The Nature of ConflictsMulticulturalismNigeria is a plural society in terms of its multiethnic and multi-religious nature. The countryhas more than 400 ethnic groups (Suberu 1998:277)and two major religions (Islam and Christianity).It is unfortunate that the country’s culturaldiversity is politicized and exploited by the elitein such a way that retards the nation’s growthand progress.
The ImpactThe ethnic and religious conflicts in thecountry affect all aspects of Nigeria’s nationallife – most especially resource allocation andmanagement of public institutions.The problem has produced several bloodycrisis across the country in an addition to the1967-1970 “Nigerian civil war”.
Ethnicity The most threatening of the problems is unhealthy ethnicity. Osaghae defined the concept as “the employment or mobilization of ethnic identity and difference to gain advantage in situations of competition, conflict or cooperation” (Osaghae 1995:11).
Ethnicity conts… At national level, the ethnic conflicts in Nigeria are largely among the three dominant groups: the Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba and Igbo. At local level, the conflicts are among ethnic neighbours and these vary from one State to another. At each of the locations, groups compete for the available economic, material and political resources and institutions and these are often done in a manner that threatens national peace and stability.
The national crisis negatively affectshigher education in terms of howethnic groups compete for the locationand management of FederalUniversities, Polytechnics, Colleges ofEducation and Colleges of Agriculture.The university system is the mostcontested.
The aggressive competition between thediverse groups in Nigeria for the controlof the universities derives from theassumption that these institutions havesignificant roles to play in elite formationand recruitment in addition to the factthat the institutions generate localemployment and economic regeneration.
Within this framework, ethnic and sub-ethnic groups in the country aresensitive to the location of universities,appointment of their Vice Chancellors,staff recruitment as well as admissionof students. In most cases, the peopleof the States and communities wherethe Federal and State universities arelocated see the institutions as theirpersonal properties and would wantthem managed as such.
The most controversial is the appointmentof Vice Chancellors. Ethnic groups inNigeria come together to “fight” oneanother once a new Vice Chancellor is to beappointed.The Vice Chancellors are also underpressure when staff and students of theuniversities are to be recruited andadmitted respectively.
It is interesting to note that many of theseconflicts over vacant Vice Chancellorshippositions started to occur in the late 1990swhen the issue of ethnicity and religiousfundamentalism became a critical factor inNigerian politics. As groups fight amongthemselves over religious issues, landownership and the need to reform theNigerian state generally, they politicize thequestions of who should head theuniversities, how staff should be recruitedand how students should be admitted.
Most of the Vice Chancellors that were appointed beforethis period served outside their States of origin and didwell. The list include Professor Akinkugbe, a Yorubaman, who served as the Vice Chancellor of the AhmaduBello University, a Hausa-Fulani enclave; ProfessorAdamu Baikie, a Hausa-Fulani who served successfullyas the VC of the University of Benin and even got asecond term; Professor J. Ezeilo, an Igbo and Christianwho served as the Vice Chancellor of the BayeroUniversity in Kano, a centre of Islamic civilization;Professor Essien-Udom, an Ibibio was at the Universityof Maiduguri, the Kanuri heartland; Professor TekenaTamuno, an Ijaw, served as the VC of the University ofIbadan; Professor Onwuemechili, an Igbo, was at theUniversity of Ife as the VC, and Professor Ayandele, aYoruba, served as the VC of the University of Calabar.
The foregoing makes the need for fostering the cultureof dialogue and understanding a major national projectfor Nigeria.What is “dialogue” and how do we want it applied to theissue of Nigeria’s multiculturalism? Dialogue, as a socialscience concept, derives from two Greek words “dia” and“logos”. “Dia” means “through’ or “with each other” while“logos” means “the word”. To this end, the word dialogueis etymologically understood to mean a free flow ofinformation or meaning between people. In a multi-cultural society, it refers to an organic exchange ofinformation between and amongst peoples of diverseethnic or religious orientations in such a way that helpsto break down stereotypes and poor understanding ofhow others think or perceive the world around them(Weimann 2004:19).
The significance of dialogue in this respect islocated in the fact that poor communication is amajor cause of identity conflict around the world.Explaining how this type of conflict crystallizes,Weimann argued that:Our interpretation of the message we have received fromanother person, as well as the decoding of the message,depend on our knowledge of this person. But, if thereality in which the message was formulated or encodedis too different from the reality it is interpreted in, ordecoded, then the message received will not resemblethe message emitted (Weimann 2004:23).
