Sometime in early June, I woke up to see an alarming number of notifications on my smartphone. It seemed as though all social networks to which I belonged had been seized with a sudden fever. It would take me 45 minutes of painstakingly following threads on Twitter and checking news websites to get a full grasp of the situation. Some Arewa youth groups had declared 3-month ultimatum for the Igbos to vacate the North, and that had become the bone of contention.
The advent of technology showers one with many soothing pecks, but sometimes it dishes out quite a number of painful pricks, too. Just as much as a youth might use the internet to disperse helpful information to members of the community, another might use the same tool in peddling hate messages, instigating discord and rancour. In these challenging times of economic hardship and insecurity, not to mention the political tension that the clamour for restructuring has elicited, more than ever, Nigerians need to unite in tackling their common problems. And we youths have a grand role to play in this.
I come from a family of four children, and all of us are boys. Over the years, while our compound has transformed on countless occasions to serve the purposes of our capricious minds, among which is a makeshift football pitch as well as gaming centre, it has also had an overwhelming number of squabbles and whinings. As the eldest child, I was charged with the noble task of a peacemaker quite early, which meant I got to listen to my brothers’ complaints and resolve disputes before I could even solve algebra. Of course, a small fraternal duty as this does not necessarily make anyone better equipped in achieving or sustaining peace. However, it does point to a fact: that as far as we are humans, young or old, brothers or not, fallible and imperfect as we are, there would always be differences.
The first step towards actualising peace is understanding a sentiment credited to Desmond Tutu of South Africa, the 1984 winner of Nobel Peace Prize, which I hope all Nigerian youths would come to adopt: “Our differences are not intended to separate or alienate us; we are different precisely in order to realise our need for one another.” This is essential because it teaches tolerance, and also suggests harnessing our ineludible differences for our common good. But more importantly, it is a call for a change in the youths’ mindsets, which is believed to be a major step towards realising any vision. That a man is not a member of one’s ethnic group or an adherent of one’s religion does not make him one’s enemy. For at the end of it all, however one looks at it, before we are classified based on religion or race or political party or ethnicity or sexual orientation, we are first of all humans. That should mean something.
Peace is not merely the absence of war or violence, neither does security mean safety from danger alone. More than we may be willing to admit, human conditions intertwine with one another, portraying a delicate intricacy that reminds one of a nerve ganglion. A nursing mother whose child weeps for lack of food; a youth who thinks he is useless because, with all his degrees, he is still jobless; an entrepreneur whose painstaking efforts are being frustrated by the deplorable state of infrastructure; a refugee who has no idea of who is left at home or what home now looks like — for such people as these ones, and there are many of them in Nigeria, what does peace and security mean?
Peace and security is sometimes a function of comfort, a variable that depends inversely on the degree of lack. Thus, it is important that the government map out short-term and long-term plans to guarantee that such people as these do not remain spectators in the peace project. As a short-term plan, government should provide relief and emergency aid to internally displaced people and rehabilitate refugees. There is also a need to reintegrate into the society insurgents who are willing to lay down their arms, and grant them amnesty. As a long-term plan, government should provide social amenities and build infrastructures that ensure the people have better living conditions, with which businesses can thrive. To alleviate poverty, underexploited sectors of the country’s economy should be looked into, like agriculture and mineral resources, to create wealth and employment opportunities for the people.
The youths must take a step further by forming stronger coalitions, too. These coalitions would concern themselves with advocating for the fundamental human rights of the citizens in a resolute yet amicable manner, because more often than not, in the history of mankind, it is the violation or suppression of these basic rights that has led to unrest and insecurity. With these coalitions, the youths can begin to actively partake in politics and government. No more would the youths be seen as disposable pawns in the game of power, worthy only as political thugs of intimidation, but as a formidable force to be reckoned with, whose responsibilities, inter alia, would be holding the government accountable and mediating to restore peace and order in cases of internecine conflicts.
With over 3 billion views, Wiz Khalifa’s music video, “See You Again,” featuring Charlie Puth, currently ranks as one of the most viewed videos on YouTube. Over 3 billion views! This is an amazing time to be alive, considering how fortified we are with technology and what wonders we can perform in a split second. We may not all be Wiz Khalifa, but one fact we can’t deny is that the internet and social media have given us a golden opportunity our forefathers never had: the ability to reach out to an incredible number of people at the tap of a button. How can Nigerian youths leverage this in promoting peace?
The youths should seize the opportunities the internet and social media offer to explore and get acquainted with the customs and traditions of other ethnic groups and religions, as this would help them see and appreciate the beauty in diversity. Using these platforms, the youths should also learn to project and propagate stories that promote peace and unity, and not those hate messages that tend to drive a wedge between us.
Actualising peace in this challenging time may not be easy — nothing worthwhile is ever easy — but with practical and calculated steps like those I have listed, I strongly believe peace is possible. I would make sure it begins with me, and with the cooperation of other Nigerian youths, we would spread it to every part of our great country.
Happy International Day of Peace, fellow Nigerians!