Democracy and the Identity Question in Nigeria
Dept. of Local Government Studies
Ahmadu Bello University
Zaria - Nigeria
e-mail: emkayisa@ yahoo.com
Department of political science
Ahmadu Bello University
Zaria - Nigeria
In most parts of the present world, erstwhile-dominated formations (or
suppressed identities) are exploding in basically new forms of self- determination
and nationalist struggles. While homogeneous states have witnessed an
upsurge of sub-nationalism, heterogeneous and multiethnic states have
had to resort to different ways of resolving their inter group conflicts
and other aspects of their political relations-through self- determination,
federalism or ethnonationalization (Barber, 1994: 20).
it is admissible to contend that: -
From the collapse of the Soviet Union, to the disintegration of the
Yugoslavia, the federalization of the European countries and the unification
of North and South Yemeni, to the ethno-national solutions to problems
of multinational states in Nigeria, India and Canada, a clear lesson has
been sent out that the demands for active political participation are
on the ascendant and that leaders who treat sub national demands with
levity stand the risk of an explosion in subnational identities (Elaigwu,
parts of contemporary Africa, there has been (the threat of, or) the pervasive
breakdown of law and order. From Somalia and Liberia through Zaire, Rwanda
and Bunndi to the Sudan. Consolidating the identities of peoples and groups
in the old colonial territories has become a major obstacle for governance
and leadership. This is obvious to the extent that nation building has
even become more problematic as the world experiences the resurgence of
identities and demands for greater recognition and increased participation.
In Nigeria, since the period making the immediate post independence era,
the Nigerian state has been undergoing several forms of crisis and conflict
situations - both political and socio- economic. Others equally abound
which are of ethno-religious dimensions. At different points under the
post - colonial arrangement and under various regimes (and / or administrations),
these situations have severally tempted the total paralysis of Nigeria's
federal structure and the weakening of its democratic spirit. In particular,
contemporary Nigeria is replete with the division of her people along
various ethnic and religious constituencies. An obvious dimension of this
reality is to be found inter alia in the recency of the ethnic conflicts
in Sagamu, the Aguleri - Umuleri war of attrition over the Otuocha piece
of land (The Guardian, 1999: 12), agitations by the Movement for the Actualization
of a Sovereign State of Biafra (MOSS AB), the Urhobo-Itsekiri crisis,
the movement for the Survival of the Ogoni people (MOSOP), with all the
different demands made by each group. According to Isa,
conflicts and identity crisis in Nigeria have attained monumental levels.
These include the Ife-Modakeke communal conflicts of Oyo-Osun states in
1999; the Hausa/Fulani and the Kataf of Zangon Kataf in Kaduna state in
1999; the Ijaw and the Itsekiris of Warri in Delta State 1999, the Hausa
/ Fulani and Yoruba ethnic conflicts in Oyo and Lagos State respectively,
1999 / 2000; the Jukun - Chamba and Kuteb, Jukun and the Tivs in Taraba
state, 1998 / 1999; Igbakwu - Omor, Aguleri and Umuleri communal conflicts
of Anambra state in 1999 (2000:1).
are clear signals and obvious indications that all is not well with the
identity and ethnic nationalities questions in Nigerian politics.
From another perspective, the increasing emergence of various ethnic nationalities
(militia) armies such as the Oduduwa People's Congress, the Ebgesu Vigilantee
Boys Forum, the Bakassi Boys group and the Arewa People's Congress-are
also evidence to the fact that various groups have lost confidence in
the effectiveness, capacity and relevance of Nigeria's federal structures.
While these situations persist, a number of causal factors and explanatory
accounts have been offered by scholars, decision makers and regime experts
both as theoretical models for understanding the origin, nature, dimensions,
intensities and consequences of these crisis situations as well as effective
intellectual mechanisms for resolving them. Among others, these situations
have been attributed (either in whole or in part) to the role and influence
(s) of members of the nation's armed forces and their praetorianist activities
in spheres of civil politics and governance, the politically - in formed
controversies ranging over the Sharia'h legal system and other forms of
religious bigotry, and more importantly, due to the destabilizing character
and consequences of the ethnic factor especially given the unproductive
manner of its manipulation by members of the nation's political class
in and outside government (Awolowo, 1966:24), as well as the anti-social
manner which the exercise of state power had assumed over the years (Jibrin,
From the fore-going, and in specific terms, this paper is set to investigate
and establish the possible role and relevance of the on- going (and future)
democratic processes in resolving the negative challenges and implications
of ethnicity and the identity question in Nigerian politics.
