Changing perceptions, building relationships in Maiduguri, Nigeria

Months after launching the Ido da Ido (face to face) project in northeast Nigeria, International Alert faced opposition from members of the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF).

A significant number of CJTF members saw Alert as an outside entity whose purpose was to frustrate their engagement in the various communities. Not long after project activities had kicked off, senior CJTF members began actively encouraging their members and members of the community to disregard anything Alert or its partners said.

"It was difficult. We were doing everything we could but not getting anywhere," recalls Ishaya Birma, the Ido da Ido Project Manager.

Alert would later learn that the misunderstanding with CJTF had developed during the project’s inception phase.

Baba Shehu Abdulghani, the overall commander of the CJTF in Borno, was convinced that the organisation was working with local partners to deliberately frustrate CJTF’s work.

“I first heard about the the Ido da Ido project from your radio drama series. Allegations were making the rounds in Maiduguri that CJTF members are being politicised and that we are involved in partisan activities. I felt this was an attempt to tarnish our image,” Baba Shehu told us.

The radio drama series in question had been commissioned by Alert to air on local radio stations on the eve of the 2019 general elections in Nigeria. They called upon people to peacefully cast their vote and castigated the actions of some CJTF members engaged in partisan activities such as vandalising campaign billboards belonging to minority parties.

Despite the radio episodes having been aimed at changing the behaviours of some CJTF members to gain community trust, the CJTF was enraged. Baba Shehu stopped participating in any of the events by Alert. Consequently, some of his loyalists, especially sector commanders, also started being indifferent to the project’s activities. To CJTF members, the radio episodes were viewed as a direct rebuke to their authority and legitimacy in Borno. Baba Shehu went on to condemn Alert’s activities, including the weekly radio drama.

As one of the CJTF members later revealed, the relationship had broken down so much, a serious confrontation was eminent.

We almost started arresting each one of you and your media consultant. Some of our leaders were chiding us for allowing your organisation to drag our reputations into the mud.

“We realised we had to engage with the CJTF," says Ishaya. "There had clearly been a misunderstanding. We intensified advocacy efforts through traditional leaders, CJTF state coordinators, legal advisers and even at the government level through the Ministry of Justice. We explained the essence of the radio drama, its aims and goals. That is how we were able to engage bring the CJTF back to the table.”

I am proud of what we achieved. It shows the power of dialogue, and it is proof that with proper engagement, even the most likely conflicts, can be avoided.

Ishaya added: “The CJTF has improved the way they conduct their business. Importantly, they realise that we are not trying to tarnish their image but to identify areas where we can work together to ensure that they do their work efficiently.”

Ido da Ido is a one-year project that started in August 2018 and is funded by the French Embassy in Nigeria. You can find out more about the project here.