...You think solutions to the conflicts and crises ravaging Northern Nigeria could not be found from within our shores or sub region but in the United States?
...Sure. We are merely going (there) to interface with scholars and nationalities of countries with experience in rigmarole of pluralist existence... Like you frequently gallivant across the globe retrieving stolen artefacts...
The decision by Dr Bashir Kurfi, Executive Director of the Network for Justice, a human rights organisation, to sponsor me--along with six others--to a conference on Nigerian conflicts in the United States precipitated the above exchange between me and Yusuf Abdallah, a one-time journalist colleague at The Triumph stables, now Director General at the National Commission of Museums and Monuments (NCMM).
Yusuf Abdallah does not keep tally on the Network for Justice. Otherwise, he would have known that it was formed by the common belief that political instability, which has been the bane of Nigeria since independence, is directly related to the level of oppression and injustice in the society. A set of people and organisations committed to reversing this unfortunate trend constituted this Network; and since 1994, the group has assiduously been on the forefront of the vanguard for entrenching democracy, good governance and social justice.
To Dr Kurfi, therefore, participation at the conference on "Conflict Resolution and Reforms in Northern Nigeria", arranged by the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS) Kuru and the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University Arlington Virginia from 16-19 October 2012, is a call to duty. Moreso as the conference would also coincide with the launch of a monograph written by Professor John Paden, entitled Post Election Conflict Management in Nigeria: The Challenges of National Unity. Prof Paden is the famous author of books on Northern Nigeria and its late premier, the Sardauna of Sokoto Sir Ahmadu Bello.
The trip is an opportunity that will avail Network for Justice with ideas to shape conversations on how Nigeria can respond to its current crises and tensions in ways that would strengthen national unity and possibly meet the competing interests of its diverse citizenry, the sub region and the world at large.
This road report would not bother with the razzmatazz of the trip but concentrate instead on the intellectual leverages gleaned there-from. I am sworn to Chaltenham rules, a policy of non-attribution, the mention of specific individuals who said what is therefore avoided.
Wednesday 17/10/2012: By 5.30 pm, launch ceremonies of the monograph "Post Election Conflict Management in Nigeria: The Challenges of National Unity" by John Paden were well underway at the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (S-CAR) George Mason University (GMU) Arlington Virginia. Inside the Founders' hall, several distinguished American scholars with abiding interest on Nigerian affairs were seated. They include Professors John Paden himself, Andrea Bartoli, Peter Lewis, Darren Kew, Sarah Cobbs, Aaron Sayne, Ambassador John Campbell and host of others, including two Nigerian postgraduate students at the S-CAR Ahmad Abubakar and Ernest Ogbozor.
NIPSS delegation led by Professor Tijjani and his directing staff had the complement of Professors S A Riskuwa (Vice Chancellor- Uthman Danfodio University Sokoto), Tukur Baba, Auwalu Yadudu and former FCT Senator Isa Muhammad. Military top brass were also there, notably Lt General Abdurrahman Dambazau (rtd) and representatives from Nigerian Defence College consisting Major General Muhammad Inuwa Idris, Air Commodore Shitu Alao and College Provost Prof Istifanus Zabadi. Dr Hamid Bobboyi and Abdulmumini Bello, erstwhile Chairman of Media Trust, showed up for the conference the following day.
The late entrance of the Network for Justice delegation composed of Dr Sule Bello, Muhammad Abubakar Sokoto, A'ishatu Dankani, Chom Bagu, Yuwana Mivanyi, Sanusi Maikudi and Dalhatu Yola elicited welcoming applause and self introductions to be re-enacted all over.
Open discussions thereafter oscillate on possible lessons to be discerned from the thoughts and ideas expressed in the monograph and the 'pontifications' expected to be articulated during the conference. The richness and instructions of Paden's monograph elicited surprise announcements. It is going to henceforth be made a required reading for course participants at some Nigerian institutions. Announcements were also made to the effect that Uthman Danfodio University Sokoto (UDUS) will confer honorary doctorate degree on John Paden at its January 2013 convocation in commemoration of his scholarly works on Nigeria and fostering bridges between George Mason University, UDUS and NIPSS. Paden's previous Nigeria-related works include Religion and Political Culture in Kano; Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto: Values and Leadership in Nigeria; Muslim Civic Culture and Conflict Resolution: The Challenge of Democratic Federalism in Nigeria; and Faith and Politics in Nigeria: Nigeria as a Pivotal State in the Muslim World.
