Let me first commend the Rhodes Forum for advancing the philosophy of Dialogue of Civilisations (DOC) this past 15 years. I also wish to thank the Forum for inviting me to share my ideas with the highly intellectual discussants at this year’s programme, taking place in Greece; a nation deservedly recognised as the cradle of Western civilisation, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, as well as democracy.
I consider the theme for this year’s summit, ‘Multipolarity and Dialogue in Regional and Global Developments: Imagining Possible Futures’ quite pertinent, in view of the prevailing dynamics in global politics. It is a topic suitable for interrogation by academics, civil society, technocrats and politicians, in order to provide a clear direction for the world, as it seeks a path to sustainable peace and development.
I will leave the theoretical concepts of historical global power formations for my co-discussants who are in academia so that I can quickly share with you what I consider practical issues that are critical to advancing peace in the world.
I will also share with you what I did with my fellow African leaders to bring peace (in Africa) at the continental, sub-continental, and national levels.
Even then, I have to state that at different times, the world has witnessed various power configurations which started in the modern world as a multipolar arrangement, which became bipolar after World War Two. This eventually morphed into a unipolar sphere of influence after the collapse of the Soviet Union about two decades ago, before other power centres emerged in the twenty-first century to define what we have now as the return of multipolar formation.
That the world needs peace is a declaration no one ever contests, given what the absence of peace portends. That the only road to a peaceful world is through dialogue is also incontrovertible. What then raises a valid contention is the argument over the steps taken by leaders towards realising peace. Are they the right or wrong steps?
At the end of World War Two, 51 nations came together to form the United Nations on 24 October 1945. The UN Security Council was also formed the same day. The UN was set up principally as a replacement for the ineffective League of Nations, in order to prevent another world war and guarantee world peace.
In terms of carrying out the mandate to prevent a Third World War, we could say the UN has done exceptionally well up to this moment. However, we cannot say the same thing over its mandate to ensure world peace as it is obvious that the UN has not achieved much in this regard. From 1945, when 51 nations came together, to now, when the UN has 193 member states, the world has not known real peace.
The late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, a Nigerian philosopher and musician of international repute, tried to rebrand the UN in his own way, by calling it ‘Disunited Nations.’ He might have exaggerated. Nonetheless, his complaint was that nations going through bitter conflicts were all members of the UN. Yet, the global body, primarily set up to guarantee world peace, appears not to have been able to muster the required willpower to resolve issues that cause conflicts, and this has been the case for decades.
Over time, since the establishment of the UN, the world has seen conflicts within and among nations of catastrophic and tragic dimensions, without the global body living up to its billing to provide far-reaching solutions. For instance, East Asia and the Korean Peninsula have not known real peace for 60 years because South and North Korea have remained technically at war since the Korean War (1950-1953), after the warring sides failed to sign an armistice.
We have similar situations between India and Pakistan, and in the unending Middle East crisis, which is at the heart of endless bloodshed. There was also the Rwandan genocide as well as the specific cases of Bosnia, Somalia, and Darfur in Sudan, which unravelled with so much loss of life.
In each case, the UN was helpless in resolving the conflicts. The ongoing wars in Syria, Iraq, the distressing Rohingya dilemma in Myanmar, as well as the threat of conflicts and wars in other parts of the world, are all signs that the UN is failing the world.
Besides the influence of the superpowers are other power centres and regional blocs like the European Union, the Arab League, Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Organisation of American States (OAS), African Union (AU), the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC), and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). There is no doubt that all these groups have been pivotal to peace and economic development in the countries within their spheres of authority. However, they have apparently been helpless, in view of disputes between nations within their fold and those outside their influence. This is where the role of a reorganised UN, one that inspires trust among these blocs and all nations, is most required.
The truth is that despite decades of efforts at the multinational level towards ensuring peace, the world has remained mired in developmental challenges that question man’s ability to govern, collaborate, and unite to make the world better. Those are challenges of poverty, healthcare, inequality, and conflicts. This is because the world has not matched this zeal for organisation with a corresponding gusto for trust, good faith and the will for productive engagements, negotiations, and dialogue.
I believe in the UN as an effective global body that should lead the quest for the peace we desire. I am also convinced that for the organisation to bring about world peace, the UN method and approach to dialogue must be reviewed. It is important that all member nations of the UN have faith in the organisation, and believe that it is fair and representative enough to protect them. The Security Council, which is the most powerful UN organ, with “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security”, cannot inspire that confidence, because of the way it is presently configured.
