Restive Nigeria Town Scores Win For Peace With Football


Two football team captains from Forgiveness FC (L) and from Patience FC (R) pose for a photo after playing a final peace football match with a line-up of teams made up of Christians and Muslims aimed at reuniting estranged neighbours in violent flashpoint within Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria, on May 14, 2021. KOLA SULAIMON / AFP

 

For years, the central Nigerian city of Jos was a flashpoint for ethnic strife pitting Christian and Muslim youths against each other in clashes in rival neighbourhoods.

Neighbour turned against neighbour as Muslims dared not cross into Christian districts, and Christians steered clear of Muslim dominated quarters.

But community leaders have turned to football and music as a way to reach across the divide in a programme successfully building trust and restoring the peace.

Promoting mediation and team spirit, Salis Muhammad Abdulsalam and his community group went from neighbourhood to neighbourhood recruiting young football players from 20 communities.

Branding them with names like Love FC and Unity FC, the initiative has helped to bring divided Jos, capital city of the central Plateau state, back together.

On a recent weekend, Patience FC and Forgiveness FC met up for a final in the Rwang Pam Township stadium in Jos, in a symbol of communities coming together in coexistence.

“These boys have now turned out to be advocates of peace and unity,” Abdulsalam said.

“Every other day of their lives that they train together, they play matches together, we foster unity and build team spirit and we reduce rivalries. We reduce mistrust amongst them.”

‘Music + Football’

Two players — one Muslim and one Christian — stood shoulder to shoulder with the ball balanced between them in a symbol of unity.

Before the matches, local DJs play tunes and bands perform music in local languages as a way to attract youngsters to the events.

A pitch-side banner reads “Music + Football = Peace. Reuniting Estranged Neighbors”.

For Amaechi Johnson, a Christian player from Patience FC, the initiative has already paid dividends. He can now enter Muslim areas and be welcomed.

“You can enter most places you have never entered before, and that is the peace and unity we are talking about.”

Jos, an ancient city which was once a tourist haven because of its cooler climate, falls on the dividing line between Nigeria’s mainly Christian south and mostly Muslim north.

Most of the violence in the divided city and wider Plateau state has been linked to a long-running sectarian conflict between Christian farmers and Muslim herdsmen.

In September 2001, fighting between Christians and Muslims around Jos killed 913 people, according to Human Rights Watch.

Religiously motivated clashes following local elections in November 2008 also left hundreds dead, with similar fighting in January 2010 killing more than 300 people, the New rights group has said.

“Six, seven years ago, Jos used to be boiling almost on a daily basis. But for some time now the place has been quiet,” said Irmiya Werr, a Plateau State commissioner.

“Programmes like this is what is promoting this peace, what is sustaining this peace.”

Founder of Face of Peace Global, Salis Muhammad Abdulsalam, speaks during a peace football match with a line-up of teams made up of Christians and Muslims which aim is targeted at uniting most violent flashpoint within Jos at the RWANG Pam Township Stadium, Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria, on May 14, 2021. KOLA SULAIMON / AFPA general view of of Jos City, Plateau State, Nigeria, on May 15, 2021. For years, the central Nigerian city of Jos was a flashpoint for ethnic strife pitting Christian and Muslim youth against each other in clashes in their rival neighbourhoods.

People walk past a street sign in one of the most violent flashpoints in Congo-Russia Road in Jos, Nigeria, on May 15, 2021. For years, the central Nigerian city of Jos was a flashpoint for ethnic strife pitting Christian and Muslim youth against each other in clashes in their rival neighbourhoods.Captains of two football teams with a line-up of teams made up of Christians and Muslims, prepares to play a peace football final match aimed at reuniting estranged neighbours in violent flashpoint within Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria, on May 14, 2021. – For years, the central Nigerian city of Jos was a flashpoint for ethnic strife pitting Christian and Muslim youth against each other in clashes in their rival neighbourhoods.Patience Football Club, one of the teams with a line-up of teams made up of Christians and Muslims, jubilates after playing a final football match aimed at reuniting estranged neighbours in violent flashpoint within Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria, on May 14, 2021.Patience Football Club, one of the teams with a line-up of players made up of Christians and Muslims, prepare for a peace football match aimed at reuniting estranged neighbours in violent flashpoint within Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria.Football players with a line-up of teams made up of Christians and Muslims, practise ahead of a peace football tournament aimed at reuniting estranged neighbours in violent flashpoint within Jos, Plateau State.Forgiveness FC’s defender Solomon Wake (R) fight for the ball with Patience FC’s striker Chigozie Nwanedo (L) during a peace football final tournament match with a line-up of teams made up of Christians and Muslims aimed at reuniting estranged neighbours in violent flashpoint within Jos.A general view of a street in the city of Jos, Plateau State, Nigeria, on May 15, 2021. – For years, the central Nigerian city of Jos was a flashpoint for ethnic strife pitting Christian and Muslim youth against each other in clashes in their rival neighbourhoods.


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