Lots of laments were made about Nigeria's wasted opportunities, strains and stresses of state and society as well as the wanton neglect of ample academic and operational researches capable of meaningfully transforming Nigeria. It was stressed as sublime that the following day's conference should devise strategies to make state and non-state institutions in Nigeria more useful.
An informal reception was held at the same venue affording participants opportunities to mingle informally. The combined delegation retired to their accommodations in Mason Inn at GMU Fairfax Campus.
Thursday 18/10/2012: After breakfast at Mason Inn, the delegation was driven in two buses to GMU campus Arlington for all day conference. Each member signed in and got name tag.
In the preliminary remarks, it was mentioned that Italy, even though 150 years old, still convolutes from 'reductionist territorialism' and could greatly learn from how Nigeria manages to rise above current conflicts and crises. It was also stated that the Nigerian state institutions should undertake honest assessments and respond tactically. Participants were urged to talk and listen to each other. Reporting events transpiring there however came under the hammer of 'Cheltenham rules', a policy of non attribution. The readiness of S-CAR to continue to be of service for this kind of intervention, "To be a private Camp David - where people could come and talk to each other" was reiterated.
First segment of the morning session witnessed three scholarly presentations on Narratives, Media and Conflict Resolution. It was noted that contemporary world regale in stories not only for providing meanings but constituting frameworks for understanding relationships. To imagine and think about the future, conflict stories need to be recognised as providing instructions about marginalised positions.
The first presentation entitled Conflict and Resetting Narratives defines narratives as market place ideas that could be self contradictory but are essentially democratic. Narratives contain hidden scripts, stereo type reasoning and powerful actors often have greater voices in narratives. Key sources of the narratives obtained on Nigerian conflicts were traditional media, social media, interviews and focus groups.
Nigerian narratives were classified into three sub themes. First is the frustration narrative that decries irresponsible governments, grinding poverty, corruption, ineptitude, impunity, lack of serious political opposition, sense of loss etc. The second strand of narratives are complaints about Northern marginalization arising from massive rigging, loss of presidency, being pushed from power, the disrespect of the informal principle of the ruling party, under development in the North, division among Northern elites and the lack of enough Northerners in powerful positions. The third narrative follows from the liberalization of the religious sphere and advances the view that political Islamic alternatives, i.e. Shari'a, could stop decadence. There are two distinctive trends of political Islamic alternatives: Islamic democrats that are liberal and committed to democracy, social welfare and the other segment, the anti-system Islam, who are largely ambivalent and possess violent Taliban vision. This strand also embraces Christian re-awakening in Northern Nigeria which propagates that Christianity is under siege, there are attempts to finish Dan Fodio Jihad till Holy Qur'an is dipped in the coastal areas of south and that Middle Belt minorities have been dominated in the North.
Media and CSOs are shouldered with the responsibility of resetting the narratives. The snag however is that media houses are themselves known to encourage confrontation because of hidden scripts while the social media network (e-mail and text messages) is notorious for being marketplace for all kind of ideas and rumours.
The paper Media and Management in Conflicts acknowledges media as the place where most of the narratives arise and proceeds to ask the following questions: what is the nature of the media; how does it operate; who accesses the media? Rather than in-depth reportage and rigorous analyses arising from investigations, media products innocently consumed by Nigeria's gullible public are mostly opinions and press statements. Nigerian media was also described as both a victim and peddler of 'rumours'. Public Relations Officers of public institutions and corporate organizations routinely 'bribe' their way through because of media potency as not only a "sources of news but a source of influence".
