Demystifying the cycle of armed conflicts in Nigeria. A holistic healing approach

Master's Thesis, 2015
138 Pages


Table of Contents



List of Figures and Tables


Chapter 1: Author’s Perspective
1.1 My Journey and Reflection in Retrospect
1.2 Embracing Plurality of Knowledge
1.3 Research Interest
1.4 Methodological Framework
1.5 State of the Art

Chapter 2: Defining and Conceptualizing
2.1 Perceptions and Connotations of Conflict
2.2 Violence: The Road to Conflict
2.3 Defining Armed Conflicts

Chapter 3: Contextualizing Armed Conflicts: The Case of Nigeria
3.1 Situation Analysis
3.1.1 Do Civil Wars create Cultures of Violent Conflicts?
3.1.2 Is the Niger Delta Conflict a Resource War?
3.1.3 Boko haram: Is Western Education the Problem?
3.2 The Dynamics of Weapons Availability
3.3 Conclusion

Chapter 4: The Militarization and Wishing Away Approach
4.1 The Trajectory of Armed Conflicts in Nigeria
4.2 Post Conflict Processes in Nigeria
4.3 Conclusion: Looking Back to Move Forward

Chapter 5: Research Methods
5.1 Literature Review as a Method
5.1.1 Prescriptive and Elicitive Model
5.1.2 Transition From Violence to Peace Cultures
5.1.3 Transrational Peace Philosophy
5.2 Discourse Analysis as a Method
5.3 Conclusion: A Hands-on Approach

Chapter 6: Peace and Conflict: Personal & Traditional Perspectives
6.1 My Personal Perception of Peace and Conflict
6.2 Sociolingual and Native Cultures
6.3 Traditional Dispute Settlement: Methods and Hierarchy
6.4.Gender Perspective and Dispute Settlement
6.5 Conclusion: Restitution and Reconciliation

Final Conclusions

List of References


To my family, friends, and all who have been there for me in my life journey


I praise God for the breath of life, and for the wisdom bestowed upon me to commence and conclude this master thesis. I also extend my sincere gratitude to everyone who supported and uplifted me during this thesis writing process. I would like to express special thanks to:

Wolfgang Dietrich, for nurturing and accompanying my peace studies journey. Thanks for supervising this thesis. You encouraged me to freely express my thoughts and embrace my roots in an academic discourse. In earnest, I am glad that I discovered the Transrational Peace Philosophy.

To my mum, Dame Miranda Alasia (JP), and my sisters Boma Ivy and Belema Vida. Thanks for your prayers and love. I appreciate the efforts you put into this thesis especially, through oral traditions, historic knowledge and for the vernacular translations. Additionally, your interpretations and analysis of peace and conflict drove this thesis in the right direction. To my brother Ibinabo Victor and his wife Sanchia, I will always be grateful for your love and generosity.

To Christopher Ryan my dear friend and benefactor, you made my academic aspirations achievable. Hearty thanks for your immeasurable support towards my studies and life endeavor. I will always be grateful for your love and kindness.

To my father—Sir Cornelius Alasia (JP), and my siblings—Kenoye, Matilda, Datonye, Abiye, Ibiso and Michael, thanks for the love, care and goodwill you showered on me from my childhood. Your exemplary lives made me who I am today. I salute you!!!

I also like to express my gratitude to Dr. Johannes Maerk, Dr. Walter Schwimmer and Prof. Irene Etzersdofer; thanks for laying the foundation for my academic journey, you nurtured my research skills, and taught me relevant theories and concepts.

To the Austrian Armed Forces, the Tyrolean Fire Fighters Academy, the Tyrolean Red Cross and all the trainers, facilitators, friends and colleagues of the Innsbruck Peace Program. Indeed I appreciate you for sharing your knowledge with me and for providing the space for me to explore my skills and competences.

Finally, to all those who I have not named; thanks for sharing your ideas, kindness and experiences with me.

List of Figures and Tables

Figure 1: Galtung’s triangle of violence and definitions

Figure 2: Ken Saro Wiwa, A Walk in the Prison Yard 1994

Figure 3: Map of Nigeria with regional borders

Figure 4: How armed conflicts are resolved in Nigeria

Figure 5: Lederach Pyramid

Figure 6: Leadership and dispute settlement hierarchy


Table 1: Analyzing parameters of armed conflicts in Nigeria

Table 2: A culture of peace, 8-Areas of Action


The news from Nigeria today is wonderful. Africa ’ s largest country has concluded a peaceful election process. Furthermore, the incumbent has already gracefully conceded and congratulated his successor - a first for Nigeria and a benchmark for

other African countries to follow. Today, we Africans are all proud of Nigeria and President Jonathan. Thank you Mr President. If you are seeking a legacy, you have definitely achieved it. (Mo Ibrahim, Mo Ibrahim Foundation, 1 April 2015).

31 March 2015—a day I will always remember; it was a day of mixed feelings. I was at home in Grossgmain, a mountain town in the Salzburg province of Austria. Initially, it was a lovely sunny day with cool breeze and bright sky. 2 days after the Nigerian presidential election, due to a system of manual collation and validation of ballots, the voting results were still trickling in. I followed the entire events; I was glued to my TV set watching the election proceedings on a paid channel; simultaneously, I had a live stream running, and monitored the electoral process on Facebook and Twitter. Even from a far away land, in these moments, I felt an intense connection with my homeland. Indeed distance is not a barrier for resonance.

