By Charles Kwuelum
In May Nigeria inaugurated a new president, Muhammadu Buhari, who has pledged to use greater military force against the armed group Boko Haram. The U.S government welcomed this approach to “countering violent extremism” by giving increased military assistance to Nigeria.
Worthy of note is the fact that northeast Nigeria was already in a state of emergency, largely as a result of Boko Haram’s actions. About 1.7 million people have been displaced from their homes. Some communities and villages are deserted, while host communities and camps for displaced people lack proper housing and sanitation.
Displaced people have lost their sources of livelihood and economic power. As many as 4.3 million people are facing hunger. Education and health are inaccessible to many children because schools and hospitals lack basic supplies or have been destroyed. Many people have become disabled as a result of the fighting.
The cost of the conflict has been enormous and disheartening. The Nigerian government has taken some positive steps towards sustainable peace, such as announcing its willingness to dialogue; emergency efforts and reassurance to victims of the violence. However, its overall militarized approach, and the complicated dynamics of various Boko Haram factions with other conflict actors continue the cycle of counter attacks, killings, and bombings thereby creating no safe space for dialogue, possible reconciliation and restorative transformational justice processes.
The government’s attempts to meet security needs are not adequately meeting “human security needs.” To do so, they need to tackle root causes of the conflict, including poor governance, alienation, and humiliation of ethnic groups, one-sided historical narratives and territorial authority.
The flow of weaponry and military actions cannot bring sustainable peace that the world desires (John 14:27). This past summer I met with a group of women choir members (Zumunta Mata EYN) from the northeast of Nigeria. Some of these women have had their daughters abducted by Boko Haram from the Chibok area.
The women’s stories of brokenness, pain and grief radiated strength and hope. Some of the women credited trauma healing workshops and other interfaith community initiatives as part of their healing.
Mennonite Central Committee helps to support strategies for trauma awareness and resilience programs and healing among displaced people in northeast Nigeria (Taraba and Adamawa states) through interfaith community and water sanitation and hygiene projects, as well as training psychosocial support teams.
Social workers, health care providers, and other community members help to sensitize communities to prevent stigma against abductees when they return, and to provide psychosocial assistance to girls and their families.
Far more than military efforts, these actions nurture resilience and capacity for nonviolent mitigation of the conflicts with Boko Haram, in what otherwise seems to be a situation of misery and hopelessness. An overly militarized approach is not the best way to proceed in establishing peace in Nigeria.
Charles Kwuelum is Legislative Associate for International Affairs in the MCC U.S. Washington office.
Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting congressional developments and detailing ways the church can continue to be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy.