NBA, el-Rufai, And Other Conflict-Resolution Complexities
By Martins Oloja
Why has conflict resolution been a ticklish subject in Africa’s most populous black nation? Why has peace building been as difficult as forcing a stream to flow uphill in the world’s most populous black nation? I have been asking this question and no one has bothered to educate me. I need help. Why has an Institute built for that purpose by General Sani Abacha seized from him by his successors and merged with the same founded by the Defence College (formerly War College), now known as ‘Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution’ been under-achieving, in this connection?
These questions are arising at this moment because our political leaders, our professional associations’ leading lights, Labour leaders and even our elders have failed to show good examples of how to build peace amid conflicts everywhere we go. What is worse, even our men of God, our men of faith, haven’t been faithful enough to resolve conflicts arising from their interactions. More and more churches are springing up from churches as men of God are no longer waiting for the call of God: in a fit of anger, they disagree with their G.Os (general overseers) and register their own churches and we have more GOs than entrepreneurs in the country at the moment.
Most of these have become rampant just because peace building even in the household of faith has become a bridge too far. Why has the Word of God, which is full of prescriptions on ‘conflict resolution’ not useful to men of God in our country? Why are the leaders of our political parties helpless in applying the big stick to troublers of the parties who appear bigger than the political parties? Why can’t scholars in Nigeria’s academia too demonstrate that we can build peace too through knowledge? Why is there no peace too in the Ivory Towers? Why should conflict resolution become a big deal in our country that character crisis (of our leaders) has remarkably diminished?
An avoidable conflict that is trending now is the one generated by some professionals who are clamouring for what they call ‘New Nigerian Bar Association (N-NBA). As usual, even the elders in NBA and other influencers are leaving it to God. They are quiet. The professionals who want to divide the already embattled NBA are some lawyers who hail from the North. They have claimed that they would like to divide the NBA because Association the other day withdrew invitation for a platform from Malam Nasir el-Rufai, Governor of Kaduna State. Malam el-Rufai, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) hails from the North and his good friend and former Emir of Kano, HRH Sanusi Lamido Sanusi fired the first shot when he noted that the withdrawal of invitation from El-Rufai who was billed to talk at the just concluded NBA Conference was a sad day for “freedom of speech”. And pronto there was a press statement by lawyers Nuhu Ibrahim and Abdulbasit Suleiman stating their grievances and a breakaway from the NBA to form a new NBA, just like that.
Trouble began for conflict escalation here when the deposed Emir mixed up two different issues: He said NBA denied el-Rufai freedom of expression. NBA didn’t deny the governor free speech: he was only denied a platform previously offered to express himself. But how did Malam Nuhu Ibrahim and Malam Abdulbasit Suleiman come to the conclusion that the best thing to do, in the circumstances should be a breakaway from the NBA? Is there no room for expressing their grievances to the same NBA? Was that the first time the NBA had withdrawn invitation from a guest earlier invited? It was also withdrawn from Professor Maurice Iwu as INEC Chairman. This is not a time to debate the rightness or otherwise of the actions of the NBA and those who have been reacting to fuel the conflict.
I think we should get worried by our lack of capacity to manage and resolve conflicts arising from our nation-building efforts. The elders and indeed the power elite in our midst should be concerned by increasing tendencies to celebrate conflicts.
In the academia, to which we should take our challenges and conflicts for solution, the falcons there cannot hear the falconers. The conflict between the University of Lagos Governing Council and the Management of the university is now before a Visitation Panel set up by the President and Visitor to the University. What happened to the power that knowledge from the university should give?
In 2015, union leaders of academic and non-academic staff of the Lagos State University (LASU) could not resolve their conflict with the then Vice Chancellor Professor John Obafunwa who had to flee from the university campus. Even the Visitor to the University then, the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola could not resolve the conflict, in that regard before leaving office and the Vice Chancellor couldn’t step into the university campus for months until his term expired. It was unfortunate.
The current crisis in Edo is another example of failure of conflict resolution between a former governor and the successor he ruthlessly helped into office, barely four years ago. The president and leader of their ruling party intervened. The APC governors weighed in. Even in the heat of the corona-virus lockdown, some APC governors unlocked the airspace, came to Lagos to meet with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Oshiomhole’s godfather, yet no dice. No peace could be built and the consequence of that failure is what we have in Edo state today. The same recalcitrant elders have perfected their strategy – to blame INEC for conflict management failure in the crisis-prone state.
