Project Funded by: US State Department, CSO
Project Lead: Kamari Clarke – University of Toronto & UCLA
Project Consultant: Wumi Asubiaro Dada
Project Implementation team: CLEEN Foundation
In Nigeria today frequent conflicts, disappearances and mass violence, especially in the Northern region of the country, have amounted to large-scale destruction of property, loss of human lives and the displacement of large populations. As these conflicts and violence rage in communities that are far removed from the capital city, several community members are grappling with securing their lives and property. The Village Monitoring System and Early Warning Early Response Project has been designed to empower citizens in the communities with information about attacks, knowledge of how to respond and space for safe sharing and learning about attacks and how to deescalate them. Popularly known as the EWER project, it was launched in September 2021 and formally took off in Kaduna, Plateau, Taraba and Zamfara states between November 2021 and February 2022. The project has set up 16 EWER forums in the four states made up of 160 community members (10 in each) that were adjudged of integrity, concerned about the security of the community and possess a strong ability to work with others.
Existing responses to conflict and mass violence in Nigeria have been beset by challenges. Interventions by the Nigerian Federal Government have, at times, accelerated conflict, as with the passage of an anti-grazing law that has fueled controversy over implementation at state and local levels of government. Local civil society initiatives have continued to emerge to address problems between these levels of governmental intervention and attempts to mitigate ever-growing inequality and insecurity concerns in the region. Participation by key stakeholders from affected communities has remained low, however, leading to limited effectiveness of interventions. In particular, traditional male-dominated social norms have continued to exclude women from peace-building efforts despite the disproportionate burdens they bear as a consequence of ongoing violence. Moreover, the crises in Northern Nigeria continue to split communities along religious and geographic lines, a phenomenon that only foreshadows intensification of conflict over time. Key states, including Kaduna and Plateau, are divided into northern and southern regions, exacerbating breaks in communal and familial lines and fueling a climate of hate speech and religious misrepresentation that continues to frame narratives to justify and normalize violence. In the North West, North East and North Central states, violent conflicts primarily involve predominantly Christian farmers and informal policing groups (vigilantes) acting on their behalf to defend against predominantly Muslim nomadic Fulani herders.
The effects of climate change on the Lake Chad basin are key triggers of conflict as herders migrate to other parts of the region to find fodder and water for their cattle. The migration patterns of nomadic communities have begun to signal security concerns beyond the immediately impacted regions. In late 2017, state governments within the western and southern parts of the country began to set up community policing strategies to address growing security challenges around their states, including those relating to the (perceived) threats associated with the movement of cattle herders. Complicating this situation, the presence of large groups of cattle has incentivized “conflict entrepreneurship” as armed groups of young men across north central, north west and southern parts of the country engage in cattle rustling. The project builds upon and integrates the strengths of state and civil society responses to date, while also contributing vital resources and expertise. Local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) and academic partners are working to contribute deep knowledge of the region, analysis of the factors underlying ongoing conflicts, and the existing on-the-ground networks that can be mobilized and trained to undertake successful violence prevention and mitigation activities. Given the inadequacy of existing early warning structures and the slow response by state security actors, mobilizing individual and collective civilian engagement is the best strategy for turning the tide on violent conflict in Northern Nigeria.
The goal of the project is to support community members in reducing the incidences of conflict or violent attacks in their communities. In less than a year of its implementation, members of EWER for a in the 16 communities have not only been trained on the mobile APP to engage in early information sharing about attacks in order to warn and circumvent future attacks, but, through the engagement with other community-based leaders and knowledge keepers, they are also working on making life preserving decisions about how to respond.