This essay was first posted on World Pulse Online Community as part of a response to A World Free of Violence. With the following link https://www.worldpulse.com/community/users/otahelp/posts/89588 with the Topic Women Arise and Build Peace in your Community and writing name as Otahelp(Ota Nnanna).
It is updated for the purpose of this fellowship to include women roles during and post-election experiences as well as recommendations on how to support, replicate the experiences of women at all levels during and post conflict settings.
Peace we know is not the absence of Conflict and there is not snapshot way of resolving conflict or violence except through a process. Most times people and government do not have the patience of indulging and allowing these processes to take effect before embarking on force.
There have been constant clashes between Fulani Herdsmen and farmers in the Middle Belt and the Southern Region which have typically breached peace in Nigeria. Militancy and cultism is yet another challenge that was brought by environmental degradation and was not properly managed; it was allowed to escalate into full blown violence. This violence came with its fallout of Internally Displaced Persons, constant insecurity, hunger and a general fall in standard of living. Poverty is everywhere
Means of livelihood for many have been disrupted by both the oil exploration and gas flaring in the Niger Delta, Herdsmen Attacks and Boko Haram in the Middle Belt & Southern regions. Fear of Herdsmen will not allow anybody stray from their residential areas. Deforestation and Desertification in the North has given rise to migration, Internally Displaced Persons and hunger. The mayhem unleashed by Boko Haram cannot be contained by our Federal Security Agents and so there are violence everywhere you turn around to.
Most people see these every day clashes as politically motivated, while others see it as an orchestrated, well planned out crusade of ethnic cleansing; but the Agricultural scientist and Climate Change crusaders believe that aside the Boko Haram Insurgency, the deforestation and desertification in the North has brought about massive migration of Herdsmen and their cattles into the Middles Belt, South-East, South-South and South West Regions that still have green foliage.
These cattle rearers are moving from community to community looking for grazing lands for their cattles and in their wake destruction of crops and farmlands follows at any community or path they cross. Some communities who have risen to protect their lands and crops always leads to mayhem - destruction of lives and properties in numbers and our government is not doing much to check mate these clashes. Based on these constant security risks, so many people have ran away from their homes and communities thereby bringing about scarcity of food and a continuous fall in living standard. These fall in standard of living have also brought about more public health issues because of improper sanitation and personal hygiene.
My community have had a fair share of skirmishes with herdsmen and the stories about women being harassed, beaten up and raped by these herdsmen in and around the farms. These have brought about women and other community people losing interest in going to farms. Men cannot venture into the forest on their own to check their animal traps except in the company of other men.
Nigeria has been turned into a snowball of violence that erupts at all times; the triggers and drivers of these violence are not being checkmated, arrested or prosecuted. Some engagements have dwelt so much on resolving some of the issues taking into cognizance the place of women in the process.
But most recently I have been part of a 2day training by our organisation; a 1day Niger Delta Women day of Action by Kabetkache Women Development & Resource Centre and a 3rd engagement between some women led CSOs in Port Harcourt and the Eminent Woman of Angie Brooks International of Liberia – Yvette. During the engagement, she spoke at length the work Angie Brooks International has done in Uganda, Kenya and Ghana toward Peace building in post electioneering activities in those countries. At the end of the engagement outcomes strongly corroborated with the outcomes of the first 2 engagements that the Inclusion of Women in Peace building processes is key to reducing violence in Nigeria, Africa and the World.
The outcomes continues that while we are advocating for women inclusion into political, economic and social spheres, we must continue to educate and empower women with Peace Building Tools, enlighten them of the enabling laws and convention – UNSCR 1825; so that they will be well equipped to face the challenges of peace building and decision making processes when the rollercoaster starts whirling which I know will be soonest.
They also maintained that Women should drive the Peace building processes in homes and communities by showing love to their children and admonish them on the sanctity of life as women have an endearing way of speaking to their children and getting them to listen to reasons. Advocacy must be intensified to community, local government, state, national, Regional and to the international community on the need to allow women be part of peace building processes.
The issue of Environmental degradation and violence propped up too for those in the Niger Delta area of Rivers State. According to the women in one of our interactions, they said that they no longer have farm lands because of government and oil company acquisitions and for the little they have left, there is low yield due to long years of oil exploration and its attendant issues of seismic activities that destroyed lands, oil spillage and gas flaring. Aquatic lives have not been spared by flood, erosion and oil spillage thereby exposing women and girls to commercial sex with its attendant public health issues of HIV/AIDS, Cervical Cancer and other forms of ailment.
