From The Focal Person
I live in the northern part –Kaduna State, Nigeria where there has been tensed and records of ethno religious crisis in the last ten years than any other. I was into advertising and public relations but then I had passion for children. But I was still fully into advertising and had wondered how I will leave a professionally oriented business for a non-profit one, but the passion to serve kept burning and over powered self service. My name is Dennis.
How We Started
In 2011, something happened. I had a little misunderstanding with my landlord on a house rent issue. He had increased the rent by 500% and he wanted me to pay for five years and I said no. So he locked up my apartment. I reported the case to the police and some policemen came with me to unlock the place for me to gain access. When we arrived, there was a sort of rift between the landlord and I and he threatened me with dogs; assaulted me in several ways. I decided to take a non-violent approach, so I wrote a petition to the Commissioner of Police and I sent it via a courier service. On getting my letter, I think he just made up his mind on how to counter that approach. As a well placed man in my State/Country, he also went to the Commissioner of Police and wrote a petition against me, saying that I tried to kidnap his son. There, the case turned against me because of my vulnerability.
Upon his compliant, I was arrested and detained for four days on the charge of attempted kidnap, I was denied access to lawyer, was never taken court. When I was eventually released I was threatened through the apparatus of police to pack out from the house. I was embarrassed and so I went to court to exonerate myself and seek redress to breach of my rights. But looking for that infringed right was extremely difficult for me, as I couldn’t afford a lawyer and when I eventually got one, it was not that right to the task. So I lost the case, and my right gone with the wind.
And I realized that something needed to be done for others like me, whose rights are trampled everyday, and who can’t afford a lawyer too. Just too rivers to cross. So, I decided something needed to be done fast. Especially, recognizing high number of people in awaiting trail in detention out of poverty.
While I was detained in a police cell, there I met young people ranging between 18 and 35 years of age. I interacted with them asking each of them what brought them into detention. One thing I noticed was that there is so many co-operations, love and oneness in the cell, which if replicated outside, the world will be a better place for us all. The inmates were so open to me. The crimes that brought them to prison include murder, rape, fighting and stealing, fraud, kidnapping among others.
In the course of our interaction, many confirmed to me that they participated in the crimes they were accused of. When I advised them to change for the better when they leave jail, they said they had no regrets; they were not remorseful. In fact some said that if they get out of jail, they would continue with crime. I tried talking to the 23 inmates then in the Police headquarters’ CID cell; only one of them promised to change when he regains his freedom. When I persisted, the others told me that it was too late to advice them because it will not make them to change their minds.
They also said stressed that if I have the passion to see a new and transformed Nigeria that is violence and crime free, I should deal more with children, saying that crime is a circle. That they themselves took over from others, people who introduced them to crime while they were young.
They insisted that, if I want to break the circle, I should go to the children and try to keep them off crime, that they on their part have already made up their mind and that I should leave them for another set of people to handle.
They asked me to mirror into the society that all the crimes they have committed are done in other ways. For instance one of them who were brought to prison on a rape charge said people in high positions have continued to rape the nation’s economy and other aspects of the life of the country and its people.
It was as the inmates talked to me about children that I reflected back on my passion and that gave birth to an organization I founded called- Children and Young People Living for Peace.
The peace I am talking about though is not the absence of war but peace of mind; how to create peace of mind for people – among spouses, at home, at school, at workplace and in and among communities among others. If we are able to do this, the larger peace that we are talking about will simply find its place.
So I concluded that my going to cell was never a setback but a stepping stone into doing well, into making a change. I am sure God allowed me go to cell so that I can get first hand information from the people involved in violence so as to do the work well. So when I came out from cell, I started dropping active involvement in advertising and public relations and became more focused on service above self. And I have no regret. I then met with other young people and share the passion with, and at which they bought. And became part of the team and with many volunteers running the vision.
Recognizing what I went through, I currently work as a paralegal and provide means of empowerment by making access to justice to poorest poor women and youths. I also work to keep children and young people out of chains of radicalization and violent extremism by teaching peace at schools, including the teachers.
It is real that this work is challenging but more real is it that it is fulfilling. I feel it whenever I touch lives in small ways with greater impact. I get inspired to conceptualize local actions as solutions to problems. I am hopeful that peace is possible, and my team mates are superbly wonderful. Together we work more on researching local communities that have coexisted peacefully overtime, then learn from them to tailor-apply in communities that are vulnerable to violence. This has been the secret of my local program successes over the years. Please tell us your story? Bravo!