Gradually, the cool breeze turned into a strong wind, the blue sky turned grey and the lovely sunny day became gloomy and cloudy. At the onset, I was filled with hope, vigour and enthusiasm, but as time went by, I was disquiet, devastated, and dismayed. Indeed, it was a day of mixed feelings. I was hoping that the incumbent president, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan (GEJ) would win the election mainly for three reasons. The first being out of love and goodwill for my country, I knew that GEJ would take the nation to greater heights because he would continue his political and socioeconomic transformation agenda. The second was out of preference; GEJ is a practicing democrat, with a peaceful personality and a non-violent leadership style. The third and least reason was out of sentiments, because GEJ and I hail from the Ijaw ethnic-nationality. Whereas, his contender an ex-military dictator was enigmatic, his agenda seemed vague to me. Personally, I could not resonate with him.

Sadly, my hopes were scattered, as results from the final states that decided the presidential race was announced; GEJ was not reelected. The voting figures clearly had irregularities; the results were obviously manipulated against his favor. Following this, democratic Nigerians were filled with rage preparing to flood the streets to demonstrate. The supporters of GEJ were mentally, physically and spiritually broken. At the same time, the supporters of the ex-military dictator were excited with the outcome of the election. Indeed it was a day of mixed feelings.

My disquiet and dismay turned into suspense and fear, especially as dominant international media networks had began to predict an uprising, anticipating that unsatisfied Nigerians would hit the streets for violent protest. In like manner, several US based institutes and organizations had already tagging the expected uprising, ‘black spring or sub-Saharan spring’. In my opinion, these predictions was not out of mere speculation, it was based on the history of how armed conflicts in Nigeria spring up from contentious political processes and post election violence. But the heavenly God, the earthly gods (including humans), the luminaries and all that decided the future had something positive in stock. The doomsday prediction was averted as GEJ congratulated his successor; he gave a conceding speech and beckoned for peaceful and nonviolent conduct across the nation. Resulting from his actions, my fear and suspense transformed into relief and solace.

My readers who are not familiar with postcolonial political trend in the African continent may not understand why this is such a big deal. But those who are aware of the history of political rulers in Africa clinging on to power would understand the magnitude of a concession speech. Like me, those who understand why and how violent conflicts erupt in many African countries would appreciate this call for peace and nonviolence and the virtue of non-egoist personality in politics.

Drawing from history, it is worth observing that if GEJ had acted differently by complaining about the electoral process or incited his supporters and sympathizers to reject the outcome of the electoral process; if excitements and disappointments were not cautioned; and if the president elect, his political party and their supporters had fears that the election result would be contested, Nigeria would probably be gearing towards her fourth intrastate-armed conflict. Because, upon independence, all armed violence in Nigeria emanates from egoistic politics and power contention. Arguably, the attitude exhibited by GEJ averted another violent conflict—this is not an overstatement. Reflecting on the events of 31 march, my worry was not directly related with the 2015 elections, the fear emanates from the history of politics and conflicts in Nigeria.

My thesis addresses the quandary of armed conflicts in Nigeria; this research interest is not out of curiosity or academic exploration, it emanates from personal experiences. I have always questioned the ‘Whats’, the ‘Whys’ and the ‘Hows’ of violent conflicts. This thesis serves as a platform for finding my own answers. Consequently, this study demystifies the cycle of armed conflicts in Nigeria; I approach this thesis, from the perspective of an experiencer, a peace researcher and a nation healer.


If we seek peace, we must respect plurality of value systems, for in so doing we extinguish conflict.

In the course of my life journey, I have experienced conflicts both on intrapersonal and interpersonal levels; conflict in the family, with friends, with colleagues and in public places with people I do not know. I will be in denial to think that life can be free of conflicts. Conflict in itself is not a negative phenomenon; what makes the difference is how we deal with it. In my opinion, conflict begins within individuals, if not well managed it escalates to their families, their peer groups, their communities and so on. Even the most complex cross-border, regional and international conflicts are rooted in the aforementioned dimensions.

1.1 My Journey and Reflection in Retrospect

I am a Nigerian by origin, birth and citizenship. My country is blessed and endowed with human, environmental and natural resources. Just like many nation states in Africa, my beloved country has its own fair share of quandary with respect to violent conflicts. Nigeria has approximately 250 ethnic nationalities, and ethno-political dissonance is said to be the major cause of armed conflict. But how true is this, when there are uncountable cross-tribal and cross-religious marriages? If the family, which is the first point of socialization can transcend ethnic and religious differences, why is this a challenge in the society at large?

My father’s tribe is Kalabari, and my mother’s is Abua. The language, cuisine, rituals and many cultural elements of Kalabari and Abua are dissimilar. Both tribes are in Rivers State, a province in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. In my family, there has never been a time when cultural differences resulted to violent confrontation. Based on this experience, I believe that, people can coexist irrespective of multiplicity of ethno-political nationalities. In as much as I would love to live in this ideal type 1 world, the reality is that there are numerous families and small societal units2 that propagate ethno-political and religious hatred.

In the early years of my life, my mother was a seamstress (the profession currently known as fashion designing). I call her Ibinyingibo, a Kalabari word used in describing the epitome of a mother’s love and selflessness. She has a passion for the art of clothing as well as for catering, reading and music. Designing and catering was a suitable profession because it provided time for her to manage the domestic layer of the family. My father—a kind and generous man who opens his doors to friends and relatives in need; he is also a lover of music, football and athletics. He worked for an oil company that had operations across several cities in Nigeria. In the early part of his career he served in Port Harcourt—our home city. But at a later stage, he was deployed to other cities (Calabar, Benin and Enugu). Despite my family’s sojourn across Nigeria, I have always had connections with my native roots.

In every city we lived in, the customs differed from the Kalabari and the Abua traditions. Nevertheless, we learned and participated in the sociocultural aspects of the societies we lived in. This created opportunities for me to experience and appreciate multiculturality. Personally, these intercultural encounters were fascinating and enriching. When I was 12 years, my family returned back to Port Harcourt; my parents started their own medium-scale businesses, and they were fully involved in grassroots leadership.

While my mother ventured into timber processing, my father went into the oil and gas sector. My father’s choice of business was not out of exploration or coincidence. He had worked in an oil company; moreover, we come from the oilproducing region in Nigeria. Besides providing for his nuclear and extended family, his intention was to use his personal experiences and knowledge to mitigate the shortcomings in the oil and gas sector, especially the areas affecting humanity and the environment. It was during my teenage years that I began to attentively comprehend the diligent work my parents did, not only in the family and professional sphere, but also in the area of community service and communal unity.

My parents are peace practitioners. To a large extent, my interest in peace and conflict studies developed from observing the work they did in their respective communities. To mention a few areas, through personal and group initiatives, my mother has revitalized the holistic wellbeing of women in Abua kingdom. My mother is a founding member of Adimang Amaayaani Otari (a women’s group that was established in 1995) . Adimang Amaayaani Otari means harmony of Otari daughters. Otari is village in the Abua kingdom, and this is where my mother hails from.

From inception, my mother has been a leader in the Adimang Amaayaani Otari, and she has used this platform to foster peace and unity among the womenfolk. Equally important, this association is used to revive Abua heritage and consciousness through aspects of culture such as music, dance, arts, attire and cuisine. In my childhood and teenage years, I was fascinated about the aesthetics of the Abua culture; but now my understanding goes beyond these aesthetical dimensions. Mainly because my mother utilizes her heritage to foster family, social and communal peace.

For the last two decade, the Abua kingdom has experienced series of intermittent hostilities, triggered by chieftaincy wrangling and political (electoral) grievances. In 2014, the King3 of Abua kingdom set up a committee to address these conflicts. Owing to how my mother positively influences the people around her, and her role in promoting peace in her communities, she was part of this peace and reconciliation committee appointed by the king to restore harmony in the kingdom. The approach adopted by this committee was based on traditional dispute settlement methods that kindles peace through forgiveness, reconciliation and restitution, a method that also implements justice without reprisal and revenge. This approach is very interesting for my peace and conflict work.

When my family was living in Enugu, I became aware of an interesting worldview through the Kalabari Kobiri Ogbo (KKO). This is translated as Kalabari togetherness association. This is an association of Kalabari peoples living in non- native territories. The interesting aspect of KKO is that, membership is not restricted to Kalabari people4. Anyone who desires to be a part of the association is welcomed. This is based on the ancient Kalabari traditions that welcomes strangers into its territories, give them land and bestows upon them participatory rights in the community.

This Kalabari worldview—which interprets identity and belonging beyond bloodlines, is a rare custom in Nigeria because in majority of the tribes, foreigners cannot have equal entitlement with the natives. The awareness of this worldview helped in framing my perception on identity, belonging and coexistence. In my opinion, this Kalabari worldview can be used to deconstruct ethnic and racial segregation globally. For a couple of years, my father was the chairman of the KKO in Enugu. As the leader, his role was to facilitate unity and friendships; and to coordinate social, financial and emotional support amongst members. Through this, I became conscious of a kind of peace that is not borne out of mediating conflicts, but a peace that springs up from togetherness, laughter, compassion, sharing and caring.

As we returned to Port Harcourt, my father continued his leadership role in public and community service. My father hails from Soku and Obuama, both are villages in the Kalabari kingdom. He was elected as the chairman of Soku Community Council, a position he held for four years. Soku is an oil and gas producing community in the Niger delta region of Nigeria. When my father served as the chairman of the community council, he was a liaison between the community and multinational companies. Furthermore, he was responsible for socioeconomic programs and developmental projects. Afterward, he was appointed as a local government administrator. These positions required a leader with peaceful and nonviolent qualities. By observing my father’s personal and work philosophy, I learned how leadership could be used to transform conflicts, foster interpersonal relations and build intergroup harmony.

Indeed my parents are a source of inspiration for me. My interest for grassroots governance, and preference of peace through local structure also stems from the work of my parents. From childhood to adulthood, they encouraged my multicultural experience; and raised me to respect human diversity. I used the term human diversity because my respect for cultures goes beyond the confines of intertribal family setting. From my childhood, I had experiences that enlightened me about the beauty of human heterogeneity and coexistence. Personally, I consider this a priceless virtue and I feel fortunate that I am able to transcend the constructs and mindset of ethnic difference.

I have had encounters that made me question why Nigerians place so much emphasis on ethno-nationalism. For instance, during personal and professional interaction home or abroad, I am often faced with the question ‘where are you from?’ Not because they are interested in getting to know me as a person. Rather, it is a way of deciding if I should be granted a favor, if I can be trusted or if I should be given an opportunity. I must admit that even though this attitude is provoking, they end up as nonviolent encounters5. For me, this type of confrontation leaves no scar and life goes on.

I come from a country where in bid to balance conflict of interest in politics, party systems and voting cultures is neither built on ideologies nor doctrines; it is based on bridging religious, ethnic and regional cleavages, and constructing regional representation. As an illustration, if the president is a Christian, the vice president must be a Muslim; if the president is from the north, the vice president has to be from the south.

In my opinion, this political praxis of religious and regional zoning is problematic, mainly because it is a colonial construct, not an inherently given political order. Furthermore, this North-South and Christian-Muslim dichotomy is an oversimplification of the nation. At every point in time, there are peoples who feel marginalized because there are numerous sub-ethnopolitical groups, and this regional and religious divide do not necessarily represent all interest. Consequently, conflict arises when they seek inclusion, equality and equity. In the past, the tensions arising from the feeling of marginalization gave rise to a secession movement called Biafra6. This later led to the Nigerian civil war that occurred from 1967 through 1970.

