JOS, NIGERIA – JULY 19, 2021 – As part of its growing efforts to limit hostile social media use in conflict zones around the world, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD) has brokered a landmark accord among three ethnic communities in central Nigeria to tackle online hate speech, images of violence and misinformation at their source.
The social media peace agreement – signed on July 19 by youth representatives of the Bache, Fulani and Irigwe ethnic groups in the Bassa local government area of Plateau state – commits the delegates to taking concrete actions to reduce harmful behaviour online and to serving as ambassadors to promote better online conduct, peaceful co-existence and tolerance among the three communities.
“Social media has become a potent and corrosive weapon in many conflicts but, until now, most peace accords have focused on ending physical violence without covering aggression or manipulation of information in the digital world,” said David Harland, HD’s executive director. “This innovative agreement is an important step in curtailing online harm and reducing tensions in Bassa and elsewhere in Nigeria while also serving as a model for similar accords in other parts of the world.”
HD’s mediation and peacemaking work in various areas of Nigeria – Africa’s largest economy and most populous country – includes major intercommunal agreements signed in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Building on that experience and leveraging the expertise of HD’s Nigeria team, Anglophone Africa regional operation and global digital conflict programme, the social media accord followed three months of dialogue with 36 youth representatives from the Bache, Fulani and Irigwe groups in Bassa led by HD and supported by funding from the European Union.
“The reality is young people are at the forefront of perpetuating violent conflict, whether it’s physical or virtual,” Joseph Lengmang, director general of the state government’s Plateau Peace Building Agency, said at the signing ceremony in Jos. “That they are here underscores something very, very important – that there is commitment, determination and resolve to be transformed into ambassadors of peace.”
As part of the dialogue process, the representatives raised awareness within their communities about the role of social media in conflict, formed a network that identified the risks of social media misuse in Bassa and developed commitments to encourage young social media users to be promoters of peace to others in the area.
“These communities have suffered from the online spread of rumours and misinformation, derogatory language against each other and graphic images of violence that inflamed existing tensions,” said Zigwai Ayuba, national advisor at HD Nigeria. “By working together on an extensive agreement that reflects their realities, they are moving towards a better and more peaceful future.”
At the ceremony, signatories shared in the optimism about greater tolerance.
“This is a step forward for our communities,” said Rebecca Ughili from the Bache delegation. “What we signed here today does not end with a piece of paper. It is the start of a commitment. We are so happy with that.”
“We have been able to identify our differences, our problems and bring out solutions,” said Aliyu Yusuf from the Fulani delegation. “We agree on particular solutions that we are going to abide by and we also agree that we are going to make the future brighter for our own generation.”
“With the coming of HD and this programme, it has drastically reduced the violent content in our social media space,” said Haggai Phillip Sorongu from the Irigwe delegation. “It has also united us as people to work to achieve a common purpose, which is peace.”
HD’s digital conflict programme is part of the Swiss-based independent organisation’s private diplomacy, mediation and peacemaking initiatives in more than 50 conflict areas around the world.
Photo (left to right): Aliyu Yusuf from the Fulani delegation, Haggai Phillip Sorongu from the Irigwe delegation and Rebecca Ughili from the Bache delegation.