ABADA, IFEANYICHUKWU M.
Department of Political Science
University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
This article takes a look at infra-ethnic conflict in Nigeria using Aguleri-Umuleri-UmuobaAnam crisis in Anambra East Local government area of Anambra state as a case study. It gives a brief historical account of the conflict and identifies the causes of the conflict as well as the consequences. Finally, the article suggests ways of resolving the conflict under investigation
In spite of the level of social, political and economic development of Nigeria, cases of inter-communal or intra-ethnic feuds have been re-occurring. Since the end of the Nigerian civil war, many communities have fought each other either over a piece of land, the site of a market, protest against the sitting of local government headquarters or police station, or inclusion in a state or local government area they do not like.
In some cases, as well, communities have fought each other because of mere hatred for each other, especially in some semi-cosmopolitan societies.
In Anambra state, there are cases of incessant intra-ethnic or communal conflicts, which have contributed immensely to the very low rate at which the state is developing. Therefore, this article shall focus on the Aguleri-Umuleri-Umoba-Anam crisis in Anambra East local government area of Anambra State.
CONCEPTUALIZING INTRA – ETHNIC CONFLICT
Conflict is a necessary condition of modernization,-since it embodies scarcity which invariably generate competition and hostility between groups. It also refers to situations of disagreement between groups or individuals over some collective goals, means of achieving such goals, or the distribution and allocation of collectively owned resources.
William Zartman (1991) opines that conflict is an inevitable aspect of humaninteraction, an unavoidable concomitant of choices and decisions. Flippo (1980) states thatconflict occurs when two or more people or groups perceive that they have (a)Incompatibility of goals, and (b) Inter -dependence of activity. Pondy (1967) sees conflict as conflictual behaviour, verbal or non-verbal, ranging from passive resistance to activeaggression. Kate and Kahn (1978) opines that two systems (persons, groups, organizations, nations) are in conflict when they interact directly in such a way that the actions of one tend to prevent or compel some outcome against the resistance of the other.
Conflict breeds conflict is a self -generating theory of conflict process within
social groups. Ethnicity, whether inter or intra in nature in contemporary history of
Nigeria is synonymous with conflict. Intra-ethnic conflicts occur when there is a
competition for the scarce resources, differences in value system and interests. By intra –
ethnic conflict, we mean conflicts among different groups or communities within the same
ethnic zone. The relative deprivation theory asserts that a psychological .variable, relative
deprivation is the basic pre-condition for conflict of any kind. The more widespread and
intense deprivation is among members of a population, the greater is the magnitude of
violence in one form of the other.
J.S. Coleman (1986) argued that the unequal socio-economic development of the various ethnic groups in Nigeria led to inter-ethnic (or intra ethnic conflict) (emphasis -my). Once there is an uneven development in all or some facets of human existence within a given society, the different groups will definitely become immersed in the competition for the goods of modernity which invariably leads to conflict situation.
Intra-ethnicity is inevitable and conflict is a necessary condition for human societies. In effect, what distinguishes a society form another is not the existence or absence of group conflict, but how each society contains the forces that generate the conflicts or the conflict itself. Dowse and Hughes (1972) assert that in social life, men come to value many things such as wealth, power, equality, status, security, the community etc. When they cannot achieve these values, anger and aggression occur. Thus if a group discovers that it has intensely been relatively deprived by another group within the same ethnic zone, it can muster all the available resources for collective violence to disorganize and control or the moderate the excesses of the dominant group. Goodes (1997) thinks that conflict is a situation which arises from the inability of the social groups or individuals to hold a consensus opinion on certain issues. The underlying assumptions are that societies and social groups have characteristic patterns of conflict behaviour which exists in complex interaction with one another, and that these patterns tend to persist over time. Hence, the conflict process is endemic to society, follows its own internal logic, and is largely self-contained and self-generating.