This is important especially because, over the years, as a way of ameliorating
the knotty contradictions and negative consequences of ethnicity and the
identity question, a number of alternative measures have been undertaken
by various governments and decision makers. These include the democratization
option, efforts directed towards cooperative federalism, economic restructuring
(in the forms of the on-going commercialization and privatization exercises
of the Obasanjo-led 1999-2003 administration), the creation of states
and local government areas, boundary adjustments as well as several other
measures which have been initiated over the years towards the geo-political
and socio-economic re-engineering of the Nigerian state.
However, in spite of the eloquence of all such policy programmes, the
problematic influences of ethnicity and the crisis of identity in Nigerian
politics have rather persisted. For instance, while identifying the inadequacies
of the forms of democratization undertaken over the years, Eghosa Osaghae
thesis is that democratization processes by their very nature of mobilizing
greater participation and placing the question of control (and sharing
or distribution) of state power and resources on top of the political
agenda, exacerbate ethnic conflicts and tensions and therefore make their
management a critical matter, not only for the success of democratization
but also for the survival of the state as a whole (1994:1).
the pervasiveness as well as the perennial factors engendering these tendencies
in Nigeria, it becomes compelling to critically attempt the examination
of the intractable nature of ethnicity and the identity question in Nigeria.
This will be done with a view to suggesting alternative ways of resolving
the problems associated with these developments.
In addition, efforts will be made to suggest empirically valid answers
to the following questions:
- How can Nigerian and African politics be understood and explained especially
in the context of identity and ethnic relations?
- What are those characteristic features that constitute an infrastructure
of politics influencing ethnic and identity crisis in Nigeria?
- Why has the Nigerian state not been able to demonstrate any capacity
isufficient to manage these conflicts?
- What options abound for transcending such impediments?
In other words, in the light of the on going (and future) democratic experiment
(s), what is the relevance of democratic processes and institutions for
resolving existing crisis which are related to the ethnic, cultural, religious
and other plural compositions of the Nigerian state?
Answers will be suggested to the questions raised above. Doing this is
necessary because, in plural and multi-ethnic societies, the exercise
of political authority tends to manifest in terms of the domination by
one religious, sectional, ethnic or cultural collectivity over the others;
and this manifestation of domination ultimately induces conflicts and
crisis among the various ethno-linguistic groups which comprise such nations.
These conflicts and crisis often set boundaries and barriers between groups
within the social system by strengthening groups consciousness and the
awareness of separateness through which the identities of groups within
the system are defined and established (Odofin, 2002; 20).
In effect, for purposes of political mobilization, the question of majority
- minority identities becomes crucial in the political process (es) through
which conflicts are not only generated but also reinforced. These conflicts
and crisis ultimately affect relations among various plural groups within
the social system and influence the organization of the political and
economic lives of such nations. Such conflicts also often assume immense
dimensions especially when crucial issues relating to the distribution
of scarce resources are at stake (Barongo, 1980; 65).
Thus, such crisis which arise on account of the multiple and plural nature
of the Nigerian state cannot be ignored. The duty of the social scientists
and policy makers is to transcend them, by contributing to the amelioration
of their negative impact through objective, critical and independent thought.
For us, it is particularly important to contemplate the effective resolution
of such knotty issues and problems associated with the religious, ethnic
and / or cultural compositions of Nigeria.
On the whole,
three methodological approaches were employed and applied: -
library research covering governmental publications, the print media and
other secondary publications.
2. Interviews with prominent and present government officials, academics,
politicians, traditional rulers and community leaders across the country.
