Search for Common Ground - Nigeria
Girls take the lead on peace-building and religious tolerance in Nigeria
Nigeria, Sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous country and its largest economy, faces several different conflicts, including an insurgency in the North East, ongoing ethnic and religious violence in the country’s Middle Belt, and threatening militancy in the oil-rich Niger Delta.
Search for Common Ground (Search) has been working in Nigeria since 2004, using innovative approaches to promote peacebuilding in areas of tension and to encourage understanding across ethnic, religious and gender lines. Since conflicts in Nigeria often take on a religious dimension, as parties to a conflict identify with a religious group, Search works to promote inter-religious tolerance and understanding between Christians and Muslims. They bring together key stakeholders to constructively work out their differences and jointly create strategies that promote tolerance, social cohesion, and religious freedom.
Search’s work with youth has been focused on Jos, Plateau State, in the heart of the country’s religiously diverse Middle Belt. It is here that the mostly Muslim north meets the largely Christian south. The city is marred by violent clashes between these two religious groups, which peaked in 2010. The new generation has grown up with memories of this violence and in segregated communities with little interaction across religious lines. To address these issues and build youth capacity to be ambassadors for peace in their communities, Search has implemented a series of projects engaging youth across religious lines in peacebuilding.
Search, in 2012, brought Christian and Muslim girls together for a series of camps and supported them to design and implement community initiatives promoting peace and tolerance. These camps were expanded on to include boys in 2017-2018. The impact of these camps goes beyond the youth who participate, as Search supports them in implementing peace initiatives that engage their communities and spread the message of interreligious collaboration and understanding.
“If we really want to ensure that the next generation will not carry on the present cycle of violence, then now is the time to start.” Explained Chom Bagu, Search’s Nigerian Country Director. The camps bring together equal numbers of Christian and Muslim participants, and allow them to discover that their counterparts’ religious differences are minor, and that their similarities are far more important and meaningful. One participant in the Naija Girls Unite programme discussed how her opinions of Muslims, forged by her experience of conflict, had changed after taking part in the camp. “I discovered that they are just the way that we are, no difference. Just that they pray on Friday and we pray on Sunday.” Another participant indicated that her camp experience had given her lessons that she could spread to the rest of her community. “When I came back from the camp, I decided to spread the news to my community that Christians are not evil. They should stop cursing the Christians, they should stop blaming them, it is not their fault.”
Search supports the Nigerian youth to be the sparks of hope in their communities in the midst of the ongoing conflicts. Strengthening young people enables them to take on initiatives for peace and discard the polarising legacy of violence.