By Nelly Ating
This year’s 20th commemoration flagged off in Abuja on February 6, 2014, with a series of lectures, and later continued in AUN with a candle-lit memorial to honour those who lost their lives in the crisis. The ceremony brought together people from different nationalities and walks of life. Present were the Rwandan Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Joseph Habineza; AUN President Margee Ensign, and top management staff of AUN including Provost Professor Charles Reith, Dean of Student Life, Byron Bullock, Dean of Post Graduate School, Professor John Leonard; Security Consultant, Dr. Lionel Rawlins, faculty and students as well as the members of Adamawa community. They came to remember the victims of the 1994 Genocide that claimed an estimated 1,000,000 people in 100 days. According to the ambassador, choosing Yola for the memorial was not by accident as AUN has its role in helping establish the Rwandan community on campus. He added that the security concern in Nigeria’s northeast was another reason why the ceremony was hosted in AUN.
A key segment of the host community present at the Rwandan Memorial was the Adamawa Peacemakers’ Initiative (API), whose members’ strong presence was no accident either. The API, founded and promoted by the American University of Nigeria as a community-based peace and conflict resolution body, has become a model of peace and consensus building in the North East of Nigeria. The API is a non-partisan, stakeholders’ forum of prominent members of the Adamawa community – religious and traditional leaders, and representatives of security agencies, government and academic institutions, and which is dedicated to promoting peace and harmony in the state. One of the platforms through which the API pursues peace is the Community Peace Council, which is made up of community leaders from all segments and interest groups and which promotes dialogue and coexistence. In recognition of its pioneering role in ensuring peace and promoting dialogue among the Adamawa groups and communities, three members of the API were invited by the Tony Blair Inter-Faith Foundation in the United Kingdom to come and discuss issues of religious dialogue at an international conference.
Therefore, the choice of AUN as host of the Rwandan genocide memorial is a tribute to the efforts the University has channeled towards preserving the peace and encouraging dialogue in Adamawa state. Kwibuka is celebrated in different countries to mark the reconciliation and development strides Rwanda has taken since the genocide. The organizers meant to use the forum to warn other countries of the dire consequences of violence, using Rwanda as an example. It is important to bring home the message of peace to communities like Adamawa which though in the North-east, is a bastion of peace, due to the concerted effort of major stakeholders.
The ambassador during the lecture reiterated that the perpetrators of the Rwandan violence were not illiterate or miscreants but people who are highly-trained professionals like doctors, teachers, lawyers, and politicians in positions of authority. He warned Nigerian youth to avoid being used for sectarian violence because they would suffer most from exposure to the nature and consequences of killings and destruction. He added that Rwandan children who witnessed the genocide were now either entering secondary school or the university, their educational progress having been delayed.
On a brighter note, Rwanda survived the genocide and is marking Kwibuka 20 years after. There are key hihglihgts of Rwanda’s rise from a national tragedy to a new era of reconciliation, hope and inclusiveness. The ambassador explained how women became agents of peace and dialogue and encouraged Adamawa State to not neglect sport in promoting peace in their community. But why peace through sport? Every game has universal rules and peace can be achieved as everybody participates without ethnic barriers. Rwanda is unlike Nigeria with diverse ethnic groups, he opined. “Rwanda has one language, one culture, and one belief system, including belief in one God – Imana”.
During the war I began to wonder if Imana had left us to allow such havoc in Rwanda. But today, I am happy Imana has returned entirely to watch, protect and bless the land.” He called on Nigerian leaders to promote peace, justice, religious tolerance, and dialogue in their communities, referring to everybody listening to him whether young or old, big or small as the leaders. President Ensign got the audience thinking aloud while narrating her involvement with Rwanda and how far the country had pulled back from the abyss. Rwanda, she said, has become a success story. After the war, her prospects looked dark but there is always a light at the end of a tunnel, Dr Ensign said.
This is the second time AUN was hosting the Rwandan memorial. Last year the 19th edition also had the ambassador in attendance. Hebineza, alongside AUN Professor Alfredo Ocampo, from Columbia, was also a member of the international panel formed by the API that was hosted at the university in December last year at the third annual Yola Peace Day event to discuss peace and reconciliation to an audience that included senior university administrators, faculty, parents, Yola community members.
Nelly Ating is of AUN Class of 2012