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Background to the Study

The point need to be made that many of what we call ethnic groups in Nigeria today are in fact nationalities, some of which boast of higher populations than a number of modern nation-states in Africa and elsewhere; that the nationalities with which we have to deal in the Nigeria of today did not exist in their present size or form till the colonial period of our history.1

However, multinational in this context simply means multiple nations i.e an historically constituted stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, ethnicity or psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.2 Therefore, for the purpose of this research multi-nationality will be used interchangeably with multi-ethnicity.

The issue of ethnicity in the Nigeria nation has become a recurrent decimal. This is unsurprisingly so because Nigeria is a classic case of plural society. For instance, it has been estimated that Nigeria has well over 250 ethnic groups based on lingual classification.3 Even the latest survey indicates there are about 410 ethnic groups in Nigeria. This instance clearly depicts Nigeria as a multi-lingual and multi-ethnic nation. The diverse nature of Nigeria therefore lays the foundation for the exploitation of what goes on in the country.

Furthermore; what is done in Nigeria often has an ethnic undertone, be it politics, employment and provision of social amenities. Ethnic affiliation is always strong and visible. Over the years, there have been case of ethnic violence resulting from loyalty to one’s ethnic group and this has not worked well for the development of the country. This is further precipitated on the fact that these 250 ethnic group i.e. Hausa/Fulani, Yoruba, Igbo, Ijo, Idoma, tiv, Jukun, Urhobo e.t.c. (most acceptance estimate) though lumped in one country; they do not have the same needs, objectives and aspirations. Based on these ethnical steepness, it seems cumbersome as it were to treat the Nigeria case without considering the ethnic formation of the country.

Ethnicity according to Azeez can be seen as “a sense of people-hood that has its foundation in the combination remembrance of past experience and common aspiration. It is therefore evident that ethnicity is a derivative of ethnic group, which forms the basic of it’s articulation and activation. That is, it is the empirical reality of the group that makes ethnicity possible”.4

Thus, ethnicity does not exist outside the unit or group that embodies it. Ethnicity is looked upon as unreal, inartificial basis of identification and collective organization, conducted up by outsiders looking for an efficient tool of political and economic control. It is therefore considered a strategic weapon chosen by a downsided group as a new mode of seeking political redress, or by a privileged group in order to secure its advantages.

It seems ethnicity was a colonial heritage bequeathed to Nigeria at independence by the colonial masters. In effect, whatever damage ethnicity has done in the process of governing Nigeria, it could be traced to colonial arrangement.

However, Nigeria is also a country that has creatively if not successful sought to grapple with its heritage of ethnic diversity ranging from power sharing to state promotion of inter-ethnic marriages have been reflected at various times. That Nigeria remains a single country today is attributed to this commitment to nation building. However, a paradox of modern Nigeria politics is the resilience of tripolar ethnic mobilization in the face of repeated efforts at political engineering and nation-building.5


Of all the issues associated with underdeveloped in Nigeria as a nation, is that of ethnicity that have sought to undermine all developmental strategy launched at increasing national productivity. Nigerian is a mish mash of more than 250 ethnic groups, each of which is struggling for recognition and relevance in the political arena, each has terrible angst of being dominated by others, each crying of political marginalization. The hue and cry appear to be getting louder as the years roll and even seems to threaten the corporate existence of the nation. This situation should not be dismissed as huffing and puffing. Unless aggressive effort are made, the prediction of CIA that Nigeria would disintegrate may become a reality.6

Therefore the research questions arising from this discuss are;

  1. How did ethnicity come about, was it a colonial heritage?
  2. How did ethnicity manifest itself in the post-independent period?
  3. What are the impacts of ethnicity in Nigeria?


In the light of the problem facing the Nigeria state which bothers on chauvinism, this project essay will study the beginnings/origins of ethnicity in Nigeria, side by side with British policies that led to hardening of ethnic ties and its effects on the post independent Nigeria state. Also impacts of ethnicity on the nation, and how to reduce it to the barest minimum in order for Nigeria to achieve their dream of an industrialized nation by 2020, so as to enable an industrialized Nigeria state by reducing the ethnic element to the lowest possible range.


The rational behind any research work lies on the need it serves. To that effect, this essay would help in guiding future researchers and give them a foundation on how to begin further researches. It would also serve as a reference material for future academic purposes.


