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The British Council is using education to foster peace and cohesion in two strategic Northern states-Jos and Kano with a new scheme tagged Active Citizens Project. The scheme aims at turning the two cities into platforms of meaningful engagement, mental empowerment and cultural integration.

According to Portfolio Manager, Public Diplomacy, British Council Nigeria, who is coordinating the project, Ramatu Umar-Bako, the concept is all about engaging and empowering people, promoting inter-cultural dialogue, social cohesion and networking.

She said the project, which began last year, identified networks of individuals and community groups who were interested in making a difference either as individuals or collectively as a community.

'To start the pilot programme in these cities, we identified key stakeholders from faith groups, civil society organisations and government bodies that are working in the area of social cohesion and inter cultural dialogue.

'These groups are encouraged to talk about issues that affect them, their communities and how they, as a people within the communities, can find solutions to local challenges,' she said.

Umar-Bako explained that the project made conscious efforts to keep away from politics and partisanship.

'The altruistic aim is to create platforms for the different groups to come together to talk, and air opinions openly about burning issues of paramount concern freely and objectively.

'The participants are encouraged to seek and work out solutions to those nagging issues. The British Council also sponsors people from the United Kingdom to Nigeria to share insights and experience especially with regards to handling some of those cultural dialogue issues,' she explained.

Part of the strategy, according to her, is to evolve a mutually agreeable process where the UK community will also learn from Nigeria at the end of the day.

Creating this kind of platform, according to her, helps people to get enlightened of their rights and to begin to explore ways of asserting it in spite of the peculiar diversities in culture and faith alignments.

Umar-Bako described the project as a robust strategy for development, socio-cultural integration and harmony even in diversity.

Umar-Bako said the project was coming up in Nigeria, Ethiopia, UK, South Africa and Kenya, adding that if the pilot edition in Kano and Jos is successful, the project would be extended to other parts of the Sub-Saharan Africa.

According to her, Active Citizens Project pulls down barriers and everyone is given the opportunity for expression and expectation. ''As a matter of fact, ground norms and rules are laid down and signed up to, so there is no room to intimidate anybody. People are made to relax and all are on first names basis,'' she said.

On the challenges before the project, Umar-Bako said, 'Naturally, we face challenges. But we are spurred on by one sole objective-and that is to turn people into global active citizens. That bigger picture invigorates and drives us! We are interested in getting people together to talk. We are not going to tell them what to say. But we are going to give them the platform for a wider world view, the platform to embrace dialogue and empowerment, the platform to be better citizens and the platform to be active citizens.'

The project facilitators, Mallam Ladi Wayi, and Mallam Umar Waku, described the selection process as thorough. 'The British Council took us through a very thorough process of selection to be facilitators. We went through a series of interviews and even after we were selected from among short listed candidates, we were sent to the UK for training in order to be fully equipped for the task ahead,' they said.

At the stakeholders' reference meetings, all genders are encouraged to sit and mix together, and with the training the participants had undergone, they are able to ask questions without hindrance, according to the facilitators.

To achieve its objectives, the organisers first visited WOFAN, a network of women farmers. They also visited the Society for the Prevention of Infectious diseases and social vices which currently runs commercial capacity building and skill acquisition training for youths.

The Executive Director, YOSPIS, Abdulrazak S. Alkali, said the group would partner with the ACTIVE CITIZENS PROJECT to bring about the desired change especially by discouraging youths from drug dependence, addiction and all forms of juvenile delinquency.

The organisers also went to the School for the Physically-challenged in Tundun Maliki Local Government, where the chairman of the council, Mallam Muniru Baba Danagundi, expressed the preparedness of the council to collaborate with the team on any project capable of impacting positively on the lives of the youths in the area. The coordinator also engaged with the Adolescent Health and Information Projects which champions the course of health, social and economic issues affecting women and youths.

During the visit to the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Ado Bayero, he promised to continually mobilise his subjects and non-indigenes to follow the path of dialogue to advance the course of peaceful co-existence.

He also commended the British Council for consistently deploying enduring platforms of engagement capable of bringing about and sustaining inter-cultural dialogue.

The Kano State Deputy Governor, Alhaji Mohammed Tijani, described the project as a beacon of hope for Nigeria's dream of becoming great in the comity of nations.