By Adagbo ONOJA
The first part of this Special Report titled “Nigeria: Why the More Conflict Management Training, the More Conflicts? Part 1” featured Professor Oshita Oshita, the Director General of the Abuja based Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution, (IPCR) and Dr Tunde Akanni, university teacher in Media and Conflict. This part is featuring Dr Ochinya Ojiji and Dr Tukur Baba. All four academics are responding to a same problematic. And that is this: 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? Or 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 unpack this 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.
Dr. Ochinya Ojiji, an Associate Professor of Social Psychology and Visiting Professor at the Police Academy, Kano, Nigeria is a product of the Department of Psychology of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and 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. Dr Tukur Baba, the immediate past Director of the Centre for Peace Studies at Usman Dan Fodio University, Sokoto obtained a PhD in Sociology from the University of Missouri Columbia in the United States of America, moving there from 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.
Dr Tunde Akanni who was featured yesterday 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 was truncated by the call for his flight before the interview wound up. But he successfully showed that funding research is not part of the national consciousness in Nigeria yet, a major problem. Professor Oshita O, Oshita, 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.
It might still be possible to hear a voice from Ibadan so as not only to reflect Ibadan’s pioneering status in this wise but also reflect the concentration of academic activities around Peace and Conflict Studies in the country there, 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). If and when that happens, it will be served here hot.
What I am saying is that there has been a steady rise in the frequency of violent conflicts over all sorts of claims across Nigeria but this is also coinciding with the rise of more training programmes, departments and centres for the academic study of peace. This looks contradictory.
Your observation is not out of place but my first response would be that well, the research component doesn’t automatically work hand in hand with the field. Basic research sometimes moves ahead of the problem or even applied research. That is one way of explaining the anomaly. The second is that, perhaps the researches are not even addressing the issues, the conflict situations, something like saying the findings are not deep enough. Establishing the departments and centres could also be one way of attracting funding just as it was in pro-democracy activism when we were under military rule or when Niger Delta insurgency arose and there was a rise in the number of security consultants. Now, in the case of the pro-democracy NGOs, some of them have moved to human rights activism.
So, I am offering three arguments or explanations. One is that research is probably moving faster than the applied aspects of what is being researched, which is conflicts. Two is that it is possible that not enough detailed research findings are coming out and third, the new platforms for study of conflicts might have been set up as part of a fad.
Why might the research findings not be responding to the conflicts they study?
Conflict management has the advantage and disadvantage of attracting actors from diverse backgrounds, sometimes as far as Biological Sciences. When such persons come to conflict studies, they are bound to lack the theoretical vigour. Research and research findings must be rooted in a theoretical foundation. Someone from Biological Sciences, for instance, may have the data but he or she may produce only a descriptive report rather than an interpretation of such data as to give us an idea of the cultural, economic and such other factors at work.
Original data is also a contribution, right?
Yes, data is a contribution but if the research result must address conflicts on the ground, then we need more than data or who the actors are.
Can this be corrected by designing the curriculum to accommodate people coming in from outside the humanities complex?
It is one thing to design such a curriculum, it is another thing to have the issues involved well understood by those learning. So, I don’t think it is the curriculum but the way the curriculum is conveyed. The curriculum as I see them now looks basically okay.
What of the university environment? I am referring to the dog fights, the struggle for power, prolonged strike actions, closure and all such distractions to academia.
It is affecting negatively. Some of these centres and departments you are talking about have been set up, they are there but are they all on? In some cases, the director or the head is just running the administration, leaving the place academically lacking in direction. In others, the reality of politics in the universities is a threat. Questions such as whether the head of the centre is loyal to somebody somewhere could come in. We see this happening all around us.
Where does the global context of Peace and Conflict Studies come in for us here?
There is a problem generally with Peace and Conflict Studies in that everywhere around the world, the focus or the expectation is for it to solve problems. Everyone, including the UN expects scholars and peace practitioners to come up with answers to conflicts generally or to specific conflicts. What that does is impose a tight connection between theory and practice, an eagerness to apply theories to problems all over the place. This is even more serious in Nigeria now because of what we are facing. So, the global context is, in this case, a problematic context.
What is to be done?
The international development agencies and partners have a role to play. When I was at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Resolution, (IPCR), the UN, EU, DFID did a lot to encourage the institute with particular reference to training the trainers the EU facilitated. We had two persons from each of the University of Ibadan and the ASCON, (Administrative Staff College of Nigeria) Badagry. Now, what was left was for the Nigerian government to then empower these two Nigerian public institutions to spread the benefits of such training to other corners of Nigeria. I don’t think that was done. You also have to think of the Nigerian government. Is it committed to having experts to drive intervention in conflicts? So, you need to get the people with access to convince the government that having our own experts is important.
One of the tragedies as far as I can see is that, with Boko Haram, there has been a paradigm shift. As soon as insecurity was conceived as a policing problem, the government removed the civil institutions as everything was reduced to deployment of the military even in cases where we ought to have set up mediation. So, the growth of institutions charged with addressing conflicts came to nothing which is curious. Obasanjo, a military man, championed civil institutions in conflict management by activating the IPCR, for example. Jonathan, a civilian handed over conflict management to the military. You then wonder what is happening. Now, Buhari is here, he has visited the US Institute of Peace which means he is keen on civil institutions partaking. He has also invited them here which also means he has respect for what they can do. It is positive to interact with the US Institute of Peace but the president has to do the same for his own institutes of peace. We haven’t got the capacity, the resources to do what US Institute of Peace does but the president shouldn’t rely on them to the exclusion of similar local institutions.
