By Kemdi Chino Opara
Sixty years after Nigeria gained her independence on October 1, 1960, the country taunted as Africa’s most populous, and one of the most endowed nations of the world, is still enmeshed in a series of battles against ethnic, religious and criminal upheavals that have combined to undermine the country’s national security, leading to many deaths and mass displacement of persons, children and women inclusive.
There’s hardly a day without the news of bloody attacks, or kidnapping of citizens in one part of the country or the other.
There are secessionist elements in many parts of Nigeria calling for dismantling of the federation, and threatening the peace and cohesion, which the country has laboured to earn since after the bloody civil war that ended in 1970.
Peace has become illusive with the federal and state governments engaging in what seems to be a wild goose chase.
Investigation shows that this widespread conflict and violence in Nigeria is rooted in war – time divisive propaganda and the continuing emphasis on ethnic and religious differences of Nigerians.
There are also issues of large scale poverty, inequality, inequity, injustice, marginalisation, unemployment and corruption that are serving the obnoxious interest of enemies of the state.
The first crucial step taken by the federal government of Nigeria to advance peace and cohesion after the civil war was the establishment of the National Youth Service Corps scheme by decree No. 24 of 22nd May 1973, which has now been repealed and replaced by decree 51 of 16th June 1993.
According to an official record, “The purpose of the scheme is primarily to inculcate in Nigerian youths the spirit of selfless service to the community, and to emphasize the spirit of oneness and brotherhood of all Nigerians, irrespective of cultural or social background.
The history of our country since independence has clearly indicated the need for unity amongst all our people, and demonstrated the fact that no cultural or geographical entity can exist in isolation.”
Since the creation of the NYSC scheme, millions of Nigerian youths have successfully concluded their part, and many are now amongst Nigerian political elites.
Is the scheme achieving its most important goal of national cohesion 48 years after?
The International Dialogue on Peace building and State building (IDPS), an international organization for policy dialogue on peace building and state building, believes national cohesion to be “ an instrumental pillar of conflict prevention, peace building and state building.”
National cohesion is fundamental to building national peace, and helps engender sustainable national development.
It’s therefore imperative to march the letters of any relevant policy designed to enhance national cohesion with necessary actions.
Even though the federal and state governments have made significant efforts to design and establish systems and programmes to advance national peace and cohesion in Nigeria, which include the aforementioned National Youth Service Corps scheme, National Orientation Agency, Federal and state media agencies, among others, it is doubtful if the mandates of all these are being pursued and realised with equal zeal on both the governments and their handlers.
For instance, the National Orientation Agency was established by decree 100 of 1993 “ to consistently raise awareness, positively change attitudes, values and behaviours, accurately and adequately inform; and sufficiently mobilise citizens to act in ways that promote peace and harmony among other things. NOA maintains over 5, 000 staff across the 36 states of the federation including Federal Capital Territory and the 774 local government offices. On it’s official website, the NOA proudly proclaims that “ No other organ of government has this kind of spread and capacity for public enlightenment and sensitisation campaigns.”
But with all its huge structure and reach, how has the NOA helped to influence an average Nigerian?
Random phone conversation with some staff who pleaded anonymity revealed that poor funding from government is the basic challenge of this organization that should be a chief actor in the collective search for national peace and cohesion.
But NOA unfortunately remains on the sidelines as an inactive spectator.
The United Nations Children Fund (Unicef), has warned that during conflicts in any part of the world, children suffer most, “ children have always been the first victims of war.
Worldwide, armed conflict and other violence have upended the lives of hundreds of millions of children, leaving them displaced, undernourished, out of school and at severe risk of exploitation and abuses.”
The UN agency says while claiming that nearly 1 in 5 children today live in settings affected by armed conflict and war.
Indeed, the continuing absence of peace in any nation destabilizes the systems within it, and puts children and women mostly at risk of sundry abuses and premature deaths as we have recorded in some parts of Nigeria in recent years. In some states, schools have been closed down and suffering has multiplied in many homes.
Ultimately, the search for national peace and cohesion in the country needs to engage the political will of people in government to ensure Justice, equity, fairness in governance and to provide all necessary supports required. Relevant government agencies must fully commit to fulfilling their mandates as spelt out by enabling laws.