Reintegration and dialogue in northeast Nigeria: Albert’s story

Albert Yusuf, International Alert’s Programme Manager in northeast Nigeria, shares his thoughts about the progress of Alert’s project helping victims of Boko Haram.

“Our goal is to reduce stigma and to increase social cohesion in the population, here in the northeast, specifically in Borno State,” explains Albert.

It is important because the insurgency has created so many dividing lines apart from just the guns and the bombs … dividing lines that we need to rebuild. Whatever construction work that is going on needs a solid foundation, which is social cohesion.

Thousands of civilians have been killed and many more displaced by Boko Haram’s insurgency. The violence threatens the stability of the country and the region. Maiduguri, in northeast Nigeria, is home to many of those displaced persons and faces severe challenges to social cohesion.

Alert, along with partners, is working to help those affected by violence reintegrate back into society and move forward with their lives.

Multiplier effect

Providing dialogue and non-violent conflict resolution training to local leaders has been a key part of this process as traditional and religious leaders tend to occupy a prominent role in Nigerian society and have a lot of influence among the local community.

“We train local leaders so that when they go back to their communities, they bring everyone together to solve issues, to provide solutions to their problems and to bind the community together. We are trying to build a culture of dialogue within communities, to make them see the importance of peace, inclusion and reintegration,” says Albert.

When these civil leaders, developed with the help of Alert’s workshops, return to their communities, they share what they have learned and continue to help communities work towards reconciliation.

This has a multiplier, rippling effect … as leaders keep community dialogues going on their own, other people that were not part of the training begin to take new leadership roles and learn by observing … they are taking leadership roles and are organising peer-to-peer trainings on their own, and mobilising people.

Reintegration and dialogue

Alert’s project also involves dialogue with community members around supporting the reintegration of women and girls who have escaped Boko Haram captivity and creating public awareness to stop the stigma they, as well as their children born out of sexual violence, face when they return from captivity. The dialogues play a key role in bringing about resolution of tension in the communities and within families.

“Let’s look at the main focus of this programme, which is women and girls. when we started the project more than two years ago, the majority of whom were not being accepted within communities, were not being accepted within their families, and were being stigmatised. Now if you go forward, two or three weeks after, one month after you start organising dialogue around addressing stigma and rejection, you can see a visible change. There are families that have reunited, we can see, we can count.”

Albert goes on to say, “You can also see that within the dialogue spaces where you have 40/50 people come to sit down, that it’s an eclectic group, who would not even sit face to face. But you would see them come together and say ok this is the issue. At the end of the day they would tell you, “now that I have been here I think my perceptions have changed … initially I didn’t accept people [women and girls abducted and sexually violated by Boko haram and children born of rape] associated with Boko Haram but now I can see that it’s better for us as a community to come together and accept each other. By their actions and by their words you can see that things have changed … they are now coming together.”

The special support sessions for the survivors of sexual gender-based violence is another one of our very successful interventions within the project, it provides safe spaces for the women and girls to support each other in dealing with trauma. Many success stories of recoveries and transformation have emerged from the sessions. One survivor told us:

This session has helped me to overcome my fear, I can interact more with other women who have suffered similar ordeals, it has helped me to feel less alone. Before I started attending this support group I felt numb and rejected.

Another said “whenever I remember what I went through, I cry myself to sleep. I never thought I could open and share my story with other women, However, during the peer to peer discussion, it felt safe to share, I met with other women who went through almost the same struggle as I did.”