Friday, November 23, 2012

Rebecca S. Dali defends her PhD thesis: "An Ethical Analysis of the Plight of Women in Violent Conflict in Northern Nigeria (1980-2008)"

 Rebecca awaits the examination at the Unijos School of Post-Graduate Studies
November 5, 2012 was a pretty special day for Rebecca Samuel Dali. It was the day for which she had been preparing herself for some years, especially since 2003 when she entered the Master's program in Ethics and Philosophy at the federal University of Jos (Unijos), and took a graduate course with Wendy. At the time Rebecca had already started the research which would become the heart of her master's thesis on the effect of violent conflict on women. After the Jos crisis of 2001 she had followed up on those women, both Muslim and Christian, who, like herself, had been deeply affected by that event. She asked them many questions about injuries sustained, trauma and various kinds of loss suffered during the crisis. The result was a thesis which argued that, because of their pivotal role in the family and society, the effects of such crises were more devastating for women than for men.

New Buildings at Unijos

Although Rebecca wished to continue immediately with doctoral studies, a number of delays at the university in calling on an external examiner for the master's theses meant that she was not able to defend this thesis for some time, and enrollment in the doctoral program was delayed until 2009. But that did not stop her from beginning the work toward a doctoral thesis as an extension of earlier work, now focused on the northern communities of Kaduna (the crisis of 2000) and Maiduguri (the 'cartoon' crisis of 2006): "An Ethical Analysis of the Plight of Women in Violent Conflict in Northern Nigeria (1980-2008)"

This time the focus of the thesis was somewhat different. Rebecca used evidence obtained through interviews and discussions to argue that in general there is far too little understanding of the plight of women in violent conflict, and that, contrary to public perception, Muslim women were as seriously affected by these crises as were Christian women. Rebecca submitted the completed thesis to the Department of Religious Studies and Philosophy in June. Normally the thesis is first approved by a committee of the department, before it is passed along to the Dean of Arts and Sciences. From that point it goes before the University Senate, and if this body approves, an external examiner is called upon to come and examine the student in an oral defense of the thesis, the Viva.

Wendy working with Rebecca to prepare her for the oral defense

Compared to many graduate students, Rebecca's doctoral defense was scheduled fairly soon after she completed and submitted the thesis to the department. Some students wait a year or more before an external examiner is identified, and is ready to come for the defense. Since Wendy, as supervisor, was not in Nigeria at the time, she depended heavily on a Nigerian colleague, Prof. Musa Gaiya, to take care of arrangements for inviting the external examiner and setting the date. Even so, we were caught somewhat by surprise when, on October 6, we received an urgent request from Prof. Gaiya to come for the November 5 defense, and arrive in Nigeria by November 1 if at all possible. A month is rather short for obtaining a Nigerian visa, but we did manage to get it by asking for expedited service. And we arrived in Jos in time, by Wednesday, October 31!

Rebecca with Prof. Gaiya and Wendy at the defense 
Already the next day, Thursday, Wendy started working with Rebecca, preparing her for the kinds of questions and challenges she might expect on the arguments and positions taken. Rebecca appeared confident enough in these discussions, so we were not overly concerned about her ability to hold her own in the oral defense. Of course, when Monday came, the day of the defense, Rebecca was rather nervous. And the external examiner didn’t help matters when he started his examination with a barrage of criticism. Even so, Wendy noticed that his critical remarks focused on rather insubstantial details, without  touching central positions defended in the thesis. This was a good sign. In the end the examiner affirmed Rebecca for presenting 'groundbreaking' work, and awarded the doctoral degree. She would have to provide only moderate corrections; although she was given six months to complete them, she will probably be able to finish them by Christmas time.

Rebecca and Wendy with external examiner

Rebecca signs the important documents

So, the time had really come to celebrate the event! We are so grateful that Rebecca has achieved her desire to finish the doctoral studies. Many years of educational effort have come to a climax with this examination. And Rebecca has worked hard toward this achievement. Although, with her husband, Sam, Rebecca now serves the Church of the Brethren (EYN in Nigeria) and The Theological College of Northern Nigeria (TCNN), she began life in a family characterized by a thorough mix of Nigeria's major religious groups: Muslim, Christian and traditional African religion. She remembers the rote memorization of Islamic prayers in early childhood. But that did not lead to her receiving a regular basic education, for her herbalist father was more interested in having her help in the preparation, brewing and distribution of his products. But one day her older sister rescued her from this work, and had her placed in a mission school. At the time Rebecca did not have the proper clothes for schooling, but that did not stop her. Without further help from her parents, she worked in the fields at harvest to earn the money needed for tuition and a uniform.

