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April 14, 2016

Renewing the Call to #BringBackOurGirls

Girls

Members of the “Bring Back Our Girls” movement and mothers of the missing schoolgirls, hold a banner showing photographs of some of the missing girls when they marched to press for their release from Boko Haram captors on January 14, 2016 in Abuja, Nigeria. PHOTO | AFP

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” – Desmond Tutu

In April of 2014, I was working for His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the Deputy Director of his U.S. Foundation. We had programs for peace all over the world. One that held a special place in my heart was a school that we sponsored in Jos, Nigeria. This school’s focus was to incorporate secular ethics into the already rigid curriculum that was outlined by the Nigerian government.

Because of my connection with this school, the faculty, and the students, I was particularly shocked and saddened when, on April 14th of 2014, Boko Haram militants kidnapped 276 girls from the nearby town of Chibok. This sadness was compounded when a few weeks later, assailants from the same group set off a bomb in the market place in Jos, killing more than 30 including one of our students from the school.

Who of us doesn’t remember the outpouring of support that accompanied the hashtag, #BringBackOurGirls? The campaign was taken up from such a variety of luminaries – from Michelle Obama to Kim Kardashian – and it shone a global light on the brutal yet largely ignored conflict that has been raging in Nigeria for more than seven years. Archbishop Desmond Tutu stood with ONE leaders to call for an action to free these girls.

So what happened to the girls?

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The mother of a girl abducted by Boko Haram takes part in a rally in Abuja, Nigeria, in January 2016. (L.A. Times)

According to Mr. Ufuoma Akpojivi, a media researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, 219 of those 276 girls are still missing. Most have not been seen since a video that Boko Haram released in May 2014. Then the Los Angeles Times reported today that the November following the kidnappings in Chibok and bombings in Jos, more than 400 people, mostly children, vanished after a Boko Haram invasion of Damasak. Despite the world’s attention on Nigeria, a Human Rights Watch report has concluded that the Nigerian security forces never really made an effort to locate the missing girls and boys from Damasak.

219 girls missing from Chibok, more than 400 people missing from Damasak – and this is just a small fraction of the thousands of women, girls and boys that have been abducted. Amnesty International reports that more than 2000 women were abducted just in 2015 and 2016. UNICEF reports that in 2015,In 2015, the estimated number of Boko Haram bomb attacks in North-East Nigeria and neighboring countries increased sharply, as did the proportion of attacks involving children. Three quarters of these so-called suicide-bombing attacks involve young girls. These children are victims, not perpetrators. Usually the bombs are strapped to their bodies and detonated remotely, without the children even knowing what they are.

In the two years since the Chibok girls were abducted, Nigeria held free elections as well as demonstrated an impressive vigilance in defending against the Ebola virus. Nigeria can handle this, but they need our help. We need to continue telling the story of these girls, but we cannot stop there. The international community needs to renew their full support to all local, regional and national governments to dedicate their resources and and expertise, to do whatever necessary, to #BringBackOurGirls.

– BR

June 27, 2014

Killings of Rural Communities in Nigeria: Where is the state?

On Monday night, my village came under brutal attack by Fulani pastoralist gunmen in the Sanga Local Government Area, Kaduna State, Nigeria. Attacks spanned a cluster of villages in the area, where at the last count there were over 90 dead and many more escaped to close by neighborhoods out of fear for their lives. Calmness has now resumed in my community and the mass murdered were buried yesterday, yet we know that this is not peace.

Since gunshots began, my friend’s elderly mother slept in the bushes, only returning to her home each morning. While many managed to take cover, some of the more vulnerable were killed in their sleep. My close cousin and her four young children are among those victims.

Unfortunately, this is a very familiar cycle.

Pastoralists come and kill at random in our communities, state troops arrive many hours later, impose an informal curfew until the violence calms and then nothing follows until another outbreak of killings in another village.

Quite often, arrests are made but it seems no meaningful actions are taken by state agencies. Many concerned citizens have accused the government of complicity, claiming that the military is deliberately not deploying its full capacity to tackle this violence. The history of conflict between pastoralists and agrarian communities is complex and fraught. It has been heightened in the last few years by the use of heavy and modern weapons and religious differences.

Complete failure and helplessness of state security agencies?

