By Tope Templer Olaiya
Rotary Peace Fellows Class 19 at the Rotary Peace Center, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand
It is Monday afternoon, June 8, after I had checked through custom and immigration before taking a peep up to inhale deeply Thai air and exhale loudly. It had been more than 24 hours when I last felt the sunshine, which was when I bid Nigeria bye at midday on Sunday, for the 20 hours flight to Bangkok, Thailand, with a three-hour stopover at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
From the airport to my exquisite accommodation at Room 2019, International House, Chulalongkorn University, it was a beautiful discovery of a new world of high rise buildings, alluring city landscape and fast-paced development, typical of the Asian world. I have my host counselor, retired banker and Past President of Rotary Club of Bang Rak, Sataporn Jinachitra, to thank not only for picking me up at the airport, but also introducing me to my first Thai meal, which was more than a memorable buffet.
Once I settled into my room, I had a whole day to relieve myself of the jet lag. The first 24 hours in Thai sped past like it was 24 minutes. Slept away more than half of it and spent the remainder connecting back to the world I left behind on social media, thanks to the free Wifi provided by the university.
On Wednesday morning, orientation classes for the Rotary Peace Fellowship began in earnest and I met for the first time 17 other Fellows selected from across the world, including two Kenyans, Moses Chavene and Mediatrix Shikoli. We were all lucky to be chosen as Class 19 of the three months Peace Program, which would be celebrating its 10th anniversary during our session.
We had two days of intense orientation about the program and living in Thailand. On Friday, it was fully devoted to the Individual Conflict Presentation (ICP) of all Fellows, which would be our project for the fellowship. Eight minutes of presentation and five minutes of discussion right on Day Three didn’t appear easy but turn after turn, each one had the chance to introduce the class to his or her home country and project.
Being welcomed into the fellowship by Past Rotary International President and former Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, Bhichai Rattakul, as PP Andrew MacPherson and Prof. Surichai Wun’gaeo look on
For me, nothing else would matter than seeing an end to the mindless orgy of Boko Haram insurgency. Having shocked the world in a peaceful transition of government starting with a bloodless general election on March 28 and April 11 and the inauguration of President Muhammadu Buhari on May 29, any thought of peace would be channeled towards taming the tide of the dreaded insurgents.
So, I discussed on the last six years of Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria, with a special focus on the fate and future of hundreds of thousands of school-age children displaced by the terrorists in the three troubled Northeastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, particular the one incident that attracted the world’s attention and sparked global outrage, which is the abduction of Chibok girls. It was a subject I could relate to since by providence, I had in 2006, long before the bombings, did my National Youth Service in Borno and for 11 months lived in Baga – yes same Baga the Boko Haram rebels leveled last year and sacked soldiers from the Multinational Joint Taskforce – teaching students of Government Day Secondary School, Baga, English and Social Studies.
My Week One presentation
Looking for a fun way to start the presentation, I made reference to the theme song of the South Africa 2010 World Cup. Two songs were commissioned by two competing brands for the competition. Pepsi had Shakira do the ‘Waka Waka’ song, which means ‘This Time Africa’ but my favourite theme song was the one adopted by Cocacola and composed by Somali-Canadian artist, K’naan titled ‘Waving Flag’.
I re-echoed the song originally written for Somalia and the aspiration of its people for freedom:
When I get older
I will be stronger
Then call me freedom
Just like a waving flag
And then it goes back
I now drove the presentation home by linking it to the bleak future of the thousands of children and older people littering various camps in northern Nigeria, whose hope of being free like a waving flag has been dashed and is almost irredeemable unless the wave of insurgency is arrested.
The Global Terrorism Index 2014 findings are really scary, especially when you are outside looking in at the spate of violence caused by Boko Haram. Across the world, 7,958 people were killed in terrorist attacks last year, that is 61% more than the previous year and 82% of all deaths from terrorist attack occurred in just five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. Luckily, we have among the countries Fellows from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Palestine, and we all compare notes on the situation with terrorism in our home countries.
Last year, terrorism was dominated by four groups: Taliban, Boko Haram, ISIS and Al Qe’ida. And what do these five countries have in common: Gross human rights violations, political instability, extrajudicial killings and rise of Sunni extremist ideology. It is really a long walk to world peace.
Peace Fellows listening with rapt attention
The situation is getting deadlier with the support the sect is getting from ISIS and the new dimension introduced by the sect where little children were used as human shield, suicide bombers and sex objects.
However, all hope is not lost and concerned citizens of the world interested in global peace and conflict resolution must collaborate to in waging a spirited war on the insurgents, so that in days and years ahead, we can have the transformative story of Pakistan’s Nobel Laureate Malala replicated in the lives of the troubled children of the northeast and together they can all blossom in fulfillment of freedom like a waving flag.
Receiving kind remarks from my host counselor, PP. Sataporn Jinachitra
Short of words in retaliation
Peace Fellows in a group activity
My first Thai meal courtesy of my host counselor, PP Sataporn