From this beginning Rebecca acquired a deep desire for learning, and when she finished primary school she hoped to go on to secondary schooling. Once more, her parents had other plans. In order to pay the debt of one of her brothers who had been imprisoned, her father had promised Rebecca in marriage as third wife to a much older man. To escape this fate Rebecca ran away from home, but the relatives from whom she sought help returned her to her father instead. Again her older sister came to her rescue, telling her to run to the house of the Captain in charge of the local EYN Girls' Brigade, of which she had been a member since she was five. At this point the Captain and the local pastor intervened on her behalf to talk to her father, and introduce her to the Women Teachers' College Numa, a girls' boarding school. And once again Rebecca lacked the necessary means, but she was able to pay for her own room and board, uniform, books and tuition by helping a number of teachers with their housework. Rebecca did well at the school (1975-80), and upon graduation was able to teach in area schools for a number of years, until she married Sam, who was working in a mission dispensary at the time. The wedding was not a straightforward event either, for an older brother wanted Rebecca to marry a rich man, who could help solve the family's financial difficulties. Once again, Rebecca escaped to a relative who promised to help, but in fact did nothing. But Rebecca did get to marry the man of her choice, although the wedding had to proceed without the usual help from family members, and the young couple had little to claim as their own at the time; but the Lord has blessed their marriage with six children.

In 1983 the Nigerian Church of the Brethren (EYN) sponsored both Sam and Rebecca for theological training at TCNN, and from 1983-87 Rebecca was enrolled in the Christian Ministry program there. Upon completion she taught for six years (1987-93) at EYN's Kulp Bible College. But this would not be the final goal of her studies, for in 1993 the Basel Mission of Switzerland sponsored her for further studies, first for her Bachelor's degree (1993-96) and following that, to work towards a Master's degree (1997-98) at TCNN. Since that time Rebecca has been teaching at TCNN on behalf of the Church of the Brethren. She did take a leave of absence for a number of years to complete her doctorate, and transferred to live in the north east of Nigeria, also because last year her husband became Executive President of the Nigerian Church of the Brethren, which meant relocating to Mubi, not far from Maiduguri. Aside from the NGO which she has established to help women victims of ethno-religious violence, Rebecca is teaching and preaching in that part of Nigeria for the time being. She hopes to go back to teaching at TCNN Bukuru from January through July 2013, before returning to Kwarhi, near the Mubi EYN Headquarters, until her husband Sam finishes this term of service to the church.

Time for celebration: Rebecca and Sam with Adrian and Wendy
Aside from her studies and teaching activities over the last years, Rebecca has published a number of books: Women in Ministry with Jesus: Where are They? Reflections on Women's Activities in the Church Today (2000); The Secret of Successful Living in the Christian Home (2001); Wealth Creation and Savings: Some Biblical Principles. Not long ago she managed to publish her master's thesis on women in the Jos 2001 crisis, and we anticipate that the doctoral work will soon join this list of publications.

Over the years we have asked many of you to pray for Rebecca as she faced one obstacle after the other, to pray for Wendy's supervision of her work, and for the successful completion of her studies at this level. This is the appropriate time to thank you for your faithful support, which has made it possible for us to celebrate this event. In her thesis Rebecca acknowledged the help of many people who supported her along the way, and special thanks must go  to our department's Professor Umar Danfulani (currently Dean of Arts and Science), who always supported Rebecca, and initially encouraged her to work with Wendy. Also important for Rebecca's work was church historian Prof. Musa Gaiya, who looked after all the bureaucratic details of Rebecca's obligations to the Post-Graduate School of Unijos, particularly when Wendy was already back in Canada, and was continuing her supervision by email.

Rebecca working with Coleen Starwalt

Once Rebecca began collecting data based on her interviews, the intervention and help of Dr. Coleen Starwalt of TCNN was crucial for the analysis of the statistics on which her results are based. And Rebecca's work owes much to the timely help of Mrs. Crozier and others at TCNN who helped her to edit her thesis for English. But finally Rebecca's acknowledgements begin with what has been most important throughout these years: “My appreciation goes to God Almighty who bestows His favour upon me in His ministry. 'My God is God.' He opens doors for me, and has sustained and enabled me to this point. Glory, honour and majesty belong to God.”


Max said...

What a testament to hard work and perseverane. Praise the Lord for Rebecca!

Unknown said...

thank you, Wendy for your servant-leadership! what a beautiful story to read..after praying for Rebecca along her journey! To God be the Glory!!