According to the Global Peace Index (2014), 500 million people live in countries at risk of instability and conflict, and 200 million of them live below the poverty level. One of those countries, Nigeria, is facing the catastrophic consequences of both violent extremism and militarized responses to “counter violent extremism.”
This has resulted in a humanitarian crisis, human rights abuses, and as many as 100,000 deaths.
In northeast Nigeria, 1.7 million people have been displaced from their homes, and 8.1 million people are in dire need of humanitarian and emergency food assistance.
The cycle of violence is leading to deadly counter attacks from Boko Haram and increasing radicalization, anger and animosity. Many communities in northeast Nigeria primarily relate to each other along the lines of ethnicity and religion, characterized by suspicion and distrust.
The United States recently approved a $593 million arms deal with the Nigerian government to help them fight Boko Haram. Nigeria is currently struggling with a budget crisis and faces allegations of human rights abuses. The source of funds for the purchase of 12 Super Tucano warplanes and other military hardware remains unclear.
Rather than selling warplanes, the U.S. should invest in peacebuilding and conflict resolution programs. Programs such as the Complex Crises Fund reduce the need for costly military interventions that often lead to the killing of innocent civilians. Yet the president’s budget proposed eliminating the Fund altogether.
Protracted conflicts and violence are a result of broken relationships, disenfranchisement, unemployment, and disrespect for the rule of law, inefficient governance and lack of trust with the government.
Tackling the root causes of violence entails long-term peace education that includes monitoring and identifying conflict through a robust early warning system. Peace education also helps to prevent radicalization and violent extremism, especially among youth recruited as members of extremist groups.
In order to build positive attitudes that create and sustain peaceful societies, Mennonite Central Committee supports the work of Emergency Preparedness Response Teams (EPRT) in the formation of peace clubs at schools and at community gathering places.
Some of these peace clubs have been formed in nine northeastern communities in Madagali, Michika and Mubi North (Adamawa State), areas where youth are susceptible to Boko Haram recruitment. In these communities many schools have been destroyed and some children are not enrolled because of Boko Haram’s opposition to education.
Abel Samuel, a student at Government Secondary School (GSS) Chwel-Nyap from Angwan Rukuba in Jos, Nigeria shared how his “fighting” attitude was transformed by peace club activities at school. Samuel says, “I eventually joined the club and my success is when I used the skills I learnt in Peace Club activities to mediate.”
EPRT’s work helps build trust and relationships, pursuing what makes for godly peace (Romans 14:19). It is one example of how an investment in peace can help break the cycle of violence.