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Multistakeholder initiatives as tool for conflict management (1)

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NIGERIA has been wracked by periodic episodes of violence for decades. The country’s 150 million people are divided about equally between Christians and Muslims and further splintered into about 250 ethnic groups. Most Nigerians argue that the real reason for the violence isn’t ethnic or religious differences but the scramble for land, scarce resources and political clout. Poverty, joblessness and corrupt politics drive extremists from both sides to commit horrendous atrocities. Although the nation rakes in billions of dollars in oil revenue yearly, the majority of Nigerians scrape by on less than a dollar a day.

   Efficient and effective management of conflicts is fundamental to the development of any society but the prevailing situations in Nigeria constitute a reversal of this reality.  The amalgamation of diverse groups in 1914 has radically shifted from a platform for peaceful coexistence to an arena of violence and gradual disintegration. The spate of insecurity and threats to lives and properties in Nigeria has reached alarming proportions despite the country’s profile in peacekeeping across the globe. About 50 episodes of violent conflict, which culminated in the death of over 10, 000 persons and internal displacement of over 300, 000 people, were recorded in Nigeria between 1999 and 2003 (International Crisis Group 2009). The recent (November 28–29, 2008) violent conflict in Jos (a city in the north-central) resulted in the death of over 380 persons and destruction of properties worth millions of naira (Adinoyi 2009; Balogun 2009; Eya 2009; USAID2005). 

  The recent upsurge in violence and killings of innocent Nigerians in the North East and other locations around the North is a call for concern and throw a big question on Nigeria’s present and long term security stability and strategy.  

   The Nigerian government’s major official strategies for managing violent conflict include state creation and the use of the Nigerian security agencies, curfew, propaganda, judicial panel, compensations (NDDC, Amnesty offer in the Niger Delta) and punishment. Despite these strategies, violence remains unabated in most parts of the country thereby confirming Piiparinen’s (2007) report on persistence of the root causes of violence in the context of democratic rule with a disconnection between policies and practices. 

   The Nigerian security operatives have succeeded over the years in combating and restoring peace in most conflict situations across Nigeria, but these security agencies are structured as interventionist and not preventive which often times result to heavy loss of lives and properties  before security agencies could be deployed to restore peace and order.  And when you also reflect on the constitutional provisions which mandate the President as the Commander in Chief and Head of all security agencies meaning, for any intervention, the President has to approve and sanction the deployment of security agencies to restore peace and order. The time and approach this takes is another question to be answered and it throws some weight for consideration of state police. In view of the time it takes, the coercive power of the state has been unable to stop preventable violence in Nigeria. Scholars (Thomas and Pondy 1977) have shown that time lag would affect the effectiveness of conflict management activities. 

In its report, USAID (2005) argues that the Nigerian government’s capacities for managing conflicts are weak. And this appears valid because the government has not fully considered the utility of every available strategy for conflict management.  When conflicts erupt, the inability of the Nigerian mobile police to manage them usually prompts the Nigerian government to deploy the Nigerian military which sometimes leads to serious human rights violations and escalation of violence (Ibeanu 2006).  

  The emerging strategies in the management of Nigeria’s violent conflicts have a strong foundation in African traditional cultures. Contrary to general belief in western paradigms, every African community has capacities for promoting mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence (Lauer 2007).

   The Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights (the VPs) as a multistakeholder initiative, which is a Western originated initiative, support the African traditional approach to conflict management which makes provision for stakeholder engagement, dialogue, consensus building and assessment which helps to address conflict triggers and provide possible mitigation. The VPs was structured to help companies manage their security risk in area of operation while ensuring the activities of security operatives and in conformity with human rights laws. The platforms the VPs provide support mutual dialogue, information sharing and collaboration and if applied within the context of conflict management, it will go a long way in helping deal with conflicts and ensuring interest of stakeholders are well managed.  As most conflict in Nigeria is often linked to resource competition, there is a need to adopt the multistakeholder approach to deal with cases of conflict in Nigeria. 

  The emergence of multi-stakeholder partnerships as a tool for conflict and risk management has only recently become instruments for policy-making (UN Global Compact 2002). It came on board as a result of rising stakes of the private sector, government and civil society in ensuring issues of conflict and risks are properly addressed and human rights are protected especially at high risk and volatile places.  

Conflicts are multistakeholder phenomena which involves variety of actors, whether representing states or other entities. This implies that the state is no longer the main and only player involved in conflicts. This implies the active participation of a range of stakeholders in the process of conflict resolution. 

  Modern conflicts go beyond traditional military warfare and civilian populations may become deliberate targets of hostilities, thereby infringing on rights of people.  The use of force or assertiveness is no longer viable and has proven to be what we are used to in Nigeria’s contemporary conflict management. The assertiveness in conflict management only satisfies personal concerns while cooperativeness satisfies collective concerns (Thomas 1992). The two dimensions jointly result in five modes of conflict management: avoidance, accommodation, competition, compromise and collaboration. Both assertiveness and cooperativeness are respectively intermediate and low in compromise and collaboration which is a multistakeholder application usually yields concessions and desirable outcomes in conflict management. 