Therefore, intra ethnic conflicts are caused by a number of factors:- unhealthy competition for scarce resources; struggle for influence and control of certain positions; mutually exclusive and/or mutually incompatible values; mutually opposed actions and counter -actions, border or boundary disagreement, unequal socio-economic development among others.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE CONFLICT
Aguleri-Umuleri and UmobaAnam are three distinct communities living in Otuocha, the headquarters of Anambra East Local Government area. These three communities were involved in violent intra-ethnic conflicts in the recent past. Although these conflicts started long ago, it, started taking its violent form in 1933, when Aguleri and Umuleri fought each other without recording any death. The conflicts re-occurred in December, 1964, and only very few lives were lost, without any significant destruction of properly. In 1995, the conflict took a different dimension and claimed many lives, andproperty were equally destroyed. On April 2,1999, the worst form of the conflict occurred which seriously affected both sides involved including Umuoba-Anam Communities. This crisis brought severe damages to lives and property in these areas, which actually attracted the attention of both the state and federal governments.
CAUSES OF THE CONFLICTS
A number of factors contribute to the conflict between Aguleri-Umuleri-UniuobaAnam. They include:
(1) The struggle for ownership of Otuocha land:
The struggle for the exclusive ownership of Otuocha land led to the violent -dashes between Aguleri and Umuleri communities. Isichei (1976) posits that the role of land disputes is very marked in the history of these wars. Much value was not attached to Otuocha land by any of the two communities of Aguleri and Umuleri at the initial stage, but as the 20th century progressed, each community began to value the area and efforts intensified to claim the ownership of the area. Claims and Counter claims Were made in various courts by the two communities and these disputes resulted in a combat in 193?.This is confirmed by Ifediora (1995; 14). Who maintains that the conflicts started in 1993. The conflict was milder and as soon as Umuoba-Anam intervened, the combatants referred to their residential concentration. Litigations immediately ensued featuring claims and counter claims over, ownership of the Otuocha land by each of the two communities. Some of the judgments sparked-off further conflicts as those who felt unfavoured by the court resorted to one violent reaction or the other to register their protest. This action led to armed conflicts between the two communities in 1964 which was also resolved by Umuoba-Anam people. This incident was followed by further litigations which culminated in the 1984 Supreme Court judgement which made it clear that none of the two communities could claim exclusive ownership of the land in dispute (Supreme court judgement 1984:5). They were all advised to continue to peacefully co-exist. As stated by the government of Anambra State in spite of the judgment, each of the communities continued to regard Otuocha as its exclusive property (Government white paper 1995). This situation led to further conflicts and the consequent 1995 bloody armed conflict between them. It is very clear that the bloody conflict resulted from the aged long dispute over ownership of Otuocha land which unfortunately involved the Umuoba-Anam community which had been resolving their differences in the past. This was emphasized by Obasanjo when he visited the war, torn communities in August 1999 and queried them’
Who owns the land you fight to own?. Land belongs to God and nobody else, we cannot take one inch of land away when we die (Ifediora 1995:1)
(2) The Struggle for Supremacy in Otuoha:
Very close to the struggle for land as a factor that resulted to bloody conflict in the area was the struggle for supremacy in Otuocha and the entire local government area. The aged long struggle for the possession of title of ownership of Otuocha land created some kind of animosity among the two communities of Aguleri and Umuleri and each community felt that taking control of the entire area in one way or the other would automatically make them acquire the title of ownership of otuocha land. This was the origin of the fight for supremacy in the area. This is part of the issues involved in theJukun-Tivcconflicts in Taraba State and the Tiv-Etudo conflicts in Benue State. ButAguleri and Umuleri communities have prepared themselves for the control of the area covered by the Otuocha and in fact, the entire local government area. This is sufficientlyclear in the pattern of choice of occupations for their younger ones. Just like the Onitsha families of pld wanted their children to be lawyers and join in the land disputes they had with Obosi and their other neighbours, Umuleri community became interested in the legalprofession to be able to contend with the activities of the Chiriweuba’s and the Idigos, thelawyers and police officers from Aguleri. Aguleri people produced more lawyers to enable them destabilize the strategies and plans adopted by the Umujeri people over the monopoly of Otuocha land. This situation is succinctly captured by (Ifediora Ibid: 5) as thus:
When early in 1935, the Chief Omonyi Egbuche tearfully assured jubilant Chief R. A. Idigo that ‘his ‘white shitted prophesy. Chief R. A. Idigo who was jubilant over the continued non-suiting of Umuleri case over the Aguakor/Otuocha land would not imagine that Chief Omonyi was actually possessed when he made that now historic pronouncement of destiny, neither would he believe that Umuleri would one day, produce people who would unveil his treachery over the Otuocha land and set the people free from his expansionist policy. He did not ever seem to know that when the time comes, the oil bean seed would explode as a matter of right.
