Problems of ethnicity in Nigeria

Problems of ethnicity in Nigeria

Since the amalgamation, various ethnic challenges have plagued the country. These challenges have prevented Nigeria from developing as a country. If we have to move forward, we have to understand problems of ethnicity in Nigeria and find a way to overcome them.

Ethnicity in Nigeria

Nigeria as a country is a federal republic made up of thirty-six states and a federal capital territory. Nigeria is a multi-ethnic country. In social studies, there are the major tribes and the minor tribes. In Nigeria, there are 371 ethnic groups, of which three are the major ethnic groups in Nigeria: Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba. There are more than five hundred languages spoken in Nigeria.

The country was formed in 1914 by the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern protectorate. Before the British colonized Nigeria and before the amalgamation, most of the tribes in Nigeria were independent. Each of the tribes stood as a kingdom and were all ruled by kings and traditional rulers. Each of these tribes has their language and culture which are preserved till today. This multi-ethnicity as good as it is stands as one of the major challenges stalling the development and growth of Nigeria. Let us look at how multi-ethnicity has affected different aspects of Nigeria’s development.

Fulani ladies in costumes


First of all, let’s talk about the political problems caused by ethnicity in Nigeria. The first set of political parties in Nigeria was formed majorly on ethnic grounds. The major one was the Action Group which was predominantly a Yoruba association. The NCNC was predominantly an Igbo group, and the NPC was formed mainly by the Hausas in the North.

The tribal bias in the political parties was a major problem, especially after independence. It is seen by some as a major factor in the events that led to the first coup which took place in Nigeria. The tribal bias and differences were definitely the factor that led to the Civil War in 1967.

Although as a country today, the political parties all more inclusive of different tribes. However, the traces of tribalism and cultural difference still plagues the politics and democracy of Nigeria. Some political parties are still inclined to some major tribes in Nigeria. For example, the APGA party is predominantly seen as an Igbo party and only popular in the South East region. The Action Congress of Nigeria which is considered to be a reincarnation of the Action Group has more of the Yoruba people. Only the People’s Democratic Party has more of a National outlook than an ethnic outlook.

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The Igbos clamoring for secession of Biafra

The Civil War

The Civil War in Nigeria also known as the Biafra war was a battle between the Nigerian Government and the secessionist state of Biafra. The ethnic divide in the country can be described as what led to the civil war. After the amalgamation and discovery of oil in Southern Nigeria, the regions began to struggle for power control. The Hausas in the North due to their population, culture, and influence despised the Igbos. The Igbos in the Eastern part of Nigeria wanted more powerful influence.

After the 1960 military coup, which the northerners saw as a coup perpetrated by Igbo officers, a counter coup was launched in 1966 to revenge on Igbo officers. During this time and till 1967, more Easterners were being killed in the North. These sequence of actions and other events were what led to the civil war. The Easterners who were majorly Igbos wanted to separate from Nigeria. But the Federal Government would not allow it.

Peace talks were held to try to solve and calm things down. However, it yielded no result as the Igbos felt oppressed by the Northerners and they wanted to be taken out of Nigeria. The war began in 1967 and ended in 1970 with the loss of lives and properties. Today the Igbos still feel marginalized, and a majority of them have started calling for the secession of Biafra again.

Ethnic Conflicts in Nigeria

Ethnic clashes in present day Nigeria

Unlike before, there are less of inter tribal clashes in present day Nigeria. However, there is still an unacceptable level of violence and insecurity in Nigeria as a result of multi-ethnicity. Significant ones include militancy popular among the Igbos, the Fulani herders killing people, the Boko Haram crises and also the on going tension for the secession of Biafra.

Language differences

The problem posed by language differences among the tribes in Nigeria

As we have said earlier, there are more than five hundred languages in Nigeria. Even though English is the universal and formal language in Nigeria. For most people, their ethnic language is their first language. English is mostly learned only in schools and due to the low level of education in Nigeria, a lot of Nigerians can’t speak English well. More than fifty percent of Nigerians speak their various individual ethnic languages which are very different. So, there is a wide communication gap among Nigerians.

Ethnic groups in Nigeria

Cultural differences in Nigeria

Each of the tribe in Nigeria has its own culture. The various cultures have a lot of differences in ideas, social behavior, lifestyle, dressing, food, religion, etc. These cultural differences in Nigeria have prevented Nigerians from being united. These differences bring diversity to Nigeria on the one hand but prevent us from having a National identity on the other. Most Nigerians live in the idea of their culture in most settings they find themselves.

People living in huts in Northern Nigeria

Ethnicity and education

In Nigeria today most of the educated people are from the South where we have the majority of the Yorubas and Igbos. Due to cultural differences, literacy among some ethnic group is poor. In the North the literacy level is low, they are more into farming and cattle rearing. Most times the Hausas don't send their girls to school. The Yorubas have a good proportion of educated people and the Igbos also. The literacy gap caused by ethnic beliefs and way of life is a challenging situation in Nigeria in terms of development and security. It is one of the socio-economic problems that need to be tackled through awareness, policies, and projects.

The Hausa People

Tribalism over nationalism

This can be perceived as the main problem that summarizes every problem caused by ethnicity in Nigeria. It is a big social problem in Nigeria. The character of most Nigerians stems from a strong cultural inclination. Nigerians are very sensitive when it comes to their ethnic groups. Most Nigerians identify first and more with their tribes anywhere in the world. Even in the diaspora, there are numerous strong associations of ethnic groups over an association of Nigerians. People associate more with their fellow ethnic people and even show favoritism towards their ethnic people also.

In most cases, families want their children to marry within their ethnic group. Nigerians just feel more comfortable in the ethnic identity. Tribalism breeds inequality and marginalization of power in favor of the more populous ethnic groups. People vote for leaders based on ethnic bias. For example, because President Buhari was a northerner, he won the votes of most Northerners and the Igbos never fully accepted him. So problems caused by tribalism has prevented Nigerians from really achieving it potential as a nation. It has prevented Nigerians from working together as one nation for a greater purpose, and it allows the leaders to keep doing whatever they feel like while in office.

Yoruba culture

Nigeria is a wonderful country with numerous resources and great potentials. The cultural diversity gives Nigeria a beautiful outlook and its something that is highly appreciated worldwide. However, for Nigeria as a country to move forward beyond its current challenges, we have to embrace our differences and reach a point of nationalism. We all have to see one another as the same with equal rights. We have to be first Nigerians before any other thing.

READ ALSO: History of cultism in Nigeria


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