  Multistakeholder processes help in the identification and analysis of main actors and stakeholders involved in contemporary conflicts and to offer a preliminary classification of these actors based on the magnitude of their activities, the nature of their involvement, and their potential for conflict resolution and transformation. 

These developments entail a growing need for the representation of divergent interests in conflict resolution. Although new actors are usually classified according to their affiliation with nation-states (state or non-state actors), in order to examine their role in the resolution, management, and transformation of contemporary conflicts, classifying them according to the scale of their activities and authority compared to that of the nation-state, will help to know what role they could play in the entire process.

Regional and inter-governmental actors: Any local conflict has the potential to generate cross-border unrest as the Boko Haram insurgency has impacted on some neighbouring countries, raising the stake of global players who may represent the interests of the international community as a whole. These include regional, global and inter-governmental treaty organisations like the ECOWAS, AU and UN. These groups have a big role to play as Nigeria security situation still remains volatile. As the Islamic extremist group continues to attract international attention and condemnation, the time is right for the Nigerian government to seek the help of international collaboration to track, manage and counter the insurgency. 

  Nigeria should strengthen the West African Counter-Terrorism Group with neighbouring countries like Niger, Chad, Cameroun and possibly Mali to work together in developing strategies and to ensure the nationals of these countries are not being recruited by terrorist groups.   The conflict resolution mechanisms of cross-border communities should be strengthened and developmental interventions addressing poverty and improved public services should be a top priority.  

This will help to discourage the youth from joining the insurgency and make it less attractive. The involvement of these actors has a more direct and bigger influence (positive or negative) on a conflict and its dynamics. These players can afford to track sources of funding for the terrorist group, identify their training camps and also engage in conflict resolution at any stage and sometimes act as principal participants (negotiators, observers, arbiters, or mediators).

Non-state actors: These include private business, media civil society organisations, ethnic, and religious groups. There is an urgent need for Nigerian government to set up a Working Group made up of this actor to devise strategies to curb this crisis. This group’s activity should be backed by local and international NGOs with skills in conflict resolution, community development and related issues.  The community and religious leaders will work to set up dialogue projects or trust building intervention that will be able to unite all community members.  Our religious and traditional leaders have a big role to play in settling conflicts in Nigeria. They command great power and influence and this must be recognised and utilised by decision-makers and used to facilitate reconciliation and trust building between and within communities.

   The Nigerian media is a big player and stakeholder in the management of conflicts and social relations, due to its power to reach, influence, and manipulate large audiences. It is also a powerful means of politicising issues and of generating division between sides of a present or future conflict. The question remains what role the media has played in contributing to the present conflict in Nigeria?  The media as part of Non-State Actor’s Working Group should design and develop a media strategy to ensure their reports are not divisive and do not escalate current situation to the advantage of the insurgents.  The power of the media, however, can be used not only for generation or escalation of conflict, but also for its resolution (Howard, Rolt, van de Veen, and Verhoeven, 2003; Melone, Terzis, and Beleli, 2002). 

Para-military groups: The processes and the emergence of Civilian JTF participation in the insurgency in the North East should be properly managed. What needs to be done is to find ways to identify new military, political, economic, and social methods of influencing these groups and their role in conflict resolution. Most of the people involved in Nigerian conflict whether in the South-South or North East are young people and sometimes they are under 18 years which qualifies them as child soldiers. A special approach is required for their care and the protection of their rights before, during, and after conflicts. There is need to bring these groups during facilitation of dialogue in political processes and political dialogues.

Traditional and religious leaders: As contemporary conflicts are mainly intra-state conflicts fought around issues of identity, be they national, religious or ethnic, traditional leaders and religious leaders have an important role to play. In situations of chaos and turmoil, they represent the forces that have the potential to unite and consolidate people. Often the authority of these leaders is recognised across the conflict line. Their power and influence can effect either escalation or resolution of conflicts. Accordingly, this power and influence of traditional and religious leaders must be recognised and utilised by decision-makers and used to facilitate reconciliation and trust building between and within communities.

   Over the last 15 years, developed countries (in particular the U.S., Canada and Australia) have experienced an increase in the use of conflict management based on consensus-building to resolve disputes over the allocation of scarce ‘environmental’ resources (Conroy et al., 1998). The standard model comprises a process of consensual stakeholder negotiation, facilitated by an impartial third-party mediator.

  The multistakeholder partnership model which came on board in the early 2000 has also been used in countries such as Azerbaijan oil sector, Somaliland War Torn Societies Project, Irish congress of Trade Union Counter Programme and in Croatia Roots of Peace initiative. 

   In spite of the widespread of conflicts in Nigeria and their long history, the article has shown that the Nigerian government has failed to tackle this problem through articulated multistakeholder conflict management techniques. The country’s record in conflict management has been poor as the government continues to rely on coercive method. There is no quick fix to conflict, multistakeholder initiatives take time to develop and require constant nurturing. As a relatively new and an innovative means of bringing diverse interest together, it is no longer up to the states alone to start or stop violence. Multistakeholder partnership has become a veritable tool to addressing issues of conflict and providing sustainable settlement of conflict. 

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