The white shirted’ men here are enlightened people who would lead the Umuleri community in the Otuocha cases. He termed such notable Umuleri leaders as chiefs Michael Udeanoh, Ilogu, Alogu and Nwayibe as mere fore-runners of those being expected, the crop of educated men, the lawyers they hoped to produce with time. Sometimes, communities resort to bloody clashes when some either loose confidence in the courts due to lack of adequate resources to prosecute such cases or when they feel they have those who can stand by them after violently achieving their aims. This is happened to be the case in the Umuleri-Aguleri and Umoba Anam crisis. Some of the communities had over the years felt that they should determine the fate of others in issues relating to life in Otuocha and the entire, local government areas including who occupies which political office or the other. This was a major source of conflict. Cases abound where communal projects were forestalled due to unwarranted but ego boosting, litigations by the communities against each other.
(3) The socio-economic Status by one community over the other:
The exhibitions of superior socio-economic status by one group over the others is another source of conflict between the communities in Otuocha between the communities in Otuocha. This dimension of the source of conflict is justified by Goode’s conviction that when two or more readily identified groups inhabit the same area, they will start competing for scarce resources. These resources include money, power which each group would want to acquire and exhibit at all times (Goodes (1981:17). Acquisition of wealth and power could be dangerous among communities with mutual habit such as the ones in Otuocha. Where economic or political conflict is sharply divided among such communities, bloody conflicts resulting from prejudice will be inevitable. Claims and counter-claims by the two communities of Aguleri and Umuleri attributed the last armed conflict to this. Thus, while Ekweonu claims that the immediate past armed conflict resulted from envy from the Umuleri neighbours over their God given land, their • resourceful nature and development consciousness, (National Light, 1999:14). Udedibia suspected that jealousy over the befitting burial given to an illustrious son of Aguleri, Chief Mike Edozie, a onetime chairman of the local government area, generated and escalated the conflicts or crisis (Newswatch (1999:16). What is evident here is cheer exhibition of superior socio-economic status of certain elements in the communities. When one comes by money sometimes, he put it into recklessness and always has loyalists who always do his will, sometimes killing others or silencing people who pose a threat to enhanced socioeconomic status of their perceived leaders. Such people existed and still exist among the communities in Otuocha. As Ifediora observes, ‘it was not immediately known that God in His kindness was to bless Umuleri with new patriots destined to wipe away the tears of their people after the demise of the Umuleri Progressive Union (U. P. U) and the old Umuleri leadership (Ifediora Op. cit: 10). Aguleri was not left out in the production of the nouveau riche determined as well to lead their people to victory. Thus the emergence of the Mafiosi men wielding power through the systematic use of private violence resulted in more constant and bloodier conflicts among the communities as each felt equipped to challenge the other. In this regard, the last bloody conflict could be regarded as what (Ochoche 1987) called a Mafia phenomenon. The Magnitude of the immediate past war or conflict demonstrated alliance between the Mafiosi and their local counter parts.
