Ethnic Diversity In Nigeria


Ethnic Diversity In Nigeria Essay, Research Paper

The inherent differences in Language, religion, and politics of the various nations found within Nigeria have contributed heavily to failed attempts in democracy and political turmoil in general. The ammount of ethnic variety found within the borders of Nigeria is both “dazzling and confusing.” Depending on the report, 250 to 400 or more different ethnic groups can be identified, however, three main ethnic groups dominate the political sphere. The Hausa, Yoruba, and Ibo constitute 68% of the population, and are located in the North, South, and East respectively. These actually happen to be three of the most populous ethnic groups in the whole of Africa. The differences between these regional cultural groupings will now be highlighted to facilitate a better understanding of the difficulties involved in trapping three vastly dissimilar nations under the guise of one smoothly operating democratic state.

Located in the Northern half of Nigeria are the Hausa with the core 30% actually more toward the Northwesternly quarter. Traditionally and historically, the Hausa are moslim and live under Sharia or Islamic Law. Hausaland can be split up into Islamic Emirates that originally comprised a series of centralized governements and their surrounding towns and villages. The Emirs were the spirirtual and political leaders of the Hausa and held a perfect monarchy with no permanent body of advisors. Because they were seen as an assistant to God, their power was unchallenged. They still remain a major feature in local government today.

When speaking of the Hausa in the north, also, the Fulani should be mentioned. The Fulani are a pastoral-nomadic people. Living in Hausaland, they would trade their cattle for the farm produce of the Hausa. They were also Islamic and the Hausa and Fulani generally lived together on good terms. In times of droubt, however, the two groups were in conflict over resources and led to the Fulani-led holy war with the Hausa in the beginning of the 19th century. Fulani leaders took power, intermarried with the ruling families, and were assimilated fully into the urban Hausa culture and language. For this reason, by the 20th century, the ruling class of the Hausa was refered to as the Hausa-Fulani.

In the western half of southern Nigeria live the Yoruba. The Yoruba were divided into seperate kindoms with their respective subject towns. The traditional social structure was hierarchical with the head of a family unit reporting to the Oba of the town who, in turn, reported to the Oba of the kingdom to which that town belonged. The Oba operated within and was chosen from a traditional council of cheifs, made up of the elders of a ruling class. There were checks and balances on the Oba to avoid oppression, and in extreme cases the Oba could be removed. Unlike the Hausa, the Yoruba are not Islamic, tending instead toward christianity, animism, or a combination of the two. Linguistically, religiously, and politically (the Oba’s power was checked by a council of cheifs, unlike totalitarian commad of the Emir) the Yoruba differ from the Hausa, yet the two peoples have been expected to work as one.

To the right of the Yoruba, on the eastern side of the Southern part of Nigeria are the Ibo (Igbo). This is a densely forested region which the Ibo from outsiders and even inhibited contact between other Ibo clan groups. In fact, the Ibo did not begin to associate themselves as one people until relatively recent contact became regular with the Europeans, Yorubas, and Hausa. For this reason, political power was uncentralized and the clan groups were autonimously seperate bodies, usually the political leaders being a council of village elders. The unheirarchical Ibo were quite unnaturally joined with the stratified societies of the North and Southeast.

The major difficulty observed with democracy in Nigeria is the tendency of people from a particualar ethnic group to give support only to political leaders of the same ethnicity. As a result, during the first republic, the three main political parties represented the three main ethnic groups, the National Congress of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) gaining support from the Ibos, the Action Group of the Yoruba population, and the Northern Peoples’ Congress representing the Hausa. The last mention actually give regional specification in its title. Voters tended not to vote in favor of a particular political platform or ideology, but instead simply chose candidates by ethnicity. The end result was that party leaders would campaign against an entire ethnic group, only creating more anger and fear rather than just dissagreement on a political isssue. This party bred hatred led to tension and violence. Parties were abolished when the military government took power in 1966. The Biafran Civil War was a result of fears created by party leaders. The Ibo fears of genocide from more powerful political/ethnic groups led to their secessionist movement and civil war. Later when political parties were reinstated, in order for them to be recognized they had to call support from all over the country.

Ethnic tensions in Nigeria have caused the end of the first republic, two military coups, and a civil war. As Nigeria is moving into its Third Republic, leaders are now aware of the tension and violence that ethnicity can promote. Hopefully, although there is talk of another secession movement by Yorubas fearing Hausa domination, the Third Republic will be able to look beyond ethnic bariers and toward a more unified Nigerian state.

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