Chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony in Nigeria (FEHN), Mr. Allen Onyema has commended the late President Umaru Yar’Adua for genuinely supporting efforts to restore peace to the Niger Delta when militancy spiked in the region some years ago.
Onyema made the comments in Lagos on Friday at the opening session of a five-day non-violence training organised by FEHN in conjunction with Emory University, Atlanta, USA for 45 youths drawn from the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Arewa Youths and Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC).
Yar’Adua, he confirmed, sincerely supported FEHN’s non-violence training for youths in the Niger Delta. He said the late president’s belief in the work of the foundation led to the declaration of amnesty for agitating youths in the Niger Delta.
He said the training for IPOB, OPC and Arewa Youths was aimed at dousing ethnic tensions and fostering peace in Nigeria.
Onyema and the leader of the non-violence experts from Emory University, Dr. Bernard Lafayette urged the youths to work for the unity of the country and stop seeing their counterparts from other ethnic groups as enemies.
The FEHN boss said he sponsored the training as part of his contribution to efforts to ensure peace, unity and ethnic harmony in Nigeria.
Onyema, who is also the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, urged all Nigerians to join the campaign for peace in the country. He insisted that it was in the interest of everyone for Nigeria to remain one united country, saying the true enemies of the people were those playing the nation’s ethnic groups against one another for selfish gains.
“We all know that there is tension in the land and agitations by various groups. This is bound to happen in a country of about 378 ethnic nationalities.
“I think what most people are against is perceived injustice or imbalance, but the most beautiful thing is that most people want one big Nigeria than a fragmented Nigeria.
“The present conflict can become a catalyst for positive change if we take a non-violent approach and refuse to allow ourselves to be used by our common enemies to propagate their selfish interests,” he said.
Onyema commended Arewa Youths for withdrawing the October 1 quit notice they issued Igbo living in the North of Nigeria, confirming that the notice was revoked through dialogue initiated by FEHN in conjunction with other well-meaning groups and individuals.
He urged the Federal Government to continue to dialogue with the different groups with a view to finding a lasting solution to their agitations.
Onyema said the non-violence training was geared towards making the participants to drop tendencies creating division among the nation’s ethnic groups.
The programme, he assured, would equip the participants to work for a united Nigeria. Onyema confirmed that arrangements had also been made for further training of the participants in non-violence education at Emory University in the US at FEHN’s expense.
For his part, the facilitator of the training, Dr. Benard Lafayette of the Non-violence Conflict Resolution Centre, Emory University, Atlanta, USA, said non-violence was the best approach to resolving conflicts.
Nigeria, he said, had a lot to offer the world. He urged the various ethnic nationalities to continue to work together for the good of the country.
Also speaking, the Economic and Political Officer, US Consulate in Lagos, Ms Maria Davydenko said the participants had a huge role to play as bridge builders in Nigeria.
“This is an important time for Nigerians to come together and talk through issues. In the US, we try to talk through issues as much as we can and try to understand the other side.
“Nigeria is a work in progress and you are part of that project and must take up that role seriously, ” she told the participants.