The 2014 Annual Nigeria Dialogue at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa provided an opportunity to interrogate the diversity of Nigeria.
According to a press statement signed by Dr, Nelson Odume, Coordinator of the Annual Dialogue and Postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of Water Resources at Rhodes University, in Grahamstown, the theme for this year’s dialogue was ‘Building bridges of peaceful co-existence across the Niger – the role of education and youth development’.
The Dialogue was chaired by Africa, Professor Akpan Wilson, deputy Dean Research and Internationalisation at the University of Fort hare in Eastern Cape, South Africa.
In his presentation, Professor Wilson Akpan emphasised that the theme of the dialogue suggests that there are multiple fault-lines in Nigeria, which include geographical, religious, regional, political and ethnic. Akpan, therefore, wondered if whether education and youth development could contribute to building bridges of co-existence and fostering integration and harmonious relationships among the diverse groups and groupings in Nigeria. While he acknowledged that some efforts have been made in the past through the compulsory one-year National Youth Service to foster peace, integration, unity and peaceful co-existence in Nigeria, he argued that the scheme has failed to achieve its noble objectives. Commenting on the education system, Akpan said the present system does not reflect the contextual realities of the Nigerian society. Akpan called for urgent overhauling of the education system and the introduction of civic, moral and value-driven system that takes into account the needs and developmental realities of Nigeria and her people.
“An education system that foster peace, integration and mutual understanding, is needed right from the primary school level through tertiary,” said Akpan.
However, Akpan said the fault-lines exist because it furthers the enterprises of the ethno-political entrepreneurs’ who ensures the non-cessations of tension and violence in the society.
“Do not get me wrong, these people (ethno-political entrepreneurs) contribute to the growth and development of the society, they are well respected and notable, but they also ensure the perpetuity of tension and distrust as a way of keeping relevance and ensuring that they are not out of business,” said Akpan.
“They are those who feast on peoples’ misery in the society and promote ethnic, regional and religious sentiments over national interests.” Akpan’s keynote address elicited debate about whether education is actually a veritable tool for integration or a weapon of oppression in the hands of the elites.
Akpan was later joined by Dr, Eric Igbinigie and Mr, Aminu Usman in an interactive panel discussion on the theme of the occasion. Dr Igbinigie, a Senior Environmental Consultant with Coastal and Environmental Services said that Nigeria can overcome her challenges if its components work in unity. He provided a context of the Nigerian society to non-Nigerians in the audience. For his part, Mr, Aminu Usman argued that the tensions evident in Nigeria are intra- rather than inter-regional.
Painting a picture of Boko Haram, he said the Boko Haram crisis is an intra-regional conflict with inter-regional consequences, thereby stressing that intra-regional, ethnic conflict needs to be addressed. Aminu was of the view that education could be used as a tool for integration, provided it was not politicized.
Orla Quinlan, director of the International Office at Rhodes University said that Rhodes University places a high premium on internationalisation, with one-third of its students comprising international students from several countries. “Here at Rhodes University, we value internationalization and although there is still no coherent policy about internationalization in South Africa, Rhodes has a rich culture of internationalization, which has helped the university position herself as one of the leading institution on the African continent,” said Orla.
NB: Find attached Photo: Professor Akpan Wilson in the middle, flanked to the left by eric Igginigie and to the right by Orla Qunian, Nelson Odume and other participants.