(4) The Maltreatment of members or a member of one community over the other:
Furthermore, Maltreatment of members or a member of one community by the other and excessive militarization of the communities could be blamed for the immediate past armed conflict in Otuocha. In spite of the fact that land disputes have created almost a perpetual enemity among the communities of Aguleri and Umuleri, land has not been mentioned at all as part of the source of the immediate past armed conflict. Both the official and the informal report of the Umuleri people point to the incident leading to the death of a son of one Emma Itigwe as the immediate cause of their fight against Aguleri. UmuobaAnam claimed that their involvement was mere self defence which they have the right to do. It was alleged that in the course of the UmuobaAnam playing their traditional role of making their residential zone free for all to take refuge in, the Umuleri warriors turned against them and killed two young men of the community, with a warning that they, were to be dealt with. In a letter sent to the House Committee on peace and National Reconciliation, Abuja, on 24th August, 1999, a group known as Federated Association of Umuoba Anam Development Councils based in Otuocha complained that when their people were shot and killed, the Umuoba Anam sent emissaries to Umuleri community to intimate them of the situation and those people only came back with a confirmation of the threat of extermination earlier issued by the Umuleri warriors. It may be difficult for anybody to dismiss this development since Ifediora’s informant threatened that unless Umuleri and Umuoba Anam united as one against Aguleri, nobody should hope of peace in Otuocha and the environ (Ifediora Op. cit.) it might be in their attempt to make this threat materialize that the Umuoba Anam people were attacked and this resulted in their armed resistance, as they claim. It is however necessary to emphasize the psychological dimension of the immediate past conflict. There was tension in Otuocha and many people were looking for an outlet to their anger and a possible opportunity to attack. People then saw an armed conflict as immediate outlet to their bottled anger. Bloom and Ottong, (1987) stated that the enemy whether real or imagined could be blamed in such a situation. It was much easier, as imagined by the young warriors to deal with their perceived enemies, due to the confidence reposed on them by the arms and ammunitions available to them. Many of the communities might have acquired arms in anticipation of a possible outbreak ofhostilities.
(5) The excessive militarization of both communities:
The Aguleri community acquired arms after their war with Obele and used against Umuleri in 1995 (government of Anambra State white paper, 1997). Umuleri community must have acquired arms and ammunitions in preparation for a revenge against Aguleri. This is understandable and as Edike reports, “embarrassing quantities of arms and ammunitions have been discovered in a shrine in Umuleri. The shrine must have acted as an armory over the years (Vanguard, 1999:1). The UmuobaAnam community could riot claim ignorance of the tension in Otuocha and the danger of being a scapegoat. They must have had arms, no matter their crude nature for the vigilante mood pervading the area since 1995. Since the communities were militarized, those who were attacked first could not demand for any explanation from their aggressors before attacking and since the aggressors were highly militarized, they could not give a critical appraisal to the situation that confronted them before violently reacting to it. Thus excessive militarization of the communities in the area and in fact, the Nigerian society facilitated the armed conflict.
