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Nigeria, Arise And Embrace Ubuntu By Rukayya Ibrahim Iyayi

August 30, 2017

The concept of Ubuntu is the key to an understanding of traditional African ethics.

Nigeria has been, and continues to be, the scene of multiple conflicts at local, national and regional levels for at least a decade. These conflicts have led to the breakdown of Nigeria as a country. Human lives are lost, infrastructure is destroyed, education and health services have suffered, and the environment is damaged. The tie that previously linked Nigerians is broken, social solidarity and cohesion has collapsed, and political tension is generated. In addition, socio-economic development is severely retarded as a result of the consequence of conflict. In conflicts such as these, the influence of the traditional African ethics in conflict resolution plays an important role in solving conflict in Nigeria peacefully, and in establishing positive conditions of life, freedom, dignity, right and development here.

Moreover, the role of traditional African ethics, before the colonial period, was to consider moral conduct in terms of attitude toward life, and encompasses issues of human dignity and respect, within the understanding that an individual’s humanity interconnects with the dignity and humanity of others. Good is whatever protects and promotes human life, evil is that which destroys or alters human life. Life is the supreme value in traditional African societies, and expresses itself in respect for humanity. The basis of this concern for human life is the African belief in the dignity of every human being. One word expresses this notion of dignity: Ubuntu (humanity). The concept of Ubuntu is the key to an understanding of traditional African ethics. Conflict in Nigeria is bad because it is a conduct of disgrace. It divides the Nigerian population by undermining interpersonal and social trust, above all destroying the social norms, values and institutions that have regulated and coordinated cooperation and collective action, for the well-being of the community. This makes it very difficult for both the social group and the state to recover their cohesion. Conflict disgraces human dignity and humanity. It does not intensify human life, instead conflict is there to diminish life and destroy infrastructure. It is, therefore, against this background that the study sought to examine the influence that Ubuntu can exert to solve conflict peacefully in Nigeria, to rebuild social trust, dignity, justice, unity, freedom, and development through reconciliation, in the light of Ubuntu as a world vision.

Although the international community remains committed to supporting Nigeria through the resolution of its conflict, seemingly very little has changed to date. The country is still in conflict, as it threatens their existence, safety, security and moral dignity. Given this situation, it becomes vital to analyze the effectiveness of Ubuntu reflection on values, for instance consideration of the importance of human life, freedom, dignity and rights. The question is then: How could Ubuntu contribute in the resolution of conflict in Nigeria?

The specific objective is to analyze the effectiveness of conflict resolution in Nigeria through the influence of Ubuntu to promote peace, freedom, human dignity and development of the nation.

Nigeria, to incorporate Ubuntu in the resolution of their conflict for the promotion of peace, freedom, unity, human dignity and development. Conflict resolution per se is very important on the African continent, and particularly in Nigeria, to ensure or to promote a better life. In recognizing that a country in which effective conflict resolution mechanisms have been and continue to be sought, it is clear that undertaking an analysis of their effectiveness, in the light of African ethics in conflict resolution, is vital. Ubuntu could be an integral part of the process of achieving positive peace and promoting social solidarity amongst Africans, and the Nigerians themselves.

The findings will assist policy makers and development agencies to ascertain the appropriate conflict resolution strategies for the promotion of peace and development in Nigeria. In addition, the study will be beneficial to other African countries in the sense that the results will indicate areas that need to be restructured, thereby improving the promotion of peace, human dignity, justice, unity and development, on the continent in general, and Nigeria in particular.  

Indeed, not all conflicts are harmful. Some may ultimately result in a positive impact on development or social change, although conflicts have negative connotations, many constitute an essential creative element for changing societies and achieving peace, a better life, development goals, and aspirations of individuals and groups. The most effective forms of conflict resolution identify the underlying causes of the conflict and address them through solutions that are mutually satisfactory, self-perpetuating, and sustaining.

Ubuntu is based on the values of humanness, care, respect, compassion, and associated values ensuring a happy and qualitative human community life in a family spirit. Ubuntu could be described as a community-based mindset in which the welfare of the group is greater than the welfare of a single individual in the group. Individuality, the sense of self, is recognized as important in the concept of Ubuntu. This differs, however, from individualism, that seeks to promote selfish interests at the expense of others. The latter (individualism) would not be acceptable to the Ubuntu sense of morality.

