The British Government has raised the alarm that the rising conflicts could destabilise Nigeria’s democracy in the run-up to the 2023 elections.
This was even as the Nigeria Governors’ Forum declared that the level of insecurity across the country is not only eroding citizens safety and peoples means of livelihood, but also threatening the expression of the rights of Nigerians.
The two sides both spoke at the launch of the NGF Peace and Inclusive Security Initiative in Abuja on Thursday.
Chris Beecroft, Development Director, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, in his good will message, blamed the frequent crisis on injustice, impunity and weak justice institutions in the country.
Beecroft said peace and stability could be achieved when causes of conflict are managed through strong, fair and responsive governance mechanisms at community, state or federal levels.
He stressed that the conflict represents an existential threat to Nigeria’s unity and its development.
He said: “There is an active insurgency in the North East, farmer-herder conflicts are extending across the country, resource conflicts in the Delta, tension in the South East and banditry in the North West.
“Conflict destroys lives, destroys livelihoods, destroys hope and ambition for the future.
“Conflict represents an existential threat to Nigeria’s unity and its development.”
Beecroft explained that the use of police and army would only be part of the solution and called for greater emphasis on reconciliation, mediation, arbitration, and access to justice – all vital components of a vibrant, resilient and effective social contract.
According to him, proliferation of small arms and weapons and weaponisation of the social media are drivers of conflict and instability.
He called for job creation for young Nigerians “so they have a stake in a prosperous and peaceful Nigeria,” adding: “With the right commitment, dedications and support, there are solutions.”
Beecroft stated that the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office recognised the important role the NGF plays in setting the peace and security agenda and in building state and community level structures and institutions to reduce violence and respond to conflict and insecurity across Nigeria.
He said: “The UK is pleased to have been able to support this initiative and is committed to continue working with the Nigeria Governors Forum in advancing its peace and security agenda.
“The UK is engaged in supporting Nigeria to reduce violent conflict in a number of areas.
“We promote a regional response in the North East and Lake Chad Basin through our contribution to the Regional Stabilisation Facility and delivery of programmes on peace building, humanitarian assistance, protection of civilians, human development, good governance and accountability.”
Former Head of State and Chairman of National Peace Committee, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (retd), expressed worry over what he called the instrumentalisation of violence, noting that violence has become a commodity in Nigeria.
Abubakar, who was represented by Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Fr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, said Nigerians were in denial of the diagnosis.
He said poverty was not the cause of violence in Nigeria, arguing that China has about 300 million unemployed.
The NGF Chairman and Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, confessed that the spate of violence and coordinated criminal activities have undermined government authority and waned public trust in recent times.
Fayemi attributed the current security crisis to several factors “including an oversized population that the government is unable to cope with, a large number of poor people estimated at over 40 percent of the population who are living below $1 per day and indeed, desertification which has affected over 60 percent of Nigeria’s land as drought and climate change has continued to aggravate land deterioration in the country.”
The NGF chairman also blamed the situation on proliferation of small arms and light weapons, which he said worsened and exacerbated the level of violence and fatalities.
He said between May 2011 and February 2021, over 76,000 deaths were reported.
He said: “This number also includes persons who have been killed by a state actor. In addition to the proliferation of arms is an undertone of rising ethnic conflict, with different ethnic groups subsumed in conflicts and pitched against one another.”
NGF Director General, Asishana Okauru, explained that the launch forged a significant step in the life of the NGF as “we strive to build a nation where safety of lives and property is guaranteed.
“The Peace and Inclusive Security Initiative is a consequence of our determination to contribute to the conversation on inclusive security and add the leverage of the sub-nationals to the efforts to secure the lives and property of our country men and women.”