Let's Weave the Web for Peace
Nigeria- On Sunday 16th, 2014, at exactly 6:24 p.m, my friend Jennifer E. who resides in Lagos, called me on phone to inquire about reports on the wanton massacre and destruction of properties which took place in Kaura Local Government Area (LGA) of Kaduna State, the previous day. "I am in the dark about about the upheaval". I replied anxiously. Jennifer was completely taken aback by that response, because she was aware of my very close association with communities in Kaura; and how very dear the place is to my heart. "I traveled to Abuja to represent my organization and World Pulse at the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) Nigeria Multi-Stakeholder Forum which held on March 11th, 2014. After the event, I stayed back for a few more days and just returned to my base, yesterday" I explained further. By this time I had become helplessly unsettled within me.
As we ended our conversation, which was dominated by details surrounding the attacks unleashed on communities in the Marwa Chiefdom, I spontaneously dialed Anna Avong's (a community women's leader from a neighboring Chiefdom in Kaura) number but it was switched off. Worry took a better part of me as I fidgeted with my phone while calling her daughter's phone. I became somewhat relieved upon hearing Agatha Sambo's voice at the other end of the call. "Hello, good evening!", she answered with a sensually calm voice that unveiled and conveyed low morale. "Good evening, I hope everyone is fine. How are you, your daughters and your mum?". As she made to respond, I interjected by telling her that I learned there was trouble in Kaura; and hoped that they were not in any way affected.
Only three weeks ago, Agatha had traveled to her late husband's village to visit his mother and relatives. I felt chills run through my spine when she said "My mother in-law was killed in the mayhem!". It has become a daily affair to hear or read about the incessant attacks on farming communities by unknown gun men; among other grave challenges of insecurity currently bedeviling Nigeria. "It could have been anybody", I thought out loudly. Worst case scenarios ran riot in my head, as I recounted various trips I had made to communities in the area in the course of embarking on community development projects; in collaboration with the indigenous women groups across the locality.
My organization, the Women Initiative for Sustainable Environment (WISE) has over the years maintained close working ties with various women groups around the affected communities, especially through the Attarkar Women Association of Nigeria (AWAN). When peace thrived, every project implementation and partnership opportunity with women groups in the community, was always welcomed and looked forward to with much zeal. It saddens my heart that the story has changed, as the once peaceful region I relish working with has now become a war zone- 'a blood thirsty land'.
Sometime in February, an acquaintance from the United States visited Nigeria in her quest to carry out an investigative report on the linkages between climate change and rising conflicts in parts of Northern Nigeria, especially the Middle Belt Region. Prior to her arrival, we had engaged in very progressive discussions via email exchanges and phone calls. Among other conflict prone and affected areas, we agreed to cover Kaura L.G.A in the research. However, a couple of days after her arrival to Nigeria, she was left with no choice but to limit her scope to Abuja, Nigeria's Federal Capital Territory (FCT), due mainly to associated problems of logistics and issues related to insecurity. Looking back, I certainly have no regrets that the trip to Kaura was cancelled. I sure don't want to imagine a situation where one gets caught up amid any form of bloody conflict, while undertaking the the intended study.
As I reflect over the recurrent attacks on hapless community members who have become environmental refugees in their homelands; I loose sleep. My heart bleeds openly for everyone, particularly the many helpless and highly vulnerable women and children, who are often caught up in the web of the conflict over the rights to grazing lands across North Central Nigeria. It is of significance that these women are numbered among the people for whom WISE envisions a safe and just world. I therefore have no intention to give up on my interests in, as well as commitment towards supporting women in the affected communities; through peace building efforts. Images of the palpable terror and fear that now pervade the air in those communities continues to send strong signals that the search for enduring peace is not negotiable.
I believe it is about time to further strengthen the roles women play in conflict resolution and mitigation; within and beyond their communities. Of course digital and web tools come in handy, when it comes to raising awareness and building women's capacity, particularly when it comes to knowledge and skills development. I have already taken a number of positive steps in this direction including: using web platforms and tools to: create awareness about conflict situations in my community, identify and promote solutions, highlight and support women's roles in peace building, and also explore capacity development opportunities for women who are witnesses, victims or survivors.
Accordingly, my joy knew no bounds when I came across the call for applications for the 2014 Women Peacemakers and Peace Writers Program on the World Pulse website. I did not need any seer or soothsayer to tell me that Anna would be a perfect candidate for the program. I have since informed her about the opening and she is elated at the prospects. I am currently helping her out with the online application process. If selected, Anna will have the opportunity to share first hand experience of what it is like to live in the frontlines of violent conflicts, and will benefit greatly from having her stories documented and disseminated to a global audience. She will also be afforded the prestige of gaining local, national and international recognition as an expert and advocate in, and fellow of the gendered peace building process; which the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, University of San Diego, USA, is advancing.
The Web continues to play a major role in my personal and organization's ability to initiate and deliver life transforming and environmentally friendly programs that effectively engage, equip and empower grassroots women. In contributing towards peaceful resolution of the conflict, reconciliation and coexistence in Attarkar and other affected communities in Nigeria, I also find it timely to deploy one or more web platforms to start a petition and or campaign; calling for an end to the recurrent yet preventable conflicts over natural resources. Our ongoing digital empowerment training for grassroots women will also be used to spur (inspire and motivate) grassroots women to play active roles in peace building, conflict resolution and management.