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Meet researcher David Ehrhardt

Scientists of the faculty of Governance and Global Affairs research completely different subject, among which terrorism, cybercrime and migration. In the upcoming weeks we will give the floor to several of our very best researchers. In this episode: development researcher David Ehrhardt.

What is the topic of your research?

‘Informal power structures in Nigeria. A country with a pretty weak and corrupt government. This creates a certain “power gap”, that’s filled by traditional leaders: religious emirs and imams, chiefs and elders, and sometimes ngo’s. But who are those traditional leaders, what is their role in society?’

What did you find?

‘Do you take your problems to the governor, or to the emir or the chief? That depends on who you are, and what circles you move in. But definitely there’s a certain division of tasks. A bit exaggerated perhaps, but one could say that Nigerians have their very own “(legal) dr Phil”, - namely the traditional chief - who deals with cattle claims, land disputes and the like. Religious leaders often function more as counselors, giving personal advice, or taking up the role of mediator. And the government? It deals with official matters, but  provides an alternative for, or is complementary to the informal system as well.’

Why is your research relevant?

‘A large part of the world’s population gets things done through informal channels.  If I want to know more about, for example, Nigerian women and health care, just looking at hospitals and health centers it doesn’t suffice. Those only tell part of the story. The other part comes from local leaders and influencers.’


‘The size of the informal circuit – Nigeria has hundreds, maybe even thousands of traditional leaders. Also surprising: the positive force of Islam. Islamic courts, for instance, frequently have more to offer to women than the official judicial system. The latter can be slow and corrupt, and sharia-courts often offers a greater degree of legal certainty. After all, within Islam certain rights are codified, and women can refer to them.’

In your view ngo’s are also part of traditional leadership structures. How’s that?

‘There are many, and very different ngo’s active in Nigeria. That differs from “mailbox companies” who’s only rationale is to collect relief funds, to inspired organizations attempting to get all kinds of things done.  Local youngsters can access the international market  or boost their (international) career through ngo’s . But on the other hand, ngo’s may be rather biased, especially when they’re connected to a particular religion. In brief: the situation is divers. But there’s no doubt about the fact that ngo’s play an important role in the informal, traditional power structures of the country.’

Want to read more about this research?

Read the Research booklet of the faculty of Governance and Global Affairs for free. In this publication, twelve researchers tell about their research.

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