IPPNW Interview: Homsuk Swomen and Ogebe Onazi
Medical students active with IPPNW’s Nigerian affiliate Society of Nigerian Doctors for the Welfare of Mankind (SNDWM) were inspired to create a radio show to promote peace. The program has been airing on Silverbird Rhythm FM broadcast from Jos, Nigeria. This interview is with Nigerian medical student leaders who helped develop and implement the program – Homsuk Swomen, national student representative of IPPNW Nigeria, and Ogebe Onazi, African co-regional student representative.
IPPNW: Why did you develop this radio program?
HS and OO: We were motivated to develop this program because of the recurrent violence that ravages Jos, a calm and peaceful city of middle belt Nigeria; sensitize the public on the health effect of guns and light weapons; and to advocate the need for tougher legislation on acquisition of small arms.
It was designed to influence the minds of our listening audience and the wider public on the need to practice peace. The media (that is, newspapers, radio and television) has had an incredible influence on the minds of people and the quality of livelihood across the entire world over many decades. This informed our decision to go upstream and use the radio as a means to disseminate relevant and worthwhile research-based health information that may help check the spread of violence and small arms in Nigerian society, particularly with Jos as the reference point.
IPPNW: Have you experienced any types of violence in your personal lives or in your communities?
OO: I have experienced violence personally and in my community. I remember an experience I had in my pre-clinical period when I was attacked at gun point on my way to my off-campus house and was subsequently robbed. And also, in the Jos community of Nigeria, we witnessed an ethno-politically engineered violence that left many injured, homeless and dead in recent times (28th November, 2008).
HS; yes! In my hometown Yelwa-Shendam, there was massive destruction of lives and property in 2004 which caused violence in neighbouring Kano state. I was living in fear during the last violence in November 2008 because my neighbourhood in Jos had a 50/50 religious population waiting to fight at the slightest provocation. It affected my state of mind. I witnessed the violence in September 2001 also as human beings were roasted and axed before my eyes.
IPPNW: What expertise as medical students do you bring to this issue?
HS and OO: as medical students, during our community medicine experience/posting; we observed that in rural communities, health care was not readily available to individuals. In conflict situations with huge casualties, hospital equipment will be overwhelmed and some people might die in the process of waiting for health care and resuscitation. Also during our postings in psychiatry, we regularly saw the after effects of violence and conflict on youths. Many of those that were engaged in violence now indulge in life of alcoholism, armed robbery and rape. Post violence psychological trauma also significantly affected the lives of those who lost their loved ones and bread winners. As medical students, we are armed with the knowledge of matters relating to the effects of small arms violence on health, justifying our call for peace and policy to check the spread of small arms. We seek to apply the primary preventive measure, where health education and promotion remain our potent advocacy tools. Furthermore, we are products of Dr. Caecilie Buhmann’s Peace through Health training workshop held in Kano, Nigeria and we rest our oars on the skill we acquired during the training. We aim to bring to the issue other tools of advocacy, ranging from dialogue, to one bullet stories, to discussions on human rights, as they may all affect health.
IPPNW: What has the response been from listeners of the radio show, and also from the radio management?
HS and OO: The response has been quite impressive, and has been one of our motivational factors. Responses have ranged from commendations, contributions, and criticisms, to requests to join IPPNW. Both positive and negative comments were received which showed that people were listening and following the program. We have gotten calls from places outside Jos and also from organizations and individuals who were willing to partner with us. The whole response will be made available after our quarterly report for all to read. We also received a fair share of commendations from the radio management, as well as, critique about the kind of speakers we use during our programs, with regards to their language accent, and age. They even aired some programs on credit.
IPPNW: Tell us about your plans for the radio show for the next year.
HS and OO: We plan to work more closely with the goals and objectives of the Aiming for Prevention campaign, as it affects the health of the people of our immediate environment in Nigeria. Depending on the overall response from listeners and radio house at the end of the year, we would make the program more interactive by introducing prizes to winners of quizzes and competitions on the knowledge of the harmful effects of violence in our community. This may create a mutual connection between the listening public and IPPNW.
We also intend to start a forum of youths motivated by our message providing seminars on violent conflict and health and also extend our hands of fellowship to non-governmental organizations and community based organisations of like mind in our region to create a platform for more impact, more awareness and more advocacy measures.
This will require adequate funding so we have plans to engage in a massive fund drive to meet our set goals.
IPPNW: Will you bring the information in your radio program to other educational forums and directly to youth groups in Nigeria or throughout Africa?
HS and OO: Sure! We would do that as stated above. Youths are the ones who partake in conflict so they will be the target at the grassroots and other parts of town. We are in touch with the Youth Education and Leadership Forum (YELF) and Conscious Youth Movement as well as Youth Adolescent Reflection and Action Centre (YARAC) for that purpose.
We also intend to extend the program to IPPNW student movements in other parts of Africa where small arms violence is a problem.
IPPNW: How will you be integrating the information on peace through health in your medical careers?
HS and OO: Peace building and violence prevention could be primary, secondary and tertiary. In or medical careers it would be mostly secondary and tertiary. This means at the time violence is occurring or when it has already occurred. This is very important in the sense that it will help prevent recurrence and dampen the effect of violence in different communities.
This will be done in the area of healthcare administration and medical outreach to different communities affected by violence. We would follow that up with research during our pursuit of masters in public health, much like SNDWM members including students conducted at four hospitals in Nigeria during the IPPNW pilot project in five African countries. The result of such research will be made available to health authorities, policy makers, heads of institutions (religious and political), as well as governments.
IPPNW: How can IPPNW members in other countries help support your work to prevent violence in Nigeria and elsewhere?
HS and OO: IPPNW members in other countries can support us as we prevent small arms violence in Nigeria and Africa at large in the following ways;
• Studying the program and offering suggestions, recommendations and constructive criticisms so we can work and strengthen our activities;
• Providing research information and suggestions that are crucial to the topics under view;
• Financing the project will help us immensely!! We welcome financial sponsorships for sustenance of this noble project; this is so because we air our programs at peak periods which are quite expensive.