While many young people in Jos are involved in violence, some are working for peace. For their efforts, they are often insulted and physically abused by people – including friends – who still see confrontation as the only solution.
By Kingsley Madueke, Jos
For over a decade, Jos in northern Nigeria has been in crisis. Thousands of lives have been lost. There have been efforts from different quarters to calm the situation, but with a recent spate of suicide bombings in the region, Jos remains deeply polarised along ethno-religious lines.
Losing a friend
Nasiru Abdullah (31) lost his childhood friend during the flare-up of violence in September 2001. Since then, he has focused his energies on finding peace. When not working as a grain merchant in his predominantly Muslim Angwan Rogo community, Abdullah spends his time trying to convince his peers directly involved in violence to rethink their ways.
Abdullah admits that he took an active part in the 2001 violence. But when his friend died, he realised that violence only leads to more deaths. “Some of us have been forced by circumstances to understand the value of peace,” he says. “It can be very difficult to convince some of my peers to shun violence. But I’ll continue to remind them of those years that we all lived together in peace and how much we all enjoyed that.”
“I’ve been called different names – betrayer, weakling and so on,” says Abdullah in his Hausa dialect, before adding with a determined smile that he will continue his work.
Micah Bentu (29) is a Christian living in Angwan Rukuba, a community widely believed to be as volatile as Abdullah’s. He lost three friends in the violent clash that followed the local government chairmanship elections in November 2008. “Whenever I speak about peace to some of the boys in my area, they laugh at me. Others get angry,” says Bentu.
The Centre for Conflict Management and Peace Studies (CECOMPS) at the University of Jos not only engages in research and training, but is also active on the ground via the Community Action Peace Initiative (CAPI).
With support from a grant of the Dutch government, the centre visited conflict flashpoints to discuss solutions with local community members who were directly involved with, or affected by, violent clashes. Peace activists like Abdullah and Bentu took advantage of the large turnout at these events to speak on the need for embracing peace. Later discussions covered the importance of encouraging school enrolment, creating employment opportunities and organising skills acquisition workshops.
“The conflict in Jos has degenerated to a point where expert input has become necessary,” says Dr. Audu Gambo, the director of CECOMPS, at one of the CAPI venues where over 400 people gathered to discuss how to find peace. “It is not enough for the centre to train experts in conflict and peace. It must contribute its quota to seeing that sustainable peace is attained.”
“The centre is serving the purpose for which it was established,” says Luka Dinshak, a lecturer with CECOMPS who took part in the advocacy visits. “This includes not only training students who will have an impact on the conflict in Nigeria and beyond, but also responding to the security challenges in Jos using various intervention strategies.” Such strategies include organising workshops on initiating interfaith dialogue and on conflict management for youth and security personnel.
CECOMPS has been active in trying to build bridges of reconciliation between the communities in Jos,” says Katherine Hoomlong, another teaching staff with the centre. “The impact of our efforts might be slowly felt but it will eventually have a multiplying effect.”
In for long haul
“I’ve been slapped and threatened with death several times,” concludes Abdullah, “but I can’t stop speaking about peace because that is Islam.”
Bentu promises to remain relentless in his resolve to be an ambassador of peace. “I’ll not stop talking about peace because I know how painful it is to lose friends and relations to violence. It is an experience I don’t wish on anyone.”