Nation building has always been a slow and painstaking process. This is particularly so when these nations are created by colonial fiat. The colonial authorities used the divide and rule techniques, where insinuations of suspicions among different peoples and tribes was the main tool of governance. By disrupting the slow but sure process of social integration they generate social tension which needs to be managed over time to avoid conflicts.
Our founding fathers have done a lot to ameliorate these challenges, heal a lot of these wounds and suspicions. Even when the bitterness planted led to civil war, the military leaders who brought the civil war to its end quickly created policies like the policy of ‘No Victor No Vanquished’ which did a lot to assuage the bitterness and douse the tension. Similarly, policies like the NYSC which gives young people the opportunity to live and know other fellow citizens, the unity schools located in different parts of the country and the visits between leaders of the traditional institutions and holding joint meetings, etc. All these and many more went a long way to bring about healing, understanding and accommodation.
Unfortunately some of these gains were eroded over time. Today we are at brinks again. In the last few months tempers have run very high, reckless statements from ethnic champions have provoked all manners of reactions which subsequently led to the loss of human lives, and the property and livelihoods of many citizens. While this was fueled by the social media, the inaction of government has allowed many avoidable loss of lives to happen. We must quickly learn our lessons. State actors which have the primary responsibility to protect lives and property must be alert and prompt in their duties and responsibilities.
Our role as traditional and religious leaders is to educate and restrain our followers and other citizens, many of whom have not witnessed the civil war and hence glorify it with their reckless speeches. War is not something to wish for, even when you think you will eventually win it. During my career as a military officer, my tour of duty took me to Pakistan and the borders of Afghanistan, where I saw conflicts and deaths and disruptions of lives with people who were otherwise comfortable, finding themselves in IDP camps with all the indignity and sufferings. Before then I was in Liberia and Sierra Leone where I saw the results of ravaging civil war with inhuman atrocities afflicted on fellow citizens and this had left a deep scar on the psyche of these nations. And the most recent examples happenings in Syria and Yemen are still fresh in our minds. In all cases the conflicts disrupted their progress and destroyed their opportunities and they are still struggling to catch up with the rest of the world.
We need to appeal to our senses to realize that no one has a monopoly of violence and returning violence with violence only multiplies violence. It is not bravery to attack vulnerable people when you can resort to law; it is savagery. As the great African leader, Nelson Mandela observed, ”Great anger and violence can never build a nation. Or as Jalaluddin Rumi a 13th century Sufi would say, “Raise your word, not your voice, it is rain that grows flowers not thunder.” As educated elite we must reflect deeper and learn from the history of other countries. Societal problems are human and we should be educated enough to know that we can solve our problems without having to carry a stick much less fire a gun. No problem is beyond dialogue, even when you go to war at the end of it all you must sit around the table to work out peace.
We need to reiterate our calls on government at both Federal and State levels to act promptly, swiftly and decisively. Any inaction may be construed as weakness. Govt must send clear signals and walk its talk. Traditional institutions, even as they have no control of the coercive instruments of state, can do a lot to restrain their people from taking laws into their hands, for these institutions enjoy the trust and confidence of their people. It is my hope that we shall all rise to the challenges, each doing his bit, and together we shall surely salvage our country and bring it back to the path of greatness that its potentials promise. We pray to God, the Almighty to give us both the wisdom and the courage to do the right things. Amin.
I thank you for listening
Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad-Sa’ad Abubakar III, delivered this speech at the 2021 Obafemi Awolowo lecture