3. A random survey of the opinions of about 1,300 Nigerians in thirteen
selected states nation wide (100 per state) from a variety of occupational
and ethnic backgrounds through a structured questionnaire.
of the secondary and primary sources of data used (as described above)
are derived from a recently completed study on political economy, ethnicity
and state creation in Nigeria (Arowosegbe, 2001: 23- 26). Insights gained
from the library research were combined with views expressed in the interviews
and the surveys to assess the state of the identity and ethnic questions
in Nigeria. Policy measures that are likely to address the problems highlighted
were solicited from interviewees/respondents and assessed against the
background of the general historico-political context and experiences
of the Nigerian state.
and the Identity Question in Nigeria: A Theoretical Construct
of political life in a particular society, the types of institutions that
are created and sustained, and the peculiar patterns of political processes
that emerge, are a function of the interplay of three main factors, namely,
the condition of the material base of society; the historical experience
of that society; and the actors' perception, interpretation and response
to environmental stimuli. The role of culture - that is to say - the values
of the people, their beliefs, the dominant systems of ideas in shaping
the political process and in dictating particular forms of political organization,
is by no means minimized here. But these values, beliefs and ideas have
as their basis, and reflect very fundamentally the nature of the economic
base (or, more precisely, the dominant mode of production), and the relations
it creates among the people, as well as in the historical experiences
of the society.
It is the material environment that determines the formation of
cleavages in terms of social groups and classes with competing interests,
and thereby defines the character and structure of political interaction
in a competitive - bargaining situation; and it is the material resources
actually or potentially available to individuals and groups in the polity
that determines their relative importance, influence and power (Barongo,
1980; 67) (sic).
here is to indicate how Nigerian politics can be understood (especially
in the light of its plural composition). In particular, this section intends
to account for a number of features, which are peculiar to Nigerian politics.
These features relate to the identity and ethnic compositions of the political
system and they include: -
and often violent political competition, acute ethnic and elite conflicts
tendencies towards aggrandizement of power both at personal and institutional
levels, the adoption by governments of different ideologies of development
in the face of more or less similar developmental problems, and the dependant
nature of foreign policies
the scarcity of the resources available
and the significance of these factors in their political life (Barongo,
1980:63 - 4).
frame of analysis in this study is the neo-Marxist theory of the postcolonial
state. This theory is an offshoot of the classical Marxist political economy
(theoretical) approach. It was developed by a group of radical Marxist
scholars of Third World origin. These scholars include Hamza Alavi, Colin
Leys, John Saul, Claude Ake, Samir Amin and Gunnar Myrdal inter alia.
This group of scholars attempts explaining the factors responsible for
the problematic conditions among the group of countries known as the third
World (Arowosegbe, 2001:11).
in the works of these theorists is the contention that an understanding
of the nature, history, composition and character of the (Nigerian) state
is very important in trying to capture the dynamics of political and socio-economic
developments and processes within the state. They argue that this is so
mainly because the state is the central locus of politics and therefore
the major determinant of the directions of most societal processes.
the nature of the post colonial (Nigerian) state, we are informed mostly
by the structuralist concept of the state in which the state is seen as
being derived from the metropolitan centre, especially being a product
of colonial - imperialism.
In the context
of this thinking, Nigeria at independence is perceived as having inherited
a state apparatus that was over - developed during the colonial period.
Added to this, is the notion that an ascendant native bourgeoisie did
not establish the post - colonial state but instead by a foreign independent
bourgeoisie. The post-colonial state therefore acquires a centrality whose
importance is reflected in the positions of those who occupy the state
apparatus (Mutfwang, 1989:42).
In an attempt
to relate this theoretical postulation to this study, it is arguable to
maintain that the increasing influence of the identity and ethnic questions
in Nigerian politics can be explained as having a lot to do with the nature
and character of the state, that is, its over-developed political superstructures,
it low level of development of productive forces (that is, its underdeveloped
material-economic base), as well as the resolute but mistaken approach
directed towards developing the state and its economy only from the perspectives
of national politics, thereby relying on the benefits which state's patronage
offers (Ake, 1985: 18). This approach to nation building is not only sycophantic
but also undermines the relevance of economic productivity as a necessary
condition for sustaining the political system. Consequently, in the absence
of the necessarily needed productive requirements - which are indispensable
for sustaining the state, Nigeria experiences very stiff competition over
available scarce resources in which various ethnic and religious constituencies
struggle normlessly and intensely for access towards state power and the
benefits which its acquisition confers. In effect also, rather than serving
to realize the objective ends of governance, this approach leads not only
to the intensification of tribal rivalry, ethnic consciousness and sectional
exclusiveness, but equally explains and reinforces the "winner takes
all" (Zero-sum game) approach to national politics in Nigeria.
