Civil Society and Ethnic Conflict Management in Nigeria

By Vickers, Michael | African Studies Review, April 2006 | Go to article overview
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Civil Society and Ethnic Conflict Management in Nigeria


Vickers, Michael, African Studies Review


Thomas A. Imobighe, ed. Civil Society and Ethnic Conflict Management in Nigeria. Ibadan: Spectrum Books, 2003. African Strategic and Peace Research Group. Distributed by African Books Collective Ltd., Oxford, xii + 329 pp. Maps. Notes. Appendix. Index. $34.95. Paper.

Ethnicity is a popular topic for scholarly study these days, and nowhere is it of greater importance, indeed critical urgency, than in relation to modern Nigeria. This volume, edited by Thomas Imobighe, is important in three ways. First, it probes the possibilities for establishing a theoretical framework for the study of ethnic conflict management. second, it provides several specific instances of ethnic conflict from Nigeria's different regions and relates them to broader, highly complex issues of ethnicity. Third, and most significantly, it focuses attention on the role of "civil society"-the collactivity of those informal and voluntary community and special interest groups-in its precautionary, mediating, and remedial roles.

The reality of ethnicity, as it is manifest in Nigeria today, is that it constitutes a still-accelerating force that threatens to tear the country apart. But Imobighe and his contributors, while grappling with this thorny reality and the negative attributes with which it bristles, do not overlook the flip side of the ethnic coin. Ethnic pride, lineal and clan diversity-with all the richness and variety of culture these bring to any nation-entity-can prove valuable assets. All are explored, together with more problematic attributes, in the section "case Studies from Nigeria's Six Geo-Political Zones," which covers Kaduna, Nassarawa, Bauchi, Osun, Anambra, and Delta State. Had there been no extension of ethnic conflict triggered by modern events, these deeper seams of cultural wealth would not likely have been exposed. The trick, declares Imobighe, is to "find ways of harnessing the country's numerous ethnic fingers to construct a very strong national fist to maximise the country's full potential" (8).

Imobighe and his contributors contend that the institutions and structures of civil society, operating from the grassroots upward, can shape the most effective accommodations to hyperethnicity in Nigeria. A huge number of groups, agencies, and institutions are cited. (see particularly chapter 10, "Organising Civil Society for Ethnic Conflict Management in Nigeria," by Ibrahim James.) Some are in the government sector, a few in the private sector (which, given the nature of their involvement, are often closely linked with the government sector), but the bulk are in the community/voluntary/NGO sector. This last sector is seen as the vanguard required to press forward those measures that can produce much needed accommodations. Although the path to this future remains difficult, the political environment is at least more open since the restoration of civilian rule in 1999.

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