our unity, peace and progress. We must continuously call for greater dialogue among people with a shared humanity and better understanding of other cultures, in other to ensure a more rapid integration of socioeconomic ties between communities. Dialogue will also help us to focus on who the enemy really is and what they are up to in making us forever poor and powerless.
Institute of Social Studies (ISS), The Hague, Netherlands
MA Development studies/ SJP major