From Screenings to Schooling

by Maimuna Aboki and Alaina Rudnick

on July 3, 2017

For farmers and herders in the community of Agbashi, Nigeria, violent conflict had become dangerously common — until a movie changed their world.

Agbashi wasn’t always a place of conflict. It used to be a tranquil town, inhabited by farmers who thrived on the fertile soil. In recent years, a rapid growth of the population, climate change, and the influx of nomadic herders who have come to settle in the area created competition for precious resources — first and foremost, land.

The tensions between the farmers, who are mostly Christian, and the Muslim-majority herders quickly took religious and ethnic undertones, at least in the narratives propagated by the media. In the absence of reliable mechanisms to settle disputes at the community level, each friction started a cycle of retribution that seemed impossible to break. This dynamic had tragic consequences: cattle raids, scorched fields, emotional trauma, loss of livelihood — and even loss of life.

On both sides, communities couldn’t see a way out. But when our Nigeria team started mobile cinema screenings across the region, things improved.

The screenings showcased the film I Will Follow The Green Grass, a documentary designed and created entirely by Nigerian artists. It presents real-life examples and testimonies of how communities of farmers and herders across Nigeria dealt with the scarcity of resources, resolved conflict nonviolently, and now coexist in peace. Hundreds of people attended each of the screenings that took place in Agbashi’s state, learning about peaceful ways to overcome their problems.

These mobile cinema screenings are incredibly impactful. Not only do they show that peace is possible, they also provide an opportunity to turn it into reality. After each screening, while still galvanized by seeing the film, the audience members take part in discussions around conflict, share personal experiences, and brainstorm collaborative solutions. Our facilitators help guide the discussion and create a safe space, so that no one feels threatened. In this way, relationships between the two groups thaw, opportunities for cooperation arise, and people are inspired to seek alternatives to violence.

As a result of this initiative, the villagers of Agbashi are taking action to break the cycle of violence they were trapped in. One of them in particular, a herder named Abdulkadir, took inspiration from the film and found innovative ways to help.

Abdulkadir at one of the screenings in Agbashi.

Abdulkadir at one of the screenings in Agbashi.

Herder families like Abdulkadir’s often don’t send their children to school. Instead, they make them tend to the herd during the day. Often, since the children aren’t strong and experienced enough to control them, the herds break free and damage crops. The young herders themselves are in danger when disputes arise and miss getting a consistent education.

“This has to stop,” Abdulkadir woefully said of the conflict. “We need to get our children in school. I will hold a family meeting with a view to sending my children to school,” he decided.

Since Abdulkadir’s children restarted attending classes, 12 other families followed his example. Today, in Agbashi, cattle are better tended, fields are destroyed less often, and disputes are starting to fade. These families’ actions may even influence the Ardo — the community leader — to send his children back to school as well.

“We see that [peace] in the video and we also want that again in our homes, for own our families and for our community”, Abdulkadir explained.

As audiences all across Nigeria’s Middle Belt are exposed to similar teachings, there is a concrete opportunity for farmers and herders to set their differences aside and start on a new path — one that allows both communities to thrive.

The mobile cinema screenings are part of the project “Building Bridges Between Herders and Farmers in Plateau, Nasarawa, and Kaduna States.” Want to learn more? Follow our Nigeria team on Facebook and Twitter!

Maimuna Aboki is a Communications Associate at Search for Common Ground, based in Abuja.

Alaina Rudnick is a New Media Intern at Search for Common Ground, based in Washington, D.C.