Importantly; this theoretical approach will enable us go beyond analyses
whose accounts are limited to the attributes, personality potentials of
individual actors and ethnic constituencies in Nigeria but to consider
useful issues socially, politically and economically - which are related
to the history, nature and character of the Nigerian state which make
it vulnerable increasingly to what appears to be a continuum of intractable
ethnic conflicts (Barongo, 1980; 67).
In arguing out the centrality of ethnicity and identity crisis in Nigerian
politics, A. B. C. Nwosu maintains that the Nigerian cake-sharing syndrome
and the distributive pressures associated with Nigeria's federalism are
directly rooted in the struggles by ethno-territorial constituencies,
particularly the elites within these constituencies for access to those
revenues and resources that are devolved through the state. He adds that.
elite has fanned religious and ethnic factors in the pursuit of their
selfish and acquisitive interests. This attitude of the elite fuelled
by distributive pressures of the cake - sharing syndrome of Nigerian politics
under pin the perennial divisive crises of our nation concerning revenue;
federal character; the struggle for new states and local government areas;
national population counts; all of these are disruptive centrifugal forces
in Nigeria's federalism (2000: 10).
according to Barongo,
there is an acute scarcity of resources, politics is not only organized
around the competition for the control of these resources, but also the
struggle to acquire them is usually intense. Who ever controls state power
controls much else; patronage in the distribution of jobs, awards of government
contracts, and decisions on the allocation of factories, hospitals, schools
and other amenities, thus it is that politicians compete for power with
an eye to controlling the use of available resources (Barongo, 1980:64)
fore going, identity and ethnic conflicts can be considered as secondary
contradictions which are subject to manipulation by various groups depending
on the degree (s) of scarcity of resources and the forms of competition
that ensure. In specific terms, the neo-Marxist theory of the post - colonial
state raises some central questions: What are the reasons for the poverty
and the "underdevelopment" of the Nigerian state? In addition,
what relationship exists between poverty, underdevelopment, identity and
ethnic conflicts? According to Gutkind and Wallerstein, these questions
must be approached historically, for it is the past, rather than some
evolutionary dynamics that has shaped the present and it is these past
events and "experiences" which so many contemporary analysts
have elected to ignore. By implication, this theory sees historical analysis
as a way of explaining and simplifying social realities - the realities
of the introduction and spread of colonialism and capitalism, or more
precisely, colonial imperialism, all the major and complex processes as
revealed in the specific political, economic and social matrix of colonial
and post - colonial Nigeria (1976:21).
Our theoretical conclusion is that beyond ordinary political restructuring,
the objective harmonization of a number of competing and contradictory
tendencies - socially, politically and economically in Nigeria within
acceptable democratic frameworks is important in order to effectively
resolve the challenges and implications of identity crises and ethnicity
in Nigerian politics.
of Ethnicity: The Identity Question and the Democratic Setting in Nigeria
will examine the following issues:
- A chronological overview of the evolution of the Nigerian state.
- An overview of the historical contradictions within the political system,
which provide the context of emergence and the conduct of identity crisis
and ethnicity in Nigerian politics.
- A review of various efforts (such as state creation) directed towards
resolving such problems associated with ethnicity in Nigerian politics.
will be attempted, because it is necessary to situate ethnicity within
it's proper historical framework and analyze the social bases of the politics
of cultural pluralism that has characterized Nigerian society since independence.
As a concept, ethnocentrism is often associated with the interaction of
various ethnic groups but quite often is mistaken with ethnicity. While
the concepts are arguably related and may be used synonymously, they are
notably different. Ethnocentrism is basically attitudinal in form and
perceptual in content (Okwudiba, 1978:6). It represents the subjective
dimension of ethnic beharviour. Members of a group are ethnocentric when
they are proud of it and consequently are inward - looking. Their attachment
to and pride in the group reflect their ethnocentrism. Its attributes
are limited to beliefs, group identity, parochial orientation and group
On the other hand, ethnicity includes these attributes but goes beyond
them. It includes but is not limited to ethnocentrism. It is behavioural
in form and conflictual in content. Ethnicity exists only within a political
society that comprises diverse ethnic groups. It is the relation between
various ethnic groups within the same political system that produce ethnicity
(Ibid). Ethnicity is often characterized by a common form of consciousness
of being one in relation to the other relevant ethnic groups. More than
anything else, this factor defines the boundary of the groups that is
relevant for understanding ethnicity of any historical point in time.
