3 November 2000

Nigeria: Tension, Crises &Conflicts in 4th Republic


Lagos — Lecture by Prof. Ralph Akinfeleye of the Department of Mass Communication, University of Lagos.

Today's lecture is a revised edition of the earlier 50-page edition, which was to be presented on Sept. 9, 2000 before this ceremony was combined and rescheduled.

I told my wife that since this lecture had been rescheduled that means that I have more than three weeks to add to the 50-page lecture. She advised that instead of adding, I should reduce the pages and adhere strictly to the K-I-S-S concept of public speaking and lecturing: Keep It Simple and Short (KISS).

Since I would like to carry my audience along in this special lecture, I shall try to Keep It - Simple, Short and Interesting. (KISSI). Tension, crises and conflicts are of one and the same family. One is the "son" the other is the "father", while the third is the "grandfather".

They post one common phenomenon that is, disagreement, disharmony, difficulty, anxiety, turmoil, pressure, worry, sometimes nervous anxiety and of course, danger.

They have similar causes and types but with multivarious consequences and solutions.

Types of tension, crises and conflicts

Disagreement, disharmony, difficulties and turmoil can be caused by one or a combination of the following:-

Ideological conflicts, religious conflicts, racial conflicts, political conflicts, sexual conflicts, economic conflicts, professional conflicts, ethnicity conflicts; communal conflicts; educational conflicts and family conflicts.

A. Ideological conflict

Human history and current trends in contemporary public relations research findings have identified the form of government - (i.e.) Democracy and communism as a major cause of ideological conflict. Current examples include the ideological conflict between the North and South Korea. The Korean Peninsula according to the international inter- religious federation for world peace, exhibits characteristics of a conflict between the advanced and less developed countries of the world as well as characteristics of the conflict between the Eastern and Western cultures. Thus, the unification of the Korean Peninsula is indispensable for the achievement of world peace and is an important signpost toward resolving the issue of a unified world culture.

B. Religious conflict

The most current example in this category is the religious conflict between Israel and Palestine. This conflict has brought woes to many families. Property and human lives have been wasted, churches, mosques, synagogue etc. have been burnt, and destroyed. The situation there particularly at the Gaza Region, threatens world peace.

As part of the religious conflict, researchers also cited those conflicts in Northern Ireland and the former Yugoslavia, which stemmed from an unresolved religious struggle among Protestants, Catholics, and orthodox churches.

Back home in Nigeria, the issue of Sharia may bring about serious religious conflicts if not properly and urgently handled. Thank God, the relationship among Nigerian Moslem and Christians at the moment is not so dangerous as to become a religious conflict.

It is therefore recognised that only religious harmony and unity that are the necessary conditions for socio-political peace and harmony among nations and communities.

C. Racial conflict

For more than five decades, the racial disharmony have been cited as another major cause of conflict. Examples include the black Americans, the native Americans vs. the white Americans, the black Caribbeans vs. the white Europeans, the Arabs vs. the Africans, the Aborigines and the white Australian etc, the Kosovo, East Timor etc.

D. Political conflict

In Nigeria, the most cited political conflict is the cancellation of the June 12, 1993 - presidential election by the Babangida administration. This brought about political conflicts that nearly destroyed the concept of one Nigeria.

Details of these political conflicts in Nigeria are too numerous to discuss in this lecture. But it remains a major watershed in Nigeria's political conflict.

E. Sexual conflicts

Another serious conflicts though not yet pronounced in most of the developing world are the conflicts between the homosexuals and heterosexuals, the gays and the Lesbians.

F. Economic conflicts

This is a recurring conflict between the developed countries and the heavily indebted less developed countries on the conflicts of debt forgiveness-debt rescheduling, and so on.

G. Professional conflicts

There are so many professional conflicts around. But one may wish to cite that of the ICAN and ANA in Nigeria as a typical professional conflict. There are so many whose details and analysis are beyond the scope of this lecture.

H. Ethnicity conflicts

Ethnicity conflicts do occur almost daily in our activities with one another. A pluralistic society such as a Nigeria where researchers have identified over 250 different cultural and linguistic diversities, the ethnicity conflict is well noted in employment, appointment and disappointment by government, agencies and individuals. Details of this particular conflict are just beyond this simple example.

I. Communal conflicts

In recent times, communal clashes have escalated to very serious communal conflicts in Nigeria. Examples are those of - Ife and Modakeke, the Bakassi - Nigeria and Cameroon, Mile 12 in Lagos, Ketu, Ajegunle, Maroko, Agulere and Umulere, Kaduna, Kano, Sagamu, Abule- Egba, Mushin, Ilorin, OPC, APC, BBC, Delta Youth and their activities in various parts of Nigeria.

Other important national crises and conflicts that should be mentioned in this lecture include:-

(a) The 1964/65 election crisis (operation "wet E" in the West)

(b) The May riot of 1989

(c) The Zangon Kataf crisis of 1992

(d) The Bakassi crisis - (on - and off since 1991)

(e) The ASSU strike - 1994/95 and of course

(f) The June 12, 1993 presidential election crisis and its aftermath.

Prince Tony Momoh, as quoted in Mike Egbon's social responsibility and the Nigerian press" assert that: "Nigeria as a country has been forget through many mills and what it is today is the fruit of the roles which various organs within the system have played individually and collectively over the years. The tendency for any organ to manifest itself as supreme within the system is reflected in the saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is a failure, on the part of such organs of the system to see themselves, in a division of labour setting, as links in a chain. Each link as strong as the other. Each link in dedicated service to the chain. Each link deriving strength from the strength of the chain engendered by all the links standing erect and honestly in service to the chain and therefore to each link in the chain."

