On 13th March, 2014, I was in Yola, Adamawa State on a peace building experience sharing visit during which we were hosted by the management of the American University in Nigeria (AUN) and officials of the Adamawa Peace Council (an interfaith initiative working to ensure that peace is maintained in the state). Adamawa State is one of the three states under emergency rule and its northern tip, bordering Yobe and Borno States has been repeatedly under attack from the insurgents, resulting in the death of many people. Thousands of people have been displaced, and are now living in both formal and informal refugee camps both within and outside the country. There is an acute humanitarian crisis as lives of those displaced have been disrupted and they hang on to virtually nothing.
The Adamawa Peace Council and the AUN are engaged in a joint peace building effort to secure the peace of not only Yola, the immediate host community of the university but also for the whole state. The efforts concretized the concept of the gown meeting the town in a symbiotic partnership that should be a model for other universities, and indeed all institutions of higher learning to emulate.
The Peace work of the two rests on six pillars. These pillars derive from the philosophy of the university which is to set itself as the first development university in the country where students are trained to understand and solve problems in accordance with their deepest values and beliefs, using interdisciplinary approach to education. This philosophy commits the university to helping its community and society achieve equitable and sustainable prosperity, where all have the freedom and opportunity to pursue their dreams, based on respect for the traditions, religion and cultural heritage of the students.
The university is helped in this by its huge investment in information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure. It has one of the best data centre in the world, an award winning e-library, a fully wireless campus and huge bandwidth that allows it to give to a number of places in its host environs. To underscore the seriousness with which it regards its huge ICT investment, it was able to poach the West African Regional manager of CISCO, the leading networking equipment and e-learning company, to be its Chief Information Officer. All classes, laboratories, theaters, hotels, and indeed all facilities are not only connected to a wireless network but are ICT compliant and managed with24-hour electricity supply.
Not surprising the first pillar of the peace initiative leverages this excellent ICT infrastructure. Noting that unemployment is one of the causative factors for youth restiveness, a push factor for recruitment into the camps of insurgency, the ICT-based entrepreneurship training of Adamawa Peace Council and AUN seeks to turn vulnerable youth to job creators. In this work, the Adamawa Peace Council has the responsibility of discovering and recommending vulnerable for the 8-week training that the university provides free for them. The youth learn basic ICT skill, and then advanced skills along with entrepreneurship training to make then set up small scale businesses. So far, over 2000 such youth have been trained under the programme.
The second pillar connects the university students with pupils of secondary schools in the state. This programme code-named STELLAR (Student Empowered through Language, Literacy and Arithmetic) a mentoring programme. With STELLAR, the university helped to establish science and technology clubs in secondary schools and use its students as mentors to the pupils, teachers and motivators. Each student of the university works with a group of four to five pupils enhancing them in math, sciences and languages. The idea is to help in getting pupils to appreciate the sciences and be motivated to learn and make their grades in WAEC and NECO so that they could gain admission to higher institutions and read the sciences, thus helping to overcome the current shortage of science and technology graduates not only in the state but in the country generally. Apart from the knowledge the pupils gain, they are also motivated to develop strong desire for university education. So far over 60 such clubs have been established.
STELLAR has added a leading library, assisted students to author over 50 original children books and has translated a dozen of them into Hausa, Fulfulde and other languages. It is also complemented by another project called JOLLYPHONIC which is a reading training tool developed by Jolly Phonics Corporation of UK. The motivation for this was the realization of that a lot of students in public schools do not know how to read. Under it, teachers are trained on how to use the tool to teach reading for pupils of primary schools. On the surface, this does not look like a peace initiative. The aim however is to overcome the reading difficulties of the pupils. The inability of pupils to read and write means that they are unlikely to be admitted into a university or any higher institution and will find it difficult to get a job. Without jobs and education, they are potential recruits for those who are committed to unleashing violence on the society. Therefore jollyphonics strikes at the potential recruitment base of insurgency. In the project, the university trains, monitor and evaluate pupils’ progress while Jolly Learning provides the textbooks, classroom materials and teacher training.
