Colorful Nigeria – A kind people, an unkind system; by AC4 Fellow, Claudia Schneider
Nigeria makes it into the news mostly for its terrorism attacks related to Boko Haram or kidnappings of oil workers in the Niger delta. Undoubtedly, Nigeria is unsettled and not a peaceful place. In 2010, when I first spent a prolonged amount of time in the country there was a hopeful sentiment that “Goodluck Jonathan (president at the time) would bring good luck to Nigeria”. Seven years later the situation has not much improved. There are many issues but one of the most pressing which came up repeatedly in various conversations with Nigerians is the rampant corruption, in virtually every area of life. It shows in blank receipts being handed out at gas stations for the receiver to fill in the amount that was paid at leisure, and extends to entry examinations to schools in which parents openly take tests for their children. It stifles the country, makes business dealings and economic development difficult. It impedes the well-being of Nigerians, hinders education, affects job opportunities, creates injustice and inequalities, stirs up feelings of jealousy, frustration, and anger. It creates conflict and violence, and ultimately inhibits peace – which Nigeria is so much in need of.
In conducting our research it became apparent to us that it is this ‘unkind system’ which seems to lie at the root of discrimination against ex-prisoners and failure to support reintegration into society by the general public. When we conducted our interviews, people were amazingly kind in giving their time to listen to us and share their opinions. Many people spent extra time after the interview or after completing the survey talking to us to share their feelings. What emerged was a pattern of people generally willing to support ex-prisoners, e.g. through participating in a tutoring program for ex-prisoners to help them reintegrate into society, but also at the same time shying away from any involvement with the police, prison, and justice system. Repeatedly, we heard stories of people being detained unjustly or being arrested unjustly because no bribe could be paid while the true offenders (who were able to afford a bribe) went unprosecuted. It helped us to better understand the substantial challenges but also opportunities for peacebuilding in Nigeria. People expressed that they appreciated someone asking them for their opinion and being given a voice.
Even though significant change has to happen within the Nigerian justice system which is a top down process, our work hinted at the potential for a bottom up approach: giving the people a voice and making them agents of change. Change has to start somewhere. It could start with people supporting one another despite an unkind system.
This research opportunity provided important and valuable groundwork toward the path to peace in Nigeria. Organizations like CURE-Nigeria are at the forefront of implementing programs, advocating for a change in the justice system, and being the voice of so many Nigerians that have no voice. Our work strengthened the efforts of CURE-Nigeria to engage the general public more and make them agents of change towards sustainable development and peace in Nigeria.
Author: Claudia Schneider, a 2017 AC4 Graduate Student Fellow, pursuing a Ph.D. in Psychology at Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. This summer she travelled to Nigeria for her project focused on A Social Psychological Intervention Fostering Pro-social Motivation Towards Ex-Prisoners for Sustainable Peace in Nigeria.
This post is second in a two-part reflection piece; read the first post, “Colorful Nigeria – Adapting to the Unexpected“.
Photos: taken and provided by author, Claudia Schneider.