From Scholastica Onyeka, Makurdi
A young man was recently killed and several houses were burnt following fighting between two communities, Mbakume (Mbaivur) and Mbasombo, in Ikpayongo, Gwer East Local Government Area (LGA) of Benue State.
Our correspondent gathered that the conflict between the communities, which has lasted the past eight years, had defied measures taken to resolve the matter, including the mediation and dialogue by the police and the suspension of the traditional rulers of the area.
Sequel to the Ikpayongo clash, another upheaval also prompted the Benue State government to declare curfew in Oju LGA after four persons were killed and several houses burnt in a clash between two clans, Oju and Ibilla, over the location of a proposed foreign university.
The spate of communal crises has assumed worrisome dimensions in most parts of Benue State to the extent that no week passes without communities warring over land, fishing ponds, royalty or some other thing.
The frequency of the multifaceted disputes has overwhelmed stakeholders, especially traditional rulers, who are usually the first authority to be notified. In most cases, they appear helpless and in dire need of better approaches to curb conflicts within their domain.
Concerned by the trend, the Middle Belt Brain Trust (MBBT), in collaboration with the Institute for Integrated Transitions (FIT), recently organised a two-day workshop to build the capacity of traditional rulers in alternative dispute resolution methods.
The workshop, which held in Makurdi, the Benue State capital, was organized by the MBBT as part of the series of activities emplaced towards strengthening grievance management systems at the community level, including engagements with the state government, paramount rulers and other stakeholders and groups in Benue State. Twenty-two traditional rulers from various parts of the state were present.
A member of the MBBT, Dr. Joseph Atang, who is also the country representative for The King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), explained that the workshop was aimed at identifying, strengthening, institutionalising and adopting best practises in grievance management at the community level.
He said the MBBT, chaired by General Martin Luther Agwai (retd.), has a mission to build social cohesion by working with communities to create locally driven social covenants led by the people.
Atang noted that the training of the monarchs would equip them to make justice accessible to disadvantaged groups at the community level, to fill the gaps created by the failure of existing institutions to effectively manage grievances, especially at the community level, which has constituted a major source of conflict.
“This is mainly due to the fact that the justice system is overstretched and there is a perceived bias of both the lawmaking and law enforcement bodies,” he said.
Earlier, the coordinator of IFIT, Thomas Bimba, said the grievance management training for community leaders would help improve what they are doing and encourage them to design more effective and response grievance management systems.
Bimba stressed that the MBBT/IFIT community grievance management training for for the traditional rulers was not meant to replace the role of the courts but to serve as an essential complement of legal mechanisms, especially given that it would help illiterate or poor populations who cannot afford the courts and the geographically dispersed populations access justice.
He further explained that it would rely on voluntary compliance as well as having supportive cultural norms that emphasize the importance of reconciliation and relationships over “winning” in dispute resolution.
One of the participants, the traditional head of Otukpo Kingdom, Ad’Otukpo, Dr. Samuel Onu, at the training, lamented that in spite of interventions by the traditional council in some instances, those aggrieved, oftentimes, jettisoned the peace process to drag the matter to court. He said when that occurs, it makes it difficult for the traditional rulers to arrive at an amicable resolution of the conflicts.
One of the workshop facilitators and member of the MBBT, Imam Muhammad Ashafa, on his part, emphasised that monarchs, in handling conflicts in their domains, should progressively begin with communication, collaboration, negotiation, mediation and then the matter could be brought to the palace for non-binding arbitration where the powers of the traditional rulers stop, if all previous steps fail to yield desired results.
The participants were encouraged to adapt the best practice in alternative resolution as it is cheaper, faster, more accessible and emphasizes the importance of reconciliation and relationships over “winning”.
In his contribution, the traditional head of Apa Kingdom, Ad’Apa, represented by Chief Iduh Godwin, said the delay of court judgments sometimes leads to conflicts among parties to certain disagreements.
He cited an instance of the signing of a memorandum of understanding for the mining of mineral deposits by one party to the disputed ownership, adding that the parties had opted for court over the land where the minerals were located despite an earlier decision taken by the traditional council of their area.
The monarch said that while the matter was yet to be determined by the courts for over five years, one of the parties (community) to the disputed land signed the MOU with an investor and continued to enjoy benefits derived therein.
Responding to the above circumstance, one of the facilitators, a former executive secretary, National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Bem Angwe, counselled on the need to tackle the earliest signs of conflict before it occurs, insisting that traditional rulers must act on early warning by calling the two parties to seek a negotiated settlement that works.
He said: “You don’t need to wait for somebody to come and report. Act on early warnings. In those days, courts relied on the decision taken by the panel of traditional rulers because they were truthful, unbiased and their decision was alternative to violence. The perception of society today is different from what existed before; that’s why traditional rulers’ decisions are challenged in court. Once you lay a bad foundation, you will always be challenged.”
The Ter Ushongo, Kwaghtse Kuma, hailed MBBT/IFIT for what he described as quality training, urging the organisers to make it more frequent and to engage other traditional heads on the ladder.
Former vice-chancellor of Benue State University (BSU), Makurdi, Prof. Charity Angya, who is also a member the MBBT, commended traditional rulers for taking time to map their communities, analyze some of the conflicts in their communities, urging them to take advantage of the lessons from the workshop to design community early warning systems, explore best practices to form or strengthen community grievance management councils and strengthen their collaboration/linkages with other chiefdoms to resolve common conflicts.
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