As part of its efforts to protect youth civic and political space in Nigeria, on 5th September 2023, the Building Blocks for Peace Foundation (BBFORPEACE), with support from the Action Group on Free Civic Space (AGFCS) organised a one-day regional training on community organising, mobilising, and nonviolent civil resistance in southwest Nigeria. The training which was held at Damjay Hotel and Suites, Ikolaba, Ibadan, Oyo State was attended by about 30 participants, including civil society representatives, peacebuilders, and youth activists.
The training commenced fully by 10:00 am with Mr. Rafiu Lawal (Executive Director, BBFORPEACE) giving the opening remark, introducing himself and his organisation, while also asking other participants to introduce themselves and the organisation they represented. This was closely followed by the welcome address. While delivering his welcome address, Lawal noted that the regional training was organised because of the reality that confronts all of us in Nigeria, one of which is the different forms of attack and violation that tend to limit the civic space for young people in the country. He added that in light of the closing civic space in the country, it is important to have conversations about how young people can begin to organise themselves effectively and efficiently to push back against this attack that we currently see especially as regards young people’s political participation, as regards to the digital spaces, among others. He added that this project is part of a larger project that has been ongoing for the past three years, with some other aspects of the project including the research publication known as the security playbook (which captures how security agencies are attacking young people’s rights most times in the name of national security), as well as the organisation of a regional dialogue on improving civil-military relations in Southwest Nigeria. He went on to state that the purpose of this year’s training is to encourage young people to organise themselves and see how they can organise nonviolent civil resistance against any form of attack that may come up in their community, in their state, and in the country at large.
Thus, the training is geared towards equipping young people with the skills and capacities that they need to do this, with some of the topics for the training including community organising and advocacy, theories and philosophies guiding nonviolent resistance, as well as how to organise an effective protest, all of which will help to ensure that young people learn how to organise peacefully in a way that does not lead to violence. He went further to state that this training will not be done for young people alone and that next month, another training session will be held for the Amotekun personnel in the entire Southwest region of Nigeria where they will be trained on the various human rights framework that exists in Nigeria and see how they can be supported to ensure that they are able to do their work without necessarily attacking young people. He concluded the welcome address by welcoming and thanking the facilitators as well as the representatives of the Action Group on Free Civic Space.
Following his welcome address, the representative from the Secretariat of the Action Group on Free Civic Space in person of Miss Ololade gave a short goodwill message on behalf of the AGFCS. During her remark, she stated that the AGFCS is a coalition of different civic actors (journalists, activists, civil society organisations, civic space enthusiasts, among others) that are passionate about safeguarding the civic space, with partners across all the regions in Nigeria. She stated that this project, which is supported by the Funds for Global Human Rights has been ongoing for three years and is currently at the second stage of the implementation of the findings of the report that was published in 2021. She went further to state that the reason behind the organisation of the regional training is that the AGFCS realised from their research findings that it is important for them to move beyond emotion-driven advocacy to do more intelligence-driven advocacy. She added that the AGFCS has decided to focus on three major strategies for keeping the civic space open: i) disruption of repressive laws and repressive tactics, ii) transformation of civic space actors to be able to think beyond what they see and be more intelligence-driven, and iii) reformation- where you get to push back against repressive laws and repressive tactics owing to the realization of your rights to protest as well as the laws backing this right. She concluded by thanking participants for the work that they do in safeguarding the civic space in Nigeria.
The next session was delivered by Mr Emmanuel Ikule, the Executive Director of Elixir Trust who gave a brief overview of the state of civic space in Nigeria. He started his speech by stating that in every society be it a democratic one or otherwise, there are certain things or tenets that guide how things are being done and that there are also things that make us as citizens either work for our own good or things that affect us negatively that prevents us from achieving our goals, and all of these happen in the civic space. He therefore defined civic space as an environment that gives room for citizens to be able to perform their duties and live well as a person, all of which is only possible when the civic space is open. Thus, an open civic space gives room for growth and freedom of expression. He went on to state that the fundamental human rights that we enjoy as Nigerians are enshrined in the constitution and are meant to be respected at all times, except in cases of emergency, coups, or other life-threatening situations in which these rights are limited. According to Mr Emmanuel, there are several laws in Nigeria that continue to shrink the civic space, some of which include the Cybercrime Act and the Social Media Bill (that is currently being fought against), among others. He went on to state that everyone has a role to play in averting the crisis that we have in the country thus the first thing for us to do is to appeal to the government to ensure that rights are being respected and promoted by giving us an enabling an environment that enables citizens to grow. Finally, in view of the current state of civic space in Nigeria (which is largely favourable for young people), Mr. Emmanuel gave the following recommendations:
- The CSOs and development partners should learn to work together so they can better support this process of ensuring that the civic space remains open and that these rights are being promoted and respected;
- A training of this kind should be done in other regions/states and not limited to Southwest Nigeria;
- There is a need to create awareness about new laws that are being made that have implications on the state of civic space in the country;
- Communities have a role to play in calling to order people that they have elected to represent us thus when they fail, you have the right to call their attention or to recall;
- There is a need for CSOs to checkmate themselves and to avoid misappropriation of funds particularly because there are times when some NGOs misuse the funds given to them by donor agencies to implement projects;
- There is also the need for NGOs to be trained in organizational management, documentation, and financial regulations, among others;
- There is also the need to utilize the power of the media.
