The case for a national peace policy in Nigeria 

The current dynamics and realities of vicious cycles of never-ending structural, direct and cultural violence and violent extremism in Nigeria have once again demonstrated the urgent need for a new peace strategy. Since 1999, we have witnessed worsening causes, new and ignorant conflict actors, enlarged geographical spread of violence and the exploitation of violence by conflict entrepreneurs, among a plethora of phenomena. The key part of the problem is the lack of better-coordinated efforts at building peace and managing conflict. The fragile contexts and protracted violent conflicts have raised concerns about the country’s capacity to deal with such levels of violence at their underlying and proximate causes and dynamics. 

From experience, the issues of conflict seem to have divided us more than unified us to addressing them. Responses have often been reactive rather than strategic, long-term, and preventive approach to peacebuilding. Peacebuilding happens mostly during “emergencies”, for instance, during acute fear of electoral violence. Also among the peacebuilding community, responses and approaches are sometimes out of date or at cross-purposes, as conflict dynamics have changed significantly over time. Joint conducts of updated analyses are often not beyond phases of specific events or crises.

 With a history of inter-ethnic communal violence, violent extremism, land conflict and election-related violence, Nigeria is overdue for a national framework to guide efforts to prevent, build peace, promote human rights and justice in a more coordinated effort. Peace is an asset many societies yearn for. Once the society has it, the sky is the limit for its development initiatives. Growth and development begin to shape socio-economic and political lives of its people. 

One would have thought a country that has been bedevilled by conflict and secessionism for decades would have been addressing its socio-cultural, political, ethnic and climatic causes of conflict with a policy. Thousands of lives and millions of livelihoods lost while billions of property consumed by violence including millions of people displaced within and outside the borders. Billions of naira expended on quelling armed violence and counter-terrorism would have been channelled into development. 

In this new administration’s quest to rejig the security architecture of the country to attract foreign investment, promote national unity and foster peaceful coexistence, it is imperative to take closer look at working with its institutions and agencies saddled with the mandates to promote peace-related activities through research, conflict prevention and conflict resolution inventions in order to actualize this peace plan. President Ahmed Tinubu has during the Eid-el-Kabir in Lagos, promised that Nigerians would experience peace, stability and prosperity.

One agency should be in focus as his administration is making political calculations to develop a new peace strategy. The Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR) has in 2012 developed a carefully elaborated peace policy. Unfortunately, it is yet to be adopted. The draft development was marked by strategic-level coordination, consultative process and a joint vision from local to national levels, and focusing on long-term goals to address deep-rooted ethnic, religious and political grievances that are fueling tension and conflict in land. By the time the Institute launched this draft, it was first of its kind in Africa. Kenya has gone ahead to establish a peace policy called the National Policy on Peacebuilding and Conflict Management in 2015. 

The need for a national framework to guide efforts of public and private sectors at the national, state and local levels to prevent conflict and build peace in Nigeria cannot be overstated. A peace policy will provide a coherent, participatory and coordinated approach to conflict prevention, peacebuilding and conflict management in the country. Everyone will have a strategic role to play at different levels.

As the new service chiefs reportedly resolved to use “maximum force against terrorists, bandits and other enemies of state”, we should by now know that kinetic force alone cannot address the myriads of underlying drivers of the violence perpetrated by these non-state actors. If so, the nation would have been ridden of these miscreants since 1999. Also incessant increase in the numbers of police and security men will not save Nigeria from insecurity except it changed its systems of building peace. While Nigerians are not in doubt of the ability and determination of the security forces to bring peace, the implementation of a peace policy will make their conflict deployment needless, but instead will only focus on external threat, which is their primary function.

Having a peace policy will not only be in line with the spirit of our Constitution, but also the vision of the policy will enhance the so-called coordination that has been inadequate in prevention, mitigation and management of conflicts. Like any other effective policy, the peace policy will improve sustained peacebuilding processes in the most participatory, cultural sensitive, inclusive, transparent and accountable manner. With the IPCR example, the policy framework will be the government’s deliberate effort towards developing a comprehensive, legal and administrative mechanism to govern peace and conflict management processes in Nigeria. 

The draft peace policy has already sets out an infrastructure for peace, taking into account the multi-cultural heritage of the people and the context within which it will operate as well as the institutional mechanism appropriate to the Nigerian context. The infrastructure proposes that representatives from communities, women, youth, civil society and the government, will work together to prevent a variety of conflicts, including resource-based, religious, cross-border and climate change-related conflicts, among others. 

Peace structures like the eminent National Peace Committee have been provided for in the draft policy. The policy also provides legal and institutional frameworks for the allocation of resources to peace interventions by the government as well as the private sector, including having a National Peace Commission, which will go a long way in ensuring that conflict issues are addressed in real time.

Looking at the conflict patterns and the cruciality of a whole new approach to security, and indeed, the decisive steps the Tinubu administration has taken in the last few weeks to restore confidence in the national system with policies and appointment, I therefore, call on the administration to consider having a peace policy for an inclusive and sustainable Nigeria. Grounded on evidence building from the draft peace policy, the government can revisit the document based on current realities. Adopting a peace policy will cease to put Nigeria in constant conflict mode.

Babatunde, a part-time professor at the Zhejiang Normal University, China, writes via [email protected]