It was a great privilege to have my proposal selected for the prestigious APN Individual Research Fellowship Award in 2020. This came with much excitement following two previously unsuccessful attempts for this highly competitive fellowship. Not deterred by the rejections, I was resilient, so I made up my mind to work on the reviewers’ comments, devote time to study the kind of projects funded by APN, and learn what exactly I was not getting right. I was determined to take the next shot, which I told myself was going to be my last attempt. God smiled on me and I got the fellowship!
It turned out to be a dream come true. APN funding supported my visit to the field to conduct interviews and collect data on the involvement of Umuada Igbo (daughters of the land) in intracommunal peacebuilding in selected Igbo-speaking communities in southeastern Nigeria. The overarching argument was that, though women engaged in everyday peacebuilding in these communities, they were overtly underrepresented and their efforts were rendered largely invisible in formal and informal peacebuilding.
The APN fellowship was the beginning of my personal transformation as an African scholar. Central to my scholarly development were the two training workshops that, though virtual due to the Covid-19 pandemic, brought about a major step in my career. The workshops were opportunities for meeting and interacting with experienced mentors and emerging African scholars. Feedback from my mentor Rita Abrahamson helped straighten out the complicated aspects of my proposal and cleared most of my methodological concerns before heading into the field. During the first training workshop, our proposals were shared with members of our cohort/group, and, in the second, draft publications of group members were shared among members of our cohort/group to read and provide rich feedback to each other. It also engendered conversations among members of the group beyond the workshop; I have sustained collaboration with other APN fellows and alumni after the fellowship year. In the 2021 African Studies Association (ASA) Conference, which was held virtually, I shared my methodological reflections from conducting research during the pandemic in the APN/Next Gen special panel convened by the program director, Prof. Cyril Obi, entitled, “Encountering the Field: Experiences, Resilience and the Prospects for Renewing Knowledge Production in a Post-Covid-19 Africa.” My presentation was on, “Encountering the Field in a Period of Covid-19: A Sociolinguistic Perspective from Africa.”
The APN fellowship has greatly impacted my career in diverse ways. I have benefited from the program and connections built through the fellowship. My post-APN fellowship experience and engagement have been most productive. Through the fellowship, I was equipped with the requisite skills for multi-disciplinary research and navigating from the field of humanities to social sciences, including the development of highly specialized writing skills. Beyond the development of research and writing skills, there are other benefits that also come with belonging to a strong network of scholars.
My current engagement as the Southeastern Nigerian consultant for the Nigerian Women Trust Fund (NWTF) research project funded with the generous support of the Ford Foundation 2022-2023 came about thanks to the recommendation of a member in the 2020 APN fellowship cohort. My other scholarly engagements include collaborative research on African Theological Advances funded by the Templeton Foundation (2021-2024), participation in The Endangered Material Knowledge Programme (EMKP) funded by the British Museum (2021-2023), and Principal Investigator responsibilities for the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND) Nigeria Seed grant for academic staff of Nigerian universities (2021/2022). I have also been awarded travel grants to present my research findings to academic audiences drawn from different parts of the globe. The most recent was the Jack Shand International travel grant which facilitated my participation in the conference of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion (SSSR) held from November 9-13, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
The APN fellowship did not just create space for networking with other African scholars, it boosted my research profile and professional development. I have been recently appointed as the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki, Nigeria.
Considering the robust network of African scholars spread across the various parts of the continent, I look forward to a future APN that would establish strong alumni who would serve as mentors and trainers in various institutions in the continent; and who could from time to time be invited to share their experiences in APN workshops. I envision an APN that would establish a post-fellowship residency program for library research and intensive writing time in interdisciplinary settings, which would provide opportunities for selected alumni to spend time between 60 and 90 days writing and charting a new research course in African peacebuilding. In order to sustain and foster the vision and mission of APN, I envisage that APN would increase the number of sponsored fellows and alumni to international conferences in order to share their research findings and also elicit robust feedback from scholars across the globe.