I was born in 1984 so I have no direct experience of the Nigerian civil war. However, Growing up (from the late 80’s through the late 90’s), I experienced conflicts—the kind that comes from living in a society where civil war and armed violence dominated media reportages and public sphere discourses. Everyday in Nigeria and across the African continent, new stories of armed violence and insecurity emerged. Loss of lives and destruction of properties seemed to be a norm as communities were routinely faced with the menace of armed conflicts. Conflicts that were suppressed or not properly addressed reemerged. For instance, every political unrest in Nigeria in one-way or the other is connected with the struggles of the civil war.

One haunting experience in my early adulthood was the infamous Niger-Delta crisis7. Human casualties were few kilometers away from me, in some cases, right at my doorstep. I remember how gruesome violence restricted daily activities. During this Niger-Delta conflict, due to the kindness of my parents, our home was a place of refuge for relatives and friends running away from the repercussions of the conflict. I could not help but sympathize, in some cases, empathize with their trauma. I questioned the existence of direct violence. My personal experience of this incidence was not catastrophic on physical and material levels. But mentally, it took a couple of years to overcome the aftermath of traumatic experience from gunshots and explosions. For instance, I was very sensitive to sudden loud bangs; the images from this conflict were stuck in my head; I had the fear that this crisis might happen again.

Intermittently, the Niger Delta crisis occurred from 2003 through 2009. This was a period when militant groups8 in the oil-producing region of Nigeria took violent approaches towards demanding economic self-determinism. They engaged in armed combat protesting against decades of environmental degradation from multinational corporations; they violently expressed their dismay towards the government for inadequate infrastructure.

The militant groups saw themselves as emancipation movements and freedom fighters engaged in a just cause. Conversely, The stance of the Nigerian government differed. According to the government, the militants were criminals committing treasonable felony. As a result, they deployed extreme counter combat measure to suppress the insurgency. Which included burning villages—killing women, children, and elderly in bid to pressurize the militants to stop the unrest. There were also casualties on the side of the Nigerian military and the militant fighters.

During this crisis, I was living with my family in Port Harcourt, which was one of the hotspot of the conflict. I come from this region; I resonated with the needs the militant were fighting for. At the same time, I understood why the government fought hard to restore territorial peace and security. Despite this juxtaposition, in those moments of extreme violence, I was strongly convinced that the approach deployed by the militants and the government caused more harm than good.

My cognizance on armed conflict indicates that their driving forces often linger for decades. I consider it obnoxious that conflicts have to escalate or reach a point of no return before it comes to limelight or considered as a matter of urgency. I cannot help but wonder why preventive diplomacy is not given its due priority. The on-going armed conflict in Nigeria induced by B oko Haram 9 perfectly illustrates my premise.

Since 2002, boko haram has been planning its operations, recruiting members, carrying out small-scale acts of terrorism based on extremist jihadist driven ideology. The then government of Nigeria did nothing to curtail this situation. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) did not consider boko haram a threat to peace and security. Suffice it to say, the growing threat posed by this group had no priority in regional and international security agendas. As a result, boko haram kept gathering momentum, which escalated into a severe armed conflict from 2009 onward. Several geopolitical players have continuously called for collective military action to help resolve the tensions in Nigeria. In February 2015, an alliance of regional military forces10 launched an offensive against boko haram. Since then the insurgency has been suppressed to its barest minimum.

In my opinion, prior to 2009, multilateral intervention was not a necessity since there was no ‘gross violations’ of human rights per say. Nonetheless, preventive measures would have restrained the current act of terror inflicted by boko haram. Act of terror here refers to—but not limited to—mass killing of peoples with different ethnopolitical and religious orientation; bombing of educational institutions; conscripting (forcefully and without consent) children and using them as solders; kidnapping of girls, women and children for labour, sexual exploitation and suicide bombings. The Nigerian Security Forces are also waging war and winning the battle against boko haram and its repugnant activities. Similar to the Niger delta crisis, there are casualties on the side of the military. At the moment, this is the major armed conflict in Nigeria.

In principle, until peace and security is threatened on a large scale, geopolitical players show less concerned about existing threats. Looking at how armed conflicts is been responded to the past decades, I argue that, the notion of a ‘world order’ and the principle of ‘responsibility to protect’ have created a shift from traditional conflict transformation, to dependency on international conflict resolution.

This might be a simplified way of describing it, but international conflict resolution is characterized by its standardized approach of having sets of definitions of what constitutes armed conflict and a blueprint for addressing situations. My critique of this approach is that, it is less pragmatic, and ignores the fact that every conflict has its own dynamic. The definitions of conflicts in the internationalized approach are vague; additionally, international response comes in when conflicts have reached a point of no return.

Whereas by traditional conflict transformation, I mean grassroots oriented approach that in most cases are indigenous to the people; methods with a comprehensive understanding of the root causes of conflicts; practices that embed feelings and emotions; methods that is built on responsibility to prevent, rather than responsibility to protect. Knowing that those who have suffered losses need to forge ahead, traditional conflict transformation focuses on reparative processes. I strongly believe that these aspects of conflict transformation are needed in Nigeria.

Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa, with Africa’s leading economy. It has the largest standing army in Africa, and has made remarkable contribution towards regional and international humanitarian intervention. For these and other geopolitical reasons, armed conflicts in Nigeria attract international attention, with daily coverage from mainstream international media such as Aljazeera, BBC and CNN. I believe the role of the media in informing and educating the populace cannot be overemphasized, especially, in conflict regions.

