After I received my PhD in 2017, I faced the usual challenges of an emerging scholar. Among these was gaining access to information on research grants and fellowship opportunities. Also, the thought of “publish or perish” made me restless as a young academic as I searched tirelessly for postdoctoral grants while at the same time approaching some open-minded colleagues for guidance. Initially, I received many rejection letters in 2018 and 2019, which were enough to make any young researcher give up. Fortuitously, I saw a call for proposals by the Social Science Research Council’s African Peacebuilding Network (APN), where women were encouraged to apply. I was reluctant to apply for any research grant from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) as I had previously applied twice and failed to receive the SSRC’s Next Generation Social Science in Africa (Next Gen) doctoral dissertation fellowship. Moreover, coming from a background in history, I had my doubts about applying for the APN fellowship award. A colleague encouraged me that there was no harm in trying as my research speaks to issues of conflict and peace. I reluctantly applied and, one fateful day, I received an email from the APN, which I read over and over again, confirming that I was among the successful applicants selected for the APN Individual Research Fellowship. This marked a turning point in my life and bolstered my confidence as an early career academic. My joy upon winning the fellowship knew no bounds. It was a major breakthrough in my quest for academic and research excellence.
My PhD thesis was on the memories of the people who experienced and survived the Nigeria-Biafra war (1967-1970) and the meaning(s) they have attached to their experiences and the trajectories of the renewed quest for Biafra by the second and third post-civil war generations who did not experience the war. Since the completion of my APN project, I have focused my attention on how the different generations have come to interpret and own these memories while at the same time acting on the memories of the period.
The APN fellowship exposed me to more nuances of African peacebuilding. I have participated in several virtual seminars and training workshops on transitional justice and memory studies. These have been the most enriching aspects of the APN fellowship. Being an APN fellow has added value to my career. I met some renowned scholars that shaped and sharpened my ideas through APN activities and connections. I am most grateful to my APN workshop mentor, Professor Kenneth Omeje, who amended the title of my project and suggested how to better frame my research questions and research design. My research is currently engaging the older generation who witnessed the civil war of 1967-1970, along with those born during and after the war. In this way, their different perspectives are generating more ideas and data for possible topics for further exploration. Another APN workshop mentor, Professor Temitope Oriola, helped open my eyes to various strategies for writing and transforming my research findings into articles and exposed me to writing in ways that will attract the interest of editors. Moreover, the APN never abandons her fellows. I have continued to receive weekly emails from the program with information on webinars, workshops, fellowships, conferences, and calls for papers, thereby offering information on opportunities for current and former fellows to advance their careers. The program also followed up on my project report by facilitating the publication of some of my research findings on the APN blog Kujenga Amani.1Ngozika Anthonia Obi-Ani, “Between Violent Separatist Agitation and Political Reforms? The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Crisis of Post War Nigeria Federalism,” Kujenga Amani, January 26, 2022, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2022/01/26/between-violent-separatist-agitation-and-political-reforms-the-indigenous-people-of-biafra-ipob-and-the-crisis-of-post-war-nigerian-federalism/
Although I gave birth to a baby shortly before the end of the APN fellowship, which invariably “slowed down” my research endeavors, the APN’s constant eye on my research progress motivated me into organizing webinars for my mentees and one of them, Isiani Chukwudi Mathias, successfully secured a fully funded scholarship for a PhD program at the University of Pennsylvania, USA. He is combining history, sociology, and urban studies to explain how the post-civil war policies in Igboland, Southeast Nigeria, affected the development of Onitsha city. Another student of mine, Eze Odinaka Kingsley, also received a scholarship from the University of Mississippi, USA, to explore the medical history of leprosy, an issue almost alien to my department. A third student, Sochima Okafor, secured a travel grant to participate and present a paper at the Technology and Material Culture Conference in African History at the University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 2023.
I also used my position as a university teacher to lecture my undergraduate and graduate students on peacebuilding and conflict resolution, while training and mentoring the younger generation on issues related to conflict, peace and security, and post-conflict development. In terms of networking, I belong to various WhatsApp groups: APN fellows, Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability (AHDA) fellows, and Conflict Research Network West Africa (CORN) where we share ideas and exchange views on conflict-related issues. I have also created a WhatsApp group for the mentorship of graduate students in social science and humanities. These connections and networks will advance my future engagements with scholars, civil society, and national and regional organizations. The experiences will also make visible my research on peacebuilding in Africa.