Finally, the concept of democracy, originating from ancient Greece is
generally used to designate a government where the people share in directing
the affairs or activities of the state - as distinct from governments
directed by a select group (single class or autocrat). Its definition
has been extended to describe a philosophy that insists on the rights
and capacities of a people, acting either directly or through elected
representatives to control their institutions for high value on the equality
of individuals and would - be free people as far as possible from restraints
not self imposed. It insists that necessary restraints be imposed only
be the consent of the majority and that they conform to the principles
of equality, rule of law as well as fundamental human rights.
From whichever perspective it is considered, democracy can be considered
as a system of government that underscores the plural nature of politics
and hence gives recognition to the culmination and diversity of social
forces in any political system. In the light of this conception, a democratic
regime therefore accommodates these forces by providing for a polycentric
political order which not only recognizes these forces formally, but also
enables them to interact with one another in diverse way: in competition,
collaboration or co-operation. The bottom line of a democratic regime
is that it serves the citizens rather than the other way round (Olowu,
of its ethnic structure, Nigeria is one of the most complex nations in
Africa. Officially, the Federal Office of statistics estimates that there
are about 235 ethnic groups in Nigeria, each with a population of not
less than 25,000.The largest ones are the Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo, Fulani,
Kanuri, Ibibio. Tiv, Ijaw and Igala (Dunmoye, 1991:2). These ethnic groups
inhabit an area of 913, 072: 64 square kilometers. At its widest point
from East to West, it measures over 1,120 kilometres and from North to
South 1,040 kilometres (Osuntokun, 1979:91).
In examining the historical and foundational origins of ethnicity in Nigerian
politics, Nnoli Okwudiba argues that it is quite common to interpret Nigerian
politics in tribal terms (1978:1). According to him, ethnicity is perceived
to be the central unifying concept for the analysis of African life. This
perspective was popularized by colonial anthropologists, but has however
been internalized to such an extent that even Africans themselves now
think of the dynamics of their societies as being dominated by that phenomenon.
all this has persisted in spite of the methodological difficulties of
applying the concept in scientific analysis, and the obvious failure of
analyses based on it to lead to the socio-economic and political transformation
of the various African societies (1978;1).
ethnicity and the identity question have a colonial origin and their functions
were tied to the nature and purpose (s) of colonial - imperialism. In
Europe, for instance, in the nineteenth century, colonial - imperialism
required the political domination, economic exploitation as well as the
military subjugation of weaker states by stronger ones in order to establish
and sustain relationships of unequal exchange. In Nigeria, imperialism
meant the rule of the powerful monopolies, trustees, combines and cartels
which were controlled by the financial oligarchies of the various European
countries, along with the consequent reduction of the market competition
which characterized the earlier periods of capitalism.
Abroad, that is, in Nigeria, imperialism combined these tendencies with
foreign European control of the local apparatus of the state. The financial
oligarchies organized production to satisfy their requirements and needs
for profit, capital accumulation as well as to remedy the antagonistic
deficiencies in their production processes at home.
Realizing foreign imperialist interest required the compulsory re-organization
of the material conditions of Nigerians. Aside the use of military conquest,
African resistance to this material reorganization and political domination
was counteracted from two dimensions. One dimension was material while
the other was ideological. (Nnoli, 1978:3).
Materially, (or economically), the colonial government changed the material
circumstances of the Africans by compelling them to participate in colonial
economic activities which were dictated and dominated by profit motive,
forced labour, taxation, the introduction of new currencies, and the deliberate
creation of an artificial form of scarcity, through the accumulation of
huge surpluses even during times of severe hardship and economic depression
Ideologically, a myth was considered necessary to explain and justify
the European control of the local state, and also to mystify foreign domination
of production at the minimal costs, with the least possible amount of
physical coercion. Colonial racism provided the mythical explanations,
which completely alienated the colonized and enhanced a better and more
complete domination of him.
