I’ve been involved in religious violence to defend my community and clashes between youth gangs. I felt nobody cared about me, and felt neglected. I was lost and felt there was no hope for the future.

Benjamin Luther, Youth Platforms for Peace Participant, Jos, Nigeria

One of the main causes of religious tensions in the central Nigerian city of Jos is growing youth militancy, drug abuse, radicalism and recruitment into gangs involved in violent crime. Young people often face a situation of exclusion, unemployment and hopelessness.

 
Conciliation Resources is supporting the Centre for Peace Advancement in Nigeria (CEPAN) on a community-based initiative called Youth Platforms for Peace. The initiative works with youth gang members to reintegrate them into their communities and ease religious tensions.

 

[Youth-Led Platforms for peace] has helped significantly in preventing reprisal attacks by youth in different communities which used to be a common practice whenever such a thing – bomb blast –happens in Jos. The platforms we created in the communities have strengthened relationships, collaboration and networking.

Reverend Goro, CEPAN

Youth ambassadors lead the project. They map gang centres in their communities, reach out to at-risk young people and recruit participants. Through engaging with at-risk youth, the youth ambassadors gain a greater understanding of the root causes of conflict in their community.

In my interactions, most young people say they are in gangs for a cover or safety. They feel that they will be powerless if they don’t join a group…the young men appreciate our initiative and say they are happy to have someone who is willing to listing to their issues.

Afla Momah, Commonwealth Fellow, Jos

As a result, the key strength of the Youth Platforms for Peace is that at-risk youth feel accepted and heard.

I used to be a drug dealer and a political thug. I used to turn down their invitations and focus on selling drugs. But they showed me they wanted to listen to me. They made me realise that I could have a future so I joined.

Peter Miri, Youth Platform for Peace Participant, Jos, Nigeria.

These locally-led projects empower communities to take the lead on their own security, giving a real sense of ownership. This is in contrast to short-term military-based measures, which neglect the rights and needs of excluded young people and the communities they are a part of.

I think it’s high time for peacebuilding work to be community based. Resolutions and suggestions for peace policies should emanate from people living with the pains of the crisis. There should be a bottom-to-top approach to peacebuilding, instead of the usual top-to-bottom approach.

James Fom Samanja, Commonwealth Fellow and Youth Leader in Jos.