At present copious literature exist on the nature and causes of ethnic conflict in Nigeria. The increasing amount of tension and conflicts and indeed the challenge of internal cohesion are already threatening the survival of Nigeria as a nation. This is further accentuated by several complex crises currently manifesting themselves in ethnic forms.

Nwosu says that colonization of Africa and several other third world nations provided for merging of diverse people/cultures into one country. He explains that it is due to the mission colonialism; most of these peoples are not well integrated and the colonizing power took advantage of the situation into achieving their own goal. According to him, it is not surprising that years after colonialism, these Africa states remain lowly integrated. This low level of integration has precipitated crisis in many of the countries. The Africa continent for instance, has seen many conflict situations leading to firing wars, political and economic instability as well as social disequilibrium.7 but his work did not discuss the efforts made by Africa governments to curb ethnic conflict. However, this work will help in pointing out the role of colonialism in ethnicity.

To Vanderburgh, the problem of ethnic conflict was rooted under colonialism because Africans have no control over the central power and were often kept divided into administrative districts by Europeans.8 This appears true following the colonial policy practiced in Nigeria, in which the Northern and Southern part of Nigeria were governed separately until the Richard’s constitution of 1949. However, Vanderburgh fails to stress its effect in the independent African states.

According to Welsh, in his work, “ethnicity in sub-Saharan Africa”, he views violent and uncontrollable internal conflicts in some Africa countries as the failure of states in Africa to cope with ethnicity. He sees a link between the association of ethnic identities and colonial period, and the instrumentalist contention that ethnicity was invented for political purposes. He also notes that the colonial power did little to prepare the country for independence, and also that given the reason for colonialism it was unrealistic to expect them to do more.9 He fails to point out the various ethnic problems associated with the post-independent government. Though, this work will be useful, because like Nwosu it points out a link between colonial rule and ethnicity.

Osaghae believes that because most Africa state as we know today are ‘artificial’ colonial creations the major problems they have all faced since attaining independence have arisen from deep cleavages which exist between the diverse people who make up these state. To him, these cleavages are often marked by strong sectional loyalties that contend with much desired loyalty to the nation or nation to be. Consequently, the major problem in most Africa states, he argues has to do with creating overreaching loyalties to the nation one and above the primordial and sub-national loyalties. Once these sub-national allegiances are eradicated, it is usually claimed national integration and with it political stability is assumed. Furthermore, he sees ethnicity as basically a product of competition for scare resources between groups in multi-ethnic societies. Ethnicity is generally regarded as a dying force’ which has resulted in a resurgence of ethnicity inspired conflict. 10 However, he does discuss the various measures in which the government has tried to combine these disparate group together and to reduce this conflict to the lowest range.

In ethnicity and nationalism, Ottawa opines that ethnic diversity and ethnic nationalism have gained strength and even a degree of legitimacy in recent years. to him, along side the elucidation of ethnic passion, ethnic hatred, cleansing and genocide, ethnic dynamics could also be seen as struggles by the dominated and oppressed groups for greater autonomy and for protection of their rights.11 This seems right due to minority struggles that escalates into major crisis. This work illustrates the power of ethnically based conflict and if not handled carefully can lead to secession and division.

Nnoli asserts that ethnicity holds individual together, gives them internal cohesion, encourages them to provide national security for each other and increases their sense of identity and direction. To him ethnicity offers a personal solution to oppression, deprivation and alienation.12 A critical reflection to this view shows that it is not what it seems, this is so because instead of ethnicity as he claims to build up national security, and a solution to oppression, the reverse is the case in the Nigeria situation this work will therefore not be of importance to the course of this research.

Ibrahim says major contributing factor to ethnic conflicts is the undemocratic nature of governance. He says many Africa regimes and rulers have repressed sections of the people and by implication, ignored their aspirations. Some have employed divide and rule method in governance and operated some ethno-religious division than the colonialist ever did.13 This is true following military rule and actions that were imposed on the people, in which instead of bringing them closer, it sought to continuously tear them apart.

