by Ugochukwu Ikeakor
Since the emergence of Nigeria’s fledgling democracy in 1999, Northern Nigeria has become a permanent flashpoint of violent conflict. As political and ethnic conflict has been a major threat to national unity in the country, Adamawa, Kaduna, Kano, Bauchi, Borno, Plateau states are notorious flashpoints for numerous conflicts, since the return of civilian rule in 1999. These intractable conflicts include ethnic, religious, political, sectarian, communal, settlers-natives and pastoralist-farmers dimensions. Political and ethnic tensions have been a major feature of Nigeria political history.
Many observers of Nigeria’s political history have asked why conflicts keep reoccurring between different communities across the Northern region. It is significant to note the influence of politicisation of ethnicity, selective injustice and elite manipulation has made crisis possible across Northern Nigeria. Ethno-political conflicts in Nigeria are fundamentally influenced by bad politics, bad governance and poor conflict management. Therefore, its management has become a mirage in spite of a series of interventions to put the conflicts to an end. Today, the herdsmen are on the rampage across Nigeria and Boko Haram is still holding sway across the North Eastern States. But in all of this crisis and conflict that has engulfed different states across Nigeria, Kwara has stood out in the way it has maintained peace and harmony with the different ethnic groups living in the state. As Nigeria is engulfed in crisis and seeks for a leadership that can bridge the ethnic divide and unite Nigeria as one, the time is ripe to adopt the Kwara model of peace and harmony in uniting Nigeria as one.
Since 1999, many Northern states in Nigeria have witnessed endless political and religious killings, today states across the middle belt region are under the constant threat of crisis. This crisis is a result of failure in leadership, where the political class have failed to managed the different ethnic groups and provide the needed leadership. Many of the leaders across the conflict-prone states in Northern Nigeria benefit from the crisis and are not willing to embark on actions that will yield peace and harmony across their various states.
Kwara is known as ‘The State of Harmony’ on account of the peaceful relations that exist among its multicultural and diverse population of about 2.5 million people, where the major religious communities have good relations with one another. The principal groups residing in Kwara are the Yoruba, Nupe, Bariba and Fulani. Despite having diverse groups living together, Kwara has witnessed a purposeful leadership that has done well in solidifying their differences ensuring that Kwara remains in a state of harmony.
The African report in 2010 reported on how a lot of displaced people in Northern Nigerian had to move to Kwara known for its political peace to seek shelter in Ilorin and its environs.
Bukola Saraki was the governor of Kwara from 2003 – 2011. Between this period, many northern states were engulfed in different political and religious conflicts. The last recorded crisis in Kwara happened on the 20th of Dec. 1999 when some Muslim fundamentalists attacked and destroyed over 14 churches in Ilorin. Properties worth several millions of naira were destroyed and an unspecified casualty reported. It happened under the leadership of Governor Ahmed Lawal and these problems led to his ouster.
After the exit of Lawal, came Bukola Saraki the unifier, a leader who understood that no meaningful progress could be made without peace and harmony. During his 8 years as Kwara governor, he calmed the nerves and worked with all the tribes to bring equitable justice and peace into the state. There was no recorded political or religious conflict and he managed the state as one. He is a unifier.
After Dr Saraki’s tenure, Kwara recorded the lowest poverty rate for any state in Northern Nigeria, and up until today, this record stands 8 years after he left the helm of affairs of the state. Saraki’s handling of the intertribal crisis in the North Central despite the volatility of the region is a good benchmark for future Governors and Presidents in Nigeria. His method of bringing everyone to the table has turned Kwara into a peaceful state in between a volatile region.