Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Working to Bring Peace to Troubled Waters

”Militia and armed groups' activities in the Niger “Delta have assumed a worrisome dimension since mid 2003, due to a variety of factors which include patronage of these groups by the political class who are desperate to intimidate political opponents and electorates. The situation has been compounded by the lack of alternative incentives and initiatives designed to positively re-integrate and mainstream these youths into normal society. The Demobilisation component of the Niger Delta Peace and Security Strategy, (PaS) is a unique intervention model designed to drive the process for the disarmament, resettlement and mainstreaming of ex-combatant armed youth group members in the region into gainful economic opportunities rather than engaging in violence. The component is one of the twelve (12) thematic areas of intervention of PaS which broadly aims at working on the issues of the region in order to promote peace, security and sustainable development in the region.

The Demobilisation component which is being coordinated by the Academic Associates Peace Works, (AAPW) commenced its activities during one of the most intensified period of violence in the chequered history of the region. Indeed within the last thirteen months, insecurity, manifested in hostage-takings, agitation and criminal gangs, has become a daily phenomenon due primarily to the perceived neglect of the region by successive”

The above paragraphs were taken from an article in the May 2007 Newsletter of the Academic Associates Peace Works, (AAPW) entitled “Constructive Engagement of Niger Delta Youths.”

AAPW whose Head Office is in Abuja, Nigeria also has offices located in Port Harcourt and several other locations in Rivers State, Delta State, Nassarawa State and Bayelsa State in Nigeria.

The Objectives of AAPW are:

1. To build awareness of the need and possibilities of peace in society.

2. To empower individuals and groups in building peace, through training and networking.

3. To develop the framework for the peace process through action-oriented research and intervention in current or potential conflicts.

Founded in 1988, this NGO has had to persevere in the face of its share of difficulties.

On November 20th 2006, as eighteen members of the Joint Niger Delta Youth Leaders Forum, were making final preparations for a voter education/nonviolence rally which was scheduled to take place in Port Harcourt two days later, a group of five gunmen entered the AAPW office compound in Port Harcourt and killed two individuals. Two AAPW staff members and one volunteer were also wounded in the attack.

AAPW had embarked upon a Niger Delta-wide campaign for nonviolent and fair elections in 2007, which includes rallies; voter and civic education; promotion of issue-based campaigns; election conflict monitoring and response; establishment of Nonviolent Election Committees in 20 of the most conflict-prone local governments in Bayelsa, Delta and Rivers States to monitor both elections and performance of elected officials.

On September 26, 2007, AAPW’s Executive Director, Dr. Judith Asuni was arrested and charged with espionage because the prosecution claimed that she had helped two German film makers film sensitive oil industry facilities in the Niger Delta region and advising them to lie to obtain visas. Dr. Asuni remained in detention on these charges until November 5th when the charges were withdrawn and she was released. Reuters News Agency reported that “A senior judicial source said there had been a high-level political decision to drop the entire case.” And it also reported that “She (Dr. Asuni) had said that the issue of her assistance to the Germans was just a pretext for powerful opponents to harass her now that Obasanjo was no longer there to protect her.”

Despite these difficulties, Dr. Asuni and the AAPW continue to work for peace in the Delta region of Nigeria. The story of AAPW and Dr. Asuni might be an inspiration to other NGOs and NGO workers who sail upon troubled waters.

More about AAPW can be found at this link.

The copy of the May 2007 Peaceworks News may be found at this link.

The November Reuters story, found in the “Times of Nigeria” can be found at the following link.
Nigeria Drops Espionage Charge Against Judith Asuni

NOTE: It is unknown how long the Reuters article will be available on the web.

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