While it is important to have an independent media fulfilling its Fourth Estate11 role in times of conflict, my worry is that, there is so much focus on ammunitions and combat strategies. I have also observed that when international media networks report on armed conflicts in the so-called global south, there is less empathy for communities affected by hostilities. Furthermore, Less attention is given to understanding root causes of conflicts. I question if conflicts can properly be analyzed without an in-depth understanding of the people involved and its root causes. If this is possible, what interpretations and narratives emerge when we do this?

As a Nigerian, I emphatically state that our home-based media is not fulfilling its watchdog function. I find ethnocentric and partisan undertone in most reportage. My interactions with other Nigerians indicate that people are gradually losing trust and confidence in the media. This attitude is increasing dependency on international media networks. Consequently, renewing international media hegemony—a trend linked with our colonial history.

As a peace and conflict researcher, the role of the media is relevant for my work. I am concerned because in societies vulnerable to armed conflict, media coverage can incite more violence. Likewise, the perspective and tone on how events are presented in the media can escalate or deescalate conflicts. Equally important, the media plays a role in framing mindsets that encourage or discourage cultures of violence. I would like to point out that despite the growing trend of new and social media, conventional mass media still has a wider reach to the populace in Nigeria.

Like many African countries, Nigeria was colonized by Britain. Even though I was born 24 years after my country gained independence, in many ways, the aftermath of the British colonial era influenced my life. There are positive and negative sides of this epoch. On the one hand, colonization created cultural interaction and opportunities to learn complementary ways of doing things. On the other hand, the colonizers subdued the philosophies and epistemologies of the colonized. I previously mentioned that there has been a shift from traditional jurisprudence and traditional conflict transformation methods to international standardized conflict resolution approaches based on universal principles. In Nigeria, this phenomenon began during the colonial era.

In the case of Nigeria, the British—whilst acting in good faith, established systems12 based on their own Weltanschauung 13 . For instance, the core teachings of primary and secondary education were European history, philosophy, music and literature. I began my formal education in a system that did not see the relevance of my indigenous history, literature, music, art and epistemology. The domino effect of this learning experience is that, I was under the impression that European lifestyle and societal order was the ideal type. I started my life journey in a generation that reverenced European value systems above all others.

The reason for reflecting on this historical layer is that, an awareness of the political problems created by colonialism provides deeper insights for demystifying post independence struggles and conflicts in Nigeria. However, the intention of this study is not to be entrapped in this part of history because I believe that the Nigerian nation-state can transcend the afflictions of colonialism.

During my undergraduate studies, I began questioning the dominance of the so-called western narratives over their counterpart. I posed questions such as: Why can’t worldviews coexist on complementary levels? Are European and American approaches supreme over my indigenous know-how? Even though I hail from a country with ethnopolitical and religious dissonance, my parents and older siblings raised me to respect other worldviews; naturally, I yearned for mine to be acknowledged and respected.

I had challenges accepting ideas built on western conceptualizations, not because I did not respect or understand the viewpoint, my reservations were because they are often presented as the superior approach. In many ways, my essence, existence and persona were challenged, and I had difficulties in comprehending this inner conflict. I questioned this emotion until my academic sojourn led me to Innsbruck Peace Studies. Eureka 14 , I found the missing puzzle.

1.2 Embracing Plurality of Knowledge

For the first time in my academic odyssey, I was in a learning setting that gave space for all Weltanschauung. Alas, my Ogbe aghireni was welcomed. Ogbe aghireni is a lived philosophy in the Abua civilization through which being and becoming in the universe is understood; there is actually no English word that literarily translates Ogbe aghireni. This concept is used to understand how worldviews and values systems are constructed. In Abua traditions, Ogbe aghireni is the manifestation of experiences through interconnectivity with the creator, other beings, the nature and all that dwell in it. And those who partake in the manifestation jointly establish their own Arugwha — this means worldview and value systems.

In my opinion, the philosophical relevance of Ogbe aghireni in peace and conflict discourses is that, civilizations and cultures have their own interpretations of human interconnectivity with the creator, the nature, and all that dwell in it.

Consequently, it is improbable to have a worldview and value system for the entire human-race. It is for this reason that I join many others to challenge the universal norms through which peacekeeping, peacebuilding, and conflict resolution approaches are constructed, because these norms and approaches emerge from certain worldviews or value system, which do not necessarily correspond with the cultures in the regions were these universal approaches are deployed.

That is to say, there is a need for sensitivity in peace and conflict studies, and for me this sensitivity was reawakened in Innsbruck15. Sensitivity of worldviews and value systems are necessary because it provides the space for peace and conflict dialogue, for coexistence and for opportunities to understand and respect why peoples from other cultures think and act in certain ways.

At the Innsbruck school of peace studies my Ogbe aghireni was welcomed, I was invited to incorporate my background in academic discourses. I expounded concepts and theories based on their meanings and interpretations in my mother tongues, my cultures, my religion and my spirituality. Equally important, through interaction with others within my learning environment, my respect for other cultures and cosmovisions was strengthened. ‘ I found academic peace ’ . In the here and now, I am using this thesis as a medium to share the academic satisfaction, the understanding and the awareness I found in Innsbruck with my family, friends, colleagues, my country fellows and all that will have the opportunity to read my work.

In the Innsbruck School of Peace Studies, the first step in academic research and writing is a reflection of one’s background, experiences and encounters; this is called an author’s perspective. This research approach provides deeper insights on why 1—the author of this paper—reason and lean towards certain arguments. An author’s perspective establishes explicit relations between the writer and the research discourse. Furthermore, it emphasizes the standpoint and ideas of the author, and requires the writer to have an active voice throughout the paper. This approach—also known as Transrational Peace Research16 argues that it is impossible to separate an object of research from individuality. In other words, it is unrealistic to attain research objectivity (Dietrich, 2012: 6).

