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Amnesty must accommodate reconciliation-Dr Lafayet

*says the pardon is not enough

DR. Bernard Lafayette Jr is the Director, Centre for Nonviolence and Peace Studies, University of Rhode Island, USA.

As an African American growing up in the south, he witnessed segregation. In this interveiw, Lafayet, who was an associate of Dr Martin Luther King, argued that amnesty is not the solution to the Niger Delta crisis, adding that genuine reconciliation is what is needed. He also spoke on other issues on peaceful resolution of conflict.

You were here last year for this kind of programme and you are in Nigeria now for the same purpose. Does it mean that the presence of  the foundation is yielding the desired result?
Yes, when people begin to see that they can change themselves, then they can believe that change can come extraordinary to their community. One thing that I have observed about Nigeria is that there are many people who have passion. Non-violent according to Dr. Martin Luther King, is not simply concerned about the spiritual aspect of the individual or the community, but it is also concerned about the body.

The economic situation is very much related to non-violent change. One things that we teach, is that if we try to use violence to bring about change, what we do is destroy ourselves, because we will become like the ones we are trying to change. When you look at the way Dr. king  handled the situation in the US, you will discover that he was
very angry of the situations in the South(US).  People were humiliated and made to experience inhuman treatments.

And he started non-violent approach. So, non-violence has proven to be more powerful than violence. It defeats violence.

Despite the energy you  have expended so far in this programme, militancy has been on the rise. What does that mean to you?

It means that much need to be done. What we have done so far is not more than a drop in the ocean. Nigeria is very large and that is how large the crisis is. So, we have to continue to work it out. Then what we have to do is that those who have attended the programme, should carry the message to their communities. They should  try to reach a lot of people especially the youths because these are the ones, who carry arms. That, I believe will usher in a new Nigeria. These transformed youths will now preach non-violent to Nigerians.  They are able to do it because they know the mind-set of they people they are teaching.

Dr. Lafayet
Dr. Lafayette Jnr

We are only teaching them how we were able to defeat racism in the States. What we teach them is not hate the people whom you believe are exploiting you. Rather, use peaceful means to get to the mountain top. When you hate someone else you become the victim. It is like drinking poision and expect the other person to die. We get good testimonies from the people who do the training here and in South Africa. We give them the opportunity to travel to where they will learn things that will make them get out of their situation. We take them to South Africa, where they will see the strong feeling of reconciliation.

The goal is not non-violent against the State alone, it also involves the members of the person’s family. Nigeria is not poor, is not a small country, so when we say we are bringing about changes, it has to start with individuals. One of the militants gave his testimony when we went to South Africa, saying that his wife loves the training because he doesn’t kill anymore. These people will be beneficial to their community when they are reformed and reintegrated.

The point I am making is that we are teaching the youths how to make peace with each other. I am very happy with the level of progress we have made.

If  militancy was existing in America, would you subscribe to amnesty as a way of fighting it? I asked this question against the backdrop of amnesty granted to militants by the Nigerian government.

I agree with the amnesty but it has to come with opportunities, so that they will have a better way of life. They should also have the opportunity to carry people along and teach them better. I would also say that amnesty is not enough, it must go along with reconciliation.  It must also go with sincerity, which will make the people believe
that you are ready for peace. That will heal the wounds on both sides. There should be structures that will bring the real reconciliation.

That means that reconciliation will come between the government, the youths, the community and the world at large. True reconciliation, is a necessary healer of inflicted injuries. All these, will translate to prosperity for the people, because there is no reason Nigerians should be poor. Nigerians are the most hardworking people on this planet.

They don’t sleep, they have that strength human spirit. What the people need is
opportunities to work so that they can benefit their families and their communities. You know the kind of reputation the problem has caused for every body involved, that is why we must say enough is enough. The accomplishment of a nation’s goals, has to be the way that country thinks. There are a lot of opportunities for the youths, which goes beyond militancy.

Some people are of the view that amnesty is uncalled for at this stage of the crisis. The argument was harped on the believe that developmental question that gave rise to the problem, must be answered before amnesty can come in. What is your take on it?

The thing that makes the people to be violent, is when they realised that they are marginalised and exploited.  They now react in uncivilised way in  order to drive home their demands. Though it sends the painful message across, but it is not the best. They feel that it is a form of violence to them, so, they now get involved in retaliation.
Militancy is a way of showing power to the establishment. They feel that they can get what they want through arm struggle, but it is not fashionable. Now that they have taken up arms, our duty is to tell them how, Ghandi and King suppressed oppression by the establishment through non-violence. They showed that you can have power without fire power. That is what happened to us in the US, but we were faithful to peaceful approach.

There were several assassination attempts on me. I was detained twenty seven times. And now I am teaching people how to overcome violence in themselves and their opponents. So, I understand them very well. I used to be a gang leader when I was young. Do you know that some of the violent strategies can be applicable to no-violence. We made a lot of people to join our movement and we were able to overcome segregation.

The same thing in South Africa where twenty million black people were controlled by few million whites. You know that the UN was not particularly against apartheid, even Britain. Most of the world powers were still supplying arms and doing other forms of trading. So, what we did is to boycott our trading in diamond, gold and other products from South Africa.


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