Nigeria Elections: “The best hope for sustainable peace in Nigeria lies in our young people, not in our parliament”

The 2019 general elections in Nigeria are set to take place on Saturday 23rd February, after being postponed from the 16th. In the run up to the event, we urge against pessimism and look to signs of hope for the country’s future. Our local peacebuilding partner, Michael Sodipo, was recently interviewed by All Africa magazine, and we echo his thoughts on how young people are our best hope for a peaceful future in Nigeria.

Saturday 23rd February will mark Nigeria’s first national election since a peaceful democratic transition of power to the opposition in 2015, when president Goodluck Jonathon of the People’s Democratic Party concealed defeat to Muhammudu Bahari of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Headlines surrounding the elections have mainly focused on the risks of electoral violence due to the country’s social and economic inequalities, ethnic and religious divisions and structural weaknesses. However, despite the risks, serious violence in 2019 is not inevitable.  Local grassroots peacebuilders have a keen sense of what is necessary to curb the rise of violence and build sustainable peace, and what can be done to deter those who seek to perpetrate violence. We want to shine a light on these people, who are our best hope for sustainable peace following the 2019 election. This is the narrative we should all be promoting right now.

Nigeria has the fifth largest youth population in the world, with 63% of its population under the age of 25 and facing extremely limited opportunities for education and employment. Whilst evidence shows that young people with severely restricted economic opportunities are particularly susceptible to armed recruitment, local peacebuilders see signs of hope, recognising and utilising the potential this large demographic holds for securing lasting peace.  

Michael Sodipo is the coordinator of our local partner organisation in Nigeria, the Peace Initiative Network (PIN). PIN work with ex-Yandaba gang members and young people across Kano, Northern Nigeria, helping them to find non-violent livelihoods and access better futures. They understand that a better future for the Nigerian people lies in helping the next generation to choose peace instead of violence.

With our political class fanning the flames of conflict, we must look elsewhere for solutions to the decades-long violence. My hope lies in those most likely to make up our militias and gangs: young people” – Michael Sodipo, Coordinator of PIN

PIN’s programme focuses on engaging young people in activities that will make them more resilient. This includes vocational skills training, sports clubs that build understanding between rival ethnic and religious groups and help young people address anger non-violently, and ‘Peace Clubs’ promoting dialogue among young people on the violence that affects them.

Young people participating in ‘Peace through Sport’ programme in Minjibir, Kano organised by Peace Initiative Network (PIN).

As Michael commented,  “Instead of joining gangs, burning down houses, and killing, young people are taught about peace, given vocational training, engaged in sports clubs, and encouraged to build friendships outside of their cultural identities. We see an undeniable ripple effect in their communities, villages, and towns. A brighter future for them means a brighter future for Nigeria.”

 “Instead of joining gangs, burning down houses, and killing, young people are taught about peace, given vocational training, engaged in sports clubs, and encouraged to build friendships outside of their cultural identities. We see an undeniable ripple effect in their communities, villages, and towns. A brighter future for them means a brighter future for Nigeria.”

PIN-facilitator Friday leads members of the PIN-supported Peace Club at the Abdulkareem Arabic Primary School. Kano, Northern Nigeria. May 2017. 

PIN’s approach to curbing Nigeria’s endemic violence, and their promotion of an optimistic narrative about the country’s future, offer a sustainable way of moving forward peacefully after the 2019 general election which the international community should put their faith behind. Initiatives like this one are crucial to building sustainable peace for Nigeria’s future.

Read more:

Michael Sodipo, coordinator of PIN, in AllAfrica discussing the crucial role of young people in building a peaceful future in Nigeria: https://allafrica.com/stories/201902110001.html

Dylan Mathews, CEO of Peace Direct, in ThisDayLive discussing the need to promote peace ahead of the 2019 Nigeria elections: https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2018/12/23/nigeria-strong-enough-to-withstand-election-fractures

Support local peacebuilders like the Peace Initiative Network:        Donate today

The photos in this article were taken by Greg Funnell. You can view more of his work at http://www.gregfunnell.com/index

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