Print and electronic media are virtually inaccessible to most people because they broadcast dominant voices mostly. As a result, ordinary masses have responded by gravitating towards social networks and list serve discussion circles. Text messaging is on the rise mostly because whenever conflicts are going on, instead of live broadcast of the events, state owned media choose to play music. CSO's, are thus the only serious group capable of properly enlightening and bringing the people together.
Second part of the morning session focuses on economic and structural reforms. The paper Northern Nigeria: Strategies of Economic Reform and Recovery straightaway dissects the "political factors" contributing to Nigeria's multiple and convergent crises. These were identified as "the 2.3 million dollars salary national legislators pay themselves, rise of political violence and several facets of urban socio economic challenges.
Solutions to the economic decline of Northern Nigeria lie in its comparative advantages, particularly the wetlands in Hadejia-Jama'are-Kuduga-Yobe basin that are suitably arable. This could be done by rehabilitating water irrigational infrastructure, power generation, revamping agro-industrial linkages and resuscitation of the transportation system, particularly railways.
The presentation Rethinking Nigeria's Indigene-Settler Conflicts observes that the propensity of conflicts in societies with socio economic disparities makes perception as important as reality. Questions demanding for answers go like these: If peace is prevalent in some societies with low economic opportunities, would prosperity bring peace to Nigeria? Does inequality breed violence? Shouldn't other differences like those imposed by religion, ethnicity, age, bad governance and identity based reasoning be taken seriously? And, by the way, what is the response of the government?
Crises in Nigeria have long history. The modalities and profiles of the conflicts have also changed over the years. From the use of axes, swords and dane guns, violence is nowadays perpetrated with Kalashnikovs, bombs and mercenaries. In all probability, conflicts will abate only when perpetrators of violence are held to account. Prosecuting high level political offenders will be difficult, of course, but Nigeria has to find some way to do it. Compensations must also be paid. But conflicts could be used for broader policy planning. Goals and specific policies should be put in place and tested like institutional reforms and if necessary a Truth Commissions. CSOs could similarly mediate by broadening the concept of justice and getting people to live with their past and with each other.
The complexity of indigene-settler issues in Nigeria's constitution was also highlighted. For whenever they flare up, state governors are hamstrung from responding effectively. The structure of power distribution is largely to blame. "Policing power and therefore law enforcement is outside the jurisdiction of State Governors".
More questions were raised at plenary discussions. Many times, belligerent indigenes and settlers both see themselves as victims. The continuing belligerence of South-South militants is attributed to the absence of political programme. Consequently, this claim agitated soul searching inquiries: should economic reforms in conflict areas be preceded by political reform or vice versa? A participant provides ecological interpretations to the on-going conflicts in Northern Nigeria. To him, desertification in the northern most parts and gully erosion in the deep south prod the sudden mass movement of people and grazers into the central plains, and the population density is resultantly exacerbating tensions and crises between tribal groups and new settlers in such places .
Conclusions were therefore drawn that just like Boko Harm insurgency, the increasing population is itself a bomb. To rescue the situation, aggressive agrarian revolution must be pursued and implemented. But truth to tell, Nigerian state is hopeless. It cannot organize development. Only the market could attract investment. Nigerians have no alternative but to create conditions for investment by looking towards India and growing "agricultural clusters".
Afternoon Session: Four papers were delivered at this session; two focused on educational reforms and the other two dealt with security challenges in Northern Nigeria.
In the paper Educational Reforms in Northern Nigeria, statistical data to support claims of imbalance at various levels of education between the North and South were presented. Educational problems in the North were precipitated and compounded by inadequate funding, demographic pressure, management problems, lack of good educational planning, corruption, lack of political will etc.
The consequences of these abysmal despondency is low enrolment at all levels of education, general decay of educational infrastructure particularly primary schools, serious shortage of competent teaching staff and the lack of transparency in management of schools. The conclusion therefore was that inaction by state governments in the North has, no doubt, contributed to the backwardness of the people and to the present insecurity.
Recommendations lie in electing leaders with sufficient political will to invest in girl-child education, provision of free education at primary and secondary school levels and promulgation of laws to compel public office holders to send their wards to public schools. Other measures should be to uplift quality of teaching in the North through diligent implementation of educational reform policies.
