EWER: Towards preventing conflicts at community levels, enhancing civilians’ protection
Since the advent of the Boko Haram dreaded Islamic sect, many people have been killed, including women and children.
The United Nations Develop Programme (UNDP) in 2021 reported that insurgency-related conflicts claimed the lives of almost 350,000 lives in the Northeastern part of Nigeria up till the end of 2020.
The Boko Haram insurgency began in July 2009, when the militant Islamist and jihadist rebel group Boko Haram started an armed rebellion against the government of Nigeria.
Boko Haram has fractured into autonomous groups, seizing areas in northeastern Nigeria, expanding its territories, and spreading to Cameroon, Chad, Mali, and Niger, thus becoming a major regional conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Boko Haram insurgency has cost the Nigerian government millions of dollars, if not billion, leading to tragedies and deaths.
The Boko Haram insurgency, with its attendant blood, death, and displacement of civilians, could have been nipped in the bud if only there had been Early Warning Early Response (EWER) mechanisms, especially at community levels.
EWER is the mechanism now being put in place by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) to nip conflict in the bud and save lives.
What then is EWER? EWER is a mechanism put in place to detect likely conflicts or dangers and then quickly red flag them through media reportage, hoping that quick responses from the government can check them from escalating. If government responses are fast enough, lives will be saved, and bloodletting may be avoided.
Indeed, if there are timely responses to issues, most of the insecurity bedevilling different parts of Nigeria may not have occurred or escalated because they would have been nipped in the bud. This system will detect early warnings of conflict or violence at community levels.
The Executive Director of the CISLAC, Mr. Auwal Ibrahim Musa, explained the importance of the project in Ikeja, Lagos State, during a one-day training for journalists on Early Warning Early Response (EWER) reportage, supported by Open Society Foundation (OSF) on the 12th of May 2023, said that EWER will enhance protection of civilians in Nigeria.
He added that for it to become a successful model or project, some observers and journalists were vital and will be part of the growing network in the EWER project.
Accordingly, CISLAC has trained observers to monitor indicators of conflict in different communities and to quickly flag them.
Journalists were also expected to investigate these red flags and come out with an interpretative report, highlighting dangers and consequences, aimed at compelling the necessary authorities to take action.
Musa said: “EWER systems are built to allow for trained community observers to carefully observe their environment and report indicators of conflict to community response networks who in turn are expected to apply professionalism in processing information provided and respond accordingly with an aim to de-escalate potential crises. Therefore, the information provided to the public must remain objective and devoid of sensations that are potential triggers to conflict or violence.”
He further explained: “Under this project, CISLAC will be complementing the role of internal security agencies by building well-informed and vibrant Early Warning Community Observers in Lagos State, which will be representing the South-West, to enhance collaboration, build trust and ownership with state security institutions, community leaders and community security structures, using the EWER system as a vehicle, to prevent threats of conflict from escalating.”
He maintained that the situation calls for more collaboration, communication, coordination and collective support for early warning, conflict prediction and early response mechanisms amongst communities and security operatives, which were central in conflict prevention.
The ED also noted: “Howbeit, an EWER system with the buy-in of communities and security operatives but without the commitments of journalists to conflict-sensitive reportage, cannot be as effective as it ought to be.
“This is because journalists are the mouthpiece of the civilian populace and where information provided to the public is conflict-prone, regardless of how dedicated communities and security operatives are towards early warning and early response, the triggers will always be there to ignite conflict.
“It is on this backdrop that we acknowledge the essential role of the media as major stakeholders in conflict prevention, through conflict-sensitive reporting.”
To further ensure that the project is successful, the project will be focused on strengthening capacity, advocacy, accountability and local engagement, towards developing Early Warning and Early Response Mechanisms to enhance the protection of civilians in Nigeria, across the six geopolitical zones.
Musa said: “As you are not unaware of, every part of Nigeria currently battles with evolving epidemy of multi-dimensional security threats. Lagos State, in particular, is bedevilled with clashes between indigenes and non-indigenes based on ethnic differences and more intense is this challenge given the recently conducted general elections.