In the centre of all of these is Corruption, the king of underdevelopment and violence. Corruption is almost becoming a norm for us in Africa and Nigeria. The Civil Society has continued to lend their voices which are always drowned by those sitting in the fence and those who do not care.
Though some believe that the Government of the day is not being sincere in their pursuit to address these challenges and reduce the violence to the barest minimum.
Predictions of violence are very high as the 2019 General elections continues to draw near and most of us in the Peace building world have continued to carry out sensitisations and enlightenment programmes towards non-violent and peaceful elections. We have mobilised more than 5000 youths across Rivers State on Non-violent elections and other CSOs across Nigeria are doing same. We hope our efforts will yield bountiful fruits on peaceful elections.
The predictions of violence escalation eventually happened during the elections. Many states were militarised and communities could not close their eyes to sleep. This played out so much in Rivers State, Nigeria and women experiences during this period projected the power women have to maintain and restore peace. The women of Ogu/Bolo, Okirika, Abonnema and Odenweri had to sleep for 4 nights in their different collation centres to protect their mandates in defiance to military invasion of their communities. They had experienced armed conflict in the past which sacked the whole community; many were killed and some left with permanent injuries. So this time the women refused to be cowed by cultist who they said are their children, brothers and husbands. They took their advocacy to the cult, community and youths leadership and were able to get their support. They held a local summit of all women groups in their communities and reached a resolution that they will not allow their communities to be turned into a war zone like before. With that resolve, they took charge of their collation centre to stop intruders from taken over their community and in the process of protecting their community also protected their votes by stopping military personnel on nocturnal assignments.
The action of this women replicated what happened in 1929 tagged The Aba Women's Riot against the British Colonial Masters which featured women rebelling against economic and socio-political oppressions in Bende, Umuahia, and other regions of Igboland. Over 10,000 women came out to protest from majorly six ethnic groups: Ibibio, Andoni, Orgoni, Bonny, Opobo, and Igbo.
The Aba women riot stopped the British from imposing tax on women and also checkmated the powers of the warrant chiefs. It also saw some women emerging as warrant chiefs in some areas.
But inspite of the above, Men still dominate the formal roles in a peacebuilding process; there are mainly male peacekeepers, male peace negotiators, male politicians, and male formal leaders. Power is unequally distributed between men and women and the majority of women do not have a voice in local and national decision making processes. In another community in the South East, women in their monthly flow are not allowed to visit some community meeting rooms and most of these peace building and decision makings take place in such no-go-areas for women.
So many post-election meetings have been held around the experiences of women in the bid to replicate it in other communities not for elections but for long lasting peace in communities in the Niger Delta and other zones of Nigeria.
Women plays a vital role in bridging clan divisions and acting as mediators, peace keepers and builders, while men are mostly focused on political power, settlement, land parcellation and inheritance which usually triggers violent conflicts. The cult groups whose only language are violence are armed and equipped to fight oppositions. These leave the maintenance of peace and community security on women; yet their labour remain unrecognised.
In my community in the South East of Nigeria the women are the ones maintaining peace and security by enacting laws that assist in safeguarding the community since men could no longer contain or care what their incessant quest for lands and power are doing to the community’s daily insecurity challenges.
Women are most vulnerable during arm conflicts as they undergo several traumas of keeping their children safe to caring for injured family members and to mourning their dead relatives and friends and worst of it all leaving their ancestral homes to camps as their communities are sacked due to escalated violence.
So to support in raising the voices of women and their peace building efforts, reviews should consider how best to fast track the involvement of women in the peacebuilding process, and to ensure that women are viewed as agents of positive change.
Moreover, targets for achieving the goals of the resolution 1325 which remains the cornerstone for peacebuilding work must be time-bound in order for countries to take the resolution seriously. There must be spelt out strategies on how countries would monitor and evaluate women, peace and security initiatives to provide evidence of progress.
But the major reason for the slow and limited progress in the National Action Plans / UNSCR 1325 is the non-domestication at the State, Local government and Community levels. We need to move from formulating policies at National and Regional levels that does not have the local community input and localize such action plans. More progress will be achieved if these policies are broken down and passed on to the women in the local communities where the impact is most needed. Reporting mechanism has to be established in the local communities to monitor and evaluate impact and achievements which will eventually add up and mirror the Local Government, State, National and Africa in general.
The time for women to rise up and take the future of their children and community into their hands is now because they can and will.