From Maiduguri : No one is born a terrorist

I had come across a Regional Youth Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) in the Sahel region in September organized by Search for Common Ground (SFCG). I was pretty excited to apply notwithstanding the venue was in Maiduguri. For those who don’t know about Maiduguri, it’s the melting pot of the terrorist group Boko Haram (BH). That said it was a “dangerous place” to be in but for some funny reason I wasn’t scared. Months later I was notified of been shortlisted, logistics were planned, security briefs were sent out. On the 27th of Nov I headed off to the airport to meet fellow participants from Cameroon, Chad, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. I could literally feel the excitement on the plane, I couldn’t see a trace of fear on their faces. Although we knew the risk ahead of us, regardless of the various security presence escorting our buses no one expressed fear.

Although we knew the risk ahead of us, regardless of the various security presence escorting our buses no one expressed fear.

We all settled in with the friendly volunteers who made sure we were all comfortable and ended the day with a welcome dinner. Before I go into the summit, I want to appreciate the management of University of Maiduguri (UniMaid). There are many things we are not told and here I was listening to the Vice Chancellor (VC) and shaking my head. UniMaid was never shut down all through the period BH terrorized Borno state, in the words of the former VC they couldn’t shut down because they would be sending their students out to their villages that had been taken over by BH, it’s either they get killed or are forced to join.

On the first day the Deputy VC pointed out how Borno which is originally the Home of Peace has become the home of pieces. A Malian youth delegate led the discussion on the theme “youth and the fight against violent extremism: how important is the participation of the youths?” While one of the speakers talked about the challenges of preventing violent extremism as the following : – Highly secretive (special means of communication), Identifying and cutting the sources of funds, Insincerity of the community, Politicization, Instilled fear on the citizens, Insincerity and lack of commitment from the leaders, Poor motivation by the government to the military, Lack of clear rehabilitation measures. He went further to give the following as the way-forward: – Education as the bedrock, strict monitoring of community members, regulation of public preaching, strengthening of Islamic school. One of the speakers led the conversation on the common misconception associated with radicalization and extremism. Everyone is a radical in one way or the other the difference in extremism lies in the use of violence.

In the plenary session on Global and National agendas engaging youth in CVE the Cameroonian speaker highlighted the need to involve women in CVE but went further to view women not just as victims but as actors. I think this is a good narrative because seeing them as just victims prevents a holistic approach to CVE. Nigeria has experienced many female suicide bombers, last year a family of nine in Bradford England crossed over to Syria under the guise of hajj. The Nigerian speaker who was a product of the SFCG Naija Girls – a camp involving young Christian and Muslim girls from about nine (9) – fifteen (15) living together to know each other and change the narrative of “us” against “them” prevalent in Plateau State. In her words they were previously “fed from wrong ideologies and fed from wrong plates”. These young girls moved from the camp and started training other young girls on the need for peaceful coexistence. In one of the presentations these quotes stood out to me “no one is born a terrorist or fighter”, “if youths can be such a powerful force that can destroy a nation, why do people overlook our resources when we are working for peace” – Rwandan Youth Movement Leader

if youths can be such a powerful force that can destroy a nation, why do people overlook our resources when we are working for peace”

On the second day the theme for the plenary session was “Challenges and opportunities for youths in CVE”. A Nigerian Youth speaker gave a presentation on gender-based violence and how women are been empowered to prevent their recruitment into such violent groups. One of the speakers gave a profound truth “conflict is always between right and right” He went further to demonstrate between the six (6) and nine (9). Just because you see a six doesn’t mean I’m wrong seeing a nine. The issue isn’t what we are seeing individually rather the ability to accommodate what the other person is seeing.  Everyone has their own truth – this couldn’t have been said any better. If you ask some terrorists, they’ll probably give you their version of truth. Peace building is how I want to reflect on myself by opening my listening mind. Some of the challenges mentioned are youth participation in democratic processes, lack of leadership capacity by the youths and lack of belief by the elders. One of the facilitator was almost eaten up when he said the youths are the leaders of tomorrow. The hall went berserk with participants saying they are the leaders of today, tomorrow may never come.

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We were divided into four working groups namely: – Preventing violence and recruitment into violent groups, facilitating young people’s disengagement from violent groups, producing and amplifying new narratives, fostering effective and meaningful partnerships. I worked on amplifying new narratives, we came up with the following: – Understanding the problem, direct contact with the actors to understand them, bring parties to a common ground, and address misinterpretations of narratives. Something stood out to me, the Country Director of SFCG asked us “not to think of the white elephant”. I’m pretty sure you have the picture of a white elephant in your head. Bottom line highlight your positive message for example instead of saying “Violence is not the answer” you can say “Peace is the answer”.

