Media practitioners from across Benue State joined forces in a concerted effort to promote peace and enhance conflict-sensitive journalism during a two-day capacity-building training event. This training, facilitated by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Mercy Corps, was a crucial component of the Community Initiatives To Promote Peace (CIPP) project.
In collaboration with the Interfaith Mediation Centre (IMC), ARDA, PARE, Savannah Center (SCDDD), and the Social Justice and Humanitarian Development for Peace Initiative, this event unfolded at the MT Square Hotel in Makurdi, Benue State on September 25th and 26th, 2023.
The intensive training sessions revolved around enlightening participants about the profound importance of objective and peaceful journalism. The training placed special emphasis on avoiding actions that could potentially inflame conflicts within the State.
Mr. Godwin Okoko, the Mercy Corps Conflicts Technical Adviser for the CIPP project, took a central role in leading a session focused on conflict analysis. He underscored the significance of comprehending all perspectives and the underlying causes of conflicts. The training also underscored the need to build trust among stakeholders, appreciate the cultural context, and present positive narratives while addressing negative aspects in media reports.
“Effective conflict reportage necessitates delving into the causes, actors, and dynamics of the conflict. This understanding equips developmental and peace-building organizations to better grasp the context in which they operate and their role in mitigating conflicts,” highlighted Mr. Okoko.
During the training, representatives from the Plateau Peace Media Network (PPMN) and the Kaduna Network of Peace Journalists shared practical experiences and activities implemented to foster peace in their respective regions. They emphasized the influential role journalists play in shaping public opinions and perceptions, especially in conflict situations. They also stressed the importance of recognizing early warning signals to prevent conflicts and urged media practitioners to exercise responsibility in reporting to contribute to peace-building efforts and national security as patriotic citizens.
Mr. Kenneth Dakop, the Team Lead for Strategic Communication at the Plateau Peace-Building Agency (PPBA) and a member of the PPMN, acknowledged the media’s pivotal role in past successes at the peace agency. He encouraged participants to use their platforms to reduce tension in the state and cultivate meaningful relationships with state actors, civil society organizations (CSOs), and other stakeholders for future collaboration.
Mr. Samson Auta of the Interfaith Mediation Centre (IMC) elaborated on the project’s objectives, which aim to empower communities to promote peace and facilitate sustainable conditions for lasting harmony. Samson emphasized the crucial role of the media in shaping narratives that can either fuel or prevent conflicts.
Samson added, “We believe that most narratives can either fuel or mitigate conflicts, which is why the role of the media is so important. Every piece of information is valuable and contributes to the larger picture. There is also the need to go beyond the surface and consider issues deeply, including their past or root causes.”
Throughout the training, participants engaged in group discussions, focusing on the challenges faced in reporting conflict situations in Benue communities, such as Guma, Gwer, Agatu, Ukum, Ado, Ojo, and Kastinala Local Government Areas (LGAs). They also provided recommendations for addressing pressing issues.
Mr. Godwin Okoko, the Mercy Corps Conflicts Ethical Adviser for the CIPP program, expressed his satisfaction with the participants’ commitment to peace-oriented reporting and commended them for their dedication to strengthening peace structures and promoting social harmony through the establishment of the Benue Media Peace Network.
Participants, including Joseph Kwaghdega of Radio Nigeria and Harvent FM, expressed their newfound perspectives on handling conflicts and early warning situations as journalists. They emphasized the importance of collaboration between the media and all stakeholders for sustainable peace journalism.
The newly elected coordinator for the Benue Media Peace Network (BMPN), Mrs. Hembadoon Orsar, a correspondent for the Leadership Newspaper, thanked the organizers of the training and emphasized the need for journalists to prioritize humanity in their professionalism. She encouraged them to focus on national security in their reporting, aiming to reduce tension rather than escalate it.
In addition, the Benue State Coordinator for the Interfaith Religious Center, Kengkeng Ati, pledged support for the newly formed network moving forward.