On the issue of research objectivity, which is widely debated in academia17, I wish to pose a challenging question to my readers and myself. Bearing in mind that I am a patriotic Nigerian who lived through the horrific Niger Delta crisis; I grew up in a society where the aftermath of a civil war was ever-present; currently, I empathize with those experiencing the hostility caused by boko haram. Can I have an objective standpoint in the discourse of armed conflict in Nigeria?

Even though I have spent the latter 23 percent of my life in Austria—a country that has been free of armed conflict since the end of the Second World War; however, I feel that consciously and subconsciously my past experiences exist in my here and now, including my current state of analysis. I wish to point out, my author’s perspective does not demean the value of this study; neither, does it make my investigation, analysis or findings bias. Rather, it gave credibility to my thesis, and brings in fresh insights because my research discourse incorporates personal experiences, self-understanding and self-awareness of armed conflict.

1.3 Research Interest

As stated in the UNESCO preamble, “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed”. This quote is the foundation for this work. My thesis demystifies the cycle of armed conflicts in Nigeria. I strongly believe that there is a need to positively transform the mindsets and ideologies that drive and fuel violent hostilities. At every point in time in Nigeria, there is unrest ranging from election violence, quest for self-determinism, or tensions arising from ideological dissonances. This thesis investigates what triggers these hostilities, and further explores nonviolent, grassroots and people oriented conflict transformation approaches.

The historical, cultural and ethno-political complexity of Nigeria made this research a big challenge. For this study to be concrete, I explored some root-cause dynamics connected to armed conflicts in Nigeria. Obviously, armed conflicts are confrontations with the presence and the use of mobile and stationary weapons. This is why some scholars and experts argue that without weapons, armed conflict will not exist. Thus, eliminating weapons is the ultimate solution for ending armed conflicts. This argument is the brain behind arms embargo treaties such as the ECOWAS Moratorium on Small and Light Weapons, and the Bamako Declaration18. Nigeria ratified both treaties, and has further demonstrated commitment in several multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation initiatives.

This nexus between weapons availability and armed conflict is also the driving force behind demobilization and disarmament programs in Nigeria. The fundamental question here is, despite these acclaimed political and diplomatic endeavors on national, regional and international levels, why do armed conflicts still exist? My thesis unravels this missing puzzle. Following this, the threefold research questions for this study are as follows:

1. What internal and external factors facilitate incessant armed conflicts in Nigeria?
2. Why has previous conflict resolution or conflict management mechanisms proved to be ineffective?
3. Taking the aforementioned questions into consideration, what approaches could be deployed to transform the situation?

In the beginning of this paper, I pointed out that it is virtually impossible for people to live without conflicts; thus, my concern is how to deal with it. This is why I am interested in the factors that facilitate extreme armed hostility, and the approaches that can be used to address these situations. I acknowledge the quandary of armed conflict in Nigeria, and believe there is a need to ameliorate the status quo. My thesis serves as an opportunity to find appropriate solutions for this challenging situation.

This study, which addressed a threefold research inquiry, is structured in a ‘past-present and problem-solution’ format. By this I mean, before looking at the present situation of armed conflict in Nigeria and proffering solutions, it is imperative to get insights on how past events influences present day armed conflicts. I also deem it necessary to understand the challenges, limitations, and failures of previous conflict resolution approaches as a step toward making future recommendations.

1.4 Methodological Framework

Before delving into the research discourse, it is pertinent to present the structure of this study. This thesis, which has six chapters, is divided into two parts. The first part comprised of the author’s perspective, chapter 2, and 3, while the second part consist of chapter 4, 5 and 6. The methodology of this work is as follows. In other to understand the meaning of armed conflicts within the confines of this study, I deemed it necessary to define, conceptualize and streamline the research domain. Furthermore, I explained other relevant keywords and terminologies, and also deconstructed some framers and connotations attached to conflict.

Since Nigeria is the case study for this thesis, I devoted time and space for situation analysis to explore parameters and variables of armed conflicts in the Nigerian context; this is relevant because the dynamics of armed conflicts has evolved over the course of history. Nigerian history is divided into the following eras—the pre historic, the historic, pre-colonial, the colonial and the post-colonial. In other to have a feasible study, I focused on the latter. It is important to note that the post-colonial period is also known as the post independence era.

Peace and conflict studies are interdisciplinary; however, the literatures and authors used in the thesis were mainly drawn from peace, security, development, conflict and humanistic studies. Arguably, the conscientious use of literatures validates the entire research, the findings and recommendations that emerged from this study. In my opinion, the use of scholarly resources and the literature review process helped to understand the trends associated with armed conflicts, and further identified the gaps and needs that require attention. I also engage in controversial and critical aspect of armed conflicts in Nigeria. Armed conflict is not a new discourse; however, I am more interested in the contemporary debates.

But with few exceptions, I focused on contemporary authors and thinkers. The core analysis and augments in this study were built on concepts formulated by Claude Ake, Paul Collier, Wolfgang Dietrich, Johan Galtung and John Paul Lederach. Additionally, majority of the articles and publication were drawn from scholars and researchers of Nigerian origin. This provided opportunity for me to tap into their author’s perspective and their research subjectivity.

The intent of this study is not to reproduce the works of my predecessors; this thesis aimed at making remarkable contributions to peace and conflict research. Consequently, I deployed research methods that gave room for new interpretations and knowledge creation. I wish to clarify that some of the concepts and publications used for this study were made in a broad context (not particularly dealing with my case study). However, I adapted these concepts, principles, and theories into my study, and further used them to investigate, understand and analyze various dimensions and dynamics of conflicts in Nigeria.

