By – Martins Akodo
Martin Luther King Jr. once said “peace cannot be kept by force, it can only be kept by force…”. Growing up in the oil-rich city of Port Harcourt in Southern Nigeria played a vital role in my life as I witnessed different events that have added tremendously to the man I have become; having moved here in search of the proverbial green pastures, it was only natural to abandon school and mingle with young boys just to blend in., maybe the divine cosmic arrangement never intended that I wouldn’t be learned because I always found comfort and a sense of fulfillment and belonging in the classroom.
The militant unrest in Niger Delta (the almagamation of nine oil producing States in southern Nigeria) in the early 2000s was a defining moment in my life, as I got to experience on a first hand level, the deadly power of guns, the unfathomable energy embedded in youths once they are rallied to a cause that seems to fit their proclivity and the many sorrows that comes with losing a loved one; I would never forget one fateful Sunday, after an edifying time in our local church; and as was the norm I would return with my uncle and his family in their little saloon car. I was reminiscing the time in church when all of the sudden, I heard a loud bang followed by multiple screams; my heart began to pound very fast like the marching of soldiers and I thought it would jump right out, then did my uncle quickly put the saloon car in reverse and swerved countless times just to steer clear from the path of the militants and I remembered him shouting “duck your heads between your thighs”. I had overheard people say these militants storm major highways and begin shooting at sight, sometimes it becomes a gun battle between them and the military where many innocent citizens lose their lives due to stray bullets. But, this would be the first of the numerous times I would experience this tragic scene. When we perceived that the militants had gone, I lifted my head from between my thighs and managed to take a peek through the window, I saw fresh corpses with a few being clutched by those they had been with moments ago with painful tears in their eyes, bullet holes in buildings and cars parked on the street.
After this horrific experience, I was traumatized for months, I began to ask a lot of questions in my subconscious; as I tried to answer these questions I realized that we are invariably the creators of our own problems and that peace like anarchy is a conscious decision to deliberately avoid strife or turmoil. It has been a decade since I experienced that “Black Sunday” event as I resolved to call it and I can say it is a constant motivation in my fight for peace in the world at large. However, if one chooses to create change which is a process, the first cycle begins with changing oneself and placing oneself in a position to affect others.
- Harnessing the power of the youths: As a graduate of Statistics, I have discovered and can attest to the fact that almost 70% of Nigerian population are youths, how much more Africa! As a leader, The key is not to neglect to draw from the wells of youths that contain vigour, strength, energy and the threshold to the next generation and then organize campaigns to be carried out by youths to thwart other youths from violence and unlawful acts, then make provision for free education accessible to underprivileged youths and also create skill acquisition empowerment programs in partnership with industries in Africa. Also, there should be a platform that encourages youth to brainstorm and come up with ideas as to solve pending issues in the world. If the youths discover that society places demand on them to be better people, they have no choice than to become peaceful people since they hold a greater proportion of our population.
- Reform and modify existing laws: “Good laws lead to the making of better ones; bad ones bring about worse” Jean-Jacques Rousseau. As I began to research, I discovered that Black Sunday occurred as a result of Niger Deltans dissatistisfied with the allocation of resources and feel that they are entitled to more benefits since they are the sole producers of oil and the major contribution to the nation’s economy. African countries in general need to modify existing laws which primarily tackles corruption. There should be an establishmeant of reformed laws to address the tenure of a president, laws that ensure lawmakers to be accountable, laws that don’t favor a particular religion, laws that ensures the proper distribution of resources, laws that is aimed at diversifying the economy and most importantly laws that appreciate our values as black people and not as an imitation of civilization. For instance, the inclusion of our basic traditions of family values and shun rites that are founded on superstition. Good laws are the fuel that drives the vehicle of a peaceful world.
- Handle religious issues with utmost caution: “The true office of religion is to bring out the whole nature of man in harmonious activity” William Ellery Channing. Religion is currently the strongest threat to world peace. The world witnessed the emergence of a brutal Nigerian terrorist group called “Boko Haram” which loosely translates to “Western Education is sin” because they defined a basic social infrastructure (education) with regards to their religion. Religious issues should be handled by building societal values on the foundational truth of every religion for the greater good of the world; every religion recognises peace, love and unity but use different approaches. Most recently in Nigeria, a law was passed to remove Christian Religious Studies from the syllabus of schools and retain Islamic studies which was a wrong move that could spark violence and is a threat to peace in the country. Fortunately, it was reinstated few weeks later. The logic is to draw a contrast of religions in the country and establish laws from their underlying factors and rule out that which will affect the other.
However, one does not need to be an elected leader to envision a peaceful Africa, Black Sunday propelled me to join AIESEC, an international student organization during my undergraduate years, to better my community and the world at large because only through understanding our different cultures, traditions, beliefs and religion will we be enrolled into the community of brotherhood and print permanently in our hearts the doctrine of peace.