The consequences of the brutal war between Boko Haram and the Nigerian security services will be with us for a long time. In the BBC’s series, “Letter from Africa,” Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani describes how the experience of Boko Haram occupation and subsequent liberation exacerbated the division between Christians and Muslims in the town of Michika. Christians and Muslims now hold their markets on different days of the week, and children from each community taunt those from the other. Nwaubani sums it up, “These days, the Christians and Muslims cannot stand each other.” She reports that the town was liberated by the Nigerian military after seven months of Boko Haram occupation, but security is now in the hands of “professional game hunters” and “vigilantes,” two informal, nongovernmental groups that are also suspicious of each other, even though their memberships are religiously mixed.
But, Mwaibani also reports a good-news story: the work of the Adamawa Peace Initiative. Its goal is peacebuilding by working to reduce violence through encouraging religious, community, and business leaders to work together. It has been active in the state of Adamawa since 2012, working with the American University of Nigeria*, based in Adamawa’s capital, Yola. It has Michika as a focus. The initiative has organized dialogue involving “the town’s leaders, women, men, youths, hunters, and vigilantes.” Mediators are teachers and respected Christian and Muslim clergy. Frank dialogue is having a salutary effect: one resident comments, “We had been carrying these grudges instead of tabling them. We had been pretending as they did not exist.”
The celebrated Africanist Stephen Ellis once remarked that a failing state is like a person who is sick, not a machine that can be repaired quickly. Recovery is by fits and starts and takes a long time. The same is likely true of smaller communities. The Adamawa Peace Initiative is providing therapy for a community that has been very ill.
*As a disclaimer, I serve on the board of the American University of Nigeria.