Contributions of Universities: A Nigerian ExampleIt has been clearly established at variousmeetings of the Nigeria Inter-religious Council(NIREC) which I coordinate that the major cause ofreligious crisis in Nigeria is that many adherentsof the two major religions in the country – Islamand Christianity – do not have sufficientinformation on what each other’s religionpreaches. The Muslims are poorly educated aboutChristianity and the Christians are poorlyeducated about Islam. The reason is that there islimited opportunity for exchange of informationbetween the adherents of the two religions. NIRECwas established to deal with this problem.
Dialogue is a collaborative exercise; itrequires the readiness of the interacting socialactors. It is also voluntary; it cannot be forcedon anybody. It requires trust, sincerity, andthe willingness to accept diversity in humannature. It entails collective reflections,learning and communication among groupsand a tolerance of paradox (or opposingviews), the suspension of judgment andempathic listening. Its main goal is topromote societal cohesion by makingcomplex issues to be collectively explored(Isaacs 1993; McGinn 2004).
Dialogue in the context of higher education in Nigeria refers to two main situations:(i) the extent to which Nigerian universities are able to facilitate a healthy interaction among Nigerians most especially through capacity building(ii)(ii) the extent to which the university campus could be said to be a locus of intercultural exchange.
The promotion of a culture of dialogue,understanding and tolerance in Nigerianuniversities is compelled by a number of federalpolicies. The first is contained in Section 14, sub-secti0n 3 of the 1979 Constitution which providesas follows: The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few states or combination of a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or any of its agencies.
Section 277, sub-section 1 of the 1979Constitution defined “federal character ofNigeria” as “the distinctive desire of thepeople of Nigeria to promote national unity,foster national unity and give every Nigeriana sense of belonging to the nation asexpressed in Section 14(3) and 4 of thisConstitution”.
Since 1979, the federal character principle andothers deriving from it (e.g. Section 157, sub-section 5; Section 197, sub-section 2; Section199) have provided the basis for location ofuniversities, polytechnics, Colleges of Educationand even Federal Secondary Schools (HighSchools) in Nigeria as well as the appointment ofthe personnel to man these institutions. Thispolicy is aimed at promoting equity in theNigerian society and making all Nigerians to havea sense of belonging.The Federal Character Commissionpromotes, enforces and monitorscompliance with provisions of the FederalCharacter Clauses of the NigerianConstitution.
Additionally, the Revised National Policy on Education which came into effect in 1981 specified that the growth and development of the university system in the country should ensure :(a) “a more even geographical distribution (of universities) to provide a fairer spread of higher education facilities” in the country ;and that(b)(b) “admission of students and recruitment of staff into universities and other institutions of higher learning should be on a broad national basis”. This policy, in my consideration, is merely calling attention once again to the need to reflect “federal character”.
The prevailing regulation for the admission ofstudents into the federal universities in the countrywas set out in a circular (Ref. No. FME/S/518/Vol.1/99 of Sept. 2, 1983) in which all universities inthe countries are enjoined to: promote diversity intheir admission policies.Similarly, the Association of American Universities(AAU), consisting of 62 leading North Americanresearch universities, adopted a statement on April14, 1997 that expresses strong support forcontinued attention to diversity in universityadmissions. The US diversity scheme takes intoaccount a wide range of considerations – includingethnicity, race, and gender (AAU 1997). The AAUstatement, which is significant for putting theNigerian policy in global perspective, provided thefollowing as the rationale for the diversity policy:
We believe that our students benefitsignificantly from education that takesplace within a diverse setting. In thecourse of their university education, ourstudents encounter and learn fromothers who have backgrounds andcharacteristics very different from theirown. As we seek to prepare students forlife in the twenty-first century, theeducational value of such encounters willbecome very important, not less, than inthe past.
A very substantial portion ofour curriculum is enhanced bythe discourse made possible bythe heterogeneous backgroundsof our students. Equally, asignificant part of education inour institutions takes placeoutside the classroom, inextracurricular activities wherestudents learn how to worktogether, as well as to compete;how to exercise leadership, aswell as to build their consensus.
If our institutional capacity to bringtogether a genuinely diverse group ofstudents is removed – or severelyreduced – then the quality and textureof the education we provide will besignificantly reduced… In this respect,we speak not only as educators, butalso as concerned citizens. Aspresidents and chancellors ofuniversities that have historicallyproduced many of America’s leadersin business, government, theprofessions, and the arts, we areconscious of our obligation to educateexceptional people who will serve allof the nation’s different communities.