In effect, Nigerian linguistic groups were categorized as tribes, and
/ or ethnic groups by the colonialists with differences attributed to
them in terms of culture and their ways of life. Such linguistic groups
were separated from one another, especially in residential areas. There
was also the colonial tendency to regard certain African language groups
as either superior or inferior to others depending on their varying extents
of the similarities of their socio-political organizations and their degrees
of progress in the acquisition of colonial socio-economic fortunes (Nnoli,
1978: 4). However, Nnoli submits that:
products of socialization into the colonialists' world view, Nigerians
have unconsciously internalized this ominous and discriminatory classification
of their countrymen in which both Africans and Europeans are made to believe
widely that certain ethnic groups are more progressive, intelligent or
generally more worthy of respect than others (1978:6)
statement the nationalists who eventually became the post-colonial leaders
of Nigeria never really made the creation of a "Nigerian Nation"
a cardinal political demand during the agitation for national sovereignty.
of Democracy in Nigeria
ethnicity and the identity question have seriously contributed to the
national crisis of political instability and have intensified prevailing
prebendal and clientele political ethos. For instance, the North-South
dichotomy is a central feature in the politics of ethnicity and identity
in Nigeria. Either region constitutes a political, social and religious
entity. In addition, throughout these regions, there are significant,
even mutually unintelligible differences of dialects, which are held to
be the most basic characteristics of identity and ethnic relations. Therefore,
a "North - South dichotomy" is partly the source and partly
the result of such manipulations, which have often magnified the contrasts.
Also, as a consequence of the colonial administrative arrangements and
the accentuation of religious and / or regional contrasts, all political
parties that emerged in Nigeria before and after independence were regionally
and ethnically based. Their aims, membership, tactics, policies and leadership
reinforced this compartmentalization. Ethnic organizations were transformed
into political parties for the purpose of fighting for political supremacy
first in the regions and later at the centre (Dunmoye, 1991:2). From the
foregoing analogy, it is obvious that, although the British were satisfied
with the size and population of colonial Nigeria, the political consequence
(s) of treating the disparate groups of the country as a united entity
was not lost on them. As a colony, Nigerian was held together artificially
by Pax Britannica, and its heterogeneity was to be persecuted at all costs.
In 1920, a colonial governor described Nigeria as a
of self - contained and mutually independent native states separated from
by vast distances, by differences of history and tradition
and by ethnological, racial, tribal, political, social and religious barriers
Through constitutional devices introduced between 1922 and 1954, the
colonialists maintained hegemony by a policy of "divide and rule".
The country was divided into administrative units that were based on ethnic,
religious and cultural criteria. The Nigerian nationalists saw nothing
wrong in their divisions. They, in fact glorified the skewed federal system
imposed by the colonial administration. They accepted the regions as bases
for political agitation and quest for power.
for instance, a Nigerian leader's perception in 1947 with that of Clifford
is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are no Nigerians
in the same sense as there are "English", "Welsh"
or "French". The word Nigeria is merely a distinctive appellation
to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria and those
who do not
(Awolowo, 1947:47 - 48).
politics had degenerated to a chaotic situation, which culminated in a
military coup d'etat. The coup itself reflected a number of identities
and was not free from the ethnicism, which led to the collapse of the
first republic. Igbo officers led it from the East and only the political
leaders from the Hausa / Fulani North and the Yoruba West were killed.
Reprisals and pogrom followed, and in 1967, the then Easter Region seceded
from Nigeria, leading to the Nigerian Civil War. The war was the culmination
of years of ethnic intolerance and aggressiveness.
Of importance is the changing nature of ethnic identification and competition.
"Minority" ethnic groups in the old regions have now become
"majority" in the new states, leading to new configurations
of identity and ethnic conflicts Sub-ethnic and religious identities,
hitherto submerged in the regional and ethnic confrontations of pre-1966,
are now becoming pronounced in the states. Policies like "quota system"
may have been conceived as a means of bridging the gap between the southern
and Northern parts of the country; now their impact may also include the
discrimination between indigenes of different local government areas within
the same state, North or South of the country.
the emphasis of identification and ethnic competition may have shifted.
In the pre-1966 era, the control of one's region and the extension of
that control to the centre was a crucial objective of the ethnic orientation
of Nigerian politics. In the contemporary situation of smaller states,
this objective may have diminished in importance; concerns about the "sharing"
of the national cake, and the desire to get a just and equitable share
may have gained prominence.
