“Peace and National Development” is on the academic slaughter slab in Abuja as Veritas University, Abuja’s conference on that theme got under way this morning. The fireworks started right away at the opening ceremony featuring John Cardinal Onaiyekan, the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Prof Isah Hashim who represented the Emir of Kano, the Most Reverend Augustine Akabueze, the Bishop of Benin who represented Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, the President of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, (CBCN), Prof Olawale Albert of the University of Ibadan and Mathew Hassan Kukah, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese. The last two were the lead speakers.
For Cardinal Onaiyekan, the theme of the conference is an urgent and relevant one because peaceful coexistence is, for him, the issue that would determine the future of Nigeria. He, however, hoped the conclusions of the conference would translate to policy.
But speaking earlier, Prof Mike Kwanashie, the Vice-Chancellor of Veritas described the conference as testimony that the university could now stand in Nigeria’s capital and provide a platform to discuss what he calls one of the biggest challenges of our time. Peace and development, he said, is a key theme because Nigeria is experiencing a quagmire of religious, inter-state and inter-regional conflicts. The Veritas University’s Centre for Peace and Development has, according to him, been set up to be an intellectual primer, a think tank, adding that gathering over 100 academics to come and deliberate on such a key theme is part of the evidence that the proprietors of Veritas were involved in a struggle to building one of the best universities in the country.
Speaking along the Vice-Chancellor’s line, Bishop Augustine Akabueze described the search for truth as the essence of a Catholic university such as Veritas, adding that the present age is in need of such service and that humanity is impaired without it. The dream of the proprietors is that Veritas University would one day be one of the best in Africa and may be in the world, said the Bishop who is also hopeful that a certificate bearing the name of the institution would give advantage to those holding it. He argued that such would be on the basis of the completeness of the education offered by Veritas University.
He voted for the aptness of the conference theme in the light of the observable threats to peace in agitations for secession, hate speeches, insurgency and terrorism, herders and farmers, kidnappings and armed robbery, civil disturbances, religious and ethnic tension. “These can result in disunity, instability and, if not curtailed, disintegration”, he said. Bishop Akabueze described the university as one of the best instruments the Church offers to this age.
Muhammadu Sanusi 11, the Emir of Kano has said that Nigerians with responsibility for the nation’s moral direction and upliftment would have no one to blame if the country were to go aground. In a Keynote address read on his behalf at the opening session, the Emir said it was important to get the concept of peace right or there was the risk something else could be mistaken for it. Defining it in relation to Nigeria, the Emir said it was inter-ethnic, inter-religious and inter-tribal harmony and equilibrium, which he said required pursuit and maintenance of social justice in such a manner that convinces the average Nigerian citizen that there is something for him, her or them in the system.
“The seed must be sown in the minds of the people”. This, he argued, is so because once there is doubt in this regard, so long would there be strife and communal rioting. He charged religious leaders to competently endeavour to spread and apply the teaching of love, brotherhood and unity.
Providing overarching framework for the theme were Prof Olawale Albert of the University of Ibadan and Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto Diocese. While Prof Albert took the position that a re-invigoration of peace or security education is inevitable, Bishop Kukah argued the imperative of the Catholic Church to intervene in the polity or the system would go nowhere. Bishop Kukah did not see any alternative to the Catholic Church which he said has always successfully framed the challenge and offered a road map at every crisis point in human history. That is aside from teaching the world everything, from diplomacy to governance as pastoral care.
In his most radical and emancipatory self ever, the Bishop cited what the Pope at the onset of the First World War and at the collapse of communism said and did to buttress his thesis, crediting the Catholic Church with the most moral revulsion against capitalist organisation of society. The Catholics, he said, foretold the collapse of the capitalist world economy, with the Pope saying that the economy must serve human needs rather than the idealisation of capitalism even when capitalism turned upside down God’s decision to entrust man with the world as recorded in the book of Genesis in the Bible. “We must bend the arch of history”, he said, a phrase which when applied to Nigeria shocks him that no Catholic has ever even tried to contest Nigeria’s presidency before to talk of winning or losing the election.
He found this surprising because, according to him, it is impossible to read the Catholic Social Teachings and be the same again, irrespective of one’s religious bias. It is a comprehensive text on how to organise society, he inferred, wondering why Catholics were waiting to hear from platforms such as the APC and the PDP before taking their bearing in a context in which nobody except incumbent governors know their successors across Nigeria.
In the paper titled “Peace and National Development: Search for a Moral Compass”, the Bishop of Sokoto distinguished between a politician who is a Catholic and a Catholic who becomes a politician, saying it was an important distinction because some of the worst dictators have been Catholics. He expressed fear that Nigeria would go nowhere near peace with the current cycle of frustration fuelled by a rentier economy in which politics and power is about distribution rather than creation of wealth.
Professor Olawale Albert in his paper titled “Security Education and National Development” traced the path to peace in hooking the search on the eighth other tracks of peacemakers. That is going beyond the government and its security forces in track one to religion, the media, civil society, business and researchers/academics. Threats and wars or conflicts, he argued, has moved to where the enemy to be killed are countrymen, where the combatants are not known but lives in our midst and are not afraid of death. This, he said, requires broadening into peace or security education because the option of killing the enemy could turn out embarrassing.
Singling out the education/research track out of the 9 in the multi-track diplomacy structure because of its applicability in all other tracks, Albert insisted on the need to invest more there. But peace education, he said, must be such that embraced both the knowledge skills components and the passion for involvement in it. He, however, warned of the inadequacy of peace education if it is not combined with good governance. There would still be problems if there is no good governance even if all of us get PhD, he stated, noting how interesting the times are in Nigeria today when security problems are mounting against a questionable capacity to deal with it.
Albert, a veteran of peace education and peace activism, commended Veritas University for establishing a Centre for Peace and Development, saying it advertised the university to the global community which is keen in exploring the plausible options for peace.