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Mason alumnus is using education to combat Boko Haram

July 9, 2018   /   by Mary Lee Clark

Ernest Ogbozor (left) with Andrea Bartoli (right), former dean of the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

Ernest Ogbozor knew his parents’ stories of the Biafra War very well while growing up. ​

The brutal war between Nigeria and the southeast region (Biafrans) caused many civilians to die of starvation during the late 1960s. Many of those who survived, Ogbozor said, did so because of humanitarian aid organizations. ​

“My parents were able to survive because of aid, because of food they received from organizations,” said Ogbozor, who also grew up in Northern Nigeria. “That is how most of them survived."​

Inspired by these stories of aid, Ogbozor decided to dedicate his life to helping displaced people. He started working in humanitarian assistance with the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2006. Three years later, Boko Haram made their first large-scale attack in Nigeria.​

Witnessing the terrors of Boko Haram as a first responder and wanting to work on prevention, rather than emergency response, are what drew Ogbozor to Mason’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Ogbozor said he picked the school for his PhD because of its No.1 ranking in conflict analysis and resolution, and because it is the oldest and largest school dedicated to interrupting cycles of violence through research and practices. ​

At Mason, Ogbozor’s research was focused on understanding terrorism in Nigeria, humanitarian assistance, peacebuilding and human rights. He was the degree celebration speaker for the school when he received his PhD in May. ​​

"My truck was always ready to move." While working for the Red Cross, Ogbozor never knew when Boko Haram might strike and people would need help.

He said the school gave him the tools to understand conflict dynamics and design intervention plans. Even though Ogbozor was familiar with conflict while working with displaced people for the Red Cross, he said Professor Karina Korostelina’s class on identity and conflict provided a layer of understanding that he had been missing. 

Ogbozor has been mentored by John Paden, Robinson Professor Emeritus of International Studies, who is an expert on Nigerian politics. Paden has continued to be involved in Ogbozor’s work in Nigeria by providing insights and advise. He also helped Ogbozor make important connections with high profile people in the country.  

The school, he said, also served as a second family to him and other students.  ​

In Nigeria, the Red Cross received threats from Boko Haram. While humanitarian groups feared providing aid would incite an attack, Ogbozor said, he came to Mason to study terrorism in Nigeria and peacebuilding.

Richard Rubenstein, professor of conflict resolution and public affairs, was interested in Ogbozor’s academic success at Mason and his personal achievements after he graduated. Ogbozor said Rubenstein is like a father to him and has continued to help him after graduation by staging mock interviews and preparing him for his career. 

“[Ogbozor] has lived through difficult experiences and come out a whole person—mature, trustworthy, kind and self-possessed—a man who understands the human basis of both conflict and friendship,” said Rubenstein. 

Ogbozor is currently leading the Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution Network, an organization he founded while working on a collaborative project as a student. Ogbozor uses his lessons and experiences from the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution to help other universities in Africa strengthen their peace studies and conflict resolution curriculum by assisting them in developing theory, best practices and systems of approach for managing and resolving conflict.