By Adagbo ONOJA
After two insurgencies within a decade in addition to numerous scorched earth convulsions sparing none of its regions, Nigeria must be thinking of conflict management differently now. Very few would disagree that formal academic training is a crucial building block of every aspect of conflict management; from the early warning/early action dimension to peace enforcement/peacekeeping, peacemaking, conflict transformation/transitional justice to post conflict peacebuilding. Fortunately, Nigeria has witnessed a big rise in the number of academic departments, institutes and centres dedicated to formal, academic training in Peace Studies.
Until the University of Ibadan pioneered this process with its Masters programme in Peace and Conflict Studies in 2003, academic engagement with conflict took place mainly in two departments: Political Science and Sociology/Anthropology but in one form or the other in such disciplines as Linguistics, Philosophy, Psychology, Geography, Religion and History. But, at the last count, there are no less than 15 departments, institutes or centres involved, from Ibadan where it all started to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; the University of Jos; Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto; Kogi and Benue State universities, to name some. These are in addition to the government owned think tank, the Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution, whose essence is academic more than anything else.
Broadly, this rise in the number of such platforms should lead to better analysis and, by implication, improved management of conflicts. It thus looks out of place that Nigeria should witness the number and type of conflicts it has experienced during the same period. What might we then be dealing with? Implication of scholars in the reality they study? The changing global context of Peace and Conflict Studies? Better still, could it be the university environment in Nigeria within the same period or something totally not thought of yet? Questions, questions and questions that deserve to be unpacked, considering the great theoretical rupture occasioned by dissidence scholarship in social theory which has de-centered and re-centered the analytical coordinates to the chagrin of partisans of established paradigms.
Intervention tries to do the unpacking in this Special Report by talking to those involved in the process in the first case. This would lead, in the second phase, to talking to the state, the international development partners and perhaps to industry or such end users of research in the field of conflict.
First of the three respondents in this phase is Dr. Ochinya Ojiji, an Associate Professor of Social Psychology and Visiting Professor at the Police Academy, Kano, Nigeria. A product of the Department of Psychology of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Ojiji is not just an academic, he was for many years at the helm of the research commitments of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution, Abuja before moving over to Nasarawa State University. Between 1999 and 2002, he was the editor of the Nigerian Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology.
The second respondent is Dr Tunde Akanni who combines in himself three attributes: the scholarly orientation of what one may call the Ibadan School of Conflict Studies, from where he recently obtained his PhD; expertise in media-conflict interface, the area in which he wrote his doctoral thesis and which he teaches in the Department of Journalism at the Lagos State University, LASU and, thirdly, voice of the second generation of intellectuals in conflict management scholarship in Nigeria, having obtained his doctorate a few years ago. Dr. Akanni’s interview, it may be jokingly states, is a work in progress because he could not answer one more question before his flight was called. But he successfully brought a major part of the problem – funding research is not part of the national consciousness in Nigeria yet.
The third respondent is Dr Tukur Baba, the immediate past Director of the Centre for Peace Studies at Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto. Dr Baba obtained a PhD in Sociology from the University of Missouri Columbia in the United States of America. Before that, he took a Masters Degree in Development Studies from the University of East Anglia in the UK where Andre Gunder Frank was his teacher. Our next interview with him should probably be an account of his encounter with the iconic theorist of development and underdevelopment.
The fourth is Professor Oshita O, Oshita, the Director-General of the government’s think tank on conflict resolution, the Abuja based Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, (IPCR). The DG holds a Masters Degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Bradford in the UK and PhD in Philosophy from the University of Ibadan. He is thus a case of the Philosopher – King in conflict management, bringing his academic background and the institutional experience to the interview.
A voice from Ibadan was considered crucial right from the conception of this report not only for Ibadan’s pioneering status in this wise but also because it certainly has the highest concentration of academic activities around Peace and Conflict Studies in the country , what with its brand new Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies from the legendary Institute of African Studies but also good old Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, (CEPACS). The ‘hierarchy of credibility’ at Ibadan in this respect might still unhook himself from his busy schedules to talk to Intervention. For now, enjoy.
Professor Oshita Oshita
So, do you find the situation of rising number and types of conflicts at a time of more and better academic understanding of conflicts in Nigeria contradictory?
My quick reaction is to say you made a valid observation, there is no doubt about that. I agree with you that there has been a rise in the number of conflict sites in the country but if you want to link the Conflict Studies programmes to that rise and you want to also draw the linkage that probably there is no impact on the phenomenon, then there might be a mistake because Ibadan which is the oldest started about 2002 or 2003 and the others that got established came many years after. So, we cannot begin to draw conclusion that the impact cannot be seen in terms of decrease in conflict flashpoints because it takes quite some time to make impact. How many people do we train in a session? When you take the population of Nigeria and the distribution of the trainees, then it could take time.
Up to the early 1990s, academics made impacts with voice that rang out powerfully irrespective of the number. It is that power of clarity I am referring to.
