This essay explores how language is used in conflict mitigation and mediation processes in the volatile zones of Kaduna State, Nigeria. Understanding conflict management and resolution in Kaduna State has become imperative because the area has been embroiled in violent sectarian, inter-community land conflicts and domestic disputes. The conflicts have been largely driven by historical ethnoreligious and ethnopolitical factors, land and territorial disputes, arms proliferation, and, most recently, banditry. Some recent incidents of violent conflict include the Kajuru and Kaura communal clashes of 20201Africa Center for Strategic Studies, “Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa Target Nigeria’s Highways,” Infographic, December 15, 2020. and the Giwa, Kauran Fawa, Marke, and Ruhiya massacres of December 2021.2“Bandits Kill 20 Persons, Set Houses, Vehicles on Fire in Kaduna,” Sahara Reporters, Dec 19, 2021, http://saharareporters.com/2021/12/19/bandits-kill-20-persons-set-houses-vehicles-fire-kaduna
According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (2021),3The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED, 2021) Kaduna State recorded 220 violent events which resulted in nearly a thousand fatalities in the past year. Also, approximately 400 persons were kidnapped and hundreds of communities destroyed, resulting in the displacement of over 50,000 people. In 2021, Kaduna recorded the highest number of episodes of political violence and fatalities in Northern Nigeria, except for Borno State in the northeast, which is the epicenter of the Boko Haram insurgency in Nigeria.
These incessant conflicts have created instability and constituted a constant threat to peaceful coexistence among residents of Kaduna communities. Over the years, various state agencies, civil society, clerics, and faith-based organizations (FBOs) have launched local mediation and peacebuilding initiatives to reverse the spiraling violence. Of note are the actions of the state and local governments in setting up panels of investigation into the roots of conflict, peacekeeping missions, and truth and reconciliation commissions (TRCs) to mediate between the conflicting parties and promote reconciliation, resettlement, and post-conflict reconstruction.
Understanding the Conflict-Language Nexus in Peace Mediation
Conflict is part of human everyday existence. Occasionally, conflict may become confrontational and culminate in physical violence. The approach to conflict in the essay is framed within the context of poor communication between certain groups and actors in society. Although some scholars see conflict as necessary for societies to develop and remain stable,4Wilson, T. D. “Information behaviour: an interdisciplinary perspective”. Information Processing and Management, (1997) 33(4), 551-572. if they are not managed promptly, they risk escalating into violence with devastating consequences. This brings us to the concepts of conflict management, mitigation, and mediation—processes that help societies that could have been torn apart by violence to embrace peaceful means in resolving their differences and remain as harmonious entities. History is replete with examples of erstwhile enemies embracing dialogue, peacemaking, peace agreements, and reconciliation in the interest of peaceful coexistence. At the heart of peacemaking is language, which is a key to effective communication and understanding among stakeholders and peace actors. This essay focuses on the usually overlooked role that language plays as a tool of peace communication, particularly in mitigating conflict, and deploying its positive aspects in the pursuit of peace. It draws its examples from the Hausa language, which is predominantly spoken in Northern Kaduna, and the Atyapp language, which is used in Southern Kaduna.
Peace mediation in a conflict-affected context such as Kaduna is aimed at mitigating violent conflicts, preventing their escalation or degeneration, or resolving them. Mediation is a special form of negotiation in which a neutral third party plays a central role in helping the parties in conflict achieve a mutually acceptable settlement. Skilled mediators are respected and trusted by both sides, who facilitate dialogue and confidence-building in a process based on the non-violent resolution of differences. Language becomes important as the mediator has to fully understand the context and dynamics of the conflict, communicate effectively to the various actors, manage negotiations, and facilitate agreements that are acceptable to all concerned. Since direct negotiations between disputants may not be always feasible, given their divergent interests, needs, and emotions, third-party intervention becomes necessary in many conflicts. From this perspective, mediation by a third party is a veritable conflict management tool for the settlement of disputes and conflict situations.
Fairclough,5Fairclough, Norman. Language and power. London: Macmillan Press, 2001. opines that dialogue is a panacea for assuaging crises. It is a situation where the parties in a conflict come together to discuss and resolve their differences. Dialogue within and between communities has been part of African cultures and traditions of peacemaking. Many of those interviewed during this study confirm that mediation is very important in conflict management in Kaduna State. It is important to note the voluntary and non-visitant characters of mediation because, during such negotiations, there is no obligation on the parties to go any further than they wish to. However, the mediator is free to transmit and initiate suggestions for resolving the conflict. The fundamental goal of mediation is the achievement of an acceptable settlement through non-violent means. From human experience within the context of the family, community, country, and even in international relations, mediation is used as a non-violent method of resolving conflict and attaining peace.
