A Historical Analysis of Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2012

25 Pages, Grade: none



Observably, most developing countries are ethnically diverse. Ethnic diversity may lead to increased civil dissonance. The National Question in Nigeria is probably one of the most complicated in the world with her over 250 ethnic groups and 120 different languages spoken in the country. The colonialist while pretending to carry out a mission of uniting the warring ethnic groups, wilfully and systematically separated the various Nigerian people thereby creating a suitable atmosphere for conflict. With the heterogeneous nature of the country, the tendency of the various nationals is towards parochial consciousness at the expense of national consciousness. This paper, therefore, relies on content analysis as its methodology to examine ethnic conflicts in Nigeria. It also examined the fundamental causes of ethnic conflicts in the country and identifies the possible issues for resolution. The paper also proffered suggestions on how to curb ethnic conflicts in future Nigeria.


It has been generally agreed that ethnic conflicts is one of the greatest obstacles to meaningful development in Africa due to the general negative outcome of the subject in discuss. Citing Nigeria as a case study with over 300 ethnic groups, the various competition and rivalry among these various ethnic groups has been seen as a product of colonial contact. The ethnic factor, however, did not diminish with the advent of independence; rather, it became a yardstick for measuring contribution to the national development effort and especially for allocating and distributing power and national resources. (Edlyne, 2000: 61) With the current trend of Nigeria’s exercise which aimed at establishing a sustainable form of democracy, there is urgent need to look into perceived factors that may work against the success of this endeavour.

Most developing countries are ethnically diverse. For many years, social sciences preferred to ignore the brute fact of ethnic identity. More recently, evidence is accumulating that is detrimental to economic performance. Journalistic accounts of wars in Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and several other countries of sub-Saharan Africa in the 1990s have raised concern that ethnic cleavages and overlapping affiliations of religion and race may undermine prospects for economic and political development in much of Africa. (Kamla-Ra, 2006: 101) In some certain view, the annulment of the democratic transition programme by the military in 1993 at the conclusion of the presidential polls, is believed to have been motivated by ethnic sentiments. On a similar note, the 30-month senseless killing occasioned by the Nigeria Civil War from 1967-1970 was anchored on ethnic rivalry. This was due to the efforts on the part of the predominantly Igbo peoples in the South-eastern region to carve out an independence nation for themselves.

Ethnic diversity may lead to increased civil strife. This perception is fostered both by some graphic individual scenes of inter-ethnic violence, and by an aggregate correlation: Africa has not only the highest ethnic diversity, but also the highest incidence of civil war.

In Nigeria, the colonial masters provided urban setting, which constitutes the cradle of contemporary ethnicity. The British colonialist while pretending to carry out a mission of uniting the warring ethnic groups consciously and systematically separated the various Nigerian people thereby creating a suitable atmosphere for conflict. With the heterogeneous nature of the country, the tendency of the various nationals is towards parochial consciousness at the expense of national consciousness. A far reaching and in-depth survey of Nigeria public opinion carried out by the International Foundation for Elections Systems-IFES on behalf of United States Agency for International Development-USAID in 2000 found out that ethnicity is the strongest type of identity among Nigerians. Almost half of all Nigerians (48.2%) choose to tag themselves with an “ethnic” identity. (Osinubis, 2006: 3)

Ethnic conflicts in Nigeria and Africa in general arise as result of scarcity of political resources, multi-culturalism, religion, militarisation of ethnicity among others. These conflicts cannot be ignored. It is therefore patently clear that realistic measures to solve these problems are needed. This paper, therefore, relies on content analysis as its methodology to examine ethnic conflicts in Nigeria. It also examines the effects of ethnic conflicts on the country’s search for unity and identifies the possible issues for resolution.

The remaining part of this paper is divided into three sections. Section two examines the causes of ethnic conflicts in Nigeria. Section three explains the various ethnic conflicts and their situation in Nigeria, while section four concludes with suggestions on how to ameliorate ethnic tensions in the emerging democratic tradition in Nigeria.


A gamut haunts Nigeria: the apparition of ethnic cleansing. It has already signalled its approach. This takes form in ever-increasing acts of violence between diverse ethnic groups.

It might look like a horror movie, scene of disembowelled body of a pregnant woman, headless body of a man; dead bodies of children who died of hunger; and so on. This wasn’t fiction, it’s real.