I do not think that is completely missing. At the institute here, we have in the past few months set up the National Peace Academy, using it for training informally, (not degrees or diplomas but short term courses such as dialogue in facilitation, training in mediation because the key objective of liberalising peace education is something we must pursue. Hence our flagship programme in Basic Conflict Management. Another one is coming up in October. And it is highly subscribed. Our example shows that a lot of activities are still coming up. We cannot conclude at this time that many centres are not impacting. It is still too short to determine that sort of impact. And you have to check that against the population. How many universities are training people anyway?
Theory, as they say, is always for someone and for some purpose, suggesting the implication of scholars in the reality they study. Might this be the case?
I do not trace it to that. You have to have conducted an evaluation of the curriculum in terms of their relevance to society to be able to say that theorising is involved in another reality altogether.
What about the global context underpinning study of peace today? Intrusive influences that no one can block have become part of everyday reality.
I think that every context has its own compelling reality that must be addressed. You and I know that many influences come in that would definitely affect the understanding of both the learners and those teaching. Let me say that the global scenario connects so many themes. For example, our own Boko Haram connects to other Boko Harams bordering on the Sahel and all that. The world has never been through this kind of tension since the end of the Second World War. Excess energy incubated by the politics of the Cold War simply exploded. The emergence of democracy also opened up opportunity for people to ventilate, especially where military rule prevailed. We never lived through this kind of world before. The tension has been such that we can only manage the damage, best through good governance. Non State Actors are becoming as powerful as state actors. Good governance would get the population to appreciate governance, thereby dissuading them from accepting the narratives of violent Non State Actors. That’s one way forward.
Ok, you have already started answering my next question which is what is to be done?
That would be a multi pronged kind of thing. One, intensify the training programmes within the context of those universities that already have them. Two, interrogate the curriculum. Three, put in place other structures that would deal with the out of school group in terms of building capacities in conflict resolution, mediation and so on through what we at the institute are doing, for instance, with our National Peace Academy. L would add the building of partnership with the civil society such that peace building can reach the places that state organisations cannot reach or are yet to reach. There is need for support from government so that peacebuilding is funded because the budget framework has not recognised peacebuilding yet. Rather, it has recognised what I call emergency response. That is, oh, there has been violence, let’s set up emergency responses, IDP camps, etc. That is not sustainable way of social engineering. What that means is that we are waiting for wounds to happen and then apply medication but when those wounds heal, if they do heal, there would still be scars. Largely, we believe that peace building is post conflict. No. It is something that should happen in the normal course of governance.
Dr Tunde Akanni
Conflicts are multiplying in Nigeria just as programmes for academic mastery of conflicts are. Isn’t there something wrong with this?
It is obvious conflicts are multiplying and to which there are reactions from every quarter. The University of Ibadan started its own programme, ending up providing leadership not only in Nigeria but also across Africa. With the Ibadan influence spreading outside Nigeria, it was worth emulating and it could be argued that many institutes and centres for Peace Studies then came up. But even Ibadan started from the scratch because even Professor Albert who appears to be the foremost scholar in this respect has a PhD in History, not in Conflict. It was later he developed that aspect.
Having been established, the fingerprints of these programmes should show in conflict management. Rise in number of conflicts would tend to contradict their collective impacts.
Let’s not see it as contradiction. Scholars are working. They are coming up with workable findings. In this part of the world, it takes time for research to connect with action. You also know that not much resources is accorded research work in this part of the world. When researchers are ready, the cash is not there. I do not know how many PhD students in Ibadan are on scholarship. Or which work most of the scholars in Ibadan has done that were supported with funding. When the scholar is to look for resources, progress could be slow.
But funding research in the universities has always been a problem ever before the new platforms for conflict studies were born.
What can teachers do without resources? Resources is the issue. There is a limit to the extent to which teachers can pass knowledge if the resources are not available
What would you specifically suggest?
MTN must have lost a lot of money in the north east due to Boko Haram insurgency. Now that peace is returning, what are their commitments to research on conflicts in that region? Beyond the north east, I do not know of any banks that give money even as they know that peace is vital to their being in business. Even the oil companies whose operations are often threatened, how much of their resources is going to conflict research? Right now, I don’t know about an endowed chair in Conflict Studies at Ibadan. That is serious. If that is the case, then you can imagine what paucity of funding is doing in some of the newer schools that may not have the visibility to attract funding from outside.
What you are saying is that paucity of funding must have substantially aborted the promise of the rise in number of these programmes
Of course, there are a number of other factors you could bring in on why we should be having more conflicts when we have these centres. But, what is the most decisive factor as to whether you can embark on research at all or not. That is what I am addressing my mind to. We have the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution dedicated to conflict analysis and resolution. I don’t know what attention they have been able to give to that. I don’t come across their publications which should suggest problem of resources. If the paucity is that much even at that level, you can imagine what is happening elsewhere. State institutions are not doing well, not to talk of non state actors or institutions.