Movement Matters #12 – John Apollos Maton Esq., DRS., ChMC., ACIArb (UK)., PAN.
This month’s column features John Maton and his work in Nigeria. We discuss John’s inspiration, love of learning, and understanding of community-led development. When you learn about the many lives John has touched already, you’ll be moved by his impact and how humble he is.
Sera Bulbul: Can you give us some information about your background, how you got to where you are?
I am a Board Member and the Chief Operations Officer for the Vulnerable and Abused Intervention Initiative (VAII), an NGO birthed by Dr. Elder Mrs. Yosi Maton, which is aimed at improving Rights Protection and fighting all forms of Abuse. VAII is also member of Strategic Action for Community Development (SACD) Nigeria, a Civil Society Initiative of 70+ INGOs and 1500+ Community-based Organisations.
I am from Daffo, Bokkos LGA of Plateau State, Nigeria. However, I grew up in TCNN, Bukuru, Jos-South LGA, of Plateau State, Nigeria, in a close community where everyone was like family. The missionaries, staff, and the TCNN compound had a lot of influence on my formative years. Growing up the child of missionaries, in a large household where relatives and family friends were raised by my parents, came with a lot of challenges, shaping my perspective of life and my passion for societal improvement.
The growing injustice and rights abuse had me wondering how I could solve the problems that I saw daily in my community. This is one of the reasons that I studied law and why I intend to continue working toward changing public policy at all levels of government. Initially, my journey into dispute resolution was purely a career move, but eventually, I saw how I could use it to improve justice delivery and improve the speed of decisive resolution of conflict. This, in turn, led to victim and vulnerable persons protection.
When my mom started an NGO called “The Vulnerable and Abused Intervention Initiative” (VAII) Nigeria, which is aimed at protecting vulnerable groups, working with her was the natural thing to do. It felt like I was finally doing what I was training for. Working for an NGO is not always very flamboyant. We do the little that we can one step at a time. It is mostly small interactions and being with families as they face the challenges and problems they are going through. I hope that we get bigger and are able to reach more people, families, and communities, but for now, I am proud of the little that we have been able to accomplish despite the lack of sufficient funding and other challenges we face.
Sera: What inspires you?
John: First, knowing that life is brief and fleeting. It can be taken away from me at any time. God can determine that I have reached the end of my allotted time and call me home. This makes me think about leaving a good legacy to be remembered for. I think that is why, as human beings, we get married, have children, and build monuments. We desire to make an impact on the world, and we want to be remembered for generations to come.
Second, the desire to protect my people. In Nigeria, we have for decades been suffering a religious war for conquest waged by Fulani immigrants, who are non-indigenous Muslims to Nigeria. While Plateau State continues to suffer the worst of these attacks, the government at the state level seems highly unable to tackle this problem of insecurity – with no definite arrest, prosecution, or punishment of these attackers on record. While at the federal level, the government, by ignoring the killing and land grabbing, seems willfully inactive because people who end up in office are sympathetic to their cause or grossly incompetent.
Sera: You have so many different experiences working in different positions and different collaborations across Nigeria and the world. What are some challenges you face in your work?
John: The first and most obvious one is funding. I can have good intentions, but without funding to carry out these interventions, it is almost a hopeless situation. I usually try to partner with organizations or individuals who have similar interests to me, organizations I volunteer with, or projects I want to achieve. These partners do not even need to be NGOs, but people who have the same mindset and are likely to support my work. For example, we are currently undergoing talks for a project we hope to start in September for the displaced people in my local government. I have been talking with doctors and health practitioners who would run free tests, provide drugs, counseling, and other medical services for IDPs in Bokkos LGA of Plateau State. At first glance, this is a project that would require a lot of funding, but I hope partnering with others would help us overcome the funding shortages and reach vulnerable people and victims in need.
Another challenge has been building my knowledge. Most of my professional training has been in law, legislative drafting, and security. I have not had any formal training in NGO administration, grant writing, and the like. I have been trying to overcome this by reading a lot – I have goals to take online courses as well, but it seems time is always running short. I read books on grant writing, community interventions, and NGO development. I always try to speak with people like Reverend Dali, my pastor friends, and others who do nonprofit work to hear what their experiences are and understand how they are able to accomplish what they do despite the problems faced. I also try to volunteer with NGOs nearby – I help in whatever way I can with the hopes I will learn as much as possible from them.
The last challenge that I will mention is staffing. We have a lot of activities going on and a lot of goals, but not the resources to do everything. I hope for a day when we can have a lot more people running around doing this work in Nigeria and the world. The last project we worked on together was an anti-election violence campaign sponsored by MCLD, I visited 20-30 locations on my own in the given time frame, engaged on social media, and was featured on the radio doing interviews. As much as I enjoy talking and meeting new people, I know that there is a strain that would not be suffered if there were more people helping out with the work we are trying to do.
Sera: When you reflect on your life and work, what are you most proud of?
John: I honestly don’t know if I have accomplished anything yet I can consider worthy of being proud of.
My schooling started as a challenge from my mom. She was the first woman from our village to go to school despite being partially deaf. At the time, women were thought of as their future husband’s property. My grandfather fought against this – he was a missionary that said everyone else could do what they wanted, but his daughter was going to school.
She claims that her achievements notwithstanding, she knows she would have done so much more if she were male and had the opportunities my siblings and I were privileged to. After basically calling us slackers, my mom pushed me to see I had no excuse and to take advantage of every opportunity made available to better myself. Because of her, I keep trying to know more so I can stand up for my people and speak out. The competition with her for the “most read” continues, since she is a few steps ahead. I am completing my Master’s degree and she has a Ph.D., so I do not consider myself quite accomplished enough to be proud of yet!