Observance of this analogy certainly will tend to reduce societal tension, crises and conflicts. But on the other hand, avoidance or reckless disregard to this analogy will not only speed up national crises but will attempt to sustain national tension, crises and conflicts.

The last ten years in Nigeria have witnesses a multiplicity of tensions, crises, and conflicts. This decade of unparalleled difficulties in Nigeria has, to some extent, brought the feeling of nervous anxiety, worry, pressure, and very dangerous condition in the relationship between the people and the various governments, particularly between 1993 and 1998. The cancellation of the June 12 presidential election, won by the late Chief M.K.O. Abiola and which was considered by the international observers as well as the people, the freest and fairest election in Africa. This freest election was cancelled by the Babangida administration - without giving "we the peoples", any clear-cut reason for the cancellation of an election which cost Nigeria over N30 billion naira.

This single act by the Babangida administration brought in an unprecedented political unrest, ethnic crises and ideological conflict which eventually brought in the African celebrated dictator, Sani Abacha to power in 1993. Between 1993 and 1998, Nigeria experienced the worse years of multiple assassination, bombing of innocent people and property, explosion indiscriminate murder, day-light robberies, killings, arsons, unrest, unjust detention, harassments, armed robberies, armed conflicts and dialectic crises until the Lord intervened on June 8, 1998, when dictator Abacha died and the man died.

The chances of already enumerated tension, crises and conflicts occurring during the fourth republic in Nigeria are very high and most vulnerable. The recent activities of the ethnic organisations such as the Oodua Peoples Congress (OPC), Arewa Peoples Congress (APC), the Bakassi Boys Congress (BBC), the Delta Youth Movement (DYM) and many more shall remain focal points of national concern in crises, conflicts management and resolution during the fourth republic Nigeria.

It is no longer strange to watch on our television, listen on our radio or read in our newspaper and magazines the incessant political clashes and fracas in all the Houses of Assembly, representatives, and even the senate. Tables, chairs, documents and very soon pure water, tomatoes, eggs, oranges and even fertilizers may be thrown at each other in the legislative houses.

In recent times, political conflicts, disagreements and disrespect to "we the peoples", have caused untold delays in the passage of important bills - such as the national budget, anti-corruption bill etc.

It is also no longer news to note the very dangerous rate at which principal officers of the senate, House of Representatives, states House of Assembly, local government areas etc are being impeached and removed from office. Some times, the symbol of authority that is to say the mace is being broken and even smuggled out to unknown destination.

Allegation and counter allegation of wrongdoing are the order of the day in most of our assemblies - the house of representatives and even the senate.

More and more of these distrust, disharmony, turmoil and crises will feature prominently in the fourth republic Nigeria not only because of our young democracy - (Nascent Democracy as they say), but because there is poverty everywhere in Nigeria and the inequalities in the making and sharing of the national cake, also because the ghost of "militrocracy" is still appearing in most of our national activities. This must be changed, and to bring about this necessary change, the public relations practitioners must wake up to their professional callings and challenges. They must respond quickly to national issues, they must not see themselves as fire brigade managers but as fire prevention managers.

They must learn to give early warning signals to government so as to protect and promote National Unity and reduce crises, tension and conflicts during the fourth republic.

Conflicts management and challenges for public relations

In the last few pages of the lecture, I have listed and discussed the various types of causes and consequences of tension, crises and conflicts in our communities. I have also postulated that many more of these crises and conflicts will come and as a matter of fact, are already coming in the fourth Republic Nigeria.

The most serious and most dangerous one is the incessant conflict between the legislative house and the executive.

Nigeria will need a "Solomon's wisdom" to handle these conflicts if we are to remain one - Nigeria during the second half of the Fourth Republic. Now, let me discuss just what are the challenges for the Public relations practitioners:

The last 10 years have seen an acceleration of quality control mechanisms in public relations research, theory- building, and practice in Nigeria. Thanks to the national communication policy under Prince Tony Momoh as the Hon. Minister of Information, which led to the decree No. 16 of 1990, the enabling laws for public relations practice in Nigeria.

Strategies, tactics, models and concept have emerged which should encourage public relations practitioners to became effective media managers and not "brief case carriers", but to become more of effective PR officers, crises, tension and conflict managers - as well as expert communicators.

According to Grunning and Hunt, 1984, Cutlip, Center and Broom, 1985, Kruckaberg and Starck, 1988, optimal public relations is that PR whose models and concepts are most ethical and socially responsible to the society it serves.

Public relations practitioners such as Bell and Bell (1976), Gruning and Hunt, 1984, Cutlip and Center, 1985, examined organisations as system and concluded that an open system approach according to Seun E.L. McBride stresses the importance of interaction between the government and the governed, between the organisation and the public relations practitioners and even among the professionals themselves.

Argyris (1964) concluded that the basic concerns of all societies are the achievement of peace and harmony within that community. He added that maintenance of the internal systems within the society and the adaptation to the external environment will bring about lasting conflict management and resolution.

McBride, Sam, added that: we can also consider the role theory as another special and relevant area where a significant amount of research has been conducted recently to gain insight into public relations function in any society.

Katz and Kahn (1978) noted that each individual in any society has a particular position which is associated with a set of activities or expected behaviours to encourage peace making, peace building and peace keeping which researchers consider as imperatives of conflict management and resolution.

Broom and Smith (1978, 1979) in their study of public relations practitioners' role in conflict resolution and crises management, identified four (4) major roles which to my mind are crucial to our roles in tension, crises and conflict management during the Fourth Republic in Nigeria.

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