Mohammed Umaru

 

In 2014, Mohammed Umaru fled his hometown, Bama community in Borno State, due to the insurgency that struck the Northeast of Nigeria. In the process, his two younger brothers and mother were abducted, and he also lost his means of livelihood to the insurgency. 

With relative peace beginning to return to the region, Mohammed took the journey home to start afresh with the hope of being reunited with his mother and brothers. On return, he met other people from different tribes and backgrounds staying in one of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps set up by the government. 

In the camps in Bama community, people of different tribes, origins and backgrounds are living together. With a lot of unknowns about each other’s cultures and way of life, tensions and misunderstandings have sparked frequently between both the host community members and the IDPs and within the IDP community itself, preventing groups from interacting and building mutual trust and respect. The volatile security situation remains a predominant concern, with the risk of outbreak, escalation, or recurrence of inter-community conflicts.

In this context, UNDP under the Support to Reconciliation and Reintegration Project funded by European Union initiated a community led Peace through Sports Engagement in locations hit hardest by the insurgency. The aim of this engagement is to strengthen social engagement and rebuild intercommunal trust, which is foundational to community healing and peaceful co-existence. 

 

The programme provides 500 youths from the IDP camps and host community in Bama with an opportunity to interact through football tournaments and training sessions that build fitness, achieve psycho-social relief, address frustrations, provide team building and community spirit to mitigate tensions that can often lead to conflicts. 

“When I first came back to my community and saw new people, I felt quite uneasy. I did not bother to associate with them, I would have rather gone to my friends from the same community. We never trusted the new people that came in because we thought that most of them are here to constitute a nuisance or cause us more harm. I am still trying to process the abduction of my brothers and mother, I do not sleep well at night and I have this built-up anger within me and sometimes we pour the anger on the IDPs at any slight opportunity” Mohammed reflected.

 

 

“This Peace through Sports Programme came at the right time, football teams were formed, and each team consists of members of the host community and IDPs. We started a match tournament and it brought about trust and unity, because you must rely on your teammate for a good performance, so it made me to trust other people and relate well with them” Mohammed shared.

People from different communities also clash because they do not know how to relate to experiences that are different then theirs. At the community level, sport has been a tool used to encourage strong community bonds, promote social cohesion, and reduce crime rates. This programme also provides positive diversion for young people to express themselves and build pro-social, leadership, dialogue and conflict resolution skills. This is in alignment with the United Nations Resolution A/RES/73/24 of 2018 that recognizes sports as being critical to health and wellbeing but also having the power to change perceptions, prejudices, behaviours combat discrimination and defuse conflict.

 

“Right now, I am the highest goal scorer, and I am so happy. This also has helped people take their minds off the effects of the insurgency, even for a few minutes. People in the community gather to watch the tournaments and deliberate on the match performances, which has helped to strengthen cooperation and build mutual trust. Even though I still think of my mother and brothers, I feel much better with this programme, I have less built-up anger because sports has helped me to relax my mind and feel freer with other people” said Mohammed.

The Peace through Sports engagement project is helping people rebuild intercommunal trust, heal from the effects of the conflict, and cultivate tolerance, all critical component of social cohesion. The EU supported project aims to enhance stability through provision of alternatives to violence and enhanced social cohesion and is implemented as a partnership between the UNDP, IOM and UNICEF in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States. 

 

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