This special issue of the African Journal of Conflict Resolution (AJCR) focuses on Nigeria, the continent’s most populous state with over 146 million inhabitants. The country is one of Africa’s biggest economies, but with the vast majority of its people living in poverty. Since the end of military rule in 1999, Nigeria has undergone a dazzling period of reform and reversal in its economic, political and social democratisation processes. Communal violence along religious lines, for example, have punctuated civilian rule. Nigeria’s wealth in oil – it is the sixth largest producer of crude oil – has fuelled conflict as a result of deep economic governance problems. Both presidential elections in 2003 and 2007 involved major electoral irregularities and election-related violence. Yet, although imperfectly, Nigeria continues to be ruled by civilians, and to move closer to strengthening the peaceful transition won through the adoption of its constitution in 1999. Indeed, the inauguration of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in May 2007 was Nigeria’s first civilian-to-civilian transfer of power.
Nigeria’s paradox mirrors the contradictions of Africa. Despite significant natural resources and economic and political reforms, many African countries continue to struggle with conflicts revolving around social and economic inequalities; environmental and natural resources; and access to political power. At the same time, however, the challenges and opportunities of Nigeria also reflect challenges and opportunities elsewhere in Africa. Nigeria’s diversity, clearly substantiated by the fact that it accommodates more than 250 distinguishable ethnic groups, is to a large extent a legacy of arrangements that were found ‘convenient’ in colonial empires. Nigeria’s inter-religious tensions can be seen as an outcome of the handing down of ancient traditions on the one hand and the spreading of Islamic and Christian influence on the other. However Nigeria does not only have its stories of inter-cultural conflict; it can also share remarkable accounts of cross-cultural understanding, tolerance and reconciliation.
This special issue of AJCR, therefore, while focusing on Nigeria, adds to the scholarship on important issues affecting peace on the continent as a whole. The papers do not only deal with Nigerian conflict-causing situations and ways of dealing with them, but also provide examples, findings and recommendations which can inform and inspire proactive or reactive approaches in other settings. They are about conflicts and potential conflicts caused by environmental degradation, economic injustice and political domination, and about religious and/or traditional methods of arbitration in resolving conflict. The main thrust and far-reaching value of the material presented in this issue may be the emphasis on receiving, interpreting and responding to signs of emerging or escalating problems – whether social, economical, environmental or political.
In the first article, Ibaba Ibaba of the Niger Delta University in Bayelsa State discusses the protracted conflict in the Niger Delta, where immense profits from oil production and sale are channelled to oil companies and politicians, but away from the frustrated indigenous population as they have to battle with a degrading environment and dire underdevelopment. Militancy, violence and hostage taking are increasing as a reaction by some actors in the region (who in many cases do not represent the interest of the fragile population). The Niger Delta crisis is further exacerbated by the fact that the State remains trapped in its characteristic orientation towards the interests of politicians and their ethnic groups, whilst neglecting the interests of the disadvantaged and estranged people of the oil-bearing states. The point is made that nothing less is needed than a transformation of the State. It has to turn from a politician-friendly to a people-friendly one where not some but all regions and populations in the country benefit from the wealth.
The second article, by Freedom Onuoha of the African Centre for Strategic Research and Studies, Abuja, is about a different kind of environmental threat. Lake Chad in the Sahara desert is shrinking at an alarming rate, and this is mainly due to the rapid growth of the human and livestock population around the lake and in the catchment areas. There are also climatic factors, such as decreased rainfall in the catchment areas, but sometimes the decreases are only part of fluctuations. It is the human factor that seems to be the most serious problem, caused by an apparently irreversible process. The growing need of the capital city and the development of more irrigation schemes along the feeding rivers cause less and less water to reach the lake. In this region, therefore, it is water that has become a very important natural resource, and its scarcity has become a conflict-generating factor.
In the third article, by Sulaiman Kura of Usmanu DanFodiyo University, Sokoto, the focus is on a serious political threat to peace and the social injustice it inevitably brings about. Democracy is invaded by autocracy! The leaders of a democratically (or apparently democratically) elected ruling party gradually or suddenly fall to the temptation of power. They misuse the power that was representatively entrusted to them, and they do it to benefit their own political party and their own ethnic group, and also, if not especially, to prolong their personal enjoyment of status and wealth. While they may still be paying lip service to ‘democracy’, they are using their authority in obviously unfair ways and glibly imposing injustice on leaders and constituencies of opposing parties. They are entrenching themselves as authoritarian leaders of dominant ruling parties and are making the political arena a private enterprise instead of an entity propelled by the interests of the many. The author shows how this has not only happened in Nigeria, but also in other African countries, and gives recommendations for understanding and addressing the phenomenon of authoritarian one-party democracies inflicting social injustice on their countries.
After the three articles on socio-economic and political conflict situations, the last one, by Oluwafemi Ladapo of the State Ministry of Justice, Ibadan, turns our attention to one of the ways of dealing with conflict. Arbitration is a well known alternative (i.e. non-judicial) dispute resolution method, and its basic process appears to be straightforward. Parties submit themselves to umpiring by an arbitrator and agree to accept the verdict. The detailed stipulations for conducting such an arbitration process can differ, however, from one ethnic group to another, and from one religion to another. This paper explores the question of satisfactorily integrating Islamic arbitration principles into the Nigerian legal system in which customary arbitration – or at least a particular version of customary arbitration – has already been recognised. Differences are compared and difficulties discussed, taking into account the intricate diversity of the Nigerian society. The customs of various population groups, even within the same state, differ. And people of a religious conviction who are committed to adhere to a divinely ordained prescription upheld by their faith find it difficult to follow or adhere to other customs and methods. The author concludes with clear recommendations that emerge from the detailed study presented in this article.
Finally, the book review by Garth le Pere of the Institute for Global Development recommends Adekeye Adebajo and Abdul Raufu Mustafa’s 2008 edited volume, Gulliver’s Troubles: Nigeria’s Foreign Policy after the Cold War, as insightful reading with regard to the domestic complexities, regional strategies and international interactions that have influenced or have been influenced by Nigeria’s foreign policy. The metaphor of an unstable giant effectively captures strengths and weaknesses, which are penetratingly and critically described and discussed in the book.
So, out of the material presented in this issue, important things can be learned about Nigeria and from Nigeria. As a very populous and diverse country, Nigeria can provide the rest of Africa and the rest of the world with learnings, warnings and suggestions that emerge from its microcosmic reality.