(6) The inability of the Anambra state government to resolve the crisis at the
Finally, the inability of the Anambra State government to properly resolve the crisis at the early stage escalated the conflict by making it transcend into internal wars. The violent clashes escalated beyond the control of local government council when the then incumbent chairman, a citizen of the town warring parties cannot be said to be neutral in the mediation. Knowing fully well the duties of police in the civil disobedience, the 1999 conflict recorded police causalties which made the command withdrew their men form the area. The police played a vital role in 1995 feuds. As observers rightly said, police intervention helped to quell the four days uprising. The clash of 1995 made the then Anambra Military administration to set up a commission of inquiring led by Justice Moses Nweje, a retired State high Court Judge. Other members of the commission included, D.C. Odenigbo, a retired permanent secretary; SCC Ogiaghe, a retired director-general; M.C. Emengo, Chief legal officer of Anambra State; and Eric Uchendu, a director of personnel in the office of the military Administrator-Mike Attah. The commission sat and came out with reports of their findings and recommendations called the government white paper. But ever since them, nothing concrete had been done to implement provisions of the government white paper; Besides, the government white paper was a highly controversial one, since the issues raised by it have remained unacceptable to both parties. Some argued that Mike Attah successor was either reluctant or lacks political will to implement the recommendations” of the commission. And since no action was taken to implement the decisions of the commission by bringing lasting solution to the conflicts in the area, it then escalated to internal war in 1999 which was highly fratricidal in nature.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE ARMED CONFLICT
The consequences of the armed conflict to communities in Anambra East Local Government Area of Anambra State are quite grievous. Tire armed conflict of April 2, 1999 made a very devastating impact on both the communities involved in it, the Anambra East Local Government Area, Anambra State and the Nigerian society at large. Such impacts included general insecurity including armed robbery, prolonged dislocation of families, poverty, more violent struggle for power, negative infrastructural development or backwardness etc.
There was and still is a general insecurity in Otuocha and the environment as communities that suffered more losses in the conflict would be always getting ready to revenge, while those who may have gained more advantage would be preparing for any eventuality. This has actually created a perpetual atmosphere of insecurity in the area. Moreover, many of the people involved in the armed conflict were mercenaries imported from outside the communities. These strangers have been exposed to the various outlets of the communities and were reluctant to surrender their arms to the police. Some would want to keep it to terrorize and drop others at homes, along the various roads in the area and also in Anambra State in general. The rate of armed robbery and car snatching increased tremendously in Otuocha and Anambra State respectively, but with the intervention of the Bakassi boys and other security agents, the activities of these armed robbers have reduced.
The armed conflict resulted to dislocation of families. All the towns were deserted and many members of the communities involved were helpless refugees in various parts of the country. Both communities of Aguleri and Umuleri represented by Hippo Onwuegbuka and S. T. C. Umdadi respectively in separate interviews maintained that “members of their communities have run to various parts of the country for their dear lives (Newswatch Aug: 30.1999). In the attempt to escape being killed at the different stages of the conflict, men abandoned their families, mothers abandoned their children and older siblings abandoned those they were supposed to take care of and ran for their lives. Now many are still finding it difficult to locate their parents and members of their families. The level of destruction was so high that in some cases, all members of the expended family lost their houses to fire. This made it difficult for most people who ran away during the armed conflict to come back to the communities again.
Anambra East Local government area is essentially an Agricultural area. About ninety percent of its population are farmers,. Many have lost their farms to the armed conflict and considering the vigilante activities of those whose farmlands are across the River Anambra have been involved in, since April 2, 1999, when the armed conflict started, many abandoned their farms which have now been overtaken by flood, resulting from over-flowing of the banks of Anambra and the Niger. The Mafiosi in these communities have used most of their resources in prosecuting the armed conflict and so, have failed to assist the local farmers in the rehabilitation of their farm lands. Traders in Otuocha lost everything to fire and looters, as many left without removing anything”1 from their shops or homes, and civil servants had all that they have worked for in life destroyed. The effects of this armed conflict have been so devastating poverty pervades the inhabitants of Otuocha and those communities that depend on Otuocha for food items. The situation has even resulted to very high cost of living in Anambra State in general.
Finally, it has affected the socio-economic activities and developmental projects in the local government area since the fear-of uncertainty continues to loom even after the armed conflict. This has resulted to general backwardness of the area, with its attendant problems. Since most of the communities involved in the armed conflict dwell in poverty, the local government council has devoted most of its resources to the rehabilitation of the victims of the conflicts, thereby neglecting all other fundamental responsibilities and duties. This is usually the situation in most of the areas where such intra-ethnic conflicts or inter-communal crises had taken place.
