The Journey of a peace-builder
The United Nations has set aside every September 21 as a Day for member states and people across the globe to celebrate, discuss and strengthen the ideals of peace both within and among nations. Without exception, Nigeria youth joined their counterparts all over the world to celebrate and also explore how to strengthen the relative peace in Nigeria.
As people gathered all over the world to commemorate this Day, reflecting on the challenges and mapping the threats to global peace and security, it is also an opportunity to showcase the various efforts of youth in promoting peace. As I join other youth in commemorating the Day, I want to quickly share my story so as to inspire those who are yet to take a step for peace and encourage those already working for peace in their various locations.
Sometimes in 2011, my heart and that of well wishers was filled with joy after I fulfilled the requirement for a Bachelors degree in Social Studies Education at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun State, Southwest, Nigeria and I became qualified to participate in the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Scheme. This joy, however, was breached when the list for posting was released. Lo and behold, I was posted to Borno State, Nigeria for the one-year national service.
Borno State, a State located in the Northeastern part of Nigeria, traditionally, one of the most peaceful states to live in and the pride of Northern Nigeria, had within a short time, become a dreaded place due to the activities of Boko Haram terrorist group, resulting in the loss of thousands of lives and property. For the fear of being killed, coupled with a dim understanding of the need to make sacrifices for my fatherland, I rejected the posting.
However, relief came my way when I heard that all prospective corps member posted to Borno State should report immediately to Benue State, a relatively peaceful location in the Northcentral part of Nigeria for the three weeks NYSC camping. I quickly packed my bags and resumed in Wannune, Benue State. During this period, I was very sure of my plan. I didn’t hesitate to apply for redeployment back to the South when the opportunity presented itself. For me and my family, the north was a no go area due to the insecurity in the region.
As the three weeks camping came to an end in Benue and having succeeded in securing redeployment from the north back to southwest, Nigeria; several questions dropped on my mind. Firstly, what if I couldn’t secure the redeployment, what if I didn’t have a choice than to serve in Borno State or anywhere in Northeast, Nigeria, what if I had relatives in those places affected by the insurgency, would I run away, would I fold my arms and allow the forces of darkness dominate light. I searched for answers, I didn’t find. Eventually, I remembered a popular quote during our days in the Students Union at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife by Martin Niemoller. ‘First they came for Socialist, and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Socialist. They came for the Trade Unionist; I didn’t speak because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Jew. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak for me ’’. Something struck me afterwards, I made up my mind to do something to assist those people who didn’t have a choice, those whose ancestral homes were faced with destruction and whose future is been endangered.
The first step was to acquire knowledge and skills on my new assignment. I enrolled for a Masters degree in Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria where I started learning the rudiments of conflict management and peacebuilding. I remembered Professor Olawale Albert teaching me Conflict Analysis at Lady bank Anthony Hall, University of Ibadan and how Dr. Willie Eselebor led Society for Peace Studies and Practice (SPSP) organised a special training for young peacebuilders in Ada, Osun State. As if it was not enough, I committed time to volunteering at the Centre for Disaster Risk and Crisis Reduction; a nongovernmental organisation working on disaster management and peacebuilding in Ibadan, Southwest, Nigeria. After 24 months of training, I became a professional peace practitioner; I was prepared for the task ahead.
With the support of friends, I founded Nigeria Youth 4 Peace Initiative, a growing network of young people who are interested in volunteering for peace in our communities. Our focus was solely to provide a platform and inspire young people to contribute their quota to conflict prevention, prevention of violent extremism and peacebuilding in our local communities. We launched our initiative with the ‘’Peace Begins with Me‘’ project in 2016. We began to visit schools to teach students about conflict management and raising awareness among youth on promoting peace.
In November 2016, destiny brought me back to Maiduguri, the heartbeat of terrorism in Nigeria. Thanks to Search for Common Ground, I had the privilege of participating at a Regional Youth Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) at the capital city where I learnt the roles of young people in countering violent ideologies and building peace. This time around, the inertia was gone. I am a new creation.
Since then, I made up my mind never to look back, never to fold my arms in the midst of injustice and unexplainable devastation. For me, of what value is life, if there is no peace and harmony. Till today, I am involved in several activities including sport, social media engagement, advocacy, community sensitization all aimed at changing the perception of people in my communities from violence and encouraging them to exhibit tolerance, forgiveness and love for one another.
As we join the United Nations in commemorating 2017 International Day of Peace under the theme ‘Together for Peace: Respect, Safety and Dignity’, I encourage other young people to come together overcome their fears and take concrete steps towards ensuring peace in our society. A day of commemoration is what we are getting now, but I am sure history will credit those who Built Blocks for Peace in the world.
Lawal Rafiu Adeniran
Nigeria Youth 4 Peace Initiative