“This situation calls for more collaboration, communication, coordination and collective support for early warning, conflict prediction and early response mechanisms amongst communities and security operatives, which are central in conflict prevention.”
Musa explained that the system is built to allow for trained community observers to carefully observe their environment and report indicators of conflict to community response networks who in turn were expected to apply professionalism in processing information provided and respond accordingly with an aim to de-escalate potential crises.
His words: “Information provided to the public must remain objective and devoid of sensations that are potential triggers to conflict or violence.”
He urged the media to collaborate with CISLAC to improve the protection of civilians in Lagos State and in Nigeria through objective and conflict-sensitive reporting.
He stressed: “We also call on the media to support the activities of EW Community Observers who have been trained to monitor and report EW threat signals under this project, to amplify these threats signals, to spur security operatives to respond speedily and with professionalism, as activities unfold in the state.
“We call on the media to own the EWER system by leveraging verifiable information and data that will be generated through early detection and to utilise same as caution signals, to prevent harm, loss of lives and properties and to de-escalate crises.”
The Workshop, which had over 30 participants including journalists from various media outfits in the state, had a technical session with a presentation titled: Media and Effective Early Warning and Early Response Mechanisms: Conflict Sensitive and Objective Reportage, facilitated by Mr. Ikem Okuhu.
Okuhu took the participants on a deep dive into how to expertly handle reports that had to do with EWER, spicing the training with practical sessions.
He explained that while carrying out reports that had to do with EWER, journalists should expect responses from relevant authorities depending on the issues raised in the reportage.
He argued that following such reports if relevant authorities do not respond, it was necessary to carry out a follow-up report.
He explained: “EWER means interpretative reporting. In this method, journalists interpret the problem we are solving and hope to bring out a solution. In Interpretative reporting, we piece the information and present it to the people. We interpret and process information to a pre-digested level for the common masses.
“A journalist needs to go beyond the obvious to look at the news behind the news. It seeks to add meaning to news reporting by breaking down issues raised in them. It provided information and deepened understanding of other issues and broaden people’s access to ideas and viewpoints concerning important current events.
“It means giving the reader everything, including the fact that he needs to know. Conflict-sensitive reporting means insinuating yourself into the community and problem. It is important to bring the interpretation of the story close to the reader’s environment.
“As reporters, we need to know what to put out there and when to be circumspect. Journalists are gatekeepers. EWER is intended to amplify and analyse conflicts, it tries to alert to conflict risk, inform decision-makers, making and initiate timely responses to prevent violent conflict.”
Okuhu said the above will naturally put pressure on the government to make decisions. “The challenge should not be allowed to snowball into a crisis. If the Boko Haram issue was addressed at the initial stage, it wouldn’t get to the stage it is today. Journalists should learn to manage information. Journalist reportage should protect women and children in open conflict situations.
“If Boko Haram had been nipped in the bud, all the money, human, economic and social losses would have been saved if the warning had been sounded earlier and responses are taken. EWER enables people to prepare for crisis and makes people prepare for eventualities,” said Okuhu.
The veteran journalist also urged journalists to guard against raising the false alarm and exaggeration, improper interpretation of signals, partisanship and nepotism in their reportage.
Recommendations concerning EWER are the need for strict adherence to social justice, ethical standards and equity in early conflict detection and reporting to demonstrate objectivity in analysis and restore public confidence while facilitating timely response to Early Warning signals.
Also, de-escalating conflict through value judgement in investigative journalism for well-balanced, verifiable and conflict-sensitive reporting, giving cognisance to the media accountability and responsibilities towards the public.
There is also the need to leverage the Early Warning system in verifiable information and data gathering to fortify accurate reporting that elicits comprehensive and timely responses to conflict signals.
Most importantly journalists need a continual collaboration among relevant security agencies, community observers, and traditional, community and religious leaders to facilitate conflict-sensitive reporting to prevent harm, loss of lives and property and de-escalate crises.
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