The US statement on diversity admissioncontained a statement that requires that weshed more light on the related policy inNigeria. The AAU statement noted:“We do not advocate admitting students whocannot meet the criteria for admission to ouruniversities. We do not endorse quota or “setasides” in admissions. But we do insist that wemust be able, as educators, to select thosestudents – from among many qualifiedapplicants – who will best enable ourinstitutions to fulfill their broad educationalpurposes”.
The Nigerian admission policy favours whatthe AAU refers to pejoratively as “quota” or“set asides”. However, the policy is not tocompromise meritocracy but rather provideopportunities for the best candidates fromall regions of the country to be providedaccess to university education. The firstregulation is that all students to be admittedmust have met the minimum standards ofthe affected universities.
The following admission criteria were provided inthe Nigerian circular mentioned above:(a) Merit – 40 percent(b) Catchment/Locality area – 30 percent(c) Educationally Less Developed States– 20 percent(d) others – 10 percent.In other words if 100 students are to be admitted,the first best 40 are admitted first, the next 30 bestare admitted from the locality and catchment areas,the next best 30 are admitted from the States of thefederation considered to be educationally lessdeveloped, and the university bases the rest 10admissions on any criteria considered best. In all,the 100 students admitted are among the bestqualified candidates. No admission is given to anyunqualified students.
Merit” is determined by each candidate’s scorein the competitive examination conducted bythe Joint Admissions Matriculation Board(JAMB) or the Advanced Level CertificateExamination conducted by the West AfricanExaminations Council, the University ofLondon and other related examination bodies.The higher the score of a candidate, thehigher the chances of his/her being admitted.“Catchment Area or Locality” is determined onthe basis of states contiguous to the states inwhich each federal university is located.
The “Educationally Less Developed States” arethe later starters in western education.Candidates from these States are given specialconcession in the admission policy to enablethem catch up with their counterparts fromthe more advanced states. Most of thesestates are from northern Nigeria.“Discretion” is used to admit students whocould not be admitted based on the threeearlier criteria but who in the opinion of theadministrators of the concerned universitydeserve to be given consideration usually onhumanitarian grounds.
While the diversity admission policyforces students to dialogue, thecommittee system and senatetraditions in the universities makestaff members to work together notonly in dealing with official mattersbut also in attending to social needsat individual and group levels.
• The Ibadan Peace and Conflict Studies Programme – – commenced in 2000 – - Awards MA and Ph.D in Peace and Conflict Studies.• The Ilorin Peace and Development Studies Programme – - commenced in 2008 – - Awards MA and PhD in Peace and Development Studies
With a view to making Nigerian universities alocation for the promotion of dialogue,understanding and tolerance, the FG stipulates thatall the universities in the country should teach“Peace and Conflict Studies” to all Years one andtwo students. All students must take and pass thecourse before graduation. The goal of this project(which started in 2004 and is enforced by theNational University Commission - NUC) is to makeall Nigerian university graduates to be grounded inthe knowledge of how to dialogue with othercultures and deal with conflict issues non-violently.
As part of its agenda to foster dialogue andunderstanding at the grassroots level, the Peace andConflict Studies Programme of the University of Ibadanchampioned the establishment of a professional bodyknown as the “Society for Peace Studies and Practice”(SPSP) consisting of conflict management scholars andpractitioners brought together from different parts ofNigeria. The main aim of the Society is to promotesynergic relationship between peace studies scholarsand conflict managers who have hitherto worked onissues relating to dialogue and cultural understandingat different levels. The Society holds an annualConference and General Assembly during which themembers discuss issues relating to the fostering ofdialogue and understanding in Nigeria and far beyond.The author of this paper is a Fellow of the Society.
SummaryThe point made in this presentation is that culturalpluralism poses a great challenge for the fostering ofthe culture of dialogue and understanding in Nigerianuniversities.This notwithstanding, some achievements are stillrecorded. The diversity of students admitted and staffrecruited into the universities force the diversegroups to dialogue with one another.The committee system and Senate traditions makedialogue expedient in the universities.The universities in the country also have PeaceStudies programmes under which the capacity ofNigerians to engage in dialogue is built.
RecommendationsTension will reduce in Nigerian universities and theinstitutions would be better placed to contribute tointer-cultural dialogue once the intensity of the elite-driven ethnic and religious conflicts in the country isreduced. To this end, Nigerian needs a more integrativepolitical system.Dialogue, understanding and tolerance is easierachieved where Vice Chancellors adhere strictly to therules in governing the universities. Where the system ismanipulative, both students and staff would expecttheir narrow interests to be served by the universityadministration.Universities need to invest more in academic andcultural activities that could help to make the diversegroups in the university system to work together.