The present situation, whereby one nation, out of 193 nations, can upturn decisions of the Security Council, has not been helpful in galvanising the confidence and mutuality necessary to bring peace to the world. If anything, the system, which has remained unreviewed in over half a century, has been more effective in opening new frontiers for conflicts, rather than providing answers to the ones it has sought to resolve.
The UN method of dialogue must therefore change.
The Security Council of the United Nations must be democratised, in view of new global realities, in the interest of peace. As presently constituted, the UN is portrayed as a platform where nations come to quarrel and display their might, instead of its being seen in light of statutory role, as a forum for unity and world peace.
I appreciate organisations such as the Rhodes Forum for stepping in to fill the gap, with programmes that promote understanding, unity, and equality.
However, for the world to experience sustainable peace, effective leadership must come from the UN, the flagship global organisation. A UN that would inspire this kind of leadership should ensure equity, with leading nations and power centres representing different regions of the world sitting at the Security Council as permanent members.
In Africa, the restructuring of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) as the African Union (AU), coupled with the formation of regional blocks such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), ECOWAS and SADCC, has helped reduce conflicts significantly. This has given the continent a glimmer of hope in the way it applies dialogue as an instrument of regional peace and development.
In West Africa, where I come from, ECOWAS and my nation Nigeria has resolved, as well as prevented, many conflicts and stabilised and strengthened democracy in many countries in the region. Some of the countries we were able to stabilise are Liberia, Sierra Leone, Niger, Cote D’Ivoire, Mali, Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso, and The Gambia. We were able to achieve this because of intense and purposeful dialogue.
In ECOWAS, we have not only adopted dialogue as a productive means of resolving political conflicts and violence but have also advanced many steps towards economic integration. I believe that successes have been recorded in this regard with the policy on free movement of persons and goods, similar to what occurs within EU countries. We were able to achieve all this through a process of sincere dialogue.
When I was in office as President, I championed the cause of good governance, transparent elections, and peaceful power transfers, because I also believed that at the heart of the dialogue for a more peaceful world is the need to cultivate a culture of democracy and good governance at the national level. This is a good way to reduce the local tensions that possess potential for blossoming into global crisis.
Dialogue is a formula that serves any community well, in preventing or resolving conflicts. In Nigeria, through a process of dialogue, we arrived at an amnesty programme that brought an end to the crisis in the Niger Delta, an oil-rich region in my country that accounts for all the oil wells that remain the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy.
Sometime in 2014, I had a thought in my mind. Nigeria is easily the most ethnically and religiously heterogeneous society in Africa, and one of the most diverse nations in the world.
Many times, these different ethnic groups pull in diverse directions that as a leader, cause you to experience the genuine fear that the center may not hold.
At that time, I asked myself, how can I as President, help build a more harmonious union in Nigeria? One based on the words of our National Anthem, which ends with ‘to build a nation where peace and justice shall reign’.
To address this I convened a National Conference where the various ethnic groups and other stakeholders deliberated for five months on the future of the country. They had the mandate to discuss and advise the Government on all matters pertaining to our nationhood, except the sovereignty of the country.
On Thursday, August 21, 2014, I received the report. Our general elections came up six months after the national conference. The confidence and national goodwill the conference inspired helped bring down the tension during and after the general elections. It was a confidence-boosting outcome, despite the predictions by some international bodies that Nigeria was going to disintegrate in 2015.
There is one important point people often overlook whenever the issue of global peace arises. There can be no peace at the global level if there is no peace in the heart, conscience, and character of leaders of nations.
I spoke recently at another event about my belief that the best leadership flows from inspiration and not from power or force of arms. Conscience-based leadership builds nations and ensures peace while ego-based leadership throws nations into conflicts and chaos.
In closing, I have to make one thing clear: irrespective of centres of control, it is only genuine dialogue that can bring peace to the world. A peaceful world will reduce financial crises, armed conflicts, terrorism, unchecked migration, religious conflicts, and secessionist agitations.
It is obvious that investments thrive, and economies grow better in peaceful environments, leading to improvement in education and other social investments and a reduction in poverty.
Advocacy by the Rhodes Forum and similar organisations is exceedingly important because they provide neutral platforms for advice on global issues. However, for the world to experience lasting peace, there must be fairness, equity, and justice in the UN Security Council.
I say this because I envision smaller or hitherto less powerful nations acquiring new capacities and capabilities, in this age of technology’s boundless potential, with which they may even challenge the superpowers for relevance. Only a democratised United Nations where every nation or power bloc truly commits to processes for sustainable peace could eliminate the possibility of such an apocalypse.
So when I am asked to proffer solutions for achieving global peace and sustainable development, I will say that the answer lies in genuine dialogue. This entails negotiations, hard bargaining, inclusivity, persuasion, and confidence building.
I thank you all.