The Aguleri-Umuleri conflicts have been a problem to various administrations
since the colonial period. It has made it impossible for development to take place in the
local government as resources were wasted form time to time trying to sort out these
problems. UmuobaAnam got involved in the crisis and so could no longer play that
traditional role of separating the other communities during the armed conflicts. Even the courts judgement in cases involving the two communities helped to escalate the crisisamong the warring communities.Prejudiceis the problem of the area. It has resulted in one community–underestimating the other and often wanting to push it to the wall. This situation elicitedvery sharp and violent reactions in which one community became a scapegoat. But as Bloom and Ottong (1987) warn that it is dangerous for a society or a group to look for scapegoat, because this diverts attention from looking for the true causes of social’ problems. Some people in Anambra East Local Government Area appear to derive pervasive psychological satisfaction from hating members of other communities by planning against them. In such struggles, some will lose while others will gain and this usually sparks of series of inter-communal conflicts between the losers and winners at one time or the other. The struggle for the exclusive ownership of Otuocha land has been a fundamental causal factor. The penetration of European traders, Missionaries and explorers in the area transformed not only the economic value of land, but social interactions among communities which hitter to used the land in common. This kind of transformation usually makes for conflict as existed between Aguleri-Umuleri-UmuobaAnam Communities.
Where hostile feelings had existed earlier, much was lost and nothing was gained. It was prejudice that affected the activities of the 1976 inter-state boundary commission (social science Review vol. 1 1978:68-82). It has caused havoc in the country and has gradually destroyed Otuoeha and environ.
To make for a lasting peace between Aguleri-Umuleri and UmuobaAnam, thefollowing solutions are recommended.
First, those who were behind the armed conflict appeared to be very well known to the communities and even the government. They should be invited and interrogated by the police and forced to sign an undertaking that will compel them to work for and make peace at all times, within their communities and between this communities and others.
Second, enlightenment campaign should be encouraged and extended to both communities on the need for peace at all times, and why the rule of law must be observed in dealing with certain issues. The campaign team will constitute representatives of the governments, and the communities, especially those who have been adequately counseled to accept the realities of the situations. Through such a campaign, the various court rulings which the Aguleri community emphasized the need for their interpretation to the communities involved will be explored and this will go a long way to lessening tension in Otuocha.
Third, there is need for well-planned extended reconciliatory meetings in which the communities concerned are mandated to invite representatives of their kits and kins and friends, even those outside Anambra State to take part in the discussion would yield very positive results if encouraged. The State and local governments assisted by the federal government can achieve permanent peace in Otuocha and among the two communities of Aguleri and Umuleri, using such people claimed to be their kits and kins by the communities concerned, and their friends. At the end of such meeting, these kits and kins will use various traditional methods including the traditional cleansing of blood (Ikomee) and oath-taking (Igbandu) and others which all he communities are familiar with and can respect.
Fourth, to avoid incessant bloody clashes, there is need to raise Otuocha to the status of a local government. Making the area, now known as Otuocha local government of its own will go a long way towards the resolution of the land disputes and the incessant armed conflicts in the area, (the government of Anambra State 1997). The various communities of hausa, Nupe, lgala, Agulu and Awka-Njikoka clan have suffered so much in Otuocha due to these clashes in Otuocha, but they will all have a sense of belonging should Otuocha be made a local government area in which the hostile communities will automatically looses their clannish identities to the cosmopolitan one. With permanent peace among the Aguleri-Umuleri and UmuobaAnam communities, the governments will assist in rehabitating the war torn communities and ensuring quick development of the area so that much will not remain to remind anybody of the ugly past. When the local government must have been creates, concerted efforts would be made to quickly and carefully demarcate the boundaries of Aguleri and Umuleri wherever there are doubts about that in any part of their residential areas in both Otuocha and their inland towns, and even among individuals from the two communities. Alternatively, the Federal Government should establish its presence in the disputed Otuocha land by invoking the land use decree of 1976. By so doing, it will end every court case and dispossess the two communities from ownership claims.
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