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Niger Delta Militant Gives Up Gun for Peace Work


While violence has reached new heights this year in Nigeria's Niger Delta with nearly 200 kidnappings of foreigners since January, one former militant leader, now a peaceworker, has taken the risky step of denouncing the violence. Kari Barber has more on his story from Port Harcourt in the Niger Delta.

Stepping outside his family's apartment, JP, a former shoot-on-sight commander for a militant group, says now his neighbors will greet him. They used to fear him.

Fighters from JP's former gang, the Greenlanders, cruising slowly through the neighborhood stop to talk.

The conversation is friendly.

Known as Justice of the Peace or Juju Priest, JP says when he joined the militants, which he calls a confraternity, he never imagined how far it would take him.

"I joined the confraternity so someone would not take my cap or something with force," said JP.

JP says he was quickly wrapped up in a life of violence.

But with the help of the woman he calls "Mom," peaceworker Judith Asuni, JP says he is finding his way out. Asuni runs an organization called Academic Associates Peaceworks. She hired JP to help convince other militants to give up their weapons and create dialogue between different groups.

"These are often guys looking for alternatives and if the alternatives are not provided they will stay in this cycle," she explained. "But if they are offered genuine alternatives and the environment can be changed, then they have a chance of living a different kind of life."

JP and two other former militants formed an elite advising group called The Three Wise Men.

Recently one of the three was killed in a retaliation shooting by a member of JP's old gang.

In tears, JP delivered a eulogy.

JP says he is now keeping a low profile to avoid being the next target. As a peace worker he no longer carries a gun or travels with an entourage of protection.

"My wife is worried about me because she wants me to be alive for all time for our babies and I too, I would never want to leave this Earth until the day God says and not by violence," he said.

Although kidnappings and attacks are on the rise, JP says he believes he is on the winning side.

"Something we have started so many years ago, you cannot just stop in one day. So, gradually," said JP.

Despite the risks of his new life, JP says it is worth it to feel free.

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