Being an APN-IRF fellow has been a huge blessing to me. I am indeed very thankful for this opportunity. It has not only helped to redirect my research focus but has also made me apply other research tools and designs I have been previously afraid of in my research. I have developed a new approach based on my experiences and interactions with my peers and mentors during the training workshops.
I am currently working on a spin-off from my APN-supported project titled, “Umuoma:” Non-State Actors in Imo State, Nigeria.” It is based on a study of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a neo-Biafran movement led by Nnamdi Kanu. IPOB is the most vociferous group advocating for the sovereignty of a new Biafra. It is mainly made up of those born after the Nigeria-Biafra war, which ended in 1970. Their face-off with the Nigeria security operatives and the resultant insecurity in Southeastern Nigeria has culminated in the formation of its militant wing called the Eastern Security Network (ESN). ESN has many aliases, but in Imo State, Southeast Nigeria, they are known as Umuoma (good children). Its members have taken up the responsibility of advancing the cause of Igbo self-determination and safeguarding the lives of the people of eastern Nigerians and the protection of their lives and properties. However, the creation of the ESN has led to conflict between members of the group and members of the Nigerian government’s security agencies, who view the ESN as an illegal and insurgent group. Another research project that I am currently undertaking is titled, “Post-Memory, Trauma and Nigeria-Biafra War: The Case of Uju-Anya’s Tweet on Queen Elizabeth II.” It seeks to explain the implications of the intersection between trauma and memory for the post-war generation of Biafran war victims by exploring the role of the family as a space of transmission and draws on the action of Uju Anya, who was born a few years after the Nigeria-Biafra war. This is important to my research as it helps to understand what the second generation of the Biafran war survivors expected from those who had the power to change the course of their destinies but chose silence or indifference to Biafra’s woes as represented by Queen Elizabeth II.
Post-memory is about the generation that follows a period of collective trauma; the second generation adopts the memories of the past through familial structures as if they lived through them.2Mphathisi Ndlovu and Lungile Tshuma, “Bleeding from One Generation to the Next: The Media and the Constructions of Gukurahundi Postmemories by University Students in Zimbabwe,” African Studies, vol 80, no. 24 (2021), DOI:10.1080/00020184.2021.1987188. It is therefore an intergenerational space of remembrance linked to cultural or collective trauma.3Marianne Hirsch, The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012) I am applying Hirsch’s framework of post-memory,4Marianne Hirsch, “Surviving Images: Holocaust Photographs and the Work of Postmemory,” The Yale Journal of Criticism, vol. 14, no. 1 (2001): 5-37. to understand how the post-civil war generation of Biafran survivors have owned, reproduced, and mediated that horrific past, and how it currently influences their perception of the Nigeria-Biafra war and their relation to the federal government of Nigeria.
As I am fine-tuning the two articles that came out of this fellowship for submission to peer-reviewed journals, I thank the APN for the opportunity to fulfill my dream of exploring the Biafran question beyond my self-sponsored PhD program. The fellowship has rekindled my self-confidence, creativity, new perspectives, and originality in contributing new knowledge to the field of peacebuilding in Africa.
- 1Ngozika Anthonia Obi-Ani, “Between Violent Separatist Agitation and Political Reforms? The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and the Crisis of Post War Nigeria Federalism,” Kujenga Amani, January 26, 2022, https://kujenga-amani.ssrc.org/2022/01/26/between-violent-separatist-agitation-and-political-reforms-the-indigenous-people-of-biafra-ipob-and-the-crisis-of-post-war-nigerian-federalism/
- 2Mphathisi Ndlovu and Lungile Tshuma, “Bleeding from One Generation to the Next: The Media and the Constructions of Gukurahundi Postmemories by University Students in Zimbabwe,” African Studies, vol 80, no. 24 (2021), DOI:10.1080/00020184.2021.1987188.
- 3Marianne Hirsch, The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012)
- 4Marianne Hirsch, “Surviving Images: Holocaust Photographs and the Work of Postmemory,” The Yale Journal of Criticism, vol. 14, no. 1 (2001): 5-37.