By Sonnie Ekwowusi
I have always been somewhat fascinated by the healing power of dialogue. A dialogue is a discussion or communication between two or more persons. Dialogue is a precondition for positive change in society. In contrast to dialogue, a discussion in which each party is unresponsive to what the others are saying is called a monologue, or, better still, a dialogue of the deaf. For words to have their meaning they require response and rebuttal to response. From the perspective of therapy experience, silence kills dialogue heals.
What we cannot deny is that the Nigerian people are always willing to take advantage of any opportunity to discuss how they want to live together as a people in one country. Call that opportunity whatever you like; the fact remains that it is an opening for the Nigerian people to express their views about the goings on in the country. If democracy still means “government of the people by the people and for the people” then the Nigerian people must always have the final say in matters affecting their interests. Since the representatives of the people exercise power on behalf of the people, they cannot impose their will on the people; rather they should also listen to the people to ascertain the best way of serving the people. After all, democracy rests on the assumption that the people would have enough wisdom to pursue their interest through their representatives in government. Therefore the will of the people in all cases ought to prevail. How should the leaders ensure that this happens? One of the ways is through dialogue. We can overcome hate through dialogue. We can overcome violence through dialogue. We can overcome nepotism and discrimination through dialogue
Last Friday a delegation of respected Igbo leaders led by the First Republic parliamentarian and Minister Chief Mbazulike Amaechi had a fruitful dialogue with President Buhari at the State House to explore an amicable political solution to Nnamdi Kanu issues in order to nip in the bud IPOB violent secessionist threats as well as reconcile Kanu and all his estranged followers and sympathizers onto the path to peaceful co-existence of all in Nigeria. Suffice it say that the August delegation included former Anambra State Governor Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife, Methodist Church Bishop Sunday Onuora, former Aka-Ikenga President Chief Goddy Uwazurike. Present in the parley were some Igbo Ministers and some members of the President’s cabinet excluding the Federal Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Abubakar Malami SAN. Speaking ex-tempore with clear head and untarnished remarkable scholarship even at the age of 93, Amaechi first spoke about the difficult times in Nigeria: the “painful and pathetic” insecurity in the South East, about the possibility of releasing Kanu to him with the assurance that he (Amaechi) will get him to renounce his violent secessionist threats. Thereafter he paused and said to the President, “I don’t want to leave this planet without peace returning to my country. I believe in one big, united Nigeria, a force in Africa. Mr. President, I want you to be remembered as a person who saw Nigeria burning, and you quenched the fire”.
Ostensibly awed by the dignity of Amaechi’s old age, the merited distinction of his grey hair, and, perhaps his charming charismatic presence, a visibly-moved President Buhari put aside the prepared speech he was clutching in his right hand and was about to read out to his guests. After doing that, he cleared his voice, and, responded, inter alia, “You’ve made an extremely difficult demand on me as a leader of this country. The implication of your request is very serious. In the last six years, since I became President nobody would say I have confronted or interfered in the work of the Judiciary. God has spared you, and given you a clear head, at this age, with sharp memory. A lot of people half you’re your age are confused already. But the demand you made is heavy. I will consider it”
The first thing I find impressive about the parley with the President is the recognition of Buhari, Amaechi and probably others present in the parley that we are all members of the same human family though tongue, political affiliation and political posts may differ; the understanding that this world is like a stage in which everyone of us acts his or her part and thereafter leaves the stage for other actors to act their own part too. Perceiving nonagenarian Amaechi as one who has acted his own part till old age and now about to leave the stage for other actors, President Buhari waxed philosophically and told Amaechi, “God had spared you, and given you a clear head at this age with very sharp memory” The second impressive thing, for me, is the closing words of the President, “I will consider it”. This is dialogue or the beginning of a dialogue even if later Mr. President, as some suspect, fails to keep his promise. This is the first time President Buhari is officially dialoguing on IPOB and Nnamdi Kanu issues. While the President is wont to dialogue with murderous Boko Haram, Fulani herdsmen, bandits. Miyetti Allah, he has refused to dialogue with/on Kanu and his followers. Instead of initiating dialogue with IPOB as he did with other murderous criminals operating in the country, Mr. President went ahead to proscribe IPOB. And subsequently the military was dispatched to kill pro-Biafra peaceful demonstrators. Without holding a brief for IPOB, I find the killing of those IPOB peaceful demonstrators (just like the October 20 massacre of unarmed young demonstrators at the Lekki Toll Gate, Lagos) very barbaric and inexcusable. How can fully-armed soldiers be dispatched to kill defenceless civilians embarking on a peaceful rally? Look, what is good for the goose is equally good for the gander. If the Federal government had extended the same hand of dialogue to IPOB as it did to the aforesaid criminal elements in the country, the IPOB mayhem and bloodshed probably would have been averted a long time ago. And it is not that IPOB does not have a listening ear. Of course they do. The successful Anambra Governorship Election has shown that IPOB can listen to the voice of reason at the right time. Amid the sounds of boycott and disruption of Anambra Election spearheaded by IPOB, some ex-Anambra public office holders, traditional rulers and church leaders forged a common front and talked IPOB and other groups out of Election boycott and disruption. Since then Anambra comparatively has remained peaceful. Those who had predicted that Anambra would be ignited with fire during and after the Election are somewhat surprised that the State is back to recording as a peaceful State.
President Buhari has said that he does not want to leave office a failure. In other words, Buhari is conscious of his place in history. He wants history to judge him well. Grandpa Amaechi alluded to this when he told Buhari, “Mr. President, I want you to be remembered as a person who saw Nigeria burning, and you quenched the fire”. Every man, every woman is answerable to the pricking of his or her conscience no matter how hard his or her heart may be. He or she may escape the judgment of a human tribunal but he or she cannot escape the pernicious and penetrating judgment of his or her conscience. Even though, externally, Mr. President may appear unperturbed on how the public assesses his performance but deep down the recesses of his conscience it pains him that he is leaving behind a bruised, blistered, disorganized, disoriented and divided country. This is why Mr. President must initiate more dialogues especially the much-vaunted dialogue on restructuring of Nigeria. Silence kills dialogue heals.