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The Voice of Nigerian Poverty

09/19/2005 15:30:30

Children near Uyo market
Children near Uyo market

A pioneering partnership between Lancaster University and a University in Nigeria has begun to record the voice of the rural poor in the Niger Delta.

This summer Lancaster University academics travelled to the University of Uyo, Nigeria, to train University staff, students and community volunteers how to carry out in depth interviews with people who are living in poverty.

It is the first time such detailed interviews have been conducted in native languages in Nigeria and researchers hope it will reveal a new layer of detailed information that has not previously been recorded.

The volunteers have now begun to collect the information, which will be recorded, transcribed and collated for analysis.

Dr Uwem Ite of Lancaster University’s Geography Department has led a three-year partnership with the University of Uyo funded by the British Council. This latest project - funded by the British Academy - builds on that link.

He and Dr Lenny Baer, also of the Geography department, said the project was about giving people new skills as well as tapping into the views of people who are directly affected by poverty.

Dr Ite was born in Nigeria and has worked in British Universities since 1991.

He said: "The project is going even better than we expected. When we arrived we knew people would be keen to participate as volunteer researchers but the level of interest and enthusiasm surprised us. This type of qualitative research is still relatively new to Nigerian social science and people were very keen to learn. There was such excitement on the faces in the room and the students were always there early."

Nigeria has a strong oral tradition but information about poverty has typically been gathered by quantitative rather than qualitative methods. It is also more often gathered and analysed on a national level rather than local.

Dr Ite said: "The Government and other organisations may be well meaning in terms of wanting to tackle poverty and encourage development but if you don’t listen to the people, if you try to impose changes from the top down then you will not take them along with you."

Dr Baer, who played a lead role in the training of interviewers, said the project was already proving to be some of the most rewarding work he had taken part in.

He said: "This research isn’t going to solve the problem of poverty in the Niger Delta but by teaching new methodology to people in Nigeria we are building institutional capacity. It is also important that we take the time to listen and let people talk. These are important oral testimonies."

Over the coming year these interviews will be recorded on tape, transcribed and written up into a report which will be passed on to the Nigerian Government, Non Governmental Organisations, villagers and other universities.

The research team also hopes to make the interview transcripts available on the Internet along with photographs and further information on the project.

•The Higher Education Link Between Lancaster and the University of Uyo in Nigeria has set up partnerships between individuals and departments at both Universities including Geography and Engineering. Other work has included collaborative research; training and exchange visits for academics from both universities.