Mediation Processes in Kaduna State
Mediation processes in Kaduna State tend to be in the following formats:
Facilitative Mediation. In facilitative or traditional mediation, a professional mediator facilitates negotiations between the parties in conflict. In most cases, it is performed by traditional leaders such as Emirs, for example, the Emir of Jamaa and the Emir of Zazzau, and the Masu Anguwa (local chiefs). Rather than making recommendations or imposing a decision, the mediator encourages disputants to reach their own voluntary solution by exploring each other’s deeper interests, particularly in cases related to matrimonial conflict or disputes over inheritance. These are some of the phrases/clauses/metaphors and proverbs used during the mediation processes. For example, Kuje ku sasanta kanku (go and reconcile), Kuyi hakuri (be patient), Shi zaman aure dan hakuri ne (marriage involves tolerance and patience), and, Zo mu zauna, zo mu saba (familiarity breeds contempt). Others include Tsakanin harshe da hakori ma akan saba (it is not by design that the teeth bite the tongue) and Mata da miji sai Allah (only God knows what binds a husband and wife).
Evaluative Mediation. This is a process in which the mediator facilitates negotiation between the conflicting parties and evaluates the merits and demerits of the case before suggesting steps towards its resolution. Emirs handle such issues mostly in such cases of land or territorial disputes. In most cases, the mediator advises disputants to embrace peaceful approaches to resolving conflict, using the following sentences: Kuyi hakuri ku sasanta (be patient and reconcile!), Kasa na Allah ne (the land belongs to no one but God), Kuji tsoron Allah (fear God), and Ku ya,n uwan juna ne (you are your brother’s keeper).
Transformative Mediation. The transformative approach does not seek an immediate resolution of the conflict or problem, but rather the empowerment and building of mutual respect between the parties involved. Empowerment, according to Bush and Folger,6Bush, Robert A. Baruchi, and Joseph P. Folger. The Promise of Mediation: The Transformative Approach to Conflict. John Wiley & Sons, 2004. means enabling the parties to define their own issues and to seek solutions with minimal outside interference. In other words, transformative mediation focuses on the “people” as opposed to the “problem.” This is the mediation approach being adopted in the dialogue taking place between bandits, government officials, and a notable Islamic Sheikh (scholar) Ahmed Gumi in Kaduna State. Given the rather intractable nature of banditry and the ways the phenomenon has defied the efforts of law enforcement agencies, some religious leaders decided to wade into the crises. The Sheikh used his expertise in Islamic learning and status as a respected authority figure to hold talks with bandits in their bush camps, with the aim of getting them to adopt non-violent methods in expressing their grievances against government and society.7Ochieng, Beverly, and Jewel Kiriungi. “Sheikh Ahmed Gumi: The Nigerian cleric who negotiates with bandits.” BBC, May 8, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-57007326. Such peace talks are also used as an opportunity to preach the value(s) of pacifism, humanism, and brotherliness. Although his mediation effort is yet to yield substantial favorable results due to certain obstacles, it is worthwhile to pay close attention to his approach to peacemaking in subsequent studies.
Faith-based approach. This is referred to locally as the “Pastor-Imam” approach. According to the facilitators of this mediation strategy:
“We realize that Nigeria is a very religious country and you can market virtually anything using religion. People will buy it before thinking when you say what the almighty says on this matter. You get people to shift position more quickly than when you use Western method of mediation.”8Oral Interview with Inter-Faith Mediation Center Coordinators Kaduna State, Pastor James Wuye and Imam Ashafa on November 29, 2021.
They use verses from the Quran and Bible to appeal to conflicting parties to settle their differences peacefully. In deciding on which verses of holy Muslim or Christian holy text to use, mediators operating from the background of Faith-Based Organizations (FBOs) engage in contextual analysis before deploying their influence or deciding on which type of mediation best addresses specific conflict management challenges.
Hybrid Approaches: Shuttle Mediation, Interventionist, and Language/Communication Tools/Strategies.
My research findings also revealed the existence of multifaceted or hybrid approaches used by conflict mediators and peacemakers operating in conflict-affected communities of Kaduna State. Underlying these approaches is the creative use of language tools in dousing tensions and appealing for peace among inhabitants of conflict-affected communities. The mediators employed simple sentences and clauses which are mostly proverbs in appealing to the emotion of the disputants. The following table summarizes some of the clauses and proverbs used during conflict mediation processes.
Table 1: LINGUISTIC CONFLICT MITIGATORS DURING MEDIATION PROCESSES (HAUSA LANGUAGE)
|LINGUISTIC CONFLICT MITIGATORS (HAUSA LANGUAGE)
|Zaman lafiya yafi Zama dan sarki.
|Living in peace is better than living like a prince.
Living in peace is better than living in pieces.
|Mai hakuri shi yake dafa dutse har ya sha romonsa.
|A patient man can cook stone and enjoy the taste
It is he who is patient that succeeds in life
|Mu yan’uwan juna ne.
|We are our brother’s keeper
|Nigerian mu guda daya ce.
|We only have one Nigeria
|Hakuri maganin Zaman duniya.
|Patience is the medicine for living in this world
Patience is the key to success.
|Bayan wuya sai dadi.
|Success comes after the hardship.