I missed the main gist on Pastoralist Educational Reforms in Nigeria and on Educational Reforms, Qur'anic Schools and Quest for Values when I went out to pray. I returned midstream to hear concluding remarks that Tsangaya schools are essentially 'urban phenomena' and characterized by cramped and crowded conditions, begging, itinerancy, lack of social mobility and economic opportunities. If nothing urgent is done about these schools, the Boko Haram incidence traumatizing the nation now would be just "tangential". The real 'explosion' is coming.
Northern States are advised to emulate the manner missionary schools in South Western Nigeria integrated religious knowledge alongside western education. The Tsangaya educational system introduced by Governor Ibrahim Shekarau in Kano State was a step in the right direction but is not practically sustainable because no single state could run it. A regional plan is therefore necessary.
The session on Conflict and Security Reform dwelt on the fact that military are not trained in counter insurgency tactics that is why 'mistakes" and "accidents" are happening. Military has a culture, procedure, techniques and tactics that largely account for collateral damages in the fight against insurgency. The killing of Muhammad Yusuf was attributed to the failure of command and control (his killing, though, was alleged to be carried out by the police).
The next paper Security Reform and Conflict Resolution acknowledges the dilemma military confront in civilian law enforcement duties. It was emphatic that rules of engagement which specifies composition of team comprising media, police and magistrate during military search and raid parties is not being complied with.
What to do? Possible solutions lie with meeting the full standards of training and the reform of Armed Forces Act like was done to the Police Act of 1960. The military has been operating without due regard to contemporary challenges. For instance, immediate therapy should be administered for post traumatic disorder among officers and men that participate in peace keeping operations before dispatching them off to another dangerous assignment.
Nigeria has also become a transit country for drug trafficking; and therefore integrated border patrols should be initiated. The media also contributes to conflict. Security personnel read papers close to them and get influenced by the drivel published as news. The media therefore need to be re-orientated. Churches and mosques fan embers of conflict. Military personnel that attend churches outside the barracks become easily influenced by religious bigots.
Civilian and military structures must combine to remove the perception of military brutality. Military could change the picture by participating in community development, availing health services to the public, contributing towards education and getting involved with sanitation exercises. They should organize social interactions like football competitions with civil society and so forth.
Floor discussions were exhilarating. A participant recalled a meeting of Kano civil Society Forum which convened over public concerns with JTF's alleged atrocities namely: extra judicial killings, harassment of civilians and inconveniences occasioned to movements and businesses in cordoned areas. He insisted that JTF operations in Kano, Borno and Yobe states have to be monitored, avenue for complaints need to be inaugurated, reparations paid to victims; and convicts and culprit men and officers accordingly punished.
Subsequent farewell dinner at multi-purpose Founder's hall attracted lively discussions. Conflicts in Nigeria were attributed to random sources: competition for power and resources, regional rivalries and abuse of freedom of speech.
Buses returned delegates to Mason Inn at Fairfax around 10pm.
Paden's monograph also came under spotlight the following day at the School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in John Hopkins University. Platitudes were duly rendered. To wit, it is good news by not harping about wars or famine, the usual news from Africa. Dedicating monograph to the unity of Nigeria was saluted as a commendable sign of goodwill, friendship and solidarity. The conceptual and methodological weaknesses of the publication were however hammered. Internal migrations have rendered as puerile the fixation to label certain areas as immutable ethnic conclaves. For example, FCT Abuja could no longer be labelled as Gwari. The operational concept of ethnic groups needs to acknowledge changing facets of urban centres and resultant migrations and multiculturalism. Methodological criticism were also pointed at Paden's over reliance on open sources, i.e. newspapers and official reports, instead of interviews with critical actors and failure to contextualize his analyses and findings on Nigeria as well as the sub region in general.
No doubt, the various conference prescriptions are capable of making conflicts in Northern Nigeria amenable to mitigation and resolution. Due credits to identifying solution to present day troubled Nigeria should to be given to NIPSS, S-CAR and GMU as well as the Network for Justice.
Dalhatu is with the Department of Political Science, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.