On the third day we were placed in working groups to come up with an action plan for each country facilitated by some academics. It was brain racking but exciting at the same time. One of the academics from Niger suggested some general action points: – Inter-religious dialogue, inclusion of the female in peace processes, control of the Koranic school (licensing of the Koranic teachers). It was interesting listening to an ex-rebel leader who has made something meaningful from his life. He went back to school and has a PhD and contributing his own quota in CVE.

Friendships were forged over the four (4) days we spent in Maiduguri. Although we had to put on our translators when the French speakers led the discussion, it didn’t prevent our communication. Yes there were times I took a bilingual participant to enable me ask some questions but I enjoyed every bit of it. At the end of yesterday all the various country representatives submitted their action plan and awaiting approval to kick off.  Following the UN Security Council adoption of Resolution 2250 in December 2015 urging member states to consider setting up mechanisms that would enable young people to participate meaningfully in peace processes and dispute resolution. We have definitely moved from rhetoric to action. Can we be the ones to end violence in our own generation?

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Loads of Love

JMAD

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Biafra ; a case of collective memory

There was a country written by Chinua Achebe on the Nigerian-Biafra war – a civil war fought from 1967 – 1970 in Nigeria. It’s on record over a million people from the East of the country were killed. While I didn’t witness the war but I’ve relatives who did and I have read some books too.  In the personal memoir written by Raph Uwechue who served as Biafra’s envoy to Paris until 1968  (Uwechue, 2004) as quoted by Achebe in his book wrote

In Biafra two wars were fought simultaneously. The first was for the survival of the Ibos as a race. The second was for the survival of Ojukwu’s leadership. Ojukwu’s error, which proved fatal for millions of Ibos was that he put the latter first.

At the time of this writing tens of thousands of youths in the South East of Nigeria are protesting for the release of Nnamdi Kanu – who before his arrest by the Nigerian government was clamouring for the nation of Biafra. I’m currently enrolled for a course on Religion and Conflict. It’s been an amazing five weeks of lectures filled with loads and loads of information. We are currently on the role of religion in peace building process. Bosnia is a case study for this week and we are looking at collective memory – Bosnia was under former Yugoslavia before the war that caused the break up.

I think it’s time for the Ibos to go down memory lane; are they about to tow the same path the former leader of Biafra took? Is one man’s error (Nnamdi Kanu) going to cause the lives of millions again or is he the messiah the Ibos have been expecting to take them to the Promised Land. For those agitating and chanting ‘No Biafra, No Peace’ do you really understand what you are saying? War has never really been the answer besides, the absence of war isn’t necessarily the presence of positive peace. Some might succeed at fighting a war like in the case of Biafra, probably become a nation and still experience structural violence – policies and structures established that causes unequal advantage creating a class divide, group privileges over other.

The Ibos have the right to self-determination, but the question remains are they prepared to govern themselves. The aim of the protest is to embark on a million march and from what I’m observing they are gradually achieving it. I’m not sure they have ever succeeded at such unity in the past elections for key positions like the Presidency. This goes to show some underlying truth – they do believe in the project Biafra. The scars of the war are still there, most of them protesting may never have witnessed it but the stories have been passed on by their forebears.

This brings up an important area for the new administration. There’s a need to foster unity among the already severed tribes in the nation. This is not the time to favour a particular set of people on the basis of loyalty. Nigeria has gone through many violent conflicts and many people had prophesied the Balkanisation of Nigeria. Somehow she finds a way of bouncing back on her feet even if she has to be supported to walk.

The issue of Biafra shouldn’t be swept under the carpet; the Nigerian government shouldn’t rest if it is successful at quelling the ongoing protest.  It will only be temporary if meaningful dialogues are not held. At the same time the Ibos should look inwards and ask themselves if they’ve made good use of the opportunities handed to them in the past. It’s written if you are not faithful in little, who will give you something bigger. Posterity will judge us all for the various parts we play.

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Just realised I had not read the book on Yugoslavia and I’ve had it for a while. Two books published by the same publishers, written for two different countries by different authors, while one no longer exists the other is trying to exist. Irony of life

JMAD

Reference Titles

Uwechue, R., 2004, Reflections on the Nigerian civil war: Facing the future, Trafford on Demand Pub.

You can’t kiss me

He had just scooped her up; with so much excitement in her eyes, he instantly tried to peck her and the words came out ‘You can’t kiss me’. Last week in Church we had the children’s Sunday service. They practically led the entire service from the Praise and Worship to the Sermon. It was a sight to behold especially the drummer who made me smile, just staring at him beating those drums. In the midst of all that a little boy who came in late was supposed to join the children on stage during the praise session but he was shy. His dad had to follow him to the front; sat down and had a father to son pep talk. I was interested in seeing what would happen; and after a while the little boy climbed the stage and his father didn’t move from that spot because the boy smiled whenever he looked in the direction of his father.

