Sports Foster Peace in Rivaling Nigerian Communities

Naomi MacMurdie
August 3, 2023

In an event called “Fostering Peaceful Coexistence through Sports,” Global Peace Foundation (GPF) Nigeria’s Lapai Peace and Reconciliation Committee teamed up with local athletes to host a friendly competition celebrating Eid El-Kabir, one of the major holidays in Islam.

Nigerian football players come together for peacebuilding sports event.

Nigerian football players come together for peacebuilding sports event.

Over the years, GPF Nigeria has helped facilitate peaceful dialogue to foster understanding between groups with different cultural and religious beliefs whose communities have fallen victim to violent extremism. Two communities, Aliso and Sonfada, are experiencing a fierce rivalry but accepted an invitation to meet for the sports event hosted by GPF on July 1, 2023.

Recognizing the unifying influence of sports and the country’s love for football, GPF Nigeria welcomed people from the Aliso and Sonfada communities who were eager to accept. They met on neutral ground at Dangana for 90 minutes of football.

Spectators look on during the football match.

Spectators look on during the football match.

Representatives from GPF Nigeria and leaders from the rivaling communities were present to welcome athletes and their supporters.

“I know you all desire development in your communities,” said Rev. John Joseph Hayab, Country Director for GPF Nigeria. “But no government can bring development, and no investor can invest in any community known for crisis and violence because peace is what can magnetize and attract growth and development.” He encouraged the teams to be the leaders not just in fostering good sportsmanship but also in letting that grow into a bridge between their communities. Rev. Hayab expressed his hope that the football match would only be the first of many social interactions between the communities that would eventually put an end to the long years of rivalry.

Coaches of the two rival teams embrace at the end of the game.

Coaches of the two rival teams embrace at the end of the game.

Religious leaders Imam Abdulkadir Yusuf and Pastor Inuwa Tanko were also present to encourage youth and elders alike to set the example of living together in harmony.

Athletes from both Aliso and Sonfada demonstrated the height of sportsmanship. Muazu Idris Sonfada, the coach of the Sonfada football team, said he was full of joy, remarking, “I hope and believe that going forward, better things shall be heard about us.” Ishaku Ibrahim from Aliso appreciated the event saying, “This football match means so much to us because all differences were put aside and we played as one.” According to Ishaku, “The way and manner everyone played was as if the words spoken at kick-off were ringing in our heads; there were no bad tackles from anyone. I am really happy about it.” He expressed hope that all parties engaged in any form of rivalry would take the message of this day to heart and embrace peace.

Village head of Dangana calls for the return of peace during his remarks

Village head of Dangana calls for the return of peace during his remarks

When the game ended, players and spectators came together again for a final peace talk from Alhaji Yahaya Yusuf Yisa, the Chairman of the Lapai Peace and Reconciliation Committee. He expressed his appreciation to everyone who participated and extended gratitude to the host. Alhaji Yunusa Dangan, the District Head of Dangana, admitted that he was hesitant at first to host the event given the reputation of the disputes between the Aliso and Sonfada communities. At the end of the day, he described the football match as “a miracle.” He praised GPF Nigeria and the athletes while saying the “ball has been set rolling toward the return of harmony and peace.”

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