A most remarkable Nigerian, Dr David Lambo passed away on the 17th of March without leaving the type of ripples Nigerians are famous for creating as testimonies for lives spent in great service on this side of life. I suspect this is how David would have wanted it, to have his passion and footprints in the service of humanity speak louder than the life of a Nigerian who in itself was marked by outstanding achievements. A post by his colleagues at Center for Humanitarian Dialogue(HD), in Geneva and Nairobi which announced his death described him as a tireless humanitarian. It was an apt description, possibly coined by someone who knew him a lot longer than people like me who had the privilege of working with him at that stage of his life when it served principally to point others in a direction that he had followed for the largest part of his life.
It will not do much justice to David to dwell too long on a personal life born into distinction and service, but it must be mentioned, so that it serves as context for its remarkable success in charting courses fueled almost entirely by a personal instinct to make a difference. His father was the famous the Professor Adeoye Lambo, his mother a British-born lady who lived her entire life in Nigeria for her family. He graduated from University of Ibadan in 1971, those days when that made you one of the world's best. He worked for the Economic Commission for Africa(ECA) and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees(UNHCR) ,rising to a senior position, and then left to spend a decade in the Nigerian private sector attempting to make a difference in giving Nigerian and Ghanian agriculture a modern competitive edge that was accessible to the small farmer. He returned to the UN system, this time at the deep end of the UNHCR. In 1992 he served as co-ordinator of the agency's largest repatriations operation ever organized with the return of 1.5 million Mozambicans to their home country. Until he retired in 2006,David was deeply involved in bringing the agency's services to assist the defunct OAU and the government of Ethiopia.
The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue(HD) was to provide a setting for putting in place David's passion and experiences in dealing with conflicts and the search for peace and development in the African continent. For more than a decade since he joined HD in 2006 as Senior Advisor, he worked tirelessly to establish its Africa Programme. He was at the heart of conflict prevention, mediation and peace-building in Africa, as Advisor to Kofi Annan during the election violence in Kenya; as co-architect of many mediation processes in Somalia; facilitator of dialogue processes in Liberia during the 2011 elections; the inspiration for the complex but ultimately rewarding dialogue processes parts of Nigeria's Middle Belt; a key player in the delicate and discreet efforts to ensure a peaceful transition to a new administration before, during and after Nigeria's 2015 general elections. Above all he was a mentor to many young people from all over the world, a trusted companion to presidents and a source of hope and comfort to families and communities at points of submitting to unending conflicts and crushing poverty.
To work with David was to learn the virtues of sacrifice for others and limitless confidence that there are always solutions to human conflicts, mostly in the willingness to explore options to violence. His vast experience in dealing first hand with conflicts in many parts of Africa gave him the rare quality of keeping a level head and an incredible ability to read the basic issues with an uncanny ability. He will identify what many conflicts share in common, as well as how they differ in character and progression. From the tragic history of Somalia, he will draw worrying similarities with the origin and developments of Boko Haram, and advise on learning the right lessons by Nigerian governments and affected communities. He was a walking encyclopedia on the linkages between underlying issues related to exclusive political processes, unpopular regimes, disputed elections and electoral violence. He would analyze weakly-rooted governments and tendencies that encourage balkanization and violence, with lessons from South Sudan, Rwanda, Congo and Somalia. He would reel out multiple success stories from mediation, and highlight many instances where peace is secured around simple folk whose stakes in peace and development are protected and promoted. Above all he never tired in highlighting the intimate linkages between social justice, development and sustainable peace.
In the last few years, David agonized over the alarming growth of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria and its neighbors. He was concerned that the context and nature of the insurgency is properly understood by the Nigerian state, and that its responses are informed both by the need to save the democratic process in Africa's largest nation as its only guarantee for survival as one nation, as well as experiences of other nations which had dealt, or a dealing with massive internal security challenges or insurgencies. He espoused a long-term perspective that included a successful military campaign, a vigorous enquiry over social values and structures that may have been subverted before the rise of the insurgency or by it, and a comprehensive and aggressive policy that will reconstruct, rehabilitate and heal communities that have been damaged by the insurgency. He was passionate in his conviction that Nigeria could benefit from experiences of many countries across the world that had dealt with similar conflicts, and his kast two years saw him visit every important leader from President Buhari to all key Ministers and aides to garner support for an opportunity to expose our policy makers to a range of choices in dealing with the current state of the fight against the insurgency.
David's most unique footprint in Nigeria is to be found in the largely unheralded success of the painstaking and laboured dialogue processes he and HD engineered in and around Jos, Plateau and parts of Southern Kaduna State. A decade ago, Jos led the way in terms of perennial conflicts involving neighbours who had cohabited for decades. No one was ever going to win in these circles of blood-letting, yet every attempted solution ended up making the problem worse. In this regard, parts of Plateau resembled Kaduna State. I hope one day David's colleagues will tell the world what it took to create an atmosphere around northern Plateau that has largely brought to an end the permanent state of siege under which every community lived. The little that I know is that it involved an elaborate and extensive mapping of issues and grievances, and a dogged pursuit of community leaders, combatant youth, clergy, women groups, traditional and political leaders and security agencies in a period spanning years, to come to accept to even acknowledge existence of the others. 'Enemies' listed grievances and solutions, which were then exchanged. When they met, arguments about issues ranging from ancient history to recent incidents, land, identities, pride, injuries all kept tensions high, until it became clear that everyone had a cause, a grievance and solution, but none will find peace without some compromise and accommodation. In the end, communities signed peace agreements that appear to holding more in Plateau State than in Southern Kaduna. In his last few months, David was excited about the invitation of Kaduna State government to revisit its earlier efforts to create a framework for peace anchored around the agreements of communities to design a peace process they can police and live with. I hope HD will support further efforts to do in Kaduna State, what was done in Plateau State.
David would not accept the image of a hero. His humility and willingness to go wherever lie solutions or resources to find solutions gave him the means to open doors many would give up on. He was passionate about Nigeria and Africa, and lived his life like a very small breed of elderly Africans who have not walked away from seemingly hopeless generations. In 2015,President Olusegun Obasanjo, Senator Shehu Sani, David and I spent three days at the Oslo Peace Conference. In those few days, you could see that his courage in pushing himself in spite of very challenging health situation was only surpassed by his incredible devotion to his family and his aged mother who died only last year in Lagos. He was never without a new idea or a project to find peace. The greatest legacy he lives behind is a legion of people and colleagues who share his vision of Nigeria and Africa where human dignity and development can be pursued and achieved through a rediscovery of the basic foundation of human civilization: the capacity to seek peaceful resolution to conflicts.