How Can Multi-Ethnic Tension Be Managed In Multi-Ethnic Societies Like Nigeria?

(A school paper i very much enjoyed researching and writing…a long read….hopefully worth your time )


Presently, a significant portion of the Nigerian state is engulfed in Ethno-religious crisis. From the     Boko-haram insurgency in the North East of the country, to the killings perpetuated by herdsmen  in the south of the country and the agitation in the South East and South-South for self determination and resource control, It is easy to understand why the call for restructuring the Nigerian state has progressively gotten louder.

Half a century after attaining independence, not only have we been unable to implement a lasting solution to this issue, we are yet to arrive at consensus on how to deal with these challenges. Ethno-religious conflict is not a new phenomenon in Nigeria, whilst there have been several policy attempts to curb and minimize their occurrence, These attempts have been both palliative on the short term and insidious on the long term due to the cumulative damage that the persistence of ethnic violence has had on nation building and national development.

This paper examines the history of ethnic conflicts in Nigeria as well as some of the policies that have been put in place to tackle ethnic conflicts. It also aims to analyze different social theories that have tried to articulate the reasons for ethnic conflict in multi ethnic societies with an aim to find the best fit which should inform long term policy direction to solving this problem.



According to Nnoli (1978)

“Ethnicity is a social phenomenon associated with interactions among members of different ethnic groups.”

Ethnicity in and of itself is not the reason for conflict, unfortunately ethnicity has been vilified by those that look at ethnic conflict with a shallow perspective as Ukiwo (2005) avers,

“The vilification of ethnicity as the scapegoat of all vices associated with the Nigerian politic has made the subject a dominant theme in the study of Nigeria’s political economy.”

This vilification sits very well with the concept of ethnicity as propounded by colonial anthropologist. This school of thought better known as essentialism or the primordial perspective

(Geertz, 1963) The primordial school of thought stresses the uniqueness and the overriding importance of ethnic identity. From their point of view, ethnicity is a biological and fixed characteristic of individuals and communities. This school of thought attributes ethnic conflict to the innately aggressive nature of human beings.  Writers such as Arthur Lewis (cited in sklar,1967) propagated this notion:

“Most of them include people who differ from each other in language or tribe or religion or race, some of these groups live side by side in a long tradition of mutual hostility, restrained only in the past by an imperial power.”

Other schools of thought have not been so static in their conceptualization of ethnicity favoring a more fluid approach. This includes instrumentalism, constructivism and institutionalism. According to Varshney (cited in Ukiwo, 2005),

Instrumentalism posits that the ambitious classes manipulate dormant ethnic identities to pursue their interests, thereby politicizing ethnicity and ethicizing politics.

Constructivism interrogates the origins of ethnic groups, tracing identity construction or inventions to the activities of colonial authorities, missionaries and emergent nationalist and emphasizing the historicity and fluidity of ethnic identities.

Institutionalism emphasizes the critical role of political institutions and programmatic policies in the framing of ethnic relations. Furthermore as articulated by (Barth.1969, Glazer and Moynihan, 1975)

“In Africa where poverty and deprivation are becoming endemic, mostly as a result of distributive injustice, ethnicity remains an effective means of survival and mobilization. Ethnic groups that form for economic reasons, easily disband after achieving their objectives.”

From this we see that ethnicity is more “a construct” rather than a constant as advocated by the primordial model.

The most relevant theory to the historical evolution of ethnicity in the Nigerian State is the modernization theory. The modernization theory assumed that with charismatic leadership, western education, advances in communication and transportation, and urbanization, as catalyst for national integration.  This theory as postulated by several scholars in the 1950’s envisioned a positive correlation between development and national integration. Each successive stage in the development process was seen as less pluralized than the previous stage of development. It was also believed that Developed countries which were plural in nature had transcended the threshold of National integration.

