Two Nigerian boys copy passages from the Koran in a refugee camp in Niger. Image credit: UNHCR

Our efforts should be anchored on the holistic peacebuilding synergy that is available, and must go beyond the silence of guns and bombs in order to attain wellbeing.
The emergence of insurgency in the northeast of Nigeria, such as Boko Haram and its activities, has generated heated discussions in both internal and external governance structures and policies, leadership and polity. The abduction of over 200 female students at Chibok in April 2014 has led to to greater attention being place on the situation, from both civil society organisations in Nigeria, and from the international community with the Regional Security Summit at Paris and the presence of US special forces in Chad.

Following the Democracy Day celebration in May, Nigeria's President, GoodLuck Jonathan, unveiled opportunities for a possible dialogue and reconciliation with members of Boko Haram to renounce terrorism and embrace peace:

For our citizens who have joined hands with Al Qaeda and international terrorists in the misguided belief that violence can possibly solve their problems, our doors remain open to them for dialogue and reconciliation, if they renounce terrorism and embrace peace.

Mr. Boni Haruna, Minister of Youth and Development in a media brief also disclosed that a “series of integration programmes have been lined up for the members of the sect who would surrender their arms and embrace peace.” He was governor of Adamawa State (1999 - 2011), during the formation of Boko Haram, when political thugs joined the membership of radicalised Islamic fundamentalists, who were attracted to the charismatic Islamic preacher Yusuf Mohammed. This portrays the twisted ideological formation of the group’s identity who believes that the Nigerian government is being corrupted by western ideas and who also wanted to Islamise Nigeria; and till this day remains a mixture of perspectives.  Prioritising interventions by the federal government might be a challenge, as the needs, interests and positions of victims and perpetrators are contested.

Interestingly, peacebuilding efforts by both international stakeholders and local actors are geared towards attaining peace, meaningful development and a deliverable democratic governance. Prior to the various interventions and strategies, there has been in some sense a disjointed and uncoordinated implementation of particular interventions by the executive structure of governance. Billions of Nigerian Naira was expended as various forms of donations to religious bodies and various groups that were attacked and had structures and lives destroyed during succession of bombings by Boko Haram.

Politicians, state and federal government constantly made these donations, and one would think of such actions being better utilised when the resources have a single competent coordination. The complicated dynamics and incidents of violence in the northeast posed difficulties to accurate conflict and process assessments, owing to corruption at various levels of governance, lack of cohesion among government machineries and lack of agency from the civil society organisations and the grassroots. Though such an un-anticipated conflict ripples, peacebuilding organisations’ efforts seemingly bind the common dream for peace and possible reconciliation through their various skills and strategies.

It is almost inevitable to acknowledge the disruption of already existing systems and structures/institutions in Nigeria, especially with particular focus on the effects in the northeast. Prior to the Boko Haram shootings and bombings, the main struggle of the country was to control diseases, including HIV/AIDS and to improve health delivery. Mental and physical health concerns are also strongly visible. Beyond the call for the members of Boko Haram to lay down their weapons for dialogue and reconciliation by the president; lies the greater task of meeting the needs of the citizens of the country who have either been directly or indirectly traumatised as victims.

Besides the loss of lives, and economic resources; trauma related effects on people and massive displacements of inhabitants have occurred in the northeast (over 200,000) with about 100, 000 migrating to the Niger Republic, Chad and Cameroon. Lessons drawn from history should be the guiding framework to a holistic response to restoring peace, security, trust and wellbeing to all. The response of the government should be foundationally proactive to include efficient medical aids and to provide humanitarian and psychosocial trauma healing assistance to the internally displaced. Ensuring the security of the communities and individuals, alongside credible justice system and good governance, are necessary antidotes to the entire reconstruction process.

A best-case scenario is to establish a credible peace, reconciliation and justice commission in which every affected group/person’s voice is heard (perpetrator or victim). Through active, inclusive participation harms are acknowledged, properly processed and addressed. Breaking the cycle of violence and reprisals transcends the presidential call for peace and reconciliation. Our efforts should be anchored on the holistic peacebuilding synergy that is available, and must go beyond the silence of guns and bombs in order to attain wellbeing.