The Social Science Research Council’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN) had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Abosede Babatunde, an APN alumnus (Individual Research Grant 2016) and lecturer at the Center for Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ilorin, Nigeria. The interview was conducted at the Social Science Research Council, Brooklyn, New York on June 7, 2017. It has been edited for length and clarity.
APN: Could you start by telling us about yourself and about the research that you did during the APN grant period.
Dr. Abosede Babatunde: I am from the southwestern part of Nigeria, specifically, Ibadan in Oyo state, and I lecture at the Center for Peace and Strategic Studies, University of Ilorin in Nigeria. I attended the University of Ibadan where I got my BSc in economics, MA, and PhD in peace and conflict studies, which I completed in 2009.
My research project during the APN grant period was titled, “The Curse of Oil: Unpacking the Challenges to Food Security in Nigeria’s Niger Delta Region.” I focused on the challenges to food security because recent studies on the Niger Delta were mostly focused on the human security challenges affecting the region, typically related to violent conflict. When you are talking about human security, you have to look into all the components: economic, environmental, health, political, food, communal, and personal. The aspect of food security in the Niger Delta, which entails both accessibility and production, has attracted limited scholarly attention. It is very important that when you look at the environmental issues in the Niger Delta, which are primarily caused by the oil industry, you consider how environmental degradation has impacted people’s livelihoods. It is also important to examine the cultural dimension of these food challenges. There are certain cultural values attached to food which have been eroded.
Drawing on the findings of your research project, what policy recommendations do you have for the local or federal government of Nigeria?
Thank you, before I respond to your question, I want to mention that my research benefited so much from the APN grantee training workshops which broadened my understanding of peacebuilding, including the aspects that relate to people’s sense of being food secure. To address your question about the policy dimensions of my research findings: first, I discovered that there are very serious gaps between policymakers and the local people. The majority of these local communities do not feel supported by the government or state institutions. One major issue for example, is the shortage in the supply of fish—a major source of protein in the region—as a result of rivers being polluted, largely due to the operations of the oil industry. Some locals have devised ways of addressing these challenges, such as resorting to natural or artificial fish ponds. Although fish farming is very profitable, many people do not have the financial capacity to invest in them, or are too poor to afford farmed fish. If they were financially empowered they would be able to invest more, or gain access to a steady supply of protein in their food.
The current food security challenges are more acute during the dry season, which calls for better planning. Also, a lack of storage facilities and poor road networks, make it harder to transport perishable food items to the market, thereby leading to wastage, which in turn intensifies the effects of poverty and environmental degradation. Many people are therefore unable to have a stable, sufficient food supply.
When I went to the ministries of agriculture in various states, I saw that most of the resources do not get to communities in need and that some of their programs have been politicized, favoring those with connections to influential individuals in the ruling party or government. Some government agencies also face challenges related to a shortage of resources. For example, they often do not have the equipment required to facilitate regular access to remote communities in the Niger Delta, such as boats. I also went to the office of the special adviser to the president on the Niger Delta, who is focused on the presidential amnesty program for ex-combatants. I was pleased to discover that they have recently incorporated an agricultural initiative into the program so as to help boost food production in target communities, and to empower people in the Niger Delta.
Describe your experiences with the two APN workshops you participated in while you were an APN grantee?
The APN grants are distinct in that grantees forge strong relationships with one another, and develop a network of other African scholars. The APN workshops broadened my understanding of peacebuilding. I was able to engage with questions such as: “how can we look at peacebuilding from a local context?” and “what does peacebuilding mean to people in relation to food security?” Food is one of the basic human needs and it is central to welfare and wellbeing, so it is directly related to their sense of security. I was exposed to the human security aspect of peacebuilding in the course of doing the first workshop on research methods, which helped prepare me to work in a volatile environment. I also got helpful comments on my work during the second APN workshop on writing and dissemination, which enabled me to improve the quality of my manuscript.
How do you plan to build on the findings from your APN project?
My findings in the field went beyond the scope of my initial research plan, so I have a lot of data. My plan is to write a book manuscript in the future. Currently, I am working on a series of articles. I have submitted them to journals and have received some positive feedback, which I am using to make revisions before I resubmit.
We look forward to reading more of your published work. In closing, do you have any advice for future applicants to the APN?
I think the APN program provides a very good opportunity for African scholars who want to improve their research and writing skills, and break into the global academic environment. After my first application was unsuccessful, I reapplied and I was able to get the research grant. It is a laudable grant, and any African scholar who wants to build his or her capacity and achieve global visibility, should aim for it.
I would advise future APN grantees to make the best use of their field work opportunity. Going into the field can be expensive if you do not have support from your university, or other funding sources. I have now been to four states in the Niger Delta region. The APN grant helped me to spend time in the field focusing on research, which I would not have been able to do otherwise. After my fieldwork, I had a much greater understanding of my research topic than before. It has also given me more confidence, and I have gone ahead to apply for, and win other international fellowships, such as the Carson Fellowship at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany.
Dr. Abosede Babatunde holds a PhD in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and currently lectures at the Centre for Peace and Strategic Studies at the University of Ilorin, Nigeria. She has also been awarded several academic fellowships and grants, including a 2016 Individual Research Grant from the African Peacebuilding Network of the Social Science Research Council. She is currently a fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at the University of Ludwig Maximillian, Munich, Germany. Babatunde is the author of “Oil, Environmental Conflict and the Challenges of Sustainable Development in the Niger Delta.” Her research interests include conflict resolution with an emphasis on traditional models of conflict resolution, resource governance, human rights and security, peacebuilding, and gender.