By Cecilia Ijuo
St. Petersburg – The President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, has called for international conference on North East and Boko Haram threat in Nigeria.
He made the call during General Debate at the 137 Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) Assembly on Sunday at St. Petersburg, Russia.
Saraki, who lamented the havoc caused by insecurity in the region, said while Nigerian government was doing its best to tackle the problem, international interventions were necessary.
According to him, convening an international conference like the one convened in London on Somalia and Syria will go a long way in finding lasting solution to the problem in the region.
He added that “Nigeria’s North East region has suffered terribly as a result of the onslaught of Boko Haram insurgents.
“Two million Nigerians are internally displaced or have fled to neighbouring countries like the Lake Chad region, where 4.4 million people are threatened by food insecurity.
“Of the fund needed to address the problem, less than half has been raised. The UN has described the situation in the Lake Chad region as the most neglected humanitarian crisis in the world.
“The 8th National Assembly is at the forefront of improved coordination efforts to overcome institutional and logistic impediments in the way of getting aid for those in need.
“We have reached an advanced stage in plans for a development commission to tackle the crisis in the North East; incidentally, the region has the highest poverty rate in the country.
“We have also made economic growth and greater investment the core of our legislative agenda.
“The sooner we deliver economic reforms and greater prosperity to all Nigerians, the sooner we can achieve more inclusive society and minimise societal divisions and grievances.”
Saraki further pointed out the need for government to attend to challenges in other parts of the country for sustainable peace.
According to him, Plateau in the Middle Belt region of Nigeria has been faced with ethnic and religious conflicts, with more than 7,000 people killed in the last decade.
He said that the challenge of climate change led to shrinking of the Lake Chad, which could no longer sustain thousands of displaced persons camped along its receding banks, especially in the North of Nigeria.
He emphasised among other things, the need to tackle youth unemployment, poverty, religious intolerance and marginalisation, which were major factors of restiveness in the country.
He added that “the National Assembly believes that inter-faith dialogue, especially that driven by women and the media, can support the role of passing the message of religious tolerance among the younger generation.
“This is because of their influential roles in the social cultural fabric of the society.
“We also cannot overemphasise the special role education has to play in overcoming prejudices and uprooting stereotypes, promoting inter-denominational services, as well as cultivating and promoting shared values.
“Parliamentarians can champion the IPU’s core values of equality, inclusiveness, respect, integrity and solidarity as necessary tools for bringing about peace through cultural pluralism.
“I urge us to adopt the Tirana Summit Declaration of 2004 for a world in which religious faiths will not only co-exist peacefully, but work actively to promote a sense of social cohesion and collective purpose.”
On the theme of the 137th IPU — “Promoting Cultural Pluralism and Peace Through Interfaith and Inter Ethnic Dialogue” — Saraki said it was timely in view of the need to seek alternative to war in resolving conflicts across the globe.
He said the ethnic divide and religious antagonism across the world had opened up new theatres of conflicts leading to heightened humanitarian crisis; “and something urgent must be done.’’
He added that “according to the UN, 20 million people are at risk of famine in countries like Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.
“140 million people in 37 countries are in need of aid; and earlier this year in the Dhaka Declaration, the 136th IPU Assembly called attention to food insecurity in Yemen, Afghanistan and parts of Africa.
“Indeed, as the IPU President rightly observed, we are entering the age of famine.”
Saraki expressed concern over increased cases of hate speeches directed at those who were considered to be different in culture, tradition and religion.
He said there were rising inter-ethnic clashes with many recorded fatalities and communities displaced.
He added that the diverse cultural, traditional and religious practice across Africa that ought to be its source of strength had turned out to be a threat to its existence.
According to him, the situation has led to bloodletting, like the case of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
He added that Nigeria had also experienced a civil war and lately experiencing increased spate of hate speeches and ethnic conflicts, which was threatening the unity of the country.
“2017 has been a year of unremitting woes. There is no part of the world that is untouched by trouble and strife, conflicts created by apparent failure in all spheres to achieve peaceful co-existence.
“In the U.S., white supremacists engage in pitched battles with anti-fascist and `Black Lives Matter’ protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“The country has been boiling since then as the fault lines widen between the various segments of American society, giving vent to long simmering tensions.
“In Spain, the reverberations of the Catalan independence referendum are being felt. Or is it the sporadic bursts of xenophobic violence in South Africa?.
“We will also not forget the election-related unrest in Kenya, fractured along ethnic lines between the Luos and the Kikuyus.
“We also see again and again the consequences of gaps in mutual understanding within communities.
“In Myanmar, tensions between the Buddhist majority and the Muslim Rohingya sent a wave of human misery flowing to the border of Bangladesh,’’ he said.
Saraki, however, expressed optimism that the 137th IPU would offer lasting solution to the growing world conflicts.