His Research: Bell Ihua on Maintaining Social Cohesion in Nigeria

Professor Bell Ihua is Executive Director at Africa Polling Institute (API), Principal Consultant at DBI Analytics Consulting and Lead Director at SMYLE Africa Group, a bourgeoning Pan-African conglomerate, promoting thought leadership, trade & investments in sub-Saharan Africa. He is an experienced Pollster, Social Researcher, Management Consultant, Lecturer and Adjunct Professor. He shared his thoughts on how Nigeria could maintain social cohesion as captured in the Nigeria Social Cohesion Survey Report recently launched by Africa Poling Institute (API).

AC: Could you please tell us about yourself?

PBI: My name is Professor Bell Ihua, and I’m Executive Director at Nigeria’s leading opinion research think tank, Africa Polling Institute (API). In the last 20 years I have had experience working in professional services, consulting, lecturing, social research and public opinion polling. Prior to my return to Nigeria, I studied and lectured in a couple of Universities in the United Kingdom. Upon my return, in the last 10 years, my work has been in the area of social and opinion research, and focused on providing access to citizens to participate in governance through research. By the grace of God, I have been involved in over 300 public opinion polling projects and granted access to over 500,000 Nigerians to lend their voice to governance through public opinion polls, surveys and social research projects.

AC: Recently you launched the Nigerian 2021 Social Cohesion Survey Report. What problem were you trying to solve with this report?

PBI: Yes, the Nigeria Social Cohesion Survey project is one of the flagship studies of API; and we worked off bootstraps to undertake the first survey in 2019. This came out of a deep brainstorming session and scanning of the environment in order to identify an area we could contribute to the nation through research. And we found that one major issue affecting the country was the issue of unity. So, we formed our thesis around trying to understand how united or divided Nigeria is at the moment. However, we needed to conceptualise and situate it theoretically, and we happened to do this from the lens of social cohesion. So in 2019, we studied the concept of social cohesion using 5 key indicators, which were identity, trust, social justice, participation, self-worth & future expectation. But in 2021, with the support of Ford Foundation, we had to expand the indicators to include areas like Impunity, corruption, natural resource governance and gender.

AC: What surprised you most in the process of compiling the report?

PBI: Hmm… I would not say I was particularly surprised, because I’m always on the field and tend to hear what citizens say all the time; nonetheless I was deeply concerned at the extent to which things have deepened over time. I’ll take just 2 quick examples. In 2019 we had asked the question, ‘compared to 4 years ago, how united or divided would you say the country is?’ In 2019 the findings showed that 45% said the country was much more divided than the previous four years; however, by 2021, that percentage had jumped by 20-points to 65%. So I began to wonder, what had gone wrong in 2 years, between 2019 and 2021, for division to degenerate to this level? Also, we asked citizens, ‘If you had an opportunity to relocate with your family out of Nigeria, would you seize the opportunity?’ In 2019 the findings showed that only 32% said they would seize that opportunity, just about a third of the country. However, and most surprisingly, by 2021, that number had galloped to 73%, with a whopping 41% increase. To the point that some citizens were even saying they would be happy to leave Nigeria, for just any other country at all. So I’m concerned when I see data like these. Nevertheless, just to bring some balance into the picture, it would be good to mention that while 63% of citizens said they would be willing to cooperate with citizens from other parts of the country to make the country more united and stronger, almost 60% said they believe the future of the country would be much better than it is today. So there still hope and resilience expressed by citizens.

AC: At a time that the country seems to be having the loudest of ethnic agitations, what do you think we need to do as a country to bring about social cohesion?

PBI: Well there are several things that can be done to promote social cohesions, which time will not permit me to say here. But if I may just touch of a few of them. First, is that the country is in dire need of a new national movement that helps everyone to see Nigeria, not as what it is today, but as what it can be. A movement that works hard to tackle injustice and fight every form of exclusion, marginalisation, nepotism, favouritism, tribalism and all the ‘isms’; and focus on ways to promote unity, peaceful coexistence, hope, pride in the nation and gives every citizen a sense of belonging. Like a new dream that will wake citizens up and begin to rekindle hope that a new country is possible. Secondly, the survey showed that citizens have higher levels of trust for religious and traditional institutions than they have for public institutions. This means that there’s an increasing role that religious and traditional leaders can play, especially at the grassroot level to promote unity, harmony and peaceful coexistence.

AC: In a multi-ethnic, heterogeneous society like Nigeria, what do you think our leaders could do to bring social cohesion?

PBI: Leaders have an increasing role to play in order to promote social cohesion, particularly the political leaders. First things first, in their words, action and body language they must embody the concept of cohesion and unity. If a leader is from one part of the country, he or she must extend a hand to citizens from other parts of the country to be inclusive and unifying in his or her decisions and actions.

AC: What is your parting shot to Nigerians on unity and social cohesion?

PBI: The truth of the matter is that the onus rests on citizens to make Nigeria more united and socially cohesive. We cannot wait for citizens of other countries to come and help us chart a course for ourselves. We need to bear the burden and responsibility for making our country work. If everyone plays his or her own part, then the country stands a better chance to be stronger and more united. We are playing our own part through our social and opinion research works.    

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