Nigerians declaring "zones of peace" in the city of Jos to prevent the return of violence
A report on peacemaking efforts in the central Nigerian city of Jos, where the local community is building programmes to mediate conflicts before they turn to violence and trying to re-engage young men in employment and training. While the programmes appear to be working, the underlying tensions that bubbled over in January have not fully abated.
The angry mobs that terrorised the central Nigerian city of Jos at the beginning of the year have returned to their neighbourhoods, but it is hard to find many people who believe the peace will hold. A military task force has kept a lid on large-scale communal trouble, but the bitterness that pitted Muslims against Christians, indigenous communities against settlers, remains.
Peacekeeping is not the same as peacemaking, so Boniface Igomu of the Conflict Abatement through Local Mediation (CALM) project is working with community organisations to help "build their own peace" that will hopefully last when the soldiers eventually leave.
The USAID-funded project has identified 16 conflict-prone areas, and works with local groups and religious organisations to create "zones of peace".
Community associations feed into peace clubs, with members of the network as well as the public encouraged to phone in early warnings of trouble; the information is assessed by a Conflict Resolution and Mitigation Council (CRMC), a public/private and civil society initiative. The CRMC can act by arranging inter-communal dialogue, or calling the security forces.
"There's an agreement between Christian and Muslim communities not to allow the conflict to spill into their communities", said Igomu. "If you can reduce conflict [in the at-risk areas] you have reduced it in the state."
Engaging the city's unemployed and restless young men, the standard recruits for any violence, is seen as critical.
"We have an army of young people who don't have any future," explained Sadeeq Musa Hong, of the Youth Peace and Empowerment Group. "People are just hungry, they may not want to go out and do this, but there is the power of money" - a reference to the widely-held belief that some of the unrest has been instigated by politicians.
"Part of the problem is also the ignorance, the cultural profiling we do. It takes somebody with a strong heart not to believe the hate speech."
Under the CALM project youths are encouraged into the peace clubs through basketball and other social activities, but the skills training and technical support that was supposed to be part of the package has faced "hiccups", Igomu acknowledged.
Hundreds of people have died in tit-for-tat violence since January, and the continued "silent killings" - typically when somebody strays into the wrong neighbourhood - are early warning enough that the potential for renewed conflict remains.
IRIN visited a CALM training programme for community workers, and found a room full of mostly young men and women taking part in interactive sessions on conflict and early warning, analysing root causes and responses to violence.
The peacemakers are trying to build trust across the communities, while at the same time dealing with their own personal feelings. "Sentiments are not manifest, they try and agree rationally," said Igomu. "But sentiment can never be taken out completely, just controlled."
Hamza Musa Zarman is a young man aware of his responsibilities. He has been trained as a mediator, usually dealing with debt and land disputes, but was called in to try to persuade his Muslim community not to fight as clashes and reprisals began on 17 January, with both sides hacking people to death and torching homes and shops.
"I was listened to, but people listened with their emotions rather than their minds," he said, admitting the difficulty of his task.
"To be sincere I'm a little worried, we've never had a crisis in Plateau State that has lasted this long," Zarman added. "I feel like any small misunderstanding, if not checked, can degenerate into a crisis situation."
He accuses the state government, which should be a key part of the peace process, of actively favouring their Christian and indigene political base - and is similarly critical of the state police command. "The government has to convince people that they are truly sincere — a compensation mechanism needs to be created to compensate people for their losses."
But Igomu is staying positive: "I can see the problem of government commitment, but I also see the commitment of the communities — the people-to-people intervention, the traditional and religious institutions getting involved, my optimism stems from that, not what the government should be doing."
Source: the humanitarian news and analysis service, IRIN, http://www.irinnews.org