KANO, Nigeria (THE NATION) - Ranking 148 in the 2018 Global Peace Index, Nigeria suffers an array of violent conflicts and humanitarian crises arising from ethnical marginalisation and terrorism, which have killed more than 20,000 people and left about 2.6 million internally displaced in Northern Nigeria alone.
In 2016, the long-term clashes between armed herdsmen (Fulani) and farmers (Birom) took about 2,500 lives, displaced over 62,000 people, and led the country to lose USD 13.7 billion (S$ 18.7 billion) in revenue in the affected states, according to former military Head of State Abdulsalami Abubakar.
In a bid to promote peace and development, Dr. Michael Sodipo, a peace-building expert, founded the Peace Initiative Network (PIN), a non-governmental organisation in Kano that uses education and sports to empower youth and women, while reducing tensions between different ethnic groups in the northern region of the country.
Founded in 2004, PIN concentrates its efforts on three fronts: the Peace Club Project, the Peace Through Sports project and the Youth and Women Empowerment programme.
These initiatives seek to address the deep-rooted prejudices and stereotypes between different ethnic minorities that have led to violence, and also to promote social inclusion.
"The Peace Club project was conceived to deliver peace education to young people in schools, and so far we have been able to reach more than 8,000 students in over 60 schools in the states of Kano and Plateau," says Sodipo, project coordinator of PIN.
"Under this project, PIN has provided school furniture, such as chairs and desks, sewing machines, computer laptops, cameras and voice recorders."
Peace Through Sports is a project in which young people in conflict areas of northern Nigeria can use sports as a platform for peace-building while learning skills to help them secure employment.
"More than 35 football teams in selected Local Government Areas of Bagwai, Kura, Minjibir, and Metropolitan Kano have received training kits including jerseys, footballs, first aid boxes, stopwatches and whistles," Sodipo explains.
The Youth and Women Empowerment programme was conceived in partnership with the British nonprofit Peace Direct to strengthen community resilience to violence through income generation and peace-building activities.
It operates in two conflict-prone cities - Kano and Jos -and has provided three-month training courses in tailoring, shoe- and bag-making, phone repair, hairdressing, and vulcanising to around 300 women, so they can start their own sustainable micro-businesses.
At the end, PIN provided a kit to each beneficiary, for her specific area of training.
Women who learnt tailoring were given sewing and weaving machines, for example, while "those that acquired hairdressing skills were each given a hairdryer, a head-washing basin and other tools, and those who learnt vulcanising were provided tools and a generator set" Sodipo says.
Several youth and women without sustainable incomes also received pepper grinding machines for commercial use, to help them earn money.
"The beneficiaries have been empowered, and have moved away from potential recruitment by extremist groups to become functioning members of their communities," Sodipo notes.
"To support the project beneficiaries' various micro-businesses, PIN helped pay one year's rent for more than 40 of its trainees, while many others were given cash to grow their businesses,"he explains.
The nonprofit also reaches out to persons with disabilities to ensure equity, inclusiveness and social cohesion through weekly sports and peace education sessions.
"PIN started the para-soccer team in 2009 and so far, 264 participants have benefited from the program - mostly polio victims, who use a locally-made skating seat and their bare hands to control and shoot the ball," Sodipo explains.
He adds that 25 members of the para-soccer club in Kano, who were trained in fashion design and hair-styling, were also recently given work equipment to enhance their livelihoods and spark entrepreneurship.
"We are optimistic that our projects will be a tool of friendship development among young people from different ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds," Sodipo says.
This article is being published as part of 7.7 Billion, an international and collaborative initiative gathering 15 news media outlets from around the world to focus on solutions for social, economic and civic inclusion.