Back to the first story; the girl who said that is a little girl who’s probably 6 or 7 years old, we had arrived for a programme and one of us, a man was playing with her. You don’t know how happy I was to hear those words she said, I couldn’t imagine the pride in her mom when people applauded her for instilling such teachings in her daughter. I had a colleague who said she doesn’t allow her daughter sit on men’s laps whether they are her brothers or her husband’s; a friend felt she was too extreme. Another friend told me of a 3 year old girl who died and when an autopsy was carried out on her they found huge deposits of sperm inside her.

Looking at those little children on Sunday I was moved to tears at their innocence; and in the midst of that I just wondered why anyone would want to hurt them. For as much as I couldn’t figure it out it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. I have heard many cases of child abuse; it breaks my heart and often times the parents never knew it was happening. It’s even worse when it happens right in their homes. I watch a documentary Animal Super Parents on BBC 1 every Friday evening.

The Cichlid a type of fish protects her young by keeping them in her mouth without feeding at the same time, I watched a frog dig through mud just to provide water for the tadpoles and it was bleeding while doing it, the female octopus after laying her eggs protects them from predators, blows currents of water on them to receive oxygen; this could go on until the eggs are hatched for up to 10 months depending on the species and she doesn’t feed. At about the time the eggs hatch the mother dies. You might have thought in the past parenting only appeals to humans, guess it’s about time to think again.

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No matter how the child came into the world they are gifts given to us by God. It’s our responsibility to nurture, protect and provide for them. The world is global, yes we can reach anywhere with just a click of a button but at the same time we are exposed to loads of information and our kids are not left out. We can’t continue to live in denial when it comes to our discussion with children. Gone are the days when we used funny names to refer to parts of the body. The kids in this generation are pretty smart and inquisitive too, they want to know and if we are not there to give them the right and appropriate information they will get it elsewhere and I bet you, 7 out of 10 times they get the wrong information. Here’s to everyone who has assumed the role of a parent to either their biological, adopted, young siblings or students, may you never lack the wisdom to bring up the gifts of children in the right way, may you have the right words to say to them when they bring questions and may you continue to protect them.

Loads of Love

JMAD

My view of Ethiopia

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Departure at Manchester Airport

In February I went on a two weeks African Study Visit with eleven students to Ethiopia; a Japanese and a British have both written their experience. I had been procrastinating but I’m glad I’m finally writing. The aim of the visit was to broaden our understanding of Peace-building in Ethiopia. It’s a module for Post-Graduate students in Peace Studies. What made the trip more interesting was the diversity of all of us; we had people from the US, Japan, Canada, Germany, UK, Kenya, DRC, Czech Republic and Nigeria.

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Ethiopia is in the East of Africa also known as one of the countries in the Horn of Africa; it’s bordered by Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia. It is a unique country in Africa; civilisation dates back to over 2000 years ago, the only country never to be colonised apart from an Italian invasion of 5 years. They have had their fair share of conflicts ranging from internal conflicts to external conflicts. The two main conflicts were centred on Land Distribution and Identity; the Derg military regime that took over by a coup dealt with the issue of land although down the road gross human rights violation occurred. A guerrilla force known as Tigrayan People’s Liberation Force [TPLF] eventually took over power from the military regime which led to a democratic republic. The political wing of TPLF known as Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front led the country in 1991 and is still ruling the country now. They resolved the issue of Identity by the establishment of an Ethnic based Federalism where ethnic groups are allowed to govern themselves at the local level as well as the ability to be taught in their native language while making Amharic the official working language of the country.  This system has brought relative peace but the question remains if the peace will be sustained. We had interviews with Government and Non-Government agencies and all I can say is Ethiopia should be studied as a country. Let me take you through the entire journey.

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Arrival at Ethiopia

We arrived Ethiopia in the early hours on the 7th of February to be shocked to the chilly weather, apparently Ethiopia has the Highlands and Lowlands. Addis Ababa which is the capital is in the highlands hence the weather although during the day it gets hot. Did I mention one of us was held back at the airport on the suspicion of Ebola as a result of a high temperature. I knew we were going to have fun; that had to be the beginning, but thankfully was released and given an emergency card to call just in case their suspicion was valid. We checked into a descent place called Yeka guest house; thank heavens I was able to skype on some days because we were all concerned with the Internet before we arrived. I think the breakfast in the guest house was pretty good with the freshly squeezed fruit we were served every morning; I think I miss that a lot. We had most of our dinners in different continental restaurants except on two occasions where we had our meals cooked by the ladies and the men. I think seeing the men cook was pretty interesting accompanied with their ‘Everything is awesome’ song they danced and sang to from the Lego movie. I’m currently nodding to it while typing this post.

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At this point i needed to command the tortoise to stop chasing me
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While some people were trying to get a good shot
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I think this is cute
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Our first lunch together

All through the week we had interviews, meetings with some really hard questions we threw at them; I must commend the research everyone made because the questions put them on their toes but I can say we all left each meeting either more confused on what to believe or puzzled. This was reinforced when we met each evening with our lecturer to discuss the day’s activities as well as get an update on the activities of the next day. Once again I’ll say this Ethiopia as a country needs to be studied.

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Ethiopian Birr
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Apparently I was made the finance minister, balancing accounts
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Coffee ceremony at the guest house

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Highest point in Ethiopia, according to our tour guide Panoramic view

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Our first cooked dinner
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We had to smile after walking for almost an hour to find the Church, only to find out it was less than 15 mins from the guest house
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The smile of those who just defaulted

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Our first taste of Injera

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A depiction of how people were tortured during the Derg military regime. The stories we heard here was heart-wrenching.
National Museum of Ethiopia.
National Museum of Ethiopia.

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Finding reception.
Finding reception to watch the finals of the African Cup of Nations.
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One of our meetings at the end of the day

We were really excited when we left the capital city to have a weekend getaway in a village called Hawassa. On the way we stopped at a strawberry and raspberry farm where we bought fresh smoothies with a mixture of yoghurt and experienced the beautiful sunset. Our first night had us eating in a recommended restaurant; I was excited when I saw Indian chicken curry on the menu, I ordered for that, did I enjoy it? Let’s just say it came 30 mins after everyone had eaten and it wasn’t anything close to Indian curry. The next day we were hosted in this outdoor seat-out with the view of the sea; the avocado-mango smoothie served was life-changing and the food was good too and some of us went on a boat cruise. Later that night we visited Haile Resort which I can recommend, top-notch services and a good place to getaway, we had fun that night while the world was celebrating Valentine ’s Day we had ours together.

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On our way to Hawassa

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Amazing mango and avocado smoothie

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And this monkey hops on tables and takes food.
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We had to try a lot of times to get this concept.

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Haile Resort
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Sharing our love
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Cos he’s the only guy

On our way back to Addis we stopped at a place known for its Rastafarian heritage called Shashamane; from the tour guide telling us they take everything fresh (weed) to some guys smoking cigarette outside professing marriage and to the fact that we were told we needed to change our clothes to enter into a sacred house (which we declined and left); it was an interesting place to visit although I can’t say I didn’t have a good laugh. We visited Lake Abiata where we saw Ostriches and falcons. Headed to Lake Langano; where we danced to some good music and some of us swam in the private pool and then we headed back to Addis Ababa.  Even though we had one meeting  we still had an amazing time.

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Shashamane

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The meetings, interviews and questions continued and by Wednesday we were rounding off and took a day off to visit the market; I was often referred to as Habesha (which is equally known as Abyssinians, a group of people in Ethiopia). Going by what I saw and what I’ve heard Ethiopians are good-looking; now I’ve this wide grin on my face if you understand what I’m trying to say. And by Thursday we had our last fun by visiting the Ethiopian Cultural Centre. I think that was the climax of the visit for two reasons; the local food that is popular is Injera and I had eaten it a few years ago in Nigeria and didn’t quite like it, tried it again in a restaurant for dinner and I wasn’t convinced again but this cultural centre raised the bar. There was something different of their own Injera; it tasted better and I learnt a few lessons. Never write off anything in a hurry, look at the current president of Nigeria he had contested for the office of the president on 3 occasions and lost and still tried again, yes my experience is food, his is political and yours could be anything. Secondly I had the dance of my life with the entertainers; I have a huge smile just thinking of that night.

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This was just hilarious, that’s supposed to be Okra with some sort of bread.

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The warrior song
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Our last dinner
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Our two official photographers
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The mint toothpick gang
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That’s how you seal an international deal
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We just had to make faces

We finally packed our bags and headed to the airport Friday night; let’s just say the whole experience wanted to ruin a great trip. We had a flight delay of 4 hours in Ethiopia, 2 – 3 hours in Istanbul and finally arrived without our luggage; talk of Murphy’s law but everything is awesome. We got them a few days after, we’ve all written our essays on different topics; gotten the scores with the feedback. Regardless of our individual performance I can say it was an experience of a life time. We were able to see Africa through a different lens for those who haven’t been to Africa before and for those who are Africans could draw some parallels with their home country. I can say beyond the stereotype associated with Africa; there’s a lot that is not been reported in the media. You may not be opportuned to make a trip like mine but you can educate yourself and never limit yourself to just one opinion. Research from different sources and ask questions where necessary.

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Rosa 9

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The look you get for a 4 hour delay
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And some had to play cards over their suitcases

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She can’t be bothered
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The delay at Istanbul
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Rocking our Ethiopian Tees

AMASEGANALEHU which is thank you in Amharic.

JMAD