BY ABDULRAZAQ O HAMZAT
I was part of a group that had discussion with Greg Pirio, a communication specialist, principal partner at Africa Analytics (A2) and a research professor at Institute of Conflict Analysis and
Resolution in Abuja on 19th Oct 2017.
I represented our organization, Foundation for Peace Professionals in a focus group discussion that has other civil society organizations in attendance. The subject of the discus was circled around coming up
with positive alternative messages to counter the current negative tirade flying all over the media space.
The gathering all agreed that consistent broadcast of negative messages by advocate of sectional and partisan interest is a major factor brewing violence and tension in Nigeria and the earlier we
begin to counter the negative messages with more positive ones, the better for us and the country.
While it is true that every country has its own challenges, countries that allowed negative messages dominate its media space gradually slide into greater violence and insecurity. This is something we must
avoid at all cost.
Prof Greg who has traveled to more 27 African countries informed the gathering that his organization is embarking on a global research to craft positive messages to promote peace and he is traveling around
selected African countries on this new project to determine which country in Africa would be most appropriate to be featured in the research project.
Greg who is also a former staff of Voice of America explained that, everything is about communication. The messages we communicate and how we communicate it have a great role in determining what happens in the country. He explained further that, since his arrival to Nigeria some weeks back, he could feel the tension in the air and he requested to hear our views on the general state of things in the country as regards methods to achieve the aim of the project.
Each participating organization talked about their organization and the activities they are engaged in. For the Foundation for Peace Professionals (FPP), we re-establish our understanding of the tension beyond the symptoms. We are focused on advocating for improvement in the foundational indices that enhance stereotype, discrimination and needless segregation. We also talked about the Nigeria Peace Index (NPI), our recently concluded research project that is yet to be
Nigerian Peace Index (NPI) is the first national peace index in Nigeria that is focused on measuring peace tendencies through foundational indices in the 36 states of the federation. The index also provides an analysis of the socioeconomic factors associated with peacefulness, as well as an estimate of the economic benefits that would flow from increases in peace.
At the end of our discussion, it was agreed that the most important task before all lovers of peace in Nigeria is to craft message that humanizes other people, irrespective of tribe, region or religion.
This is a task that must be pursued with all seriousness and dedication.
It was observed that, one of the key elements of violence is the dehumanization of others, either on the basis of tribe, region or religion. Instigators of violence often paint their victims as less human with dehumanizing rhetoric’s, thereby making perpetrators justify or rationalize their inhuman actions.
By dehumanizing other people, it makes perpetrators of violence feel comfortable about themselves and their actions, since it is perceived to be done against less human.
For example, if news broke out that 1000 Fulani people have been massacred in their homes and villages, hardly do people feel concerned, because the Fulani tribe has been de-humanized. What attracts public outrage is the killing of a single person who is accorded human respect and sympathy. How beautiful would it have been, if we can accord all human lives due respect and sympathy? This is
mission we should all take upon ourselves. Let’s humanize all people to avoid anarchy.
For all lovers of peace and humanity, crafting messages that promotes act of humanization will greatly change public perception of people that have hitherto been consistently dehumanized. Before anyone perpetrate act of violence against people seen to be human, the conscience will be pricked and humanity will play some role.
Furthermore, an extensive deliberation went into the role education should play in the whole project of positive message for peace. While some argued that the major challenge lies with educating the teeming population of people without formal education, others maintained that formal education itself is not a way out of the current situation. Education is not an end on its own; it is a means to an end.
However, records have shown that not many educated people are doing much better than their un-educated counter part in areas of managing crisis and promoting peace. It was resolved that, while formal education is very important, knowledge and enlightenment is generally better, whether formal or informal. The gathering also agreed that being knowledgeable is good, but empathy and compassion is better.
As I reflected over this event that happened more than a month ago, I feel bad that while we have organizations abroad that are willing and interested in investing their resources on peace communication in all parts of the world, nothing is being done here in Nigeria. We are all too consumed by politics, blame and counter blame to bother with trying to change the violent narratives that liter our media space. This is very dangerous to say the least.
I look forward to a time, when we would have organizations that care about peace building and support peace communication and advocacy. I am aware that like the Foundation for Peace Professionals, many other organizations are doing their part despite the limited or outright lack of support, but we need more people of goodwill and organizations to come out from their comfort zone. It is our collective duty to build a sane and peaceful society.
Abdulrazaq O Hamzat is a Human Right Ambassador and the Executive Director of Foundation for Peace Professionals. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org