The opening remark for the event was delivered by Regent Falowo Moyinoluwa of Ibule Soro Kingdom, who is also the vice board chair of BBFORPEACE’s board of trustees. While giving her remarks, she laid emphasis on the fact that young people have a major role to play in the political and digital arena, asserting that young people may not know that they have a voice until they speak up. She encouraged participants present at the training to ensure that they continue to protest and speak up against injustice in their locality with whatever medium they are comfortable with, whether with their pens, with their voices, or even with their tweets. On the need for CSOs to be neutral, Regent Falowo stated that neutrality is only balanced by law and that as long as everybody works according to the law, then we can afford to be neutral but that the moment we have people who could behave unlawfully, neutrality is no longer an option. She concluded her remark by encouraging participants to use their voices to speak against injustice but ensure that they maintain the law while doing that.
The first training session was on “Community Organising, Movement Building, and Advocacy. This session was facilitated by Mrs Patience Ikpeh-Obaulo from WANEP-Nigeria. During her presentation, she defined community organising as the process of people coming together to address issues that matter to them. Some basic qualities of a community organiser identified during the training include a sense of humour, creativity, flexibility, genuine respect and love for the people, tenacity, willingness to share power, and excellent leadership skills. Movement building on its part was said to be the process of organising and motivating people to work towards a collective vision or cause that is important for a community. Movement building focuses on growing and sustaining movements over time unlike community organising which tends to focus on specific, short-term goals. She went on to mention that participants can support movement building in many ways, some of which include acting in solidarity; educating oneself; staying engaged; and donating to a cause to ensure change. During her discussions on advocacy, she defined advocacy as the process of speaking up, and drawing attention to an important issue, while also directing decision-makers towards a solution. She identified two major approaches to advocacy: quiet advocacy (interpersonal techniques; sketches) and loud advocacy (media and press campaigns; peace marches, protests). She concluded her session by mentioning the different steps in the advocacy process beginning from the moment you identify the issue you intend to advocate for to when you implement your advocacy plan.
One of the key takeaways from this session was the need to conduct stakeholder mapping and visits. According to Mrs. Patience, before beginning a project in any community, it is important for you to identify and map out stakeholders that can either act as a support to you or as a stumbling block to the success of your project. When you reach out to this set of people beforehand to let them know the importance of your project to their community, you can eliminate some of the challenges that you may encounter, which will make the advocacy issue you are trying to implement easy and effective. Another important point raised during her session was the need to include community members as stakeholders in your project otherwise your project may become ineffective no matter how good you may have planned. She emphasised that community entry is key in discussions around community organising, movement building, and advocacy.
The first session of the training ended with a short tea break which gave participants some time to network among themselves as well as reflect on some of the information garnered from the session. At the end of the tea break/networking, participants regrouped for the remaining session of the day, which featured two other training modules,
Mr Amos Oluwatoye, BBFORPEACE’s Research Director facilitated the next training session, which was on ‘Social Change and Non-Violent Civil Resistance’. The goal of this session was to enable participants to gain an understanding of the core concepts of social change and nonviolent civil resistance. During his session, he mentioned three broad categories of nonviolent action/protest: methods of nonviolent protest and persuasion (protest demonstration, public speeches, marches, rallies, newspapers, and journals, signed public statements, among others); methods of noncooperation (social boycott, stay-at-home, protest strike, boycotts of elections, consumers’ boycott, international trade embargo, among others); and methods of nonviolent intervention. A major takeaway from this session is that nonviolent strategies are a powerful tool for driving positive change, which makes them a formidable force for achieving desired outcomes.
The last training session was on “Organising Effective Protest and Demonstration” and was facilitated by Mr Hassan Taiwo Soweto, the national coordinator, Education Rights Campaign. He defined protest as a solemn declaration of opinion, which oftentimes involves taking action to correct something that is wrong. According to him, protests or demonstrations are done for many reasons, some of which include expressing anger against an unfavourable situation; raising awareness on an issue, and driving social change. He identified certain components that can make any protest effective: leadership, planning, and coordination; having clear objectives; messaging and branding; mobilisation; effective use of allies; financial resources; proper coordination on protest day; and debriefing and discussion on the next steps. One key takeaway from this session is that before starting any protest, it is important to establish clear objectives (both short-term, medium-term, and long-term) of what you intend to achieve with the protest. Another important point mentioned during this session is the need to have diverse tactics to consider if a protest is not a feasible approach, examples of which include strikes, sit-ins, boycotts, hunger strikes, or even sorosoke (speaking up).
At the end of the training, Building Blocks for Peace Foundation expressed its desire to create a Southwest Youth Protection Network. The meeting came to an end at 4:10 p.m. with participants filling out the post-evaluation form. This was followed by the closing remark, which was delivered by Regent Falowo, after which participants left feeling energized from a fruitful interactive session.
Report Written By:
Stephanie E. Effevottu
BBFORPEACE, Programs Director