WANEP: Mobilising Ogoni Women For Peace

A cross section of the facilitators and participants of the WANEP, Nigeria, during the training of Ogoni women leaders on peace and confidence building in Akpajo Community in Eleme Local Government Area of Rivers State, recently.

In time past, women the world over were regarded as the weaker vessels, a characterisation most women saw as stereotype, comparing the volume of work they do, which most times, outweigh that of the men.
As such, women across the nations have been struggling to assert their freedom to walk side-by-side with their male folks in building true equality, development and peace in their countries. Indeed, the women have shown their resilience and determination to lead and not remain in the shadows of the men by excelling in many male-dominated fields and sectors.
In Nigeria today, the high level of violence and killings have continued to call for serious concern among women as they can no longer sit and watch the total decimation and disintegration of the country. And they have been in the vanguard for forging alliances that help build peace and ensure security of all communities in the country.
The West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) is one of such platforms. In fact, as part of its efforts to guarantee the participation of women in entrenching peace and security in the country, the WANEP Nigeria and Kebetkache Women Development Resort Centre recently embarked on training of women mostly affected by violence and killings.
The choice of Ogoni women leaders for the latest phase of the training aimed at building their confidence to enhance overall contributions to peace, security and development in communities has been overwhelmingly received across the Rivers State. For WANEP, Nigeria, the template is designed to allow the trainees replicate lessons learned by also training others in their local government areas to enhance women’s impact in the society as veritable means of ensuring peace, stability, growth and development in Rivers State in particular and the country at large.
The training programme, tagged, “Peace and Confidence Building”, which is part of a two-year project aimed at, “Enhancing Women’s Participation in Peace and Security in Nigeria”, kicked off last Monday, with a call on women to identify with those things that make them proud, if they wish to live long and be happy with themselves forever.
In her opening address, the Director, Rivers State Ministry of Women Affairs, Dr Carmelita Agbarubere, said that women have all it takes, even more than their male counterparts, to engineer peace and security, and wondered why they have to choose to rely on their male counterparts to excel.
Agbarubere, therefore, charged women to ensure they live a life of actualisation and self-esteem, adding that women were the most brilliant class of God’s creation, and as such, not expected to beg.
“You must live a life of self-actualisation and esteem in order not to remain a beggar to your male counterparts, who you are far better than”, she advised.
While talking on Domestic Violence and Child’s Rights Act, she appealed to male lawmakers not to appropriate the issues to themselves alone, arguing that women should be more involved in the decision making since the children and women were the most affected. She insisted that more women should be allowed to make decisions on issues of domestic violence and child abuse in the society.
Agbarubere warned that women should stop supporting men that violate girls, adding that tribalism has become a big problem that is eating Nigerians up, urging that they ought to be their sisters’ keepers. According to her, “Tribalism is violence because you violate the rights of others. We should uphold love and trust for one another”.
Also speaking, the National Network Coordinator, WANEP Nigeria, Chief Bridget Osakwe, noted that the high rate of killings in Ogoni necessitated the decision to organise the programme for Ogoni women, so as to brainstorm on best ways to bring peace to the people of the area. Osakwe added that WANEP Nigeria was established primarily to provide an alternative platform for collaborative peacebuilding, adding that indigenous non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were expected to work in the area of conflict, peace building and security.
She said that it was in the bid to bridge the yawning gap that the training was conceived to help women build a platform to enhance their confidence and influence in the socio-political and economic development of their communities. In fact, the advocate of female involvement in decision-making and development argued that the time has come for more women to make their marks ventilating their skills and knowledge on issues around domestic violence and child abuse in such a way that they force policy shift, and engineer a swing pool of punishment or sanctions for offenders.
In her paper presentation on, “Gender”, the South-South Zonal Coordinator of WANEP, Madam Emem Okon, explained that women unknowingly ascribed roles to themselves that were not originally meant for them as commanded by God.
In the well-researched presentation, Okon argued that “Even when women are heads of households, they still ascribe the role of the head of family to the men, who do not deserve to be acknowledged as such”, and insisted on gradual attitudinal change to place the women in their place as leaders of organisations, communities and heads of families they struggle so hard to fend for. She advised the participants to aim to be leaders in their communities, local governments, and indeed, the state, and gave insight into organisations and countries across the world where women were at the driver’s seat. Specifically, she noted tech companies in Silicon Valley, California, United States, including Yahoo, among others, where women were at the top. Okon mentioned the International Monetary Fund (IMF) where a woman is the managing director, and also noted countries such as Germany, Croatia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, where women are heads of state and government.
Okon regretted that women have the mindset of feeling inferior based on cultural and traditional definitions, lamenting that they have continued to overwhelm themselves with unnecessary pressures just to please cultural norms and rites.
In an address to welcome all facilitators and Ogoni women leaders drawn from Khana, Gokana, Tai and Eleme Local Government Areas of the state, the Queen Mother of Eleme Kingdom, Her Majesty, Chief Evelyn Gokpa Eh Alito, expressed joy for the choice of organising the training in Eleme, adding that she was willing and ready to follow up with more training initiatives to engender peace and development in the state and Nigeria at large.
Earlier, the Rivers State Coordinator, WANEP Nigeria, Loretta Ahuokpeme, had said that the role of women as lead stakeholders was in promoting the rights of women and ensuring peace within communities, adding that to achieve the onerous task; women must build their confidence first.
She expressed the hope that lessons learned from the training programme would help transform Ogoni women leaders as pacesetters in peace building and sustainable security in the communities as a veritable means of ensuring uninterrupted development in the state.
The participants identified the negative effects of violence in Ogoniland that may have been responsible for low investors’ confidence in tapping the potentials in Ogoniland as well as the factors that had over the years, slowed the pace of development in the area. They also resolved to work in synergy to promote efforts to tackle the incidence of rape and violence against women, just as they agreed to fight against purveyors of child abuse and trafficking. In addition, the women promised to do everything in their powers to influence actions to reduce the rate of poverty, killings, insecurity, displacement, marginalisation of the impoverished people of Ogoniland, among others.


Susan Serekara-Nwikhana