My final Master’s dissertation is on “The Rights of Victims of the Fulani Invasion of Plateau State”. I hope that I can share that research with a lot more people because I believe it gives another perspective and an in-depth understanding of the challenges and struggles that we face. The successful conclusion of this research might be something to be proud of, so I can stand up for my people and speak out against the gross injustices and despicable rights abuses we continue to suffer.
I have started a Petition on Change.org to “End the Genocide of Christians and Indigenes of Plateau State, Nigeria.” While this Petition has over ninety-five thousand signatures (95,000), and it was to my knowledge the first highest–subscribed online public Petition from Nigeria, the government at all levels, security agencies, and other relevant related institutions have not taken this seriously or made any significant attempts to right this ever–growing genocide and injustice.
As a Lawyer, Appropriate Dispute Resolution, and Peace Advocate, I believe that since justice has been denied for decades, one of the most important things that must be done now is addressing the concerns of this petition. History has shown that once a people feel marginalized, abused, and without any hopes of justice or some form of redress, it leads to escalation of violence and hostilities.
It would not just make me proud to have the government truly address this growing problem, but the true implementation of proposed solutions would mean the protection of lives, property, cultures, traditions, and the ways of life of Christians and the indigenous tribes of Plateau State, Nigeria.
I have written Bills and drafted proposals for representatives at the state and national assembly – laws that would change and improve my peoples’ lives – a lot of them were not even considered. We still have countless pending challenges, and there is still a lot to do, so maybe when I achieve these goals that I’ve set, and when these proposed laws and policies are put in place, I will have something that I am most proud of to share. If I do get a Ph.D. If I do get policies for more indigenous rights protection, policies that prevent abuse of power, I really think that would be something to be proud of.
Sera: How did you learn about MCLD and what inspired you to join the Movement?
John: As I mentioned, Reverend Dali worked in the community where I grew up. She has been aware of what my family has been doing. In 2017, when she received the UN’s Sergio Vieira de Mello Prize and thought about bringing like-minded people together, she spoke to us and I saw the potential of what it could be immediately. If we have a body that can be trusted to ensure donated funds get to the people who actually need them and do the work they are meant for, then there can be significant community development and growth! I saw a solution to the funding, education, and information problems our NGO had been facing. This is because a lot of people have unfortunately given Nigerians a bad name, so when we look for funders or donors, most often than not, we are met with distrust and skepticism.
It seemed like finally, we were going to have a body with resources I can contribute to and tap from. I saw the potential of having such a body. My NGO’s challenges and needs could always be addressed when I ask for help. Our last campaign shows this – a couple of visits I had were amazing and had more impact because they were in partnership with another NGO, organization, and persons.
SACDN shows promise and I look forward to what we can be. It still feels like we are trying to catch up, and the challenge of being inactive for a while has put a strain on the commitment of the group but we are ready as a group to learn more. I’m glad to be part of MCLD and do my part in seeing it grow and I’m always open to conversations and volunteering as my contributions.
Sera: Has the Movement changed your understanding of community-led development?
John: It definitely has. To be honest, prior to this, I had no experience whatsoever on community-led development. My advocacy had been one of a technocrat lobbying the government to do projects. I was almost always advocating for the strict performance of duties of officeholders. With MCLD, I am gradually starting to understand the full scope of what it entails. The community has a need and it rallies together to solve it. I had not explored that potential until meeting MCLD and until MCLD-Nigeria took off. The first training MCLD funded was one of the things that helped with that. MCLD has played a huge role in building my knowledge.
Sera: What advice would you give to someone who is new to community-led development?
John: My perspective of it is that those developments are interventions you have jointly with the community. Just try to get the community to understand that it’s not some independent project brought by a foreigner who doesn’t care about them, every project undertaken is theirs. You help them understand that you are not just an outsider coming to do something that has to be serviced by you in the near future, but you are laying the foundations for something that the community needs to build on and develop because they have a huge stake in the project and should ensure it succeeds.
There are several reasons why I now think community interventions should be engaged from the perspective of having community-led development. First, it gives these communities a sense of ownership and pride in the development process. Second, it ensures that the infrastructure is tailored to the specific needs of the community. Third, it allows the community control the pace and direction of the development process. Finally, it can help to build social capital and strengthen the community’s capacity to deal with future challenges.
Overall, community-led development is a more sustainable and effective approach for achieving long-term growth and lasting impact in target communities and in the world at large.
I recall when a friend of mine who is French and he works for the French government here in Nigeria, started conversations with people in the government for collaborative development, and some kept asking what was in it for them. I had to explain that it was not for me, I was not going to benefit in any way. I was only bridging the gap so that our people who are disadvantaged can join us in this century through infrastructural development. There are places in Nigeria that have not had roads constructed, no power, drinking water, or health care much less other needed infrastructure, since the 1960 independence.
So, community-led development is not just an investment by some foreign organization or some outsider. It’s not something to selfishly extort. It’s an opportunity to grow that should benefit generations to come.
About John Apollos Maton Esq., DRS., ChMC., ACIArb (UK)., PAN:
John is a Lawyer, Dispute Resolution Specialist, Peace Advocate and Activist, Passionate about Sustainable Development, Leadership, Good Governance, Rights Protection, Education, Physical Fitness and Literature.
While John’s education has mostly been legal, his personal development is a wide range that includes Appropriate Dispute Resolution, Leadership Training, and Security Intelligence Studies.
John’s work experience includes INEC, Plateau State, the Ministry of Justice, Kaduna, Two Law Firms, The House of Representatives, and many NGO’s, one of which he is still Board Member and Chief Operations Officer to.