It is therefore possible that policies adopted to solve particular problems
associated with specific conjectures in the identity and ethnic equations
may themselves constitute the bases for new identities and ethnic conflicts.
Creation of states and local government reforms may have broken the regional
/ ethnic politics, but that does not necessarily lead to the enthronement
of amity and national unity. Could it be that attempts to contain ethnicity
may simply have led to changes in its manifestations and dynamics?
This suggestion that there are no simple and final solutions to identity
and ethnic questions imposes a duty on the social scientist and formulators
of public policy. There is therefore the constant need to monitor the
issues; to asses how stated policies have addressed perceived problems
and how intended and unintended consequences have led to a redefinition
of the terrain of ethnicity and identity conflicts.
In spite of this awareness, these problems persist owing to the wrong
attitudes and mistaken approaches which various governments, scholars
and regime experts have adopted in resolving them. Typical of such approaches
are two tendencies. One is the tendency by various governments to abstain
(deliberately) from discussing the ethnic and identity problems, fearing
to open up trouble and thought, and instead, they pretend about it, try
to suppress it or eliminate it altogether (as if that is possible). Two,
there is the tendency by same scholars and scholarly schools to wish ethnicity
away. Examples of such scholars are those of the nation building and melting
point / pot schools who see the melting of ethnic, sectional and religious
identities and their exploitation by civil ties as the exclusive hallmark
of political development (Nnoli, 1978: 215).
Furthermore, in Nigeria, the year 1999 ushered in democratic rule, that
is, the Fourth Republic after almost fifteen years of military rule (1984
- 1999). This quitting of the stage by the military was followed by a
number of identity and ethnic agitations. Some of the numerous ethnic
violence that rocked the country (within this period: 1999 - 2002) include
the Sagamu riot, Ketu/Mile 12 riot, Bodija riot, Ajegunle riot and the
These situations are not fortuitous. Rather, they emanate and have persisted
owing to a number of reasons and / or factors, which are traceable to
the nature as well as the manner of conduct of national politics in Nigeria.
One is the fact of constitutional failure. This failure of the constitution
is a culmination of historical developments and is reflective of the repressive
approaches adopted by the state in addressing identity crisis and ethnic
conflicts in Nigeria. The latest manifestation (expression) of this constitutional
failure is the withdrawal (or loss) of confidence by various religious,
cultural and / or ethnic groups in the relevance of the federal government
to ensure political stability and social security. Hence, the recourse
to individual ethnic militia formations by members of various ethno nationalities
Two, is the excessive lucrativeness of political offices and the jumbo
- packaged numeration of political office holders. All these have informed
the need by various groups' to intensify their manipulations of various
identity and the ethnic variables as useful strategies for enhancing their
access and accommodation to power and other related resources. Thus, according
to Ben Nwabueze:
in the past two years or so, the supreme objective and motive for all
the manipulations, perversions and abuse of power, all the confounding
shifts in position, all the de-stabilizing realignment of forces, all
the divide and rule tactics employed to foster trouble and unrest in some
states or areas of the country and the sponsored or inspired crisis in
various institutions and organizations has been the consuming passion
and ambition for a second term (2002:18).
foregoing, we can infer that the problematic character of issues of identity
in Nigerian politics is to be understood, inter alia, in terms of their
politicized nature, which informs their manipulations by various individuals,
groups and constituencies as a basis for the definition of "we they"
identities and for advancing their chances and interests in their quest
for self-actualization in the distribution of available but scarce (national)
resources. Other indications of the problematic character of such identity
issues (as noted in the Paper) are their subjectivities and unproductive
parochialism, which often induce crisis and conflicts - especially in
the face of non - mutual and antagonistic interests.
Aside contact, other vital factors may be central in ethnic and identity
issues. These include the cultural and socio-structural features of individual
primary groups in the period before contact as well as the nature and
context of such initial contact. A central factor accounting for the emergence
of these identity and ethnic crisis is the degree of the socio-economic
competition involved in the forms of structural contact that ensues between
peoples of different historical, religious, cultural and / or linguistic
backgrounds. In this sense, individuals and groups of people may be racially
and culturally dissimilar and may be characterized by some forms of ethnocentric
preferences for their individual in-groups. However in so far as there
are no pronounced forms of socio-economic competitions among them (or,
if they share a number of economic interests in complementary terms),
the need to politicise their differences would not arise. And issues of
identity would hardly become problematic or a basis for division. However
if these situations are otherwise, especially in the face of the exploitation
of labour or forceful acquisition of land and other resources from one
group by the other, relations between such groups may become strained,
assume antagonistic dimensions and generate bases for the politicization
of individual and / or groups identities.
