MOST Ethno-Net publication: Africa at Crossroads


Occasionnal Paper / Article ponctuel,

September 2002

Ethnicity, Democracy and the Identity Question in Nigeria

Isa, M. Kabir
Dept. of Local Government Studies
Ahmadu Bello University
Zaria - Nigeria
e-mail: emkayisa@
  Arowosegbe, J. Oluwasegun
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).

Furthermore, 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, 1997:2).

In several 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,

Ethnic 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).

All these 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, 1994: 4).

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 notes that:

The underlying 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).

Thus, given 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: -

1. Intensive 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.

The details 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.

Ethnicity and the Identity Question in Nigeria: A Theoretical Construct

The nature 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).

The intention 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: -

The intense 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).

The theoretical 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).

Central 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.

In understanding 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.

The political 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).

Furthermore, according to Barongo,

Where 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)

From the 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.

Issues of Ethnicity: The Identity Question and the Democratic Setting in Nigeria

This section 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.

All these 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 pride.

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, 1995:16).

In terms 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. To him,

… 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).

In Nigeria, 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 (Nnoli, 1978:4).

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:

As ideological 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)

Given this 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.

The Crisis of Democracy in Nigeria

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

…Collection of self - contained and mutually independent native states separated from one another… by vast distances, by differences of history and tradition and by ethnological, racial, tribal, political, social and religious barriers (Clifford, 1920).
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.

Compare for instance, a Nigerian leader's perception in 1947 with that of Clifford in 1920:
Nigeria 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).

By 1966, 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.

Similarly, 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 Kano riot.
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 / groups.
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).

Conclusion / Recommendations

From the 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:

Given 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).

Thus, there 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,

Every 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).

Thus, from 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:

1. Democratic 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:

Considerable 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.