Reengineering the Mind of Africans is Key to Avoiding Conflicts… Dr. Oyedepo
The need to reengineer the nation’s value system is important in managing conflicts at its various levels. This is because something must change within the makeup of the body politic for other things to change around the nation.
The above was part of the position highlighted in the keynote address delivered by the Chancellor and Chairman, Board of Regents, Covenant University, Dr. David Oyedepo, at a workshop organized by the University’s African Leadership Development Centre (ALDC), with the theme, “Conflict Management and Resolution: A Leadership Competence Development Workshop.”
Speaking on the subject of “Leadership Imperative: Conflict Management and Conflict Resolution Demands for Inspiring Transformation and Driving Change,” Dr. Oyedepo commended the leadership of the centre for putting together the workshop. According to him, a workshop connotes a place where damaged things are fixed, repairs are made, non-working systems are diagnosed and given appropriate treatment; he therefore hoped that the essence of the workshop would do just that to the nation.
Taking a retrospective look at conflict and its devastating effects on the African continent, Dr. Oyedepo observed that Africa’s problems stemmed from her inability to draw lessons from the “things we see, hear, observe and even experience.”
He stated that critical to the understanding of crises in Africa in the 21st century is the capacity to identify conflicts before they degenerate into catastrophes, and this he suggested, highlights the importance of capacity building as a vital tool in stemming conflicts.
Dr. Oyedepo noted that the widespread societal conflicts in Africa are often played out against the backdrop of deep poverty, illiteracy, and weak systems of governance, undermined by unfavorable terms of trade, indebtedness and administrative failures.
In addition, he added that a number of forces and factors could be advanced as the root causes of major conflicts within the continent, ranging from the quest for resource control, tribalism to religious affiliation, corruption and deprivation.
He posited that the effect of colonialism could not be removed from some of the major conflicts that have bedeviled states on the continent. The political structures and imbalance created by colonial administrators, who used one ethnic group to dominate the entire political landscape still persist. After independence, the dominated ethnic groups still view the dominant ethnic nationalities as extensions and collaborators with the white colonialist.
Dr. Oyedepo said the United Nations has spent 75% of its resources in dealing with conflicts in Africa, thus making the continent a liability to the world body.
Zeroing in on Nigeria, the renowned scholar said while it is true that the greatest challenges within the country range from corruption, economic distress and institutional collapse in most sectors of the economy, the greatest threat to the survival of the Nigerian nation, however, is the issue of insecurity induced by conflicts, which seems to have defied all logical approaches and reasoning by those in power and who are supposed to be on top of it.
While trying not to sound alarmist, the Chancellor of Covenant University said the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), the West African sub-regional body would speedily close her borders with Nigeria if the current state of insecurity persists, culminating in civil unrest of untold proportions.
In managing various conflicts around the continent, Dr. Oyedepo opined the need to recognize that conflict is natural and therefore to be expected within human groupings, but it is how the nation proactively anticipates its occurrence by identifying signals of conflict and begins to rightly situate responses that would define how the management process is construed.
Dr. Oyedepo suggested a ‘stop and think’ approach at every critical point of a crisis, as this is what would make the continent not to sink further in the comity of nations. This he said should include devising a means of helping those whose reasoning has become perverted to the point of killing and taking up arms to kill innocent citizens.
He stated that the problem with Africa’s development and Nigeria’s in particular, is the underdeveloped mind of Africans, thus turning them into cannon fodder for external exploitation. The mind of every Nigerian, he said, should be transformed into one that can conceive a new Nigeria into existence, while at the same time resisting indoctrination of evil.
He concluded by charging government at all levels, participants and those who still believe in the Nigerian project to respond to the wakeup call by rising up to give hope in these trying times. This he said was important as no one will come over to solve our problems for us. “Waiting for others to resolve our conflicts might result in waiting for ever. It is high time we took responsibility to engage intellectually and otherwise, in resolving our differences and managing our conflicts. We must start to think the impossible and dare the seemingly immovable mountains,” he added.
At one of the panel discussions, the moderator of the session, a one-time Minister of Finance, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu commended the keynote speaker for the quality of scholarly work put into the keynote address, and charged the audience not to take the message and picture painted lightly, but embrace the vision of what the nation ought to do to make Nigeria come out of the precipice of war, due to internal conflicts.
