“What is happening, oh my God! Why are you killing?!”
Janet jumps in between the two groups of youth fighting fiercely, armed with wooden clubs and machetes. Bodies lay scattered on the ground, and injured youth scream in agony.
Luckily it’s not real, not this time.
“We need peace in Nigeria! We need peace in Jos!” continues 15-year-old Janet. She then goes on to address the audience witnessing the play, entitled “Look before you leap.” The play addresses how rumor-spreading results in meaningless death in Jos, the violence-ridden capital of Nigeria’s Plateau State. The play, organized by Janet and her friend Fatima and performed by the drama club of Janet’s school, is an event for the entire Gwong Secondary School and their visitors.
The two girls, Janet, a Christian, and Fatima, a Muslim, met through Search for Common Ground Nigeria’s ‘Naija Girls Unite!’ During the camps, the girls trained as local peacebuilders and learned how to organize peace projects in their own communities. The idea was that the Naija Girls, with a little encouragement and support, can make a difference in their local communities and sow the seed for lasting peace where traditional leaders have struggled.
Jos has been haunted by inter-religious violence for more than a decade, claiming thousands of lives. Now fragile peace remains, but many fear that violence may flare up again. Formerly the tourist magnet, Jos is now divided into segregated communities with little interaction across religious divides – schools, clinics, playgrounds. Because Janet attends a government school, it has both Christian and Muslim students, but they tend to stick to themselves.
As it turned out, it didn’t take much for the 22 Naija Girls participating in the camps to cross the barriers of segregation and prejudice and make friends with girls of the other faith. Besides the training sessions, the camps brought the girls together through fun activities, such as rafting and rock-climbing.
The girls also visited local peacebuilding NGOs to learn from their work. During the third and final camp, the girls talked with Commissioner Olivia Dazyam from the Ministry of Woman’s Affairs and Social Development. Mrs. Olivia was very impressed with the girls. She promised her support to the girls’ work in their communities and to visit as many of their events as her schedule would allow.
Now the Naija Girls are spreading the message from the camps to their schoolmates. Fatima’s and Janet’s peace project is only one of many. All over Jos, Naija Girls are running workshops, dramas, talk shows, and peace clubs.
After experiencing today’s event, everybody is very impressed with the girls, and words of appreciation follow the two girls across the schoolyard as they leave. It’s difficult for the girls to hide their pride of today’s event, beaming of joy as they walk away. Over three hundred of Janet’s schoolmates, 20 of her teachers, and a bus load of students from Fatima’s school showed their support.
Next Friday, Janet and students from her school will visit Fatima’s Dadin Kowa School. Originally, the girls planned on presenting peace songs. But since today’s play was such a hit, plans are hastily being made to bring the drama club along.
Jonas Holm Klange is an International Intern with SFCG’s Jos office in Nigeria. Jonas is currently pursuing his MA in Political Science at University of Copenhagen having earlier studied Conflict Resolution at Centre of African Studies in Copenhagen and at Sciences Po in Paris. He has traveled extensively throughout Africa, done research in Uganda, Rwanda, Liberia and Sierra Leone and is now working with SFGC Nigeria to build peace on the Plateau.