As required for every academic research, I dedicated sections of this thesis for literatures reviewing. This process opened up opportunities for me to engage with notable scholars and experts who have developed theories, studies and publications relevant for this research. The literature review aided me in exploring my topic from an inclusive and comparative perspective, thus giving this study more depth. At the same time, the literature review provided diverse viewpoints that balanced my research and thesis conclusions. I consider literature review a relevant method for my research because it opened opportunities for understanding critical and controversial discussions connected to my topic.

Two methods were utilized for answering the research questions of this study. First, literature review was used to search, analyze and evaluate a spectrum of conflict transformation approaches. Afterwards, discourse analysis was deployed to discuss, and construct a framework that can be used to heal the cycle of violent and armed conflict in Nigeria. To elucidate, literature review and discourse analysis opened the space for understanding the historical, sociocultural, religious, lingual and ethnopolitical linkage that enable armed conflicts in Nigeria. However, my discourse was conducted in the frame of already established approaches and practices in peace studies. The literature review focused on the UNESCO a culture of peace concept; the prescriptive and the elicitive model—a comparative tool established by John Paul Lederach; and the transrational peace philosophy—a brainchild of Wolfgang Dietrich.

I also integrated aspect of indigenous African philosophical practices, and conflict transformation approaches most of which are based on oral traditions. In particular, I explored the sociolingual and cultural interpretation of peace and conflict in my mother tongues and native cultures—which are Abua and Kalabari, and further engaged in a discourse of how conflicts are addressed in these cultures.

I wish to clarify, my intention is not to create competition or rivalry amongst the scholars, literatures and approaches used for this study; rather, they served as a basis for making interactive discussions and comparative analysis for the posed research questions of this study. Following this, the method for this thesis is what I call, ‘Comparative Discourse Analysis’.

In many instances in this study, I adopted an active voice to enable me explicitly express my opinion especially on critical, crucial and controversial issues. I decided to use footnote to make explanations where necessary because some concepts and terminologies may not be familiar to some of my readers. Additionally, there are words and phrases with multiplicity of meaning and usage; therefore, the use of footnotes reduces ambiguity.

1.5 State of the Art

According to an ancient Abuan proverb, ‘ erele di omin emi amen omuni oba lo yere ye ’ this means, ‘voyagers who embark on the same journey, have different accounts’. Coincidentally, in western academia, this concept of experience and expression is attributed to Wittgenstein. Although numerous studies on armed conflicts in Nigeria already exist, my thesis brings in new dimensions, new analysis and new interpretations. In the sense that, my personal experiences and encounters was integrated into an academic discourse.

Before commencing on my thesis, I though it wise to look at how armed conflicts have evolved in Nigeria. My cognizance on armed violence or conflicts is based on unwritten (oral tradition) and written perspectives. To begin with oral tradition, as a child, there were a good number of folklore and folktale about heroes who fought to liberate or defend their kins-people, clans and villages. This traditional confrontation had different dynamic in comparison with modern day wars in Nigeria. Pre-historic battles (as they are called) were fought with bare hands because the manhood19, dignity and integrity of warriors were proved by physical strength. According to oral tradition, the code of war (what is now known as rules of engagement) prohibited the use of weapons for battles. But at a later stage, conflicts became fierce and warriors began to use hunting guns, bows and arrows and other hand craft weapons.

With respect to documented accounts, many have written poetries, proses, dramas and journalistic works on armed conflicts in Nigeria; however, in the scholastic domains, the discourse of armed conflict is built on modern definitions and contemporary conceptualization of violence and conflicts. As a result, the tribal, religious and ideological wars that existed before the Nigerian civil war are not considered as armed conflicts. Therefore, academic studies on armed conflicts in Nigeria began upon the wake of the civil war in 1967, and these studies, which were categorized as postcolonial discourses, were done in several disciplines.

Some of the forerunners who researched and published works on conflicts in Nigeria include Claude Ake, Chinaedu Nebo, Chinua Achebe, Nkpa Nwokoacha, C.C Aguolu, Flora Nwakpa and John Pepper Clark. Numerous scholars, experts and researchers from humanities, social and political sciences have carried on the legacy. From 1967 through 2000, the Nigerian civil war was the focused of these studies, but for the past decade, the Niger delta oil war and the boko haram jihadi war have become the center of attention.

During an extensive research process, I found out that no study has made a integrative analysis on ‘ the prescriptive and the elicitive approach ’ , ‘ a culture of peace ’ and ‘ the transrational peace approach ’. Consequently, my study is primarily the first to formulate a conflict transformation framework by integrating the strengths and practicality of the aforementioned approaches. Suffice it to say, this study is novel. As a researcher in the field of peace, development security and conflict studies, this master thesis is a medium to utilize my knowledge and experiences towards addressing a relevant issue. Armed conflict is not a new research field; however, there is a need to contribute to knowledge creation and sharing, by exploring the areas that have been neglected.


There is no undisputed definition of armed conflict, but commonalities can be found in its tenets. The similarities lie in the fact that in all definitions of armed conflict, there are presence of weapons; likewise, expressions of violence. Whereas, the distinctions are seen in the categories of actors and in the (a)symmetric nature of warfare. This chapter of my thesis presents the legal, theoretical and conceptual understanding of armed conflict by institutions, scholars and experts.

