How communities in Nigeria are preventing the spread of violent conflict

Local methods for preventing and de-escalating violent conflict are needed more urgently than ever before. The work of people in the Protecting Our Communities initiative in Nigeria shows why this is so important, as communities respond to conflict dynamics worsened by the pandemic and its effects.

Protecting Our Communities takes place in 18 sites throughout Nigeria’s middle belt region—where cycles of farmer-herder conflict are threatening the stability of the country and claiming thousands of lives each year. The project supports community members, who are often caught up in these violent clashes, to actively reduce the cycles of violence.

Over the summer, our project partners at the Nigeria-based Neem Foundation recruited and trained diverse teams at each site about how to form community-based “Early Warning-Early Response” (EWER) committees to de-escalate potential violence. Protecting Our Communities is a collaboration between Karuna Center, Neem Foundation, and three other Nigerian nonprofits.

With support from our project team, the EWER committees have, in their first few months alone, successfully addressed more than 85 incidents that could have escalated into larger conflict. Here is one example:

In late August, rumors began to spread in the area of Kajuru (Kaduna state, Nigeria) that a nomadic herder attacked a community member’s farm. Members of the local EWER committee saw the potential for the situation to escalate into a larger conflict between farmers and herders.

First, a committee member reached out to the farmer to verify: was his farm under attack? The farmer said that in reality, the herder’s cattle had moved onto his fields completely unintentionally. In fact, the cattle herder had reported the incident to the community leader himself, and offered to pay for the damage his cattle caused.

In response, the local EWER committee worked through its networks to counter the false rumor and ensure that the farmer was compensated appropriately. The farmer and herder were able to maintain a good relationship, and the tensions caused by the rumor subsided.

The 18 new EWER committees have intervened in a range of issues—from destruction of crops, to multi-family conflict—that could otherwise have contributed to communal violence. They have counteracted the spread of false rumors about attacks, and allowed people who were about to flee from danger to remain in their homes. Where conflict is present, they have often worked through their networks to mediate agreements.

We are hearing success stories like this in response to dozens of incidents across Nigeria’s middle belt. Though Protecting Our Communities is planned as a two-year project, the EWER Committees, along with the project’s community-based dialogue groups, are designed to continue in perpetuity—creating resilient networks for violence prevention in areas at risk.

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