I was somewhat apprehensive about my trip to Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria. This was not because of safety issues (the only fear I had was in exiting from the Washington, DC beltway across four lanes of rushing traffic of the Dulles Toll Road to get on to the Dulles Airport access road), but rather that, as an American living in Kenya talking about Rwanda to Nigerians, I might not be able to connect with the Nigerians. Was my trip no more than a quixotic lark signifying nothing? At my first talk of eight, I realized that I could connect at the deepest level. I can illustrate this with a comment made by Nafisi, a Moslem woman who came to our HROC International Training in Rwanda in July 2012. The conflict in Plateau State where Jos is the capital and major city is between Christians and Muslims:
“My trip to Rwanda completely changed me. During the crisis in 2008, thirteen members of my family were killed and our whole town was destroyed, set on fire. In Rwanda, I learned how to heal from this. Now some of my best friends are Christians.” The audience clapped. (This is a paraphrase).
Wow, what an endorsement of the HROC program and its potential in Nigeria!
The crisis in Plateau state began in 2001, with 381 people killed in Jos in 2008, in one of the worst incidents. Mosques and churches were destroyed along with houses of both religious groups – I myself saw a destroyed mosque and destroyed homes that had belonged to Muslims. Even while I was there, another deadly incident occurred so that Maji Peter, my host, and Grazyna Bonati, from England, had their AVP workshop canceled because it was near the violence. Progressively, the state has been segregated into religious communities as people have moved to areas where their religious group predominates. As a result, I spent my time mostly in Christian areas.
Plateau state (30,913 sq km) is larger than the country of Rwanda (26,338, sq km), but with less than half the population (Plateau state at 3, 178,712 in 2006 and Rwanda at 8,162,715 in 2002). The conflict in Plateau state, which has a majority of Christians (I couldn’t find any statistics on this and I am not certain I would have had much confidence in them if I had) is just part of the larger Christian/Muslim conflict in Nigeria. The Muslims feel marginalized and discriminated against (of course, the situation is much more complex and nuanced than this, but I can’t go into that in this posting). One of my talks was at the Plateau State Polytechnic, a government school, and Charles, the head of the school, commented after my talk that the school was part of the problem as most of the students were Christians.
My talk at the Polytechnic Institute was indicative of the interest. I went there because the Polytechnic has a peace studies program. Maji wanted me only to address the fifteen staff members, but the school wanted me to include the 50 students in the senior class. When I arrived all two hundred of the students filled every seat in the hall and more were hanging out at the window. They had to sit through 45 minutes of technical difficulties to get the laptop projector to work. This therefore was mostly a lecture, yet the audience was extremely attentive.
In total, I had eight major presentations in five days. These included the Catholic peace and justice organization, the Church of the Brethren, who gave me accommodation while I was in Jos, and the Mennonite Central Committee. I also spoke to two peace groups (Damietta Peace Initiative and APURIMAC), one interfaith group, and to social workers at the state’s Ministry of Women Affairs. At the HROC international training in Rwanda in July/August 2012, Maji brought himself and nine of his co-workers to Rwanda for the training. My purpose for going to Jos, therefore, was to create more interest in HROC among the various groups interested in peacebuilding in the state. This objective was clearly fulfilled, thanks mostly to the Maji’s previous work with the various organizations in Jos.
My last, and most fun, presentation was with the Mennonite Central Committee, which brought together a few organizations with which they were working that were interested in trauma healing. One of the organizations was doing trauma healing among the Christians with a Biblical perspective, which had been developed in Kenya. Another one of the groups, which worked with both Muslim and Christian women, had been using this program but was concerned that the program was orientated only towards the Christians. She liked the HROC program because it was non-sectarian, which, of course, is the way we had planned it.
I think that the HROC program was so well received because it fulfilled a need that people had. They wanted to bring Christian and Muslims together, but really did not have a method of doing this except at the high interfaith level between leaders. HROC is a program that speaks to the grassroots of the communities in deadly conflict so this resonated with the Nigerians. Of course, at each talk, I handed out some copies of PeaceWays-AGLI’s edition on HROC and a flier on the HROC International Training in Rwanda for July/August 2014.
I soon realized that there was another significant difference in the HROC program from what is commonly done in Jos. I was made aware of this by those who had attended the training in Rwanda. At the end of each talk, I asked them to make any comment that they wished. They regularly brought up the point that the workshops were done right in the community involved. In Jos, everyone was following the NGO model of bringing the participants to town in a hotel with overnight accommodation and, as I learned, paying sitting allowances as everyone does in East and Central Africa. One person commented on how expensive trauma healing was so I explained how we did it much more cheaply by going directly into the communities and not paying sitting allowances! If they do start to do HROC workshops in Plateau state, I wonder if they will continue with the NGO model or the AGLI/HROC model.
So it was a useful trip. Of course it is easy to make presentations and create interest and excitement, but will some or any of these organizations follow-up or just let it die down in the usual busyness of ongoing life. We’ll see. I did my part and now it is up to others.