These serial attacks have been happening for two years in dozens of rural communities across most of North Central Nigeria – Plateau, Benue, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Niger and Taraba states, and even further North in Katsina and Zamfara states. Yet, without any new plans to address this constant and persistent threat, the Government of Nigeria and ruling party politicians would prefer to place blame on the communities and absolve the Federal government of any responsibility. The Government call for citizens to be more vigilant against threats of violence, and support armed forces, yet when we call for help it can take up to 24 hours for support to show up.  The inability of the state security agencies (military, police, secret police, etc.) to confront this violence is attributed to a diversity of reasons ranging from corruption to incapacity.

Even in the midst of the internal corruption and incapacity, many citizens believe there is complicity by the highest levels of the Nigerian state and ruling elite to allow these killings for a variety of political interests, particularly in relation to the upcoming election next year. The recent effective deployment of thousands of troops and equipment, including a number of hovering helicopters, to protect ballot boxes during the Ekiti State gubernatorial elections does support the idea of state complicity. Forces blocked opposition party members from campaigning before the election, yet did not apply similar support elsewhere within more fragile parts of the country.

Politicians subtly play up oversimplified divisions in Nigeria 

The complex dynamic of religion, locality and hierarchy in Nigeria tends to blur the issues and reduces everything to a competition between Christianity and Islam, or north vs. south. The governments at the federal, state and local spheres subtly play up these sentiments and exploit them for popular support from a divided citizenry. In addition, the majority of local elite also ‘tap-into’ this rhetoric to maintain their turf and position in the political and economic war-field.

The incidence of pastoralist-local community conflicts is not new in Nigeria, but it does not gain the same coverage as other issues such as Boko Haram killings, and city bombings. It has been neglected by nonchalant governments for far too long. Scholars like Jibrin Ibrahim have recently sought to bring these issues to the discussion. We are now, more than ever, calling for the Nigerian Government at all levels to take the lead in mobilizing stakeholders to take action and save rural communities from this trauma.

January 24, 2014

Meet the Rotary Peace Fellows – Philip Ikita

Meet Philip Ikita, our next Rotary Peace Fellow from Class 12.  Philip is based at the Rotary Peace Center which is affiliated with the University of Bradford in the UK. Philip’s academic work is within the Division of Peace Studies at Bradford, which is the oldest and largest department of peace studies in the world.

Philip is a Sociologist and Development Worker with over a decade of experience in democracy/governance, human rights, conflict management, and peace activism.  His experience has found him working both within and outside of Nigeria as a civil society leader, project manager, researcher, trainer, advocate, and campaigner.

In just over a decade, Philip has gained a wealth of experience in his career so far by choosing organizations with which to work that reflect his activism and deep commitment to peace.  Prior to taking up residency in the UK for his graduate studies as a Rotary Peace Fellow, Philip served as Program Coordinator for  Nigeria’s People’s Democratic Institute.  In that role, he facilitated the first International Election Observer Mission to South Africa’s national elections in 2009 for that organization.

Another of Philip’s organizational choices, the Research Triangle Institute International (RTI) in Nigeria, gave him a chance to work on a key component of community development in his position as Training and Capacity Building Manager.  Early in his career, Philip served as Program Officer with the Mississippi Consortium for International Development (MCID), Nigeria Country Office.  In keeping with Philip’s unwavering commitment to peace, he served as a member of the Nonviolent Peaceforce (NP) in Sri Lanka Field Team from 2007-08.

As a Peace Fellow, Philip is focusing his studies on how information technology (IT) models can support citizen and community participation in managing or mitigating conflict and in promoting democracy.

We asked each Peace Fellow two interview questions.  Here are Philip’s answers:

1.  What is your opinion about the prospects of an end to armed conflict in the next 50 years?

I see a gloomy future with regard to armed conflict in the next 50 years. Arms spending is increasing, and the so-called world military powers continue to flex their muscles. With the growth of technology, warfare is becoming more sophisticated…the U.S. is not at war, but U.S.-made drones are killing hundreds even now. It might get worst in the future.

2. What do you believe are the three most important contributing factors to fostering peace within and among nations?

The three most important factors that foster greater peace among the nations are, in my opinion:

a.  The never-dying left movement: anarchists, radical scholars, the workers movement, occupy movement; left activists and the platform of social media…all are forces whose activities tend to pull back powerful governments and states from excesses;

b.  Education and increased consciousness of the larger majorities across the nations could prove to be liberating and capable of increasing the peace;

c.   Women emancipation and empowerment: in all spheres, in the streets and in government, women are contributors to peace, and I believe increased empowerment of women, increased roles for women in society and government everywhere will foster peace everywhere.

Your comments are welcome.  Send them directly to our Managing Editor at:  rebecca.popham@tutufoundationusa.org, or use the “Post a Comment” box below if you prefer.