The fourth plank is JAMB tutoring programme. Here students of the university provide couching on writing JAMB examination for prospective candidates. This is a free service to the community whose objective is to assist candidates pass with the requite grades for admission to higher institutions. Like STELLAR, the tutoring is done in the campus, thus introducing the candidates to a university life with the aim of motivating them to aspire to get a place. The tutoring also helps the university students to deepen their understanding of their subjects and provide with a leadership training opportunity.
Pillar number five connects the university with members of the host community directly. This is the valuables from waste project. Driven by the Office of Sustainability of the university, the Yola EcoSentials is built around three r’s- reducing, reusing and recycling waste. It is a venture created to recycle discarded materials into valuable art goods such a purses, mats, handbags and wristlets while reducing the consumption of such wasting resources as paper, water sachets, etc. As a wireless campus, its electronic marking system means that paper is not used for examinations.
The sixth pillar has two components. Peace through sports organizes youth in the various communities into sporting clubs and regularly host competitions among them. For now the focus is on football and basketball but there are plans to develop other sports. Motivational prizes are mobilized from within the university and community. The sporting engagements help to reduce idleness and socialize the youth into competitive and cooperative spirits. The second strand is the Annual Yola Peace Day, celebrated usually as part of the graduation ceremony of the university. These are spaces for people from all parts of the country to come and share ideas and experience on promoting peace in the society.
To complement these regularized programmes, the university and the Adamawa Peace Council have recently launched a drive for mobilizing relief materials to be distributed to displaced persons. In this, the two are collaborating with the Centre for Women and Adolescent Empowerment, a Yola based NGO which has set up a relief distribution outlet at Mubi, northern Adamawa. The materials mobilized by the two are to be taken to Mubi at the end of this March and is to be continued. A new initiative also is in the cooking, focused on attending to the problems of almajirai in the community.
Although my visit was for one-day only, it was pack-full of activities. We had gone round various facilities in the university, talked to different project coordinators and spoke with several beneficiaries of both the ICT-training and STELLAR. We observed JAMB tutoring and Jollyphonic classes. We saw students in action, visited sites of the valuables from waste project, took souvenir of some of the products from recycled discards. We ended up for a dinner with officials of the Peace Council who had just returned from a 2-week Interfaith Peace-Building workshop organized by the Tony Blain Faith Foundation in the UK. I also had discussed with Turai Abdulkadir of Women and Adolescent Empowerment who runs the relief distribution outlets in Mubi with a view to linking up with her in our own efforts at mobilizing and channeling relief materials.
The one-day was quite enriching for me. CITAD4Peace, the project I work for has established students for peace (Students4Peaces) in various tertiary institutions across five states and peace clubs in secondary schools in three states. In our conception, these two were two parallel initiatives. In Yola, I found the meeting point of the two by having the students of AUN (the equivalent of our S4P members) tutoring and mentoring pupil-members of the science and technology clubs (the equivalent of our Peace Clubs in secondary schools). I have found the equivalent of our ICT-based entrepreneurship but done in much closer collaboration with the community than ours. I was able to discuss possible routes for conveying relief materials and safe houses for temporary storage of these. In have also, more importantly, seen how community and university work on common goal and in synergy.
I came back happy that I made the trip and more convinced of the line of advocacy that I had been pushing that peace building is a primary responsibility of members of the community. I have seen it working in Yola.
By the time I was going to Yola, my impression of AUN was here was an elitist enclave in Nigeria. No doubt its fees are beyond the reach of ordinary citizens but the quality of education given, the type of life changing experience that the students undergone, the infrastructure and facilities available and above all, the spirit of the university sharing its resources and endowment with its host community, are positives that are lacking in other Nigerian universities. In the end, the income of the university only goes to pay for just about 25% of its expenditure need and therefore it is heavily subsidized by its founder. The partnership between the university and the Adamawa Peace Council is a compelling story that needs to be told and shared with as many so that we could all be inspired to do even more for peace to reign in our communities and the country.
Y. Z. Ya’u