2.1 Perceptions and Connotations of Conflict

Before defining armed conflict, it important to explore some interpretations of conflicts. In common language usage, armed violence and armed conflict are used interchangeably, but violence is rarely used as a synonym for conflict. There is no unanimous defining of conflict because its meaning and interpretation varies based on disciplines and specializations. For instance, in zoology and ecology, conflict is understood as “the condition in which motivations urge animals to perform more that one activity at a time” (Allaby, 2010, 2014). In the field of social works and social care, conflict is defined as “a struggle between opposing attitudes, beliefs, identity, interest or value” (Harries & White, 2013). Media and communication scholars identified four categories of conflict and define them accordingly:

a. Psychological conflict: Conscious or unconscious tensions within the mind of an individual.
b. Social conflict: Tensions between individuals or groups in a society.
c. International conflict: Tensions or overt struggle between nation states.
d. Dramatic conflict: Tension between characters or forces around which the plot of a narrative revolves. This includes psychological (internal) conflict and conflict between a character and society or the environment (Chandler & Munday, 2011).

While psychological and social conflict as presented by Chandler and Munday deals with intrapersonal and interpersonal conflicts respectively, international and dramatic conflicts address more complex situations. Unfortunately, conflicts with social and international dynamics attract more attention than psychological and dramatic conflicts.

I conducted a sample survey to deduce the average perception of conflict. My findings reveal that, whenever the word ‘conflict’ is mentioned, the initial thoughts that comes to the mind are: violent hostilities, armed conflict, rebel groups fighting with governments, the United Nations peacekeeping mission and the new wars on terrorism. In my opinion, the histories of the World Wars, the Cold War, the Yugoslavian wars; not forgetting the Arab spring, the never ending Israel-Palestine conflict, and the civil wars, genocides and ethnic cleansings in Africa and across the globe, have extensively shapes our perceptions on the subject of conflict. On the average, people hardly connect the word conflict with intrapersonal dissonance and interpersonal misunderstandings.

As one who has been following the discourse of extreme violence and armed conflict for a long time, I wish to observe that, the hegemony of American and European based experts, publicist, pundits and institutions in international relations, connotes conflict with civil wars and armed violence in the African continent, the Middle East, Latin Americas and Eastern Europe. For instance, the Council on Foreign Relations—an influential research and resource-oriented think tank based in the United States (US) proclaim that, terrorist and cyber attack are the only conflicts in the US20. That is to say, they do not consider the series of violent riots in Ferguson and New York following the killings of unarmed African Americans by white police officers as conflicts. It is important to note that institutional racial killings and antiracism demonstrations are frequent happenings in the US; however, the 2014 Ferguson and New York events are used as a point of reference because it was widely publicized by the media. This is why in my author’s perspective, I observed that the media play a vital role in peace and conflict discourses.

To that effect, another point of observation is on how agenda settings influence perceptions of conflict. For instance, violent confrontations in the so-called global north or developed countries are often referred to as incidences, but events of similar magnitude in the so-called global south or developing countries are captioned as conflicts. To illustrate, the 2014 elections in Sweden witnessed series of violent protest between pro and anti right wing electorates. Not only were these events underreported by international media networks21, they were referred to as clashes, or riots. The violence was not considered, nor reported as conflict. To compare, protest and riots relating to the 2014 elections in Egypt were reported as conflict and violence. That is to say, the structures controlling the lexicon of peace, security and conflict discourses associate the terminology of conflict with certain regions in the world.


1 Ideal type: a concept attributed to Max Weber. It means an abstract or pure representation phenomenon, in this context society.

2 Examples of small societal units are: kindred, clans, and ethnopolitical, association faith-based communities.

3 The Oda Abuan, HM King Kaleh O. M Obuge (JP)

4 Origin, birth and matrimony

5 Nonviolent encounter in this instance means without physical violence or verbal aggression.

6 Biafra secession movement was created by the Igbo ethnic nationality in the former eastern region of Nigeria. Currently, this area is comprised of the south-east geopolitical zone and some part of the south-south geopolitical zone. The objective of Biafra was to create an independent State.

7 Hereafter also referred to as the Niger Delta conflict or the Nigerian oil war.

8 Members are usually male gendered, between ages15-50.

9 Boko haram is a cross border extremist group operating in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon. Boko haram is translated as western education is a forbidden. Hereinafter, boko haram means an ideology, a group and the conflict. It is important to note that there are several groups under the umbrella name of boko haram.

10 Joint military forces from Nigerian, Niger, Chad and Cameroon

11 Edmund Burke is an Irish philosopher and theorist; he introduced the Fourth Estate concept. Burke asserts the role of the media in democratic societies. In addition to the executive, legislative, and judicial pillars of governance and democracy, Burke argues for the media as the fourth pillar.

12 Political, educational, legal, administrative

13 The German term for a ‘world-view’, that is, either the ‘philosophy of life’ adopted by a particular

person or the more general outlook shared by people in a given period (Oxford Dictionary of Literarily Terms, 3 ed).

14 Eureka: a Greek word attribute to Archimedes, meaning I have found it.

15 Unofficial way of referring to the University of Innsbruck Master of Arts program in Peace, Development, Security and International Conflict Transformation.

16 A school of thought founded by Wolfgang Dietrich, the UNESCO Chair for Peace Studies and the Director the of the Master of Arts Program in Peace, Development, Security and International Conflict Transformation at the University of Innsbruck, Austria

17 Especially in humanistic and social sciences

18 Bamako declaration on an African Common Position on the Illicit Proliferation, Circulation, and Trafficking of Small and Light Weapons

19 According to folklores women did not engage in physical battles this is why warrior-hood is referred to as manhood

20 Council of Foreign Relations, see global conflict tracker tracker/p32137#!/

21 By international media networks I mean: Associated press (AP), Reuters, BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera. These new agencies practically control global agenda settings.

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Demystifying the cycle of armed conflicts in Nigeria. A holistic healing approach
University of Innsbruck
Peace, Security and Conflict Studies
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nigeria, boko haram, conflict, peace, healing, violence
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Joy Alasia (Author), 2015, Demystifying the cycle of armed conflicts in Nigeria. A holistic healing approach, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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