A former Coach of the Super Eagles, Samson Siasia, and a former President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, Ejike Asiegbu, are leading a group on a project to pursue peace between farmers and herdsmen across Nigeria through sports and entertainment.
A Nigerian Olympic medallist, Christy Opara, is also among the notable names involved in the project.
The group, under the Apudi Institute for Peace Studies and Social Rehabilitation, APIS, said it wants to use sports and entertainment to create peace in violent prone areas in the country.
Martin Igwe, the coordinator of the group, unfurled its agenda on Monday during a visit of the group to the corporate headquarters of PREMIUM TIMES in Abuja, to seek partnership with the newspaper on the project.
Mr. Igwe said that the project will look into the causes and negative implications of major crises such as cattle rustling, pipeline vandalism and the present face-of between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in parts of the country.
“If we are talking of diversification, the first alternative is Agriculture. If we want to diversify we need to stop these clashes between herdsmen and farmers. If we do not strategically make inquiry of the causes of these clashes, then we are not being fair to the policy of diversification,” Mr Igwe said.
“We need to ask some questions. So as relevant strategic key players in this country, we find it necessary to form a national steering committee made up of former footballers, Nollywood actors, youth leaders, women groups, CSOs etc.
“The cause of these clashes sometimes is information gap. When you are misinformed you are deformed,” he stated.
He said this steering committee would strive to bridge the information gap to ensure peace prevails in Nigeria.
“If you are talking about foreign investment, it needs to be done in a peaceful environment. If you are talking of 2019 election, it must be done in a peaceful country. Everything can only be achieved in a peaceful environment.”
He said Mr. Siasia is the Chairman of the Organising Committee of the project, with Mr. Asiegbu as the publicity secretary.
“As part of the peace keeping mission, we are organising football matches in strategic places especially places were social tension are being identified like Nasarawa, Port Harcourt and Enugu.
“We are also working with international NGOs such as International Action Network for Small Arms, IANSA. This NGO will help in stopping small arms proliferation in the country.
“Cattle rustlers, kidnappers, herdsmen use small arms. So, once we are able to know the sources of these arms and make sure the herdsmen do not get access to them, these crises can be reduced drastically.
“We are planning a peace march between farmers and herdsmen association. They will join their hands together during the march while we walk in front with them”, Mr. Igwe said.
Mr. Igwe said the committee would pick 36 volunteers from the 36 states of the country who will be trained on security tips and how to network information.
The committee proposed a partnership with Nigeria’s leading investigative media, PREMIUM TIMES, in the peace keeping project.
Attacks by Fulani herdsmen in the North-central Nigerian state of Benue alone led to the killing of at least 1,269 persons between 2013 and 2016 according to investigations by PREMIUM TIMES.
Violent attacks have also erupted in parts of Southern Kaduna, Nimbo in Enugu State and many other parts of the country, with some state governments placing a ban on cattle rearing.
Idris Bawa, the representative of Miyetti Allah, the umbrella forum for cattle rearers in Nigeria, expressed delight over the proposed project.
He said herdsmen are at the receiving end of the crisis.
“We are happy about this, we need peace because we, the herdsmen, are the ones at the receiving end whenever there is a problem. Most of the herdsmen are not exposed or did not go to school to know how to handle most of these kinds of issues.
“All they know is their cattle. When you wake up and lose your cattle to cattle rustlers, your life becomes hopeless, so it’s hard to control crisis in some of these cases. This initiative is good and we need it,” Mr. Bawa said.
Mr. Siasia, the chairman of the organising committee, assured of his commitment to the project.
He said the inter-state sports competitions involving notable athletes would be organised in crisis areas.
In his remark, Mr. Asiegbu who once served as President of the Actors Guild of Nigeria, said the committee would use sports and entertainment as a tool for unifying people in violent prone areas.
“Sports and entertainment are unifying factors, going back to history. Abudi institute is here to engage the masses in crisis areas and we know that this is the only medium we can use,” he said.
“I have seen that lack of proper information and suspicion is one of the things that has caused violent situations in the country. We need to allow people air their grievances because there is so much disparity and common suspicion among us and the best way we can address this is by using football, sports and entertainment to bring people together in that atmosphere of love so we can better understand ourselves.
“We have grazing fields, what has happened to them? Each government gives the herdsmen places to live and also rear cattle but there seems to be a lacuna, a misunderstanding that needs to be addressed and that is why we came to PREMIUM TIMES because we know the capacity of this medium.
“We read this paper and it is globally recognized for its factual reporting, so we want to partner with them in this project. We need Premium Times to be at the vanguard of this project so we can make peace in Nigeria” Mr. Asiegbu said.
The Editor-in-Chief of PREMIUM TIMES, Musikilu Mojeed, while welcoming the committee, said that the primary focus of the paper is to ensure peace and unity in the country.
“You talked about the peace of the country and that is something we are very passionate about. We cannot do anything where there is no peace. We can’t sit here if Abuja is on fire. This paper is concerned about the disunity and division in some parts of the country, there are some places in this country you cannot go comfortably and that is our concern.
“Our journalism is at the heart of looking for peace in our country. We want a country where we all will have mutual respect for each other. We are very suspicious of each other, if you go on Facebook and see the kind of things we tell each other as if we are not of the same country. We believe in your mission and I can see that you have a formidable group,” he said.
He accepted the partnership on behalf of PREMIUM TIMES.
“What you are trying to do is what we labour to do every day; so, we are excited that we have another partner in this huge project of ensuring peace in the country. We are open to this as long you are on the right track.
“All you said here, we believe in; but there might be issues when you derail or there are some other factors that are in conflict with what we do here. For now, we believe in what you are doing and we will support you to the best of our strength and capacity”, Mr. Mojeed said.