The ancient oil town of Warri had exploded in violence between hitherto co-existing communities. This explosion has left scars, visible and invisible. Some of the visible scars were corpses, burnt out houses that were no more than hollow shells. The streets had a desolate look as business closed down and people fled the town in panic. This was the outcome of clashes between the three ethnic groups that makeup Warri - the Ijaws and Urhobos on one hand and the Itsekiris on the other. The scale and ferocity of the destruction are quite alarming-with hundreds of lives and properties lost. The antagonism among these ethnic groups is not new; it is a festering sore; it is merely increasing in frequency.

In Ondo State, it was a replay of the Warri mayhem as the Ijaws and Ilajes, went for each other‚s throat with the consequent loss of hundreds of lives and property. In most cases, whole villages were razed. Even in the riverine areas like the farming communities of Aguleri and Umuleri in Anambra State, the story is the same. The conflict, over land, is not new. It happened in 1933, 1964 and 1995. But, this recent one in 1999 assumed dangerous proportions with thousands of lives and properties destroyed, as more sophisticated weapons were used.

All across Nigeria there is an ever-lengthening thread of ethnic violence: Ife/Modakeke, Ogoni and Andonis, Sagamu, Kano, Zango-Kataf, Jukuns/Tivs, etc. These are not isolated events but are interconnected. Powerful social and economic factors gave rise to them.

2.1 Poverty

One such factor, the most powerful, is the ever-increasing level of poverty-typified in joblessness, deteriorating infrastructures, etc. All these clashes are due to the fundamental crisis of underdevelopment; there is widespread poverty and this gives rise to a scramble for limited resources. Most of these communities are no better than slums. Industries are shutting down with the attendant consequences of job losses; most families find it difficult to feed themselves. There are no potable water, no good roads, proper medical facilities, social infrastructures, and no good schools. Environments such as these generate fear distrust hatred, frustrations, anger, etc. Under such circumstances, it is easy to believe that if the other ethnic groups go away there will be enough.

According to the multiple indicator cluster survey published by the federal office of statistics in 1996, only one in every ten Nigerian can be described as non-poor. The other 90 percent are described as either "core poor" or "moderately poor". Taken in context, what one sees is the harsh reality of a nation where less than 11 million people can be described as "living people", while the remaining 99 million people are best described as the "living dead".

In addition, the UNDP in Nigeria, in its debut Human Development Report on Nigeria graphically depicts the nation‚s Human Development rank. Nigeria was ranked 137th out of 174 nations behind other low human development countries. The graph shows Nigeria‚s human development index (HDI) value as 0.400. Countries with HDI value below 0.5 are considered to have low human development.

2.2 Manipulations

These factors provide classic hot beds for ethnic clashes. Recognising this the ruling class consciously exploits the poison of ethnicism as a means of keeping the working class permanently divided and diverting their attention away from the real problems confronting them - the crisis of Nigerian capitalism. Nor is this policy of "divide and rule" an exclusive phenomenon. It is the resort of the ruling class internationally. It is a conscious policy of the ruling class that allows for their continuing oppression and exploitation of the poor working masses, their continuing hold onto power.

The manipulation of ethnic differences reflects the fear of the ruling class of the potentials of the Nigerian working class and its capacity for unity - a unity that cuts across ethnic lines. The conscious manipulation of ethnic consciousness under terrible social conditions gives rise to periodic explosions of ethnic clashes. This is also a reflection of the inability of the ruling class to foster genuine unity among the masses. It confirms the fact that capitalism and ethnic violence are interlinked; you cannot have the former without the latter.

However, the working masses of the various ethnic groups know that the same forces are oppressing them. Were the workers that marched with Adams Oshiomhole to protest the 3.5 and 2.5 million Naira furniture allowance for Senators and legislators respectively, ethnically homogeneous? Did their population not cut across diverse ethnic groups? The fact is: the same forces oppressing the Niger-Delta working masses are the same oppressing the Hausa-Fulani, the Ibo, Yoruba, Itsekiri, Ijaw, Ilaje, etc working masses. This is not to say that there is nothing like the subjugation of smaller ethnic groups by dominant ethnic groups. It is rooted in the subjugation of backward nations by advanced nations. Both are rooted in the class structure of society-in the capitalist system.


Excerpt out of 25 pages


A Historical Analysis of Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria
International Studies and Diplomacy
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
544 KB
historical, analysis, ethnic, conflict, nigeria
Quote paper
Osadola Oluwaseun Samuel (Author), 2012, A Historical Analysis of Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/202626


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: A Historical Analysis of Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free