Thursday, March 5, 2015

AMANA Initiative: University of Abuja Law Clinic promotes trust and peace building through dialogue

“There can be no development without peace,” Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association Gwagwalada said as he addressed Abuja Law School clinicians and a group of more than 200 participants at the stakeholders interactive town hall, organized by the University of Abuja Law Clinic under the *AMANA Initiative.

The University of Abuja Law Clinic is a general practice clinic that serves as a laboratory for law students. Throughout the year, student clinicians take turns staffing the clinic—meeting members of the community, registering their cases, and, in some cases, providing pro bono legal services to indigent residents.
The University of Abuja Law clinic was one of the nine organizations awarded a grant under AMANA Initiative, by the Abuja Hub of the Global Shapers Community in collaboration with the U.S. Embassy Abuja, to promote mutual understanding between members of the community and security agencies. The townhall meeting was one of a series of activities put together by the students of the law clinic to help bridge the gap in trust between, members of the community (especially young people) and law enforcement agencies.

The coordinator of the University of Abuja Law Clinic, Nasiru Mukhtar, kicked off the program by highlighting the other activities of the Law Clinic lined up under the AMANA Initiative, including a football tournament between law enforcement agencies and The Okada (motorcycle) Riders Association and a peace rally, all scheduled to take place in March.

The stakeholders at the townhall meeting included representatives from law enforcement agencies, including the Nigerian Police Force, the Federal Road Safety Commission, the Nigerian Society of Civil Defense Corps, and the Vehicle Inspection Office. Others were the secretary of the Gwagwalada Interfaith Community, chairman of The Gwagwalada Muslim Community, secretary of The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Gwagwalada and chairman of the Gwagwalada Okada Riders Association.

Addressing the audience, U.S. Embassy Cultural Affairs Officer Bob Kerr reiterated U.S. government support for a more peaceful Nigeria, adding that the AMANA Initiative was aimed at “creating a platform for youth, members of civil society, and law enforcement agencies to acquire a better understanding and appreciation of the challenges that each group is facing with the heightened security situation in Nigeria and work towards supporting each other for a more secure Nigeria.”

The clinicians performed multiple short role-plays, simulating members of law enforcement agencies and the general public, to demonstrate how to effectively resolve conflict through dialogue. The role-plays set the stage for the interactive session in which participants, who were mostly Okada riders, junior staff of various law enforcement agencies, and members of the general public, were invited to engage with the stakeholders present.

The moderator throws out the first question: why is there a lack of trust towards law enforcement agencies? The question was greeted with silence as participants pondered whether or not to take the bait. Benjamin, an Okada rider, broke the silence and shared his personal encounter with the police. For him, his mistrust of the police stems from their occasional harassment when he is operating on his motorbike, he said.

The representative of the Nigerian Police Force reassured Benjamin the and general public that the police are committed to protecting lives and not violating human rights saying, “We are not above the law, and we are not a lawless organization.” He also encouraged the audience not to hesitate to report any cases of rights’ violations through the appropriate channels.

United States diplomat Henry Stimson once said, “The only way to make a man trustworthy is to
trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show distrust.” The town hall created fertile ground for all stakeholders involved in community building in Gwagwalada to communicate and begin the process of trust and peace building. The clinicians also pledged their continued commitment to providing legal support to the members of the Gwagwalada community, while the chairman of the Okada Riders Association pledged on behalf of the Okada riders community “to be peace ambassadors and ensure that peace reigns in Gwagwalada, in F.C.T, and in Nigeria.

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