These theories have been contradicted by recent observations as seen in the recent waves of ethno –nationalism that has swept America with the “Black Lives Matter “ movement to the calls by Scotland and Catalonia agitating for separation from England and Spain respectively. The threat to national Integration was seen in the protracted war of independence by the Chechnyans and even in Canada the agitations for the separation of Quebec is worth noting.

In Africa generally and Nigeria in particular, It is clear to see that the modernization theory has proved false. The notion that modernity would result in smooth transition from (community) to (association), with gradual dissolution of ethnic affiliations, simply does not hold true.

Ethnicity has persisted in North America, Africa and Europe. This failure of the modernization theory in both developed and developing societies highlights the notion that stability and peaceful co-existence in multi-ethnic societies is not solely determined by ethnicity, but the failure of national institutions to recognize and accommodate ethnic differences and interests.

This brings us to the theoretical frame work advocated by John Burton’s (1979, 1997) human needs theory. This approach to ethnicity and ethnic conflict explains that ethnic groups fight because they are denied not only their biological needs, but also psychological needs that relate to growth and development. These include peoples’ need for identity, security, recognition, participation, and autonomy. This theory provides a plausible explanation of ethnic conflicts in Africa, where such needs are not easily met by undemocratic regimes.  In situations such as this, ethnicity is the means by which the disenfranchised mobilize to achieve their goals.



Prior to the imposition of British Colonial rule in what is today known as Nigeria, The organization of people existed as distinct political systems that varied in complexity and size from collection of hamlets to kingdoms and empires. Most of these organizations had little or no contact with each other. The Nigerian State is thus an inherited colonial structure, making it impossible to meaningfully discuss the character of its current state without recourse to its colonial past.


The formation of the Northern protectorate by the British colonialist was formerly organized under a strong feudalist system headed by the Fulani emirs. The Fulani had conquered had conquered Hausaland and imposed Islam as the state religion sequel to the successful Jihad led by Othman dan Fodio in 1804. In the South, the Benin Kingdom, The Oyo Empire and several small political and republican societies existed in Igbo land.

These pre-colonial political systems had unique peculiarities that expressed the peoples divergence in culture and religion. The unification of these diverse people and territories at the advent of the British and the imposition of colonialism began in 1906 when Lagos Colony and Southern Protectorate were merged. By 1914 the Northern and Southern protectorates were amalgamated.

Unfortunately as averred by Falola(1988)

“The amalgamation failed to bring about political integration of the country as there were two different administrations,” each attempting to orchestrate real and imaginary differences in the regions.”

Furthermore  the amalgamation was not one of common minds. For instance for political reasons the colonial administration prevented the introduction of western education to the Northern part of the country to prevent revolt from the northerners where the indirect rule system had been entrenched.

As averred by Sanusi(2007)

“One consequence of the alliance between the British and the emirates was that the integrity of the political and social structures in the north could only be achieved by sealing the region off from western influences, including from southern Nigeria. In this attempt to insulate the north from modernity, Western education was severely curtailed in order to prevent in the north what Lord Lugard termed the ‘utter disrespect’ for British and natives ideals alike that was beginning to emerge in the south’

Another factor to consider was how the colonial administration prevented administrative integration between the people.

Okpeh (2003) Thus, instead of the regions complementing one another, colonial rule encouraged ‘Vertical administrative units and the colonial centers of power; it failed in the area of facilitating horizontal forms of interaction between the peoples of Nigeria’

These conditions led to the favorable attitudes of the British towards the more malleable Northern Nigeria and subsequently ensured that all political power resided in the north when they were leaving thus sowing the seeds of political conflicts over power sharing in Nigeria.

According to Smith (2005) the ‘British claimed that the Northerners had demanded that they must have fifty percent of all the seats in the federal legislature.’ The North therefore had about 79% of the country’s total land area as compared to the Eastern Regions 4.2%, Western Regions 8.5% and the Mid-Western Regions,4.2% .

According to Dudley(1963)

‘It has been remarked that Nigeria comprises a heