Thursday, December 29, 2011

Peace & unity Initiative


This initiative is proposed to work by bring together at least 10 youths from diverse cultures and faiths to participate in a series of at least 5 discussion sessions intended to get them reflect on the multicultural realities of our local community, and bring up questions on this reality and at the end, bring up possible modification to any part of the reality which is perceived to require a transformation for the better.

The aim will be:
 Create a body of documents on the contributions of participants during the sessions.
 Document the points of agreement and those which the different groups conflict.
 Most important of all, the sessions should serve as an interactive forum that will enable the youths to build bridges amongst themselves by being able to express their views and listening to the views of peers. By hearing diverse viewpoints, they’d be better equipped to be able to see things from the eyes of others.
 Guide them to use their newly garnered knowledge, skills and behaviours to influence their peers in the society

We held our second contact meeting on Sunday, with all 10 initial participants in attendance (2 more youths (Males) joined us having heard of the initiative from their friends).
I opened the discussions with prayers focused on divine guidance for our efforts.
I then went ahead and suggested we settle some preliminary issues about our meetings:
1. I suggested we decide for a format for contributions to discussions so as to allow everyone a fair chance of contributing. I asked for suggestions and the most widely accepted suggestion was that after my opening remarks, everyone should be given an equal amount of time to contribute his views or suggestions to any issue. After everyone had made a contribution, I was then to review the contributions and then, anyone with additional contributions could signify his intention.

Someone added that we each person should be allowed 10 minutes, and we
unanimously agreed to that suggestion.

I then went ahead and explained my expectation of the contributions, that speakers should try their best to air their views exactly the way they felt them and that abusive, derogatory, or direct criticisms were to be avoided. I went on to tell them that instead of someone accusing one tribe/religious faith of a certain action, I’d prefer the speaker point out the action as to how it affects him/her as a person, or his/her group, And ask the other group why they do what they do, and if they knew anyone was being hurt by that action?

2. I then went ahead and suggested that for the first two weeks, we focus on 2 questions thus:
a. What are the causes of ethnic/religious based conflict in our community?

b. Is there any practical action that we could take to prevent such conflicts?

I went on to speak about the fact that all of us gathered in the room were of diverse tribal origins and religious faiths, but we basically all stood to gain from peaceful coexistence in the community just as we all stood to lose from the outbreak of violence in the community.

I now delved into a brief explanation on the concept of Positive/Negative peace, Physical/Structural violence. (Maybe it was the teacher in me, but I ended up using the chalkboard to highlight my points). This was to widen the scope of thinking of the participants, so that they will go beyond the point of considering peace as being
the Absence of physical violence.
I then raised the issue of the need for a general scribe to write down the important notes during our discussions.

My opening speech took about 20 minutes, after which I for contributions on the first of the two questions we were to treat for the first two weeks.
(What are the causes of ethnic/religious based conflict in our community?)

The various speakers proffered diverse reasons for the present conflict situation in which we found ourselves.
Among the identified reasons were:
 Low literacy level among the indigenous residents compared to the non-indigenes;
 Lack of employment opportunities, leading to youths loafing around aimlessly;
 Nonexistent or poor channels of communication between the different
 Ineffective security system;
 Lack of purposeful leadership from political and religious leaders;
 Misconceptions held by the different tribes about the others, due to
lack of proper information

We then divided the participants into 3 groups to meet, and reflect on the identified causes. The groups were to meet before the next meeting on Thursday to critically look at these causes and try understanding how they came to be. I added that at this point, we were not yet looking for solutions, but seeking to understand the problems and how they came to become part of our present realities.

Each group was to appoint a Scribe from amongst them to write out a summary of their findings for deliberation at the next meeting.

Someone suggested that instead of holding the meetings at one fixed place (Our Computer school premises), that we rotate the venue among the participants. I supported the idea and suggested that every participant should see if s/he can conveniently host the meeting.

I suggested an additional task for participants, each of the participants should research into his religion’s concept of peaceful Coexistence. Everyone was to submit his/her findings by next Sunday.

It was at that point that we brought the meeting to a close with a short prayer by one of the participants.

One important thing I noted was the fact that the atmosphere was very free and there was no hostility either in the behaviors of the participants or in their speeches. Everyone seemed to understand that Peace was a mutually beneficial to all of us.

I look forward to Thursday‘s meeting when the groups will submit their
findings on the identified causes..


Held on Thursday, 22 – 09 – 2011

All the groups had earlier submitted the reports of their group meetings earlier in the day before the meeting proper.
Upon going through all the submissions, two important facts were generally noted by all groups – That:

 Members of the different ethnic groups and religious faiths resident in the community lived peacefully together in the past! And,
 That it was later that the seeds of discord were sown among the people.

At the meeting proper, all participants were present for the Thursday meeting, which started at about 6:30 PM at our school premises. I opened the session with prayers and thanks to all members for their commitment. I then asked if anyone had a question, or comment before we started out on the day’s business.

Two members spoke briefly, the first asked if we were going to continue the meetings after the initial Two-month period I had earlier planned, I responded by saying it all depended on their readiness to go ahead, but that my aim was to ensure by the end of the Two month period we were able to achieve something concrete from this discussions. Other members expressed a lot of signs of support and
readiness to go on

The second member suggested that we change the format for the meetings. That we dedicate Thursdays for Group meetings, and Sundays for General House discussions on the findings of the group meetings, I saw sense in her suggestion and asked if the other members supported, and there was unanimous support for the idea, and we thus adopted it immediately.

I opened the discussions with my observations on the reports of the groups. I noted that if we all seemed to agree that people in the area lived peacefully in the past with no tribal or religious conflict. What then were the reasons for the current situation we found ourselves?, and what were the causes for the negative change in the living conditions of the people?. I thus suggested for the day’s discussions, we focused on:
1. How were the people in the past able to live together peacefully without their tribal and religious differences leading to violence?
2. What were the things that destroyed the unity and understanding formerly enjoyed in the community?

They all supported the topics, and we went on to listen to everyone’s opinions on the first topic.

In the course of the speeches, the following factors were generally accepted as being responsible for the peaceful coexistence in the past:

 Mutual respect for diverse cultures;
 Well entrenched family values and communal values like:
o Honesty,
o Compassion,
o Respect for strangers,
o Respect for elders,
o Well defined channels of communication between diverse groups,
 Economic Prosperity;
 Sincere patriotic ideologies by politicians, etc.

One speaker added that it might be useful to invite some elders from the society to speak on communal interaction in their days, and all the members agreed with him.
We then decided to invite two elders (A Muslim cleric who is an indigene of the area, and a Christian Pastor who is a non indigene).

Some members were delegated to contact them to inform them of the invitation. We agreed that to give them enough time, they should give their talk on the 2nd October 2011.

Due to time constraints, I decided we should close the meeting for the day.
I however asked everyone to go home and reflect individually on the factors responsible for the destruction of the entrenched peace in the community, so that we could focus on that at our next meeting on Sunday 25th September.

I further proposed that we suspend discussions on solutions till a later date, after we had heard from the invited elders, so that we could possibly incorporate their submissions and also seek their support for any action we may decide on in future.
The meeting ended with prayers at 8:25 PM.


Held on Sunday, 25 – 09 – 2011

This meeting started at 4:15 PM at the premises of our school.
All members were in attendance with the exception of one young man who
had travelled out of town for a University entrance examination and had not returned back.

After prayers and general greetings, I asked the team send to the invited elders for their report. They reported back that the elders had shown great enthusiasm and support for our efforts and had confirmed their attendance on Sunday 2nd October. I promised checking on them before the date to brief them on the initiative (As I had not informed them of our initiative before sending the invitation).
I now went ahead to ask if anyone had some special comments or submissions. One member stood up to inform the meeting that his elder brothers wife had given birth to a baby girl last Wednesday, and he wished all participating members of this initiative to attend the Naming ceremony next week. I then added that this will be a good opportunity to start showing practical actions aimed at showing unity
among us. The member inviting us is a non-indigene Christian, and it will be a good way for us to send positive signals to the community to see both Christians and Muslims attending and playing active roles in the Naming ceremony. (It is a rarity to see members of either faith attending ceremonies organized by each other.

There was general agreement that we should all attend the ceremony and in fact some members promised being there early to help up in the tasks on the day. We finally agreed to meet at our meeting place (the school) early in the day and move to the venue together.

I then went ahead to inform them of a tuition-free ICT skills acquisition / Peace Education programme my NGO ( was organizing in October, and asked participants who were not computer-literate to apply to be part of the programme.

We went on directly to the topic of the day: (the factors responsible for the destruction of the entrenched peace in the community).

After all the speeches, the following factors were identified:
 Loss of family values;
 Unemployment;
 Drug abuse by youths;
 Lack of respect elders and community leaders due to loss of credibility;
 Loss of moral standards;
 Silent inbuilt anger brought about by use of derogatory words by the various groups to describe one another;
 Lack of proper channels of communication between the diverse tribal groups and religious faiths;
 Misconceptions about cultures and religious faiths;
 Misinformation and propaganda by politicians. etc.

At the end, I asked the participants if they thought we could do anything about the situation based on our findings, there was unanimous agreement that we could do some things to counter these factors.

I then suggested all groups at their next group meetings on Thursday, to discuss possible practical actions we could take to effect changes in the current situation, and submit written submissions on their suggestions. I further explained that after each group had submitted their suggestions at the next meeting (Sunday 2nd October), the different suggestions will be exchanged among the groups and the
suggestions from the invited elders added to it.

The groups will now go on to reflect on the various suggestions and make their recommendations at the general meeting at a later date which will now discuss the various suggestions and agree on which actions to implement.


We had earlier on Wednesday, 28th September, attended the Naming ceremony as planned. The attendance raised some eyebrows but there was no direct condemnation of the action of the youths. Only one parent (A Muslim) came and asked me why his child had attended a Christian Naming Ceremony. Luckily, he was ready to listen to my explanations. I talked to him about our observations on the current lack of unity in the community and reminded him of how it had been in the past. I then explained to him that it had nothing to do with changing anyone’s
religious beliefs, and that we were only trying to build a spirit of unity and cooperation among the youths to guide them towards peaceful existence in the community. He at last said he understood and that he was now convinced and had no misgivings.

On Thursday, 30th September 2011, I paid a visit to Mal. Aminu Idris, a respected Islamic Cleric who had always been well known for preaching for unity and understanding among all the ethnic groups in the community. He was one of the two elders who had invited to give a talk at our next meeting on Sunday.

I met him at his home in the evening and explained the reasons for the initiative and that while I was using it for an academic project; I saw it as an opportunity to get the youths talking to one another. He praised the efforts and said we had his support and that we had his support.

I then went on to explain to him that the reason for inviting to give the talk was for the youths to hear viewpoints from elderly religious leaders on the issue of unity and cooperation in the community. I told him that we expected him to talk to the youths about how communal interactions were in the past, reasons for deterioration of relations and suggestions on how we could bring back harmonious living among the people.
He thanked me for giving him the opportunity to be part of our efforts and promised preparing for Sunday’s meeting.
I went on to the House of Pastor Samuel Edoh, a Pastor of the ECWA Church here in Hotoro. I also met him and intimated him of the reasons for the invitation and the issues we expected him to talk about. He also confirmed his attendance.

All the participants had arrived by 4:00 PM and they had all submitted the reports of their various group meetings which contained their proposed suggestions for practical actions we could take on the peace situation in the locality.

The two invited guests (Mal. Aminu Idris and Pastor Samuel Edoh) arrived at around 4:45 PM (They had been informed that the talks will start at 5PM).

I made copies of each group’s submissions and shared them among the other groups so that everyone had a copy of the other groups’ suggestions.

I then asked them to use their next group meetings on Thursday (12 – 10 – 2011) to discuss all the submissions and each group was to present the action it favoured most for implementation.

Mal. Aminu Idris, the Islamic cleric spoke first. After starting with opening prayers, he expressed thanks for being invited to give a talk at the meeting and said he was very happy about the initiative we were taking and promised us his support for our efforts.

He now started his speech with a very vivid description of how strangers from all over the country had begun to arrive in Hotoro quarters in the early 1970’s, and how they had been warmly received by their Hausa/Fulani hosts. Many of the strangers had come as a result of the setting up of industries and companies around the area, many others came on their own to set up private businesses.

He went on to describe how the settlers who came had been warmly received by their hosts and got affordable accommodation in the area, with some of them going ahead to purchase plots of land and build houses.

He noted that while some of the strangers practiced the same Islamic religion as the hosts, many others practised different religious faiths, but notwithstanding, both the settlers and the indigenes adhered to the age long universally accepted cultural ideals of respect for authority, communal cooperation, and nonviolent conflict resolution.
He further added that the settlers respected the customs they met their hosts practicing and gave full respect to the style of constituted authority they met at their new homes.

He also explained that in the past, elders from both groups had full authority and responsibility for the molding of the moral behaviour of the local youths without any discrimination. If an elder from among the settlers saw indigene youths doing something wrong, they took appropriate action to stop them and got full support from indigene elders.
Settlers, he said, were even appointed into Elders’ Councils and other local decision making bodies.

He said traditional rulers and religious leaders in the past promoted unity, cooperation and mutual respect for diversity. There were exchanges of visits between traditional rulers from all parts of the country, and he said this helped forge and atmosphere of unity and understanding among the peoples.

Political leaders on their part were always emphasizing the need for peaceful coexistence among the people and none of them promoted the divisive ideals of ethnocentrism or religious bigotry.

All the children in those days attended the same schools and thus grew up together knowing each other and accepting one another as brothers and sisters.

He said te problems started from the breakdown of family values in the society leading to loss of respect for elders and constituted authority. Children started growing up with no respect for elders (Indigenous or otherwise) and in some cases, when they misbehaved, and an elder (other than their biological parents) attempted correcting them on some social or moral lapses, their parents stood up to protest
what they termed to be “undue interference” by outsiders. The children therefore started growing up without a guiding social structure to build their sense of what was right and what was wrong in the society.

Another factor he pointed out was the withering away of cooperative interactions among religious leaders of both faiths. Instead of seeing each other as joint workers in the task of moral and spiritual guidance, each group promoted a “ours is the only correct way, all other ways are wrong” philosophy. Religious clerics on both sides started preaching divisive sermons that in some cases called for open
hostility against other faiths.

He said the worst part was the effect of the advent of the military in governance in the country which saw soldiers led by a General from one part of the country overthrowing an administration led by another General from a different part of the country, these coups and counter-coups were sometimes bloody leading to heavy loss of lives.

Considering the fact that leadership in our context is mostly not about service, but more about enjoying the perks of power and using political power to loot public funds, each part of the country wanted to see their people in positions of power, and this led to inbuilt anger against anyone who possesses them of that “opportunity”.

This ethnocentric feeling continued well into the advent of partisan politics, with political support being based more on ethnicity and religious considerations.

Politicians found this warped thinking that pervaded the polity useful and capitalized on it to spread divisive ethnocentric and religious propaganda in their attempts to gain votes during electioneering. When accused of mismanagement of public resources and other misdemeanor, either when in office or out of it, they blamed faceless opponents from other ethnic groups or religious faiths. He said as this was happening at the local level, it filtered down to the local community here in Hotoro, leading to a high level of mistrust (and silent anger/hatred) among the diverse groups living together.

He said the politicians further aggravated the matters by neglecting youth empowerment and instead preferring to use uneducated and unemployed youths as political thugs for wrecking violence on political opponents during elections. These youths are fed with ethno-phobic and extremist religious propaganda. They are further given deadly weapons and hard drugs to carry out deadly activities on
behalf of their patrons.

After elections, these youths are left to their fates with no visible policy for empowering them or rehabilitating them into the society. With the lax security situation in the country, hard drugs are widely available to these youths who mostly become frustrated and disillusioned with the society which they feel has been unfair to them.

He said with above factors in mind, the slightest provocation (or seeming likeness of it) is enough to turn into violent conflicts.
He said when people live together, but see one another as enemies, every little action from each group is given meanings which in many situations may actually not be true, and that due to lack of functional communication channels between the ethnic groups and religious faiths, there was little opportunity for mutual
understanding of each other’s ways of life.

He said our initiative was a welcome idea and that he believed that we could use these weekly meetings to bring back unity among the youths in the area.
He ended his long speech by promising to give us any support we needed in our efforts.
The whole hall went silent for some seconds after the speech before it
broke into a loud applause; everyone was touched by the truth of his


After the Imam’s speech, we then proceeded for a break for refreshments (made up of baked pie and soft drinks prepared by the girls in the group).

On our return from the break, the Pastor took the stage, and he started by praising us for our initiative saying that it was heartwarming for him to see youths initiating such ideas and that if they, the elders, were not ready to take the lead, it was only
imperative for the youths to do something because the future was theirs.

He said he agreed totally with the speech of the Imam and that instead of repeating all the things he had already talked about, he’d instead focus on the current reality and what can be done to positively change the society.

He started by focusing on the home, which he said was the root of all successes or failures of an individual in the society.

He said the type of upbringing children received from the home determines their behaviour in the wider society and that there was a need for a transformation of our socio-cultural values right from the home.

He said parents needed to adopt and portray strong ethical standards of living themselves and also guide their wards to imbibe these values. He said parents who are in themselves morally bankrupt could not be expected to give correct moral guidance to youths.

Still talking about the home, he said there was a need to take action about the incidence of broken homes in the society that had reached alarming proportions. He said there was a need for religious leaders and community elders to create ways of providing guidance counseling for young married couples and those just preparing to get married. This, he said, was to help them settle down to marital life.

He noted that a lot of marriages in our community broke up after a year or two during which the couple might have given birth to a child or two who’d then have to go through life without the needed support of both parents. He said most children from such broken homes grow up without proper moral guidance and were most likely to go into crime or indulge in violence under the influence of their peers as they grew up.

He informed us that his church had only recently set up a guidance-counseling unit that held periodic meetings with young couples to offer them advice on marital issues and help them in resolving any conflict they may be having.

He further talked about the negative effect political propaganda was having on the peaceful coexistence that once prevailed in the society. He said many politicians were using ethnicity and religious propaganda to spread divisive ideas among the populace. Noting that while their motives were self-enrichment, these politicians spread messages of hatred among the people.

Seeing that time was against us, he summarized the other factors responsible for the breakdown of unity in the community as follows:

 Poverty,
 Illiteracy,
 Lack of proper communication channels between the various religious
and community leaders in the society,
 High rate of drug abuse in the community,
 Inefficient security system,

He however noted that the misrepresentation of global news (especially those that related to religious faiths) sometimes led to unfounded rumours being spread in the community. He went on to suggest that for peaceful coexistence and unity to be reestablished in the society, all members of the society had roles to play and he specially listed the following sectors of the society as having critical roles to play in this important task:

 Parents,
 Teachers,
 Religious leaders,
 Community Elders,
 The mass media,
 Security Agencies,
 The political class,

In his closing remarks, he told us that he was giving us a donation of N10, 000 (App. US$80) to help in our activities and said his doors were always open to us at all times.
The house erupted into a thunderous applause at the end of his speech.

It was already getting late and we had to close the session at that point. Though I informed the youths that we should hold a meeting on Tuesday to discuss where we stood in our efforts.

I had already collected the various group submissions and by the end of the meeting, I shared out copies of the various reports among all the groups so that every group had a copy of what the others had suggested.

At the meeting on Tuesday, all the youths were in attendance and I shared out photocopies of the summary of the speeches of our Sunday guests. And we decided that the groups should all use the following two weeks to meet and reflect on all the factors we had discovered ourselves and the input from the Clergymen.

We now decided that each group was to suggest one practical action we could take to effect a change in the current situation.

We decided that the next general meeting should hold on Sunday, 16th October, 2011 to collate all submissions and reach a final decision.

During the two week period of the group activities, I met regularly with each group as they went about reaching a decision on their suggestions an d one important that I noticed was that there were series of meetings between the various groups themselves without me being invited (which I have to confess made me happy that they were taking charge themselves).

When I fell ill, they asked that we postpone the general meeting we had earlier scheduled for the 16th Oct., I however disagreed and instead asked them to go ahead and hold the meeting and see if they could reach a consensus on selecting the action we were to take from the various options being suggested by the various groups.

They agreed and went ahead and held the meeting. And after the meeting, they came and informed me that they had met and reached a consensus and agreed among the various options they had considered.


From the various submissions, they had decided that we should
implement one of the following actions:

1. Organize a Week long Unity Carnival during which there will be:
a. A public lecture for youths, with speakers from different
religious/cultural backgrounds.
b. A football match,
c. An interdenominational prayer session and,
d. A Street walk to end with the submission of a letter to the Local government Chairman calling for the establishment of a Local government Peace Committee.

2. Setting of Unity & Peace Clubs in all secondary schools in the area
which we will be supervising to guide them to learn more about
peaceful coexistence and unity.

When I reflected upon the two options they proposed, I saw that it was possible to merge both proposals and implement them in a step-by-step fashion.
Firstly, we go ahead with preparations for the Peace & Unity week, and then upon successfully organizing the weeklong activities, we go ahead and set about establishing the Peace & Unity Clubs in selected Secondary Schools (I suggested that we start with two schools in the beginning, and if it works out well, we’d expand further).
I told them my suggestions and the Group leaders were all supportive of my idea.
I then advised them to discuss my suggestion at their meeting on Thursday (27th Oct, 2011) to see if everyone agreed with this plan and to get any input anyone may have.
We held a general meeting today, Saturday, (29th October, 2011), and the group leaders informed me that the idea was acceptable to everyone.
We then held a discussion on when to fix the Peace & Unity week so that we could start making preparations.

It was decided that we should hold the P&U week at the end of November. That way, we had about 4 weeks to prepare.
We broke up the meeting into 4 committees for the organizing of the activities:

• Publicity,
• Finance,
• Activities,
• Logistics

Each committee was given a set of tasks to work on regarding what was needed for a successful P&U week. Every group is expected to sit, deliberate on its given aspect, and submit its report by next week Saturday when we’d be meeting.
The enthusiasm in the room today was simply great, and we also received donations from 2 other people, One was Imam Idris, who had spoken to us earlier. And the other was a local businessman. They each sent N5,000. This now brought the money we had to N20,000 which is a great boost for the activities we intend carrying out.
Considering that the Islamic Eid Celebration comes up next Sunday. We agreed that they Saturday meeting should be held in the morning to allow the Muslims among us the rest of the day to prepare for the celebration.
Importantly, the Imam had sent along with his donation, an invitation to all of us to visit him at his house on the Monday after the Eid Festival. Which is another big opportunity to get everyone together. I am even considering seeing if I could get some Christian elders to join us for this visit.

I have just proposed some adjustments to the project after some reflections.

When I first reached out to the youths at the start of this project,
my objectives were basically two:

1. To fulfill the academic requirements of the TWB ICTM (PEd);
2. To use the knowledge I had garnered in the course of the ICTM programme to guide the youths to imbibe some of the ideals of Peace education.

Both objectives are being fulfilled as I am going on but the impact the initiative is having on the youths is far bigger than I ever imagined and their willingness to further the expand the initiative has led me to reflect deeply on the direction we should be taking and the speed at which we should be moving to ensure maximum impact. I wouldn’t like an initiative that fizzles out due to lack of depth.
At an impromptu meeting I had with the Group leaders this evening, I spoke extensively about how far we had come, what we had already achieved, and I told them how happy I am to see them buying in to the ideals of peaceful coexistence, unity and cooperation among themselves and the wider society.

I went further to reiterate my full support for the idea of a Peace & Unity week and establishment of P&U Clubs in schools. But I said after my deep thinking on the weight of the job to be done, I thought it would be best if we fixed a new date for the week long Peace & Unity activities, preferably towards the end of the year.

Firstly, the Islamic Eid festival, which is highly significant comes up next week and its activities spread out for up to three weeks and our planned activities might get lost in the Eid celebrations and those we expect to participate might be held up by Eid celebrations.
Secondly, given more time, we’d be able to perfect all the necessary things without unneeded pressure due to time.

I suggested that in the intervening period before the P&U week, we go ahead with our twice weekly meetings (Sundays and Thursdays). Using the Sunday meetings for our usual lecture/discussions on Peace issues; while the Thursday meetings should now be devoted to making preparations for the P&U week.

All the Group leaders spoke out in support of my suggestions and saw how the extended time will allow us arrange a better activity.

I further suggested that the issue of establishment of the Peace & Unity Clubs should also be shelved till early next year; this is to allow us more time to fashion out the structure of the clubs. We agreed that the Group leaders will work together with me in creating a framework for the establishment of the School clubs.

Before dispersing, we concluded they should hold a meeting on Thursday to look into my suggestions and give their input before we finally take a final decision on Saturday.

I will not be attending the Thursday meeting because I will be travelling out of town that day.

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