How to achieve sustainable peace in Nigeria – Opinion by UN resident Edward Kallon

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Updated: March 7, 2021

Nigeria faces three broad typologies of conflicts. Communal conflicts that have resulted from the politicization of ethnic and religious identities and those that are fueled by settler-indigene tensions can be characterized as identity-based conflicts. Then there are conflicts fueled by competition for resources such as land for both farming and grazing purposes and the control of natural resources such as oil wealth as in the Niger Delta region which can be described as resource-based conflicts. The third set are conflicts and violence driven by political dynamics such as elections and the struggle for power at both national and local levels belong to the category of power-based conflicts. 

These conflicts have degenerated into a wave of insecurity around the country. According to the Police, 1,071 persons were killed in violence and crime related incidents across the country in the first quarter of 2019 alone, with banditry and communal violence claiming most lives. According to the Civil Society Situation Room, an estimated 626 persons were killed across Nigeria in the six months between the start of the election campaign and the commencement of the general and supplementary elections from October 2018 to March 2019, a significant increase in the trend, compared to the 106 killed in the 2015 general elections. 

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Nigeria has a significant “youth bulge”, with an estimated 83 percent of the population below the age of 40 years while 62 percent are below the age of 25 years.  The official youth unemployment rate is around 36.5 % but as we look at combined UN- and underemployment rates, this number increases to around 45% for those 24-35 and around 65% for those 15-24.  

While these youth have an unmatched economic potential to help Nigeria grow, their exclusion is increasingly becoming a destabilizing factor, fueling violence, and criminality. 

We know that there can be no peace without development and no development without peace. Without peace, the country cannot achieve Agenda 2030 and the sustainable development goals. This is why we need to redouble efforts towards achieving peace in the country. The Federal Government and its development partners have come up with some commendable initiatives. 

The Lake Chad Basin Governors’ Forum, an initiative the UN conceptualized and nurtured has continued to show signs of progress towards stabilization of the region. During the second Forum Meeting in Niamey from 17th to 18th July 2019, donors committed around $60 million USD to the establishment of a stabilization facility that will channel support for the implementation of the Regional Strategy for Stabilization, Recovery and Resilience in the Lake Chad Basin. There are growing prospects of long-term solutions to the Lake Chad crisis, a veritable climate change induced crisis, as Nigeria’s President Buhari has continued his advocacy for the refilling of the Lake Chad possibly through a trans-basin water transfer. The United Nations has committed to partner with Nigeria in this regard in mobilizing the required $50 billion to restore hope to the 40 million people across Nigeria, Chad, Niger, and Cameroon that depend on the Lake for the livelihoods.   

With UN support, the Government of Nigeria has produced a National Peace Policy, which outlines how peace can be built in a preventive manner through early warning and response structures; mechanisms and structures for peaceful conflict resolution; and the creation of a dedicated Peace Fund. The National Assembly passed a “Bill for An Act providing for the Establishment of the National Commission for Peace, Reconciliation and Mediation” on 19th July 2018, although the process did not sail through. Similar initiatives already exist in some States, including Kaduna Peace Commission and Plateau Peace Agency. 

The UN is ready to support the efforts of the Government of Nigeria to create a National Peace Commission in line with the National Economic Council (NEC) Security Summit of 17th August 2017, directing the establishment of a National Peace Commission by the Federal Government of Nigeria and Peace Agencies by State Governments. It is also the wish of the UN that a National Peace Commission, and commensurate State Peace Architectures that promote justice, inclusivity, national and social cohesion can be established. The UN can bring on board technical support and a wealth of global best practices. 

These developments are steps in the right direction, capable of paving the way for sustainable peace in Nigeria as expressed in SDG 16 on “Peace, Justice and strong governance Institutions”. To ensure that the top-bottom policy measures are matched by bottom-up initiatives, there is need for similar peace platforms to be established at local government levels (LGAs), with traditional and religious leaders, women and youth groups playing a pivotal role. This will further enhance community and grassroots ownership, making use of traditional mechanisms and values that have so far held societies together. 

There is compelling need to further enhance national cohesion by working towards bridging the gap between the ‘North’ and the ‘South’ in Nigeria, and to promote a feeling of belonging by undertaking targeted initiatives to address grievances in parts of the country. Governance and electoral democracy reforms are also critical to build confidence in the overall governance and electoral processes and state institutions.

I believe that Nigeria’s endowments and diversity are great assets to Africa and the world. Despite the challenges, this country remains resilient. The opportunity provided by the SDGs which we see as pillars for sustainable peace, if well harnessed, can transform and reposition Nigeria. Creating requisite institutional and well-funded peace structures is key. Investing in peace is a collective responsibility and constitutes a critical factor for the country to Achieve Agenda 2030, leaving no one behind.     

Mr. Edward Kallon is the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria

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