Dr. Kalu identified some strong themes from the keynote address, which if adequately adhered to would breathe a new lease of life on the entire polity and reinforce the confidence of the populace in the nation.
He noted that one common denominator that has made the Living Faith Church and Covenant University to rise so fast in their current geographical location, a place formerly considered a forest, is discipline, and if the same discipline is brought to bear on the nation, many of the incidents of conflicts will be quickly stemmed.
The immediate past Executive Secretary, National Universities Commission and the Pro-Chancellor, Crawford University, Professor Peter Okebukola, narrowing down his reaction to the keynote address to the tertiary education setting, said the series of conflicts in the tertiary education system in the nation if adequately prepared for, would not result in industrial actions that culminate in closure of universities and tertiary institutions.
He suggested the need for those in authority to try getting the different perspectives from which the various interest groups are clamouring for attention. According to him, it would be a difficult task meeting the insatiable needs of all academic and non-academic staff and students in any given environment, but a balance could be created that would make a win-win situation appear for all the divergent interests.
Professor Okebukola said that there was nothing to compare to negotiation and attempting to establish peace at all times. He advised that even when negotiating it should always be from the point of strength and advantage, while ensuring that individuals do not enter into a commitment they are sure of not having the capacity to uphold, as that would just postpone the evil day.
On her part, Dr. Gloria Elemo speaking from the work place perspective said that when in an organization where people are grouped into different teams with expectations, there is the tendency for conflict to ensue if the subordinate is better informed in certain areas than the team leader.
Dr. Elemo, who is currently the Director-General, Federal Institute for Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), noted that the different levels of unions existing in a work environment are important and are to be taken into consideration when formulating and executing policies.
She averred that in the internal working of any organization, the leadership should be conscious of issues with the management cadre, the nature of the physical environment also affects inter-departmental or unit relationships, orientation and social consciousness of workers which they take as their own priorities, conditions of services or promotion system which all create most of the conflicts in organizations, disputes resolving procedures, abuse of administrative powers, favoritism and victimization, and misinterpretation and non-implementation of collective agreement.
From the external perspective, she affirmed that government industrial and economic policies are issues that affect the welfare and other important aspect of workers conditions of service within an organization. Also, the nature of labour legislations, unpatriotic and unethical behavior (mostly of the political class), and mismanagement of national economy are the larger forces that exacerbate conflicts in the work environment.
She counseled managers of conflicts to listen well to the groaning and complaints of the people, as this strengthens, informs and shows understanding between leadership and subordinate at every stratum.
Dr. Elemo said leadership requires listening with a blend of firmness and flexibility as well as being forward-looking in dealing with those people one is working with. This entails doing away with past issues, developing the capacity to forgive, and the ability to let go or apply force when necessary; these are strategies that ensure discipline and the stemming of conflict at its very root in any organization.
Dr. Sola Afolabi on his part advocated that leadership at the macro level should endeavour to bring development to its people, because without development there will be strife, which ultimately if not checked will snowball into a major catastrophe.
The quintessential diplomat said looking back and tracing major conflict areas within Nigeria and outside of Nigeria, one would readily agree that it is predominant in areas where there is little or no development in such communities.
Dr. Afolabi said that growth in the system should never be equated with development; he declared that growth is automatic, but should not be equated with development. The former, he stated, comes along time and space, while the latter must be assiduously worked at to see it come to fruition, and when it is not forthcoming, it attracts conflicts from the populace who would feel denied of their inalienable rights to the good things of life.
He posited that all conflicts are internal. According to him, the major conflicts of this world are started by individuals who are not at peace with themselves. He cited characters like the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Adolf Hitler of Germany and Idi Amin Dada of Uganda as men who were not at peace with themselves and as a result perpetuated acts that brought about conflicts.
Conversely, he noted that people who made peace like Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill, and David Oyedepo were individuals who found peace with themselves and as such sought to propagate peace in their dealings with others.
He concluded that unless any individual is at peace with himself, such a person will find it very difficult to make peace in whatever assignment he or she is involved in, and such an entity might as well be the source of conflict in the area of his or her operation. He, therefore, charged participants to make sure that when tension seems to be brewing, they should endeavour to seek calmness from within, as this would enable them manage and resolve conflicts at all levels.
It was revealed that from 1955 till date over 5.7 million people have been killed and over 7 million displaced in various conflicts around the continent from the Sudan to the crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Nigeria.