NIGERIA: New peace institute to help resolve conflicts

Nigerian officials and diplomats have become increasingly concerned that very few people involved in conflict resolution are trained to either prevent or settle disputes. The University of Ibadan recently signed a memorandum of understanding with two government agencies to establish an Institute of Peace that will train people in this crucial field.

Three major events in the recent past have galvanised the government to seek the creation of a peace institute: the crisis in Niger Delta, Nigeria's economic honey pot; the ethnic-religious conflict in Plateau State, the country's tin producing region; and Nigeria's involvement in the multi-ethnic conflict in Darfur, in south west Sudan.

The protracted nature of these conflicts became a source of deep concern to Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, Nigeria's late president. He demanded a comprehensive report and discovered that people ordered to find solutions to the conflicts had scant knowledge of the professional techniques and mechanisms needed to resolve them - including officials sent to Darfur.

Yar'Adua, in collaboration with local and international agencies, decided to set up the institute at Ibadan, one of Nigeria's premier tertiary institutions. The objective is to train officials in both the public and private sectors to find solutions to conflicts in Nigeria and in the sub-region.

For decades Nigeria has participated in peace-keeping missions in West Africa, other regions of Africa and the Middle East.

Actors in local and regional conflicts include university graduates armed with sophisticated knowledge and equipped with state-of art information and communication technologies.

"In dealing with these actors, those mandated to convince and persuade different protagonists must also be well equipped in conflict resolution. Therefore, the establishment of the institute in a university environment is a step in the right direction and a welcome initiative," said Esther Ibechukwu, director of an NGO involved in conflict resolution in the Niger Delta.

The Department of Technical Co-operation in the Nigerian presidency is one of the agencies responsible for establishing the institute. Its director general, Sule Yakubu, underlined the importance of looking into factors giving rise to insecurity and violent conflict in Nigeria. It was imperative, he said, to nip potential sources of conflict in the bud.

Yakubu hinted the institute would eventually open to other nations in West Africa and across the continent. Yakubu also disclosed there were ongoing discussions with officials of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States to expand the scope of the institute's planned syllabus to give it a pan-African character.

The Peace and Conflict Resolution Agency is the second government organ responsible for the creation of the institute. Its head, Joseph Golwa, said signing the memorandum of understanding with Ibadan would enhance collaboration among agencies and individuals involved in resolution of conflicts.

Various reasons have been advanced for establishing the institute in a university environment and specifically at Ibadan.

A university is a collection of experts in diverse academic disciplines. The institute can tap into a wealth of knowledge by recruiting these experts as lecturers and researchers. Many academics at the university have also served in local and international conflict resolution commissions and committees.

Ibadan, founded in 1948, also has the largest and richest archives covering the history of Nigeria's complex ethnic nationalities and diverse religions. The archives were one of the reasons why the university was selected.

As the 21st century progresses, dwindling water resources and grazing fields for cattle, desert encroachment and climate change could lead to drastic population migrations which could ignite conflicts between ethnic groups in Nigeria and other African countries.

"The creation of a specialised Institute of Peace is very useful as a tool to anticipate areas of conflicts and also to proactively put forward solutions to such conflicts", declared Joseph Ette, a teacher of anthropology at the University of Uyo in Southern Nigeria.

The establishment of this institute is a welcome development. It is a good omen for Nigerian academia and experts in the field of conflict resolution that the University of Ibadan is taking a leading role in this field. I would suggest that the institute offers online courses to empower the many interested individuals and agencies. I commend the university for setting the pace and the presidency for this great initiative. Yours in a better Nigeria.

Akintola Akinfenwa Idowu