Security Officer After Using Force And No Result, Reverses Idea Using Football to End Tribal Conflict

“I turned hatred into harmony,” said the father of four.
Chief Security Officer (CSO) of Igbesikala-Ama Tamunomie Wariboko along with a group of footballers who not so long ago fought each other in bitter tribal clashes. (Kelechukwu Iruoma / TRTWorld)

A land dispute between the Tarikoro Polo and Setari Polo communities in the Port Harcourt region of Rivers State, Nigeria's Niger Delta, resulted in a tribal clash in March 2016, resulting in property damage and injuries.

The Tarikoro Polo community decided to build a new toilet on land that separated the two communities, but the Setari Polo community objected, claiming ownership of the land.

The eight groups that make up the Igbesikala-Ama people of Ijaw, a minority community in the Niger Delta, include Tarikoro Polo and Setari Polo. Tarikolo-Polo residents decided to avoid sharing an open defecation toilet with Setari Polo residents, but the latter flatly declined.

“Due to the disagreement, the elders of the communities started to use the youths to perpetrate violence among themselves. We spoke to the elders to stop the dispute but they refused,” said the Chief Security Officer (CSO) of Igbesikala-Ama Tamunomie Wariboko.

Security official has initially used force to quell tribal clashes in Niger Delta region but it didn't work. He then thought of hosting a football match.

Because of the high unemployment rate in the villages, the youths were still willing to be used by the elders to instigate conflict. As a result of the conflict, cultism grew in the societies.

“We were sleeping one night when some cultists came to Setari Polo and burnt a house of a rival cult with people inside. They were shooting and people started to panic. Some properties were destroyed. A young man was shot dead instantly,” said Iyowena Akuro from Setari Polo.

“After that moment, we started experiencing constant conflicts and riots in the communities, including cult clashes. There was no peace in the communities,” he continued.  There is no data to show the number of properties destroyed and casualty.

Conflict-ridden communities

With so many communal and cult conflicts, Rivers state is considered to be a violent state. Some young people were ex-militants who committed crimes against foreign oil companies before the federal government granted them amnesty in 2009.

Since then, some of them have formed cults and are actively committing acts of violence at the first opportunity.

Wariboko was Tarikolo Polo's youth chair as of 2016. Efforts to end the cult clashes and the rivalry between the two groups were in vain.

“We created an arbitrating committee to look at the issue, but it did not work,” the 44-year-old Wariboko told TRT World.

The community leaders then named Wariboko as the CSO in January 2017, with the mission of ending the conflict and cult clashes.

Wariboko was a member of Partners for Peace (P4P), a network of individuals and organizations committed to reducing conflicts and fostering peace in the Niger Delta through the Basis for Collaboration Projects in the Niger Delta's (PIND) peacebuilding program.

He had participated in many capacity-building seminars, and the community saw him as the best individual to put an end to the intercommunal disputes.

Security official has initially used force to quell tribal clashes in Niger Delta region but it didn't work. He then thought of hosting a football match.

“During training by the P4P, I was taught how to use various methods to address conflicts in my communities. When I became the CSO, I tried to use force to end the conflicts but it was not working,”revealed Wariboko.

“It was while in P4P training I had the idea to begin a football competition to keep the youths busy and advise them to shun violence and embrace peace,” Wariboko said.

Football as a catalyst for change

“I told the young men in the two communities that I wanted to set up a football competition to unify them and they agreed to be part of it because I believed the football competition would bring the young men together and it worked,” he said.

He enlisted the help of the other six communities, who were also competing in the football tournament.

“Tamuno met the cult leaders and begged them to bring their members to join their communities to participate in the football competition and they agreed,” said Akuro.

During the competition, Wariboko urged the youths to avoid being used by the elders and to stop fighting between themselves, according to Wariboko.

“Each of the eight communities brought their teams and were grouped. During the competition, you would see young men who usually fought embrace themselves. The football competition brought the boys together, and it was fun to watch.”

The groups that came in first, second, and third place received cash prizes. The first prize was worth N150, 000 ($393), the second prize was worth N100, 000 ($262), and the third prize was worth N70, 000 ($183).

“With the football competition, I was able to end the dispute between the two communities and ended cult clashes. Now, we have not had any communal clashes since".

Wariboko said the two groups decided to let the Tarikoro Polo community build a new toilet after the youths refused to be used as cannon fodder.

“I turned hatred into harmony,” said the father of four.

According to TRT World  in the Baptist High School and six fields - where the football competition was played, youths in the community hailed him “chairmo,” a form of chairman, which connotes respect.

Football is said to have the power to bring people together.

“Football is like a spirit that influences people,” supports Akuro.
“It is through football we experience peace in the communities because the government failed us. The government did not do anything to address the conflicts.”

Wariboko was able to finance the football competition with funds from his hotel company, which was held four times between 2017 and 2018, when the last competition was held. He stopped organizing the football competition due to financial difficulties, as his hotel business was no longer thriving.

Wariboko the peace champion

Wariboko was characterized as a "great and nice" man by Opefka Benjamin, who competed in the football tournament.
“His dream is to always bring the youths together. He makes peace anywhere he goes,” he said.

Wariboko was identified as a peace champion by Africas Lawal, the P4P network coordinator who brought him into the network and trained him on early warning and early response systems to conflicts.

“We were able to identify him as a young person who could make the change in his community. I nominated him for the training because I noticed he was a voice people do not hear in the Niger Delta. We decided to allow him to have the exposure to our conflicts and resolution training that could aid him in his work and make him a peace champion,” he said.

“I see him as an influencer. You cannot be doing community work and be powerful if you do not have influence. He is powerful despite not being an ex-militant. He is stronger than some of the militants because of his level of exposure. As a voice for peace, the people want to listen to him. Using football competition to address conflict worked in his environment and it should be encouraged,” he said.

Wariboko was named a Rivers State peace champion for his role in using football to end a dispute between two groups and cult clashes in Igbesikala-Ama.

Wariboko is disappointed that he was unable to continue the football game.

“I had the intention of bringing back the football competition in 2019 but I lacked funds. Last year, I tried my best to raise funds but it did not work as I could not raise funds,” he said.

“Football has been the only solution to ending conflicts in Igbesikala-Ama and I hope to restart the competition soon."