FREE JUDITH ASUNI


It's being reported today that Niger Delta-based peaceworker American Judith Asuni is being detained by Nigeria's State Security Service, on suspicion of espionage and terrorism.

I always thought she should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Her organization is called Academic Associates Peaceworks.

Apparently, she was helping two German filmmakers plot out a documentary on the "restive but oil-rich region", as journalists describe it. They were without proper authorization, and were being toured around to militants and violent areas, until their arrest, and then Asuni's, when she tried to free them.

Reports indicate Asuni is being detained for everything from wanting to embarrass Nigeria, to setting up attacks or associating with criminals for the benefit of her guests, to spying. For who?

Probably not for the U.S. embassy which was quoted laconically as saying, "All we know is that Judith Asuni is a peace worker who got funding from academics and international donor agencies to work for peace in Nigeria."

Fact is Asuni's been in Nigeria over three decades, trying to help young men escape being ensnared in the violence and futility of a greedy, unjust, polluted and cursed environment of oil extraction and money politics. She was very proud of having been named Chief by local Nigerians who recognized her efforts.

She calls the young men her boys, trying to lead them away from the gangster life, of being used as henchmen, election-riggers, and vigilantes, by ruling party officials, who arm but who don't pay well and govern even worse.

This picture was displayed at the funeral of the boy in the middle, whose gangster past caught up to him, even as he was going back to school.

Some of these boys are now organized in competing gangs, gun-laden speed-boat creek racing, dodging security, kidnapping foreign oil workers and blowing up oil pipelines, in the name of local justice, for the smell of money, redistributed in these cases, grudgingly due to counter-violence.

They had a truce, but Nigeria's new government has not moved, so the truce is off.

Why is it that police states detain those who try to avoid confrontation, violence and domination; those who try for another model, much more humane and holistic, than the one of multinational and government official profit through violation?

I worked with Asuni this year, and I can't believe she would promote violence in any way. She was always very careful, always patient, but always driven to make the Niger Delta, which remains a beautiful place, more peaceful, especially for the angry, envious, full of energy, local young men, who sometimes don't know which way to turn.

Many of them, when they find Asuni's embrace, cry. She has freed so many of the shame of their past, and given them new hope. I hope she will be freed soon, and allowed to resume her good work, so there will be many more of her hugs.

When I last saw her, she gave me a twinkle from her eyes, and told me to stay safe. I pray she is ok during detention and that she gets released quickly.

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