Mar 18, 2008 - Position Of South-West Governor's Wives In The Peace Process In Nigeria
Before I proceed, it is very important for me to mention that though I am expected to present this paper on behalf of my colleagues in the South West region, I must say that due to factors and circumstances beyond my control, it was not possible for me to seek their inputs before this paper was written. It is therefore necessary for me to state that the contents of this paper which I am about to present, represents my own thoughts and views on the peace process in Nigeria, the subject matter of this forum. Thank you.
It is indeed a great honour and privilege for me to address this august gathering. The theme of this very important conference: “Women Leaders in the Service of Peace-Building and Conflict Resolution” is certainly most timely and appropriate at this critical period in the evolution of our country. I commend the conveners of the conference for creating such a valuable forum for women leaders in Nigeria to brainstorm on ways of sustaining and strengthening the peace process in the country. It is a fact that women, children and the aged are usually the worst victims of conflict situations in every society. To this extent therefore we occupy a very important position as stakeholders in every effort that is geared towards making the society peaceful and secure for every one to live in.
Peace is a necessary condition for achieving meaningful progress and development in any society. It is only when individuals are at peace within themselves, for instance, that they can effectively plan their lives and achieve set objectives. In the same vein, a family where peace reigns offers a foretaste of heaven on earth. On the other hand, a conflict-ridden family, where peace is absent, becomes a veritable hell on earth for its members. At the level of the nation, giant strides of progress and development can only be made when people of diverse cultures and faiths live together in peace and harmony.
It is only in conditions of peace that schools, hospitals, houses, markets, libraries, roads, drainages, orphanages and other structures necessary to support our aspirations individually and collectively can be built. It is only when there is peace that businesses can thrive and jobs can be created. It is only with peace that we can work productively, think creatively, practice our respective religions without stress or engage in healthy recreation. When on the other hand, conflicts are allowed to thrive and degenerate into violence and bloodshed, the fruits of progress are destroyed and innocent men, women and children are subjected to avoidable misery. This is why we must constantly nurture and water the seeds of peace by promoting the culture of conflict-resolution at every level of our society.
I mentioned earlier that as women we have a critical stake in the peace and stability of our homes and the larger society. Throughout history, women have always been associated with promoting the goals of peace in society. Like salt, it is our prerogative to help preserve the essence of human civilization because we are the vessels through which it is delivered. Of course, we can understand the reason why. It has pleased God Almighty to assign to women the role of conceiving and nurturing human life on earth. We go through the pangs of labour and are therefore better placed to appreciate the value of human life. Women must therefore be at the forefront of championing the cause of peace and civilized co-existence in our country. This is why this conference is such a most welcome development that must be sustained.
I find it necessary to make the very important point that we must begin to appreciate and value ourselves better as a people. Very often, we have a tendency to emphasise only those negative things about ourselves. However, there are also so many positive things about us that we simply take for granted. For instance, religious intolerance is a source of tension and violence in some parts of the world. In most parts of Nigeria, however, people of different religious faiths co-exist harmoniously. In the South West of Nigeria it is very common to have adherents of different religions living together in peace within the same family. This is a model of religious tolerance, accommodation and integration which we have every cause to be proud of and which we can urge others to emulate.
Again, Lagos State offers a very good example of the capacity of Nigerians to live in peace and harmony irrespective of our cultural or ethnic differences. There is hardly any ethnic group in Nigeria that is not represented in Lagos. Yet, ethnic conflicts or communal clashes are the exception rather than the norm. This kind of multi cultural and multi national peaceful coexistence is common to most urban centres in Nigeria. Our people are very tolerating and accommodating of one another. When disagreements or conflicts inevitably occur, it means that informal mechanisms of effectively resolving them already exist. Our challenge is to build on the existing level of tolerance and good will in our society and continuously enhance our capacity to resolve conflicts peacefully.
At this point, I must emphasize that in most parts where religions or ethnic conflicts have broken out the world over, experts have through analysis shown that it is not the diversity or differences that cause conflicts; on the contrary, such diversity has been used to fuel conflict by those who stand to selfishly benefit from lack of peace. Education of our people that our diversity is God’s making and must be used positively and the need for them to be vigilant and not be misled is therefore critical for sustenance of peace.
I cannot over emphasise the need for our women at all levels to bond together more closely. This will enable us to collaborate more productively in taking timely and effective peace initiatives as well as enhancing the capacity of women to over come the poverty trap. We all know that poverty fuels opportunities for violent conflicts in society. It is only when we think and plan and work together that we can lift more women out of poverty. Of course, if you empower one woman to overcome poverty, you are uplifting an entire family and increasing the prospects of peaceful co-existence locally and nationally. We must expand opportunities and avenues for millions of unemployed youths to positively channel their energies, skills, knowledge and talents. This will go a long way in reducing the number of youths who have become willing tools in the hands of selfish elites for the perpetration of all kinds of criminal acts under the guise of promoting ethnic, religious or political interests.
As women we have a duty to demonstrate through our practical example that those things that unite us as a people are stronger and more important than the things that divide us. For example, I do not see any reason why we should allow partisan politics to divide and cause unnecessary enmity among us. Let us think carefully about this. What are those common problems that confront us? They include disease, ignorance, crime, illiteracy, unemployment and environmental degradation among others. Do these problems respect anybody’s political affiliation? No! Why then can’t we disregard partisan differences and join hands to work for a better, safer, healthier society? In the South West, for example, how close are we First Ladies and other women leaders after eight months in office? Do we care about each other? If we do not show any concern and care for each other at our level, can we really care about the citizenry? I ask these questions to serve as food of thought for all of us.
In order to sustain and deepen an atmosphere of peace, it is very important that we make a deliberate effort to address those fundamental issues which people feel very strongly about with a view to finding enduring solutions to their grievances. This process must be approached with openness and transparency in order to encourage the expression of divergent views and earn the trust, confidence and goodwill of all stakeholders. It is also very important for all of us to contribute our quota towards the restoration of the faith of the people in our institutions, processes and systems to ensure fairness and justice.
At this point, the question is what role can we as women play in facilitating the ongoing peace process? We surely have very important roles to play as home makers and ambassadors of goodwill. We must start from the basics which is the home. As mothers we have the unique privilege and opportunity of sowing and nurturing the seeds of love, tolerance, kindness, patience and civility in our children right from infancy. We can deliberately influence them as they grow up to respect the feelings and opinions of others. We are in the best positions to mould their minds and teach them to respect the dignity of every fellow human being irrespective of colour, creed, race or social status. That is the great responsibility which we owe as women to help promote the cause of peace in our country and our world.
Once again, we applaud the initiators of this forum and pledge our commitment to help nurture it into a powerful vehicle for promoting peace in the only country we can call ours.
Thank you and God bless you all.
Mrs. Abimbola Fashola
First Lady of Lagos State