Diamond attributes crisis and conflict in post-colonial politics in Nigeria to the rising of a modern state with vast economic resources. To him, the legacy that colonial rule left was the development of a modern state that midgets all other organized elements of the economy and society. He agrees that the state in the post-colonial era was capitalist type because the dominate few usually controlled it and translated political power into the mean of accumulating for themselves the wealth and resources of the states.14 As convincing as it appears to be, he failed in his work to portray the true contribution of colonialism to ethnic conflicts.

The United Research Institution for Social Development (UNRISD) stated in 1995 that ethnicity is a resilient paradigm used in explaining one nature of conflict in Nigeria. In that report, it is held that Nigeria as a political society comprises many ethnic groups, which rubs shoulders with each other, so there is bound to be conflict. The central assumption of this view point is that ethnicity has the potential to transcend other loyalties and obligations and become the sole basis of identity. This may lead to conflict when people’s multiple identities are narrowed down as single focus, and social division becomes deeper and more rigid. The submission of the UNRISD report is that, ethnicity is a deeply emotional basis of mobilization that not merely distinguishes one group from other, but also dehumanizes the other. 15 This report due to its western ideas failed to acknowledge the fact that ethnicity was generated through the effort/doings of the colonial master i.e. it is bias by not wanting to see the role played by the Europeans in the emergence of ethnic problems.

Omuabor believes that suppression of the ethnic conflicts by force is never a lasting solution. According to him, it is like capping a seething volcano. Sooner than later, it erupts. He gives the instance when the Nigeria formal self styled military president, Ibrahim Babangida annulled the result of the June 12, 1993 presidential election: violent protest took over the streets of most cities in Western Nigeria. To him, the feeling in the part of the country was that had been robbed of a golden chance to produce a civilian president. The undeclared winner of that election, Moshood Abiola was Yoruba, the predominant ethnic group in the region. Furthermore, he asserts that the events to that period are generally believed to have given birth to the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) an unusually militant Yoruba group that uses violence to redress perceived injustice against the Yoruba. He states that the birth of OPC symbolizes the new spirit among the Yoruba to ‘square up’ to any ethnic groups that works against its interest. This development to him led to the Arewa People’s Congress (APC), an abnormal militant group to counter the activities of the OPC. OPC and APC aside, a group of militant Ijaw youths called Egbesu boys also evolved out of recent wars in the Itsekiri and Illaje ethnic nationalities in the oil-rich Niger Delta. His submission is that, but for the absence of uniforms, these groups are ethnic hosts who have sworn to defend and fight for the interest of their ethnic groups.16

Having reviewed the works of others ,there exist a lacunae which is indeed important in this course of study. These literatures failed to point out the growth of ethnicity during the post independence period, regional politics and also the impacts of ethnicity. Therefore this project essay will narrate the circumstances to the basis i.e, colonial period, post independence period and also the efforts towards ensuring a well integrated Nigerian nation. Also, ways to curb ethnicity and its deadly impact in Nigeria.


This project essay covers the period 1990-2015. The period of 1990 marks the colonization of Nigeria by the British that led to new patterns of intergroup relation i.e instigating in the minds of Nigerians the ethnic element through their policies, and it extends to 2015 because it is still a contending issue in Nigeria today. However, this project essay will be looked at from holistic point of view.


In order to achieve clarity, in this study, the sources will be mainly on secondary sources. It includes published and unpublished, chapter in books, articles and journals, newspapers e.t.c. Also primary sources will come in handy such as interviews with knowledgeable Nigerians regarding controversial issue. Information gotten from these sources will be critically examined. Therefore the research will adopt the historical method of descriptive analysis.


The researcher in the process of carrying out this research encountered some financial setback, this arose due to the cost of transportation of having to go round in search of information, materials, carrying out oral interviews. However, this was overcome by utilizing the limited resources.


  1. Obaro Ikime, “History, The Historian and the Nation”, Ibadan Nigeria: Heinemann Educational Books, 2006. P. 116.
  2. Oxford dictionary 6th edition.
  3. Felicia Ayatse and Isaac Iorhen, “The Origin and Development of Ethnic Politics and it’s Impact on Post Colonial Governance in Nigeria”. European Scientific Journal, 9:17(2013).p. 179.
  4. Cletus Umezinwa, “Ethnicity and Nigeria’s Underdevelopment” (ed.) New Journal of African Studies 9(2012) p. 217.
  5. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. “The Social Effect of Globalization”, Geneva, United Nation, 1995.

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