Finally, given the profoundly epochal influence of colonial imperialism
and the merely episodic character of political independence in Africa,
the post - colonial state in Nigeria is acutely marked by intense socio-economic
competetion particularly since the state lacks the capacity to provide
socio-economic security. This fact is amply appreciated by the fact that
under the colonial state, the working of economic forces made for tension
between groups with competing interests, between towns and countries,
industry and agriculture, capital and labour (Furnivall, 1942: 452). In
deed, while relating ethnicity to issues of resource scarcity and completion,
Nnoli posits that:
the capitalistic structures and values of (colonial) Nigeria and its dependent
relations with British and in general western capitalism, competition
is the most dominant feature of the urban setting. In the face of an extreme
scarcity of socio-economic rewards and an intolerable degree of inequality,
it could hardly be otherwise (1978:259).
is nothing peculiar or inevitable about identity crisis and ethnic conflicts
or any other conflict involving individuals and groups for that matter.
According to Eghosa Osaghae,
student of ethnicity knows that the fact of multi-ethnicity, no matter
how complex it may be, does not by itself produce conflicts (Barrows,
1976). In other words, it is unusual to find people tearing themselves
apart simply on account of coming from different ethnic groups, even it
the groups combine but do not mix, to borrow Smith's (1965) description
of ethnic apartness in a plural society. This fact of ethnicity is aptly
summarized by the situationality thesis that ethnic conflicts ensue in
situations, which present conditions under which competing actors -as
individuals, groups or classes - find the ethnic resource expedient (Okamura,
1981). In other situations where the conditions do not permit ethnic calculations
or where ethnic considerations are eclipsed by class, religious, regional
or such other contending divisive resources; ethnic conflicts are not
likely to occur. This is probably the basis for the hope of those who
advocate the transformation of clearage politics from the ethnic to class
or party identity a La Geertz's (1963) integrative revolution as one way
of getting around ethnic conflicts (1994:3).
our explanations above, it becomes obvious that it is basically when issues
of identity and ethnic relations are politicized, that is, when they are
manipulated negatively as a generalized strategy for advancing individual
and group interests that they become salient, problematic and even unproductive.
In enhancing the role (s) and relevance of the on-going (as well as future)
democratic experiment (s) in resolving the identity and ethnic questions
is Nigeria, the following are recommended:
governance and processes in Nigeria should accommodate continuous expressions
of autonomous popular decision-making that come about through constant
struggle. They should also involve the institutionalization of rules and
procedures that allow freedom of expression and the diversity of opinions.
2. Expansion of the democratic space through the introduction of non-
militarist as well as friendly economic policies. These would resolve
the militarism, repression, harsh economic policies and the greed of the
ruling class in grabbing state resources for themselves and which have
created and / or intensified communal and religious clashes over the years.
3. National efforts should be made to advocate the collective nurturing
of democracy through civility, moderation, tolerance and the spirit of
accommodating other people's views.
4. Minorities and other oppressed groups should strive and promote their
specific interests through practical involvement in national and grassroots
organizations within the limits of democratic principles.
5. Governments at all levels must ensure the demoralization of the national
economy to accommodate all categories of religious, cultural, ethnic and
/ or linguistic groups or constituencies.
6. Finally and most importantly, we recommend the:
decentralization of power and resources away from the central state apparatus
to the constituent governments and ethnic segments; greater recognition
of the peculiar need and fears of minority communities in the implementation
of federal territorial reforms; the rigorous elaboration, constitutionalization
and implementation of consecutive of "power - sharing"
mechanisms in the political process; the empowerment of the judiciary
and related mediatory political and societal institutions; the rapid and
radical demilitarization and democratization of the Nigerian polity; and
the organization of a vigorous and cohesive "ethnic minority advocacy
infrastructure" (Suberu, 1996: Xiii)
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The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author
and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO.
Les idées et opinions exprimées dans cet article sont
celles de l'auteur
et n’engagent pas la responsabilité de l´UNESCO.