The American University of Nigeria sees its role as a “Development University.” It focuses on the traditional roles of repository and transmitter of culture and knowledge as well as the creation of new knowledge. But, it also focuses on the practical role that universities must play in the development of a nation. One such role is to promote peace in their region. I spoke with Dr. Vrajlal Sapovadia, Dean at the American University of Nigeria about their projects in this area.
What is the Adamawa Peacemakers Initiative and how did it come about?
The Adamawa Peacemakers Initiative (API) is non-profit, non-political organization working to foster unity, harmony and prosperity in Adamawa state. After a nationwide strike against the removal of fuel subsidies in 2012, AUN President Dr. Margee Ensign and then Chairman of the AUN Board, Ahmed Joda reached out to religious and community leaders of Yola to understand the sources of tension and find ways to defuse them and promote peace and stability. API members identify “vulnerable youth” in the community who are then offered training and support in a number of AUN funded and organized initiatives. As at-risk youth are frequently targeted and recruited by Boko Haram, API’s peace model focuses on bringing youth back into the fold, enhancing their tolerance across social, ethnic and cultural divides through sports and peace workshops, and preparing them for education and practical training programs.
Who is involved in the Initiative?
The Adamawa Peacemakers Initiative is a partnership that unites academic leaders of the University and religious and community leaders of API in the pursuit of peace and reconciliation. Members of API are drawn from religious groups, business and government across Adamawa State, including representatives of the Lamido of Adamawa, the Traditional Ruler of the Adamawa Emirate, the Society for Support of Islam, Christian Association of Nigeria, Inter-Faith Mediation Center, Muslim-Christian Forum, Muslim Council, Traders’ Associations, and the American University of Nigeria.
OurPeace work derives from the philosophy of the university that is to set itself as the first development university in the country where students are trained to understand and solve problems in accordance with their deepest values and beliefs, using interdisciplinary approach to education.” This philosophy commits the university to helping its community and society achieve equitable and sustainable prosperity, where all have the freedom and opportunity to pursue their dreams, based on respect for the traditions, religion and cultural heritage of the students.
What are the key features of the programme and how does it work?
API has a number of ongoing projects, including:
- Peace through Sports: Recruiting marginalized youth to attend peace studies workshops and participate in soccer and volleyball tournaments in order to promote cross-cultural communication and understanding.
- IT Training Programme for students from at-risk communities at the AUN’s African Center for Information and Communications Technology Training & Innovation
- Entrepreneurship Training Program teaches students the basics of entrepreneurship, including financial literacy, market research, entity formation and proposal development
- Grand Alliance for Employment coordinates and develops projects that will increase employment in the region, especially for the vulnerable
API has ongoing projects such as “The Peacemakers” television show, annually celebrated Peace Day, Peace Lecture Series, IT training and literacy programs, tutoring programs aimed at combatting high illiteracy rates in the state and a programme to motivate students towards science-related careers.
What have been some of the challenges?
One big challenge is local language. Few faculties know Hausa or Fulani. Local volunteers are used to translate key messages during conversation. Transport to interior part of the region is another challenge, particularly under security threats. The roads, electricity and telephone work also contributes to our challenges..
The university has made a huge investment in information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure. It has one of the best data centre in the world. The programme leverages this excellent ICT infrastructure through a range of programmes aimed at providing ICT-based entrepreneurship training. Youth from the community take part in an 8-week free training course where they learn basic ICT skills and training to set up small businesses. So far, over 2000 youth have been trained through this programme. It also provides training principals and teachers in ICT. Likewise, over 100 teachers have been trained on how to use ICT in the classroom. We just recently completed a six-week literacy programme for staff (drivers, cleaners, gardeners) and members of the community identified through our poverty programmes.
What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?
The world is so big and problems are many. No one institute can cater to all the needs of the community. Any school can do what AUN is doing. We all need to be willing to learn from the experiences of others and willing to share our own. Everything is replicable. If we cannot eliminate poverty, literacy and environmental problems, at the very least we can reduce it and Universities and business schools play such a key role in this.
What’s next for the initiative?
We have several plans moving forward. We are looking at providing training and coaching of women entrepreneurs as they really have the potential to greatly contribute to the development of our communities. We are also looking into putting in place a programme to help commercialize local low cost innovations that often go unnoticed. We would also like to reach out more to small businesses in the community to identify problems that they have and work with teams of senior students to come up with possible solutions.