There is always light at the end of the tunnel.
|Wanda yayi hakuri da kunun maraice ya kai ga tuwon dare.
|Whoever reaches the ear of the evening will reach the tip of the night.
|He who is patient is always rich.
A patient dog eats the fattest bone
Table 2: LINGUISTIC CONFLICT MITIGATORS DURING MEDIATION PROCESSES (ATYAPP LANGUAGE)
|LINGUISTIC CONFLICT MITIGATORS DURING MEDIATIONS (ATYAP LANGUAGE)
|Tung dung ayetdukwaba.
|Living in cooperative atmosphere does not mean slavery.
|Shi da abvuabvunayetshiaami.
|Accepting that you are wrong confers greatness.
|Di gbadanayinanyiai sip bubayacen.
|The greatness of a person comes from how he accepts visitors.
There are several stages in the mediation process. Perhaps this is why it is often regarded as a process. A typical outline of the stages involved in mediation in Kaduna State includes initiation, preparation, introduction, problem statement, and problem clarification. Others are: generation and evaluation of alternatives, selection of alternatives, and reaching an agreement. The researcher and her assistant noted that, in all the mediations they observed in the northern and southern parts of Kaduna State, mediators adhered to the foregoing stages to achieve the following objectives:
(i) Resolution of the substantive problems.
(ii) The maintenance and promotion of existing cordial relationships usually founded on mutual trust.
(iii) Minimizing both psychological and social costs of terminating such relationships, if it becomes unavoidable.
The mediators diligently pursued the participation of disputants at every stage of the mediation process.
During the study, the researcher observed that African cultures place a high value on relationships and hierarchies when facilitating dialogue and resolving conflicts. However, some non-verbal communications are used during the mediation process. For example, disputants sit on the floor while the Emirs sit on their thrones; they also genuflect or bow their heads as a sign of respect. These acts reflect hierarchical power relations and submission to authority. The pattern of mediation is such that conflict actors’ behavior can be influenced or changed out of a high level of respect for and obedience to the Emir. Minimal gestures and paralanguage, such as tone, facial gestures, and expressions, are some of the non-verbal communication cues used during mediation processes.
From recent interviews with the stakeholders at the Kaduna State Peace Commission (KSPC), I discovered that most of their mediation processes take place within political parties, during political campaigns or rallies. The KSPC has regulated the use of vile and derogatory language to avoid bloody conflicts during such events. In the words of one of the stakeholders in the state:
With respect to engagement with citizens, engagement with civil society, engagement with stakeholders, I think the Kaduna State government has done fairly well in dealing with this. But in terms of negotiating with criminals and armed gangs, certainly, the state government has not been aligned to any mediatory roles with these groups.9Oral Interview with Kaduna State Peace Commission (KSPC): Vice chairman Dr Saleh B. Momalle and the permanent commissioner for peace Hajiya Khadija Hawaja Gambo. December 21, 2021.
Despite the detailed explanations and discussions about the mediation processes in Kaduna State, the researcher found out from the focus group discussions (FGDs) that there is a paucity of mediation attempts on the part of the state government; that is, mediation processes only took place within the local/royal contexts of Kaduna communities.
This essay on mediation has attempted to provide a guide to the understanding of basic rudiments of mediation in some contexts of Kaduna State. It has defined and described the language used in mediation in an attempt to mitigate conflict. The types and stages of mediation have been outlined and described. In the end, this essay draws attention to the utility of mediation in conflict management based on its non-reliance on violence and established that language is a viable tool for mitigating and resolving conflict in Kaduna State.
- 1Africa Center for Strategic Studies, “Boko Haram and Islamic State in West Africa Target Nigeria’s Highways,” Infographic, December 15, 2020.
- 2“Bandits Kill 20 Persons, Set Houses, Vehicles on Fire in Kaduna,” Sahara Reporters, Dec 19, 2021, http://saharareporters.com/2021/12/19/bandits-kill-20-persons-set-houses-vehicles-fire-kaduna
- 3The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED, 2021)
- 4Wilson, T. D. “Information behaviour: an interdisciplinary perspective”. Information Processing and Management, (1997) 33(4), 551-572.
- 5Fairclough, Norman. Language and power. London: Macmillan Press, 2001.
- 6Bush, Robert A. Baruchi, and Joseph P. Folger. The Promise of Mediation: The Transformative Approach to Conflict. John Wiley & Sons, 2004.
- 7Ochieng, Beverly, and Jewel Kiriungi. “Sheikh Ahmed Gumi: The Nigerian cleric who negotiates with bandits.” BBC, May 8, 2021. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-57007326.
- 8Oral Interview with Inter-Faith Mediation Center Coordinators Kaduna State, Pastor James Wuye and Imam Ashafa on November 29, 2021.
- 9Oral Interview with Kaduna State Peace Commission (KSPC): Vice chairman Dr Saleh B. Momalle and the permanent commissioner for peace Hajiya Khadija Hawaja Gambo. December 21, 2021.