BOKO HARAM: YOUTH INTEGRATION SUMMIT TO THE RESCUE?
Boko Haram onslaught is real. Suicide bombing has become part of our living as a people. By the day, arson and bombing are becoming a common place in our political lexicon as a nation. Until recently, suicide bombing was non-existent on the national horizon but Boko Haram has demystified all that. Boko Haram has brought security consciousness to bear on our hitherto peaceful society. It has also left deep chasm in the once buoyant relation that existed between the Muslim North and Christian South.
Nigerians can no longer boast of a peaceful country devoid of ethnic and religious sentiments. The apprehensive looks that adorn the faces of Southerners when they encounter Northerners has become a permanent feature of our national life. And most painfully, life has become somewhat uneasy in Nigeria because you never can know the next man to fall victim of Boko Haram bomb lurching by the corner.
However, the critical issue of the moment is no longer who is safe or not but how to make Nigeria safe in its entirety.
One fundamental question that begs for an answer is what measure(s) would bring back sanity to the minds of Boko Haram Faithful. Can the Nigerian state work out an acceptable strategy that would contain the anticipations of Boko Haram adherents?
However, even as a combination of the police, the military and the Nigerian presidency set out to undo the Boko Haram menace; they appear to be ignoring the fact that members of Boko Haram are youths-daring youths indeed. They are a bunch of youths who are disoriented by the happenings-on in their society and seek to apply force to change it.
But the federal government appears to leave out the fact that the Boko Haram and the freedom fighters of the Niger Delta share some striking similarities-youths seeking for change by force.
Hence, it is time the federal government adopted some measures from the Niger Delta experience. Yes, it is not time for amnesty but dialogue- a dialogue pivoted by the youths themselves.
It is a common knowledge that the application of force in quelling uprising has never succeeded in any place in the world. It didn’t work in the Niger Delta and would not work for Boko Haram.
However, in as much as it is advisable for federal government to fine-tune security measures to nip the Boko Haram menace in the bud, it is time they exploited a youth platform. A platform that would bring together youths of diverse religious, ethnic and cultural leanings to discuss their co-existence in the entity called Nigeria.
Hence, it is time the federal government allowed the youths of the country to talk to each other with a desire to engender ethnic and religious harmony.
Many may wonder how federal government can achieve this lofty objective but it is nothing new.
Already, Former President of Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) ,Dr.Chris Ekiyor has set the pace when he convened Nigeria Youth Integration Summit(NYIS) in 2010. The aim of the summit was geared towards giving the youths a platform to negotiate their destinies in the Nigeria project.
It was geared towards discussing the fundamentals and foundation of a Nigeria devoid of religious, ethnic and cultural sentiments. As the convener of NYIS, Ekiyor had espoused the need for youth integration and unity as yardsticks for achieving peaceful co-existence and understanding in the country.
On the platform of NYIS, Ekiyor had espoused the need to have a common platform of dialogue among youths from diverse ethnic and religious background. Ekiyor argues that ethnic harmony and peaceful co-existence is possible through building a better network of youths who believe in the one-Nigeria philosophy.
To underscore the pivotal role of the summit, it had representatives from diverse ethnic, religious and cultural divide across the country.
At the 2-day summit which held in Abuja, the youths had among other things resolved to pursue a larger platform to achieve youth integration geared towards ethnic and religious harmony in the country.
The youths condemned what they described as on-going gerontocracy and opted for vibrant leadership based on ideological orientation and reasoning.
They demanded the full implementation of the Child Rights Act and the review of Primary and Junior Secondary Curricula to ensure human capital development among Nigerian youths. They also sought protection of youths from being hired as agents of electoral malpractices in future.
The summit also resolved to encourage mobilisation of organised groups, organisational leaders, students’ union and religious groups to adopt a code of conduct that forbids them from fraternising with unproductive politicians, and embrace partnership and collaboration with artisan groups and Community-based organisations to evolve a new positive value.
They also agreed that action should be taken in developing nationalistic ideals in the Nigerian youths, devoid of ethnic and religious cleavages which were earlier used as divisive tools. The youths also emphasised that citizenries seeking elective positions should be ready to be engaged by the Nigerian youths on questions of integrity, accountability and probity in their respective records of service at all levels via public debate.
Hence, with the return of Boko Haram to our national space, it has become glaring that a platform such as NYIS may be useful in discussing and resolving the Boko Haram menace.
It could also serve as a platform to commence renegotiation of a new Nigeria devoid of those sentiments that widen our relations as people of diverse ethnic and religious persuasions.
Hence, many have wondered if Ekiyor’s postulation on the NYIS platform does not hold a possible solution to nip the rising menace of Boko Haram in the bud. If the youths have a better understanding of each other would it not bring about ethnic and religious harmony in the country?
But those who know Ekiyor argue that he is not new to youth liberation, agitation and peace.
As President of IYC, Ekiyor had played pivotal role during the Niger Delta upsurge. His role in the release of 6 Russian hostages held by the Ateke Tom faction of Niger Delta vigilante cannot be overemphasised. The records speak for themselves.
Some Nigerians argue that it is about time the likes of Ekiyor are sought to pivot a platform in the mould of NYIS that would engender harmony in the country.
They premise their position on the fact that this is the auspicious time for Nigerian youths to discuss and chart a way forward for the country.
It is no longer news that the youths hold the key to the future of every nation. Youth power has demystified dictatorship in Tunisia and Egypt and they will continue to do so until there is an avenue for youths to interact on a national platform.
Though, Ekiyor had veered into politics and have in recent times been left out of the scheme of things, many still insist that the idea of Youth integration on a broad scale cannot be overemphasised at this point in time of our history.
Whether this proposition on youth integration is accepted or not, the glaring truth is that Boko Haram has made it mandatory that unless Nigerian youths discuss their future in the Nigerian project, they would continue to be willing tools in the hands of perceived political contractors out to undermine our unity.
Emeka Umejei, a journalist lives in Lagos.