Dr Tukur Baba
The expectation is that the observable rise in number of centres for study of conflicts should lead to lesser number of violent conflicts. That doesn’t appear to be happening.
Yes, there has been a noticeable rise in number of universities and other tertiary institutions offering courses in peace and conflict analyses, mostly at the diploma, certificate and postgraduate levels. It is something to be explained in itself. I see the rise in the number of such centres as a reaction to what is happening. And what is happening is the increasing phenomena of social conflicts in several places due to several factors. So, there is a market, quote and unquote, for the centres to flourish. You are expecting that what follows should be that the impact of the centres should have manifested but this has not been the case, ironically. That can be comprehended at several levels.
One, I will contend that most of the centres go into conflict studies more to unravel causes and consequences with little comparative attention to conflict resolution. We spend much time on specific conflicts and very little is articulated to unravelling strategies for resolution, mitigation and managing peace or post-conflict maintenance within the wider scenario. The different centres tend to focus on conflicts in their immediate vicinities, not in the context of conflicts in other places as part of the national agenda. For example, the University of Port Harcourt establishes one but it concerns itself primarily with conflict problems relating to oil extraction and resource control issues. The Federal University, Wukari has one but its main focus has been on analyses of religious and inter-ethnic issues. At the University of Jos the concentration is on settler/indigene conflicts or herdsmen/farmers conflicts. Scholars at the University of Maiduguri were before the Boko Haram imbroglio most interested in the problems of the porous contiguous border studies. They were more concerned with investigations of conflicts emanating from infiltrations or the illegal flow of arms from outside. In my opinion, commendable as they have been, such scholarly efforts have in the main tended to seek to understand rather than find solutions.
For quite a number of others, the incentive has been the diploma disease, again, quote and unquote. The diploma disease is the tendency to offer courses for practically any issue against which perspective students are willing to pay. So, it becomes a revenue generation drive of a type in the same way that has been the case for business administration and diplomacy. These are areas everyone seems to want to acquire qualifications so as to enhance individual marketability in the job emporium. Peace and Conflict Studies has not been immune from this tendency.
By saying the centres focus on conflicts immediate to them, you seem to be implying the same problem that Robert Cox talks about in his idea of problem solving theorists which implicates the scholars because, as he says, theory is always for someone and for some purpose
I am not saying they are partisan but intellectuals are part of the vanguard of articulation of grievances, real or perceived. They come in relation to agitation in which they have been a part by spreading narratives from which they cannot be extricated. A lot of the studies I have seen tend to be biased. Intellectuals have been in the middle of much of the conflicts, in the forefront of articulating causes and effects, interpreting them. Some of our elite are implicated. Everyday narratives have had a role in making and shaping conflicts. From Rwanda to Uganda to former Yugoslavia and other places, conflicts have clearly began with narratives articulated and popularised by intellectuals on the streets and pedestrian avenues, even more than the media. You can also say that, in the ‘Third World’, such centres have also become another way of making money from international NGOs and development agencies. They have consciences to appease and willing to throw their money into same. It is psychedelic in banal and unfortunate ways.
If this is not peculiar to Nigerian academics from your example of Rwanda and so on, then there must still be a larger reason for looking at why we are having more conflicts even with more institutions for better analysis of conflicts. Are you thinking of the global context?
You can talk about the kind of conflicts that are rising as bearing the mark of globalisation. That’s fine but globalisation is not an explanation for structuring centres of conflict solution to focus on search for what the peddlers would call correct solutions. Islamisation or Christianization of knowledge are examples of such and you would find examples of such across the country without exception, some direct, others subtle. Intellectuals are part of the conflicts as much as the combatants. There is, of course, a global context to it. In the past 25 years or so, following the digital revolution, globalisation is gradually uniting the world. We are coming to new cultural universals in rap music, sports, foods, movies, instantaneous information flows, such that people in ghetto areas of the world are able to watch to the minutest details of how Manchester United scored or failed to score a goal, watch the latest dance moves by Beyonce and so on. The loss of individuality engendered by globalisation has been throwing up identity and contestations over access to and control of all kinds of material and non-material resources, for example over mineral resources, forest, water, oil, market facilities, etc., all of which have become sites of violent contestations. This cannot be denied.
What then do we do to make the connection between our study of conflicts and the resolution of conflicts in the country thicker?
The departments and centres can and should talk to each other more. They can form a coalition of centres of Peace and Conflict Studies. There, they can look at course content and collaborate. For now, peace and conflict resolution is offered as a component of general studies for undergraduate students. But the National Universities Commission (NUC) has come up with a proposed Basic Minimum Academic Standard for a Bachelor’s degree programme in Peace and Conflict Resolution and has requested inputs from universities. I don’t know the current status of the proposal but I think it could be a beginning, a good start in standardisation and quality control assurance. I would like to see the inclusion of a practicum component in the programme which should require students to undergo a specified industrial attachment to some conflict resolution or management organisation in the course of their studies. This is so that they acquire practical appreciation and understanding, be able to analyse and provide idea of solutions. The final-year project should incorporate real analysis of conflict situations a vast variety of which exists. We don’t always have to be studying how Muslims and Christians, or so-called indigenes and settlers lock horns here and there. You could also study how traders in Sokoto market settle misunderstanding, disputes and conflicts relating to spaces in the market among themselves. Students could study, understand and explain the coping strategies of Christian students in a predominantly Muslim environment and vice versa. Does peace reign because anyone has been suppressed or because everyone goes by rules and regulations? Students should be able to pose and attempt to answer such questions. Overall, my sense is there has been a lot of proliferation but not enough partnership, there has not been standardisation of course content and not enough of practical attachment, much about conflict analyses but little about sustainable resolution. This is the direction I think we should move.