Even the president’s men are not exemplary, in this regard. They always harbour irreconcilable differences. Since 2015, they have not agreed among themselves whether they should support the president’s nominee for the office of Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). One of the president’s men, the then Director-General of the State Services Department, Malam Lawal Daura and others including the Attorney General of the Federation, didn’t believe in the president’s nominee Ibrahim Magu. So, between 2016 and 2017, the then secret service boss twice wrote to the Senate that the president’s nominee, Magu should not be confirmed as EFCC boss because he (Magu) had failed “integrity test”. Later, one of the president’s men, Professor Itse Sagay blamed the Senate for failing to confirm Magu who is in 2019 second quarters facing a judicial panel of inquiry for the same integrity test Daura noted since 2016. Why didn’t the president’s men reconcile their differences and advise the president on the need for a fresh nominee? What was worse, even the heady Magu could not hear the hunter’s whistle in early 2019 when a strange whistle blower hinted at some millions of dollars kept in a flat he was told belonged to the wife of the then National Intelligence Agency’s (NIA’s) DG, Ambassador Ayo Oke. It was said then that some top insiders had warned the EFCC’s interim boss not to go to that Ikoyi flat as it actually belonged to the NIA authorities as they used the place for their fund for “covert operations”. Magu could not reconcile himself with any counsel from the president’s men who had deprived him of senate confirmation. Till the present, no one briefed the nation about the state of the ownership of the controversial flat but the consequences and the casualties are there. Ayo Oke, from South West was removed as DG, NIA and replaced with an officer from the North West. One interim DG who tried to cry foul about some dubious transactions with ‘covert operations fund’ in NIA was removed “for his bad verses” and unauthorised whistle blowing. Why were these conflicts not resolved? Why has Nigeria’s presidency not been conflict sensitive? Whatever happened to peace-building mechanism in the highest office in the land! We will get to know what happened after 2023 when one of the insiders writes a best seller for us to know where the rains began to beat the Buhari administration on this score.
Let’s attempt some conceptual clarification on conflict management. Conflict in simple terms, means a state of disagreement, controversy or opposition. It could also mean the existence of a prolonged battle, struggle or clash between two or more parties. Some experts have described conflict as situations where two persons (or groups) wish to carry out acts, which are mutually incompatible. They often clarify further that conflict involves, “the pushing and pulling, giving and taking, process of finding the balance between powers”. In either case, conflict is generally characterized by a breach of peace or understanding among parties involved. Various dimensions to the causes of conflicts have been identified by experts that any factor that creates dissatisfaction can increase the chances of conflicts among people and this may include struggle for resources, egocentrism, ethnocentrism, bigotry, assertion, struggle for recognition, ignorance, pride and fear.
Even as we can’t be dealing with why peace building has been elusive here, we need to tell our elders that very often, consequences of conflict constitute serious threats to humanity and undermine particular human development objectives. Such threats may be in the form of diseases, hunger, poverty, high death toll and destruction of property, which are evident in the wars going on in some countries of the African sub-region. Let’s not be too academic about this. Let’s see conflict resolution as the process of attempting to find solution to or settle a dispute. But our elders who continue to think that they can make Nigeria great in conflict because they have money to look good in the media should note that at the root of why there are conflicts everywhere is their character. They need to know the difference between prominence and significance that Rick Warren has been teaching us. That you are prominent today because you are always in the media doesn’t mean that you are significant to God and humanity. Let’s note that we create too many rooms for injustice. We should allow our laws, our rules and regulations to govern our affairs, in our associations and our services – civil or political. We should swallow our pride and vanity for our institutions and indeed our nation to grow. We should now elevate our character to tower above learning, especially in our political recruitment processes. We can’t resolve conflict where ego trip is king. We can’t resolve conflicts where there is so much injustice. There should be sanctions for wrongdoing and all that stuff. Let’s sing together Peter Tosh classic on “equal rights and justice: ‘Everyone is crying out for peace, yes/None is crying out for justice…’ Let’s embrace justice for all and there will be room for conflict resolution.
For Malam el-Rufai:
Please, tell the lawyers, Ibrahim and Suleiman to drop their “Project New NBA 2020. It is not in your and our interest, after all. Tell them that you already have a degree in Law from the University of London and you would like to be in NBA, not N-NBA when you go to Law School. After all, there is no New law School: It is still Nigerian Law School. What the elders have put together to unite us, let no Nuhu and Abdulbasit put asunder: Say ‘No’ to New NBA!
Martins Oloja is a Columnist with the Guardian Newspapers