Ubuntu recognizes four attributes of being human, these are human dignity, equality, universal brotherhood, and sacredness of life; these provide the most desirable state of life in community-based living. Ubuntu contrasts with the more individualistic and self-centered one of Western culture. Communalism at the core of Ubuntu implies that the interests of the individual are subordinate to that of the group. The community will focus on the interests of each individual member and those activities and behaviors that will ensure the good of the group. Ubuntu is a collective solidarity, meaning that individuals will align their interests, activities, and loyalties to the group’s cause and well-being.

Ubuntu speaks about wholeness and compassion, someone who is welcoming, hospitable, warm, generous and willing to share. Ubuntu stands for a communitarian morality. The goal of that morality is dignity, reached through personal growth and fulfillment. The participation of the community is the essential means to personal dignity; hence, this participation is the motive and fulfillment of the process of morality. Thus, everything that promotes personal dignity and participation in the community is good; everything that prevents it is bad. In other words, the moral possibility of Ubuntu intrinsically relates to human happiness and fulfillment within a community.  Vital aspects of violent conflict are problems related to health and wealth; vital aspects of Ubuntu are health and wealth. Health and wealth are states of the whole person as a communal being

Traditionally one of the five main branches of philosophy, ethics, enquires into human relationships in terms of the problem of good and evil, in other words, the values and norms directing human actions and interactions, participation of the community is the essential means to personal dignity; hence, this participation is the motive and fulfillment of the process of morality. Thus, everything that promotes personal dignity and participation in the community is good and everything that prevents it is bad. In other words, the moral possibility of Ubuntu is related intrinsically to human happiness and fulfillment within a community. This means the demand to participate in community, yet not only for the sake of personal fulfillment, but also for the sake of the fulfillment of the community, for only in the community is personal fulfillment thought possible.

Could Ubuntu, in the sense of communal dignity, help end the conflict and install peace in Nigeria? From the concept of Ubuntu it proves that it could. From the moral concept of Ubuntu emerge several demands for peace and the promotion of human life and dignity.

Firstly, the demand is that Nigerians should choose to live together in the spirit of brotherhood; a community where mutual respect and solidarity for the sake of the health and wealth of the other is highly valued. This means a return to the communitarian spirit, observing and obeying the rules of society for the harmonious adjustment of the interests of the community rather than individuals, this instills the love of nation first before selfish interest. This presupposes settled agreements within the community, and such agreements should not exclude anyone, rule of law should be applied on everyone. This is the minimum ethical behavior required from people in support of the community.

Second, Nigerians should be generous, hospitable, and honest amongst themselves in fostering the health wealth and education amongst communities, services should be provided for everyone regardless of their status in the community. They should all be equal, because equality is the most basic principle of Ubuntu morality. Nigerian leaders must know that killing innocent people for their personal gain is not permissible. The search for personal gain or interest is not in accordance with Ubuntu. Practically traditional models of conflict resolution, aligned to Ubuntu, should be explored. Such models should aim at the reestablishment of relationships between the Nigerians. There must be a holistic approach to the process, in which the whole community should be involved, to assist on the road to peace. Nigerian leaders’ responsibility is to guide conflict resolution processes towards an agreement, which should reflect, as much as possible, the consensus of all the parties involved in conflict.

Furthermore, Nigerians should develop a form of communalism in which all the ethnic groups will find a collective role and space in society, inclusion and equity. It is most particularly in this respect that the concept of Ubuntu could be re-articulated in the Nigerian context. Nigerian ethnic groups should share in the values of Ubuntu, the values of collective solidarity, cohesion, compassion, care and collective stewardship. Nigerians, as a people, ought to define themselves in a positive and collective sense before the international community. If they focus on their similarities and not on their differences, they can achieve this sense of a shared identity and fate. After all, how different are the Hausa/Fulani from the Tiv; or how different are the Yorubas from the Igbos? Indeed, Nigerians should experience the exciting meaning of humanist communitarianism to avoid conflict between them.

Indeed, Nigerian leadership’s task is to create inter-ethnic trust and to overcome the tragedy of ethnic conflict. They should create a climate among their civilians conducive to a peaceful negotiation of an end to armed conflict, a climate of social dignity – a climate of humane communitarianism. Thus, Nigerians need to develop the spirit of Ubuntu in their society by respecting and accepting the values and principles, which should be the basis for creating a collective shared communal identity. It is also the task of Nigerian leadership to craft, canonize and permit the values of Ubuntu to work in the society, the value of reappropriating traditional African values, based upon the spirit of humanity manifested in sharing, caring and advancing the good of society, in order to restore the authenticity of the philosophy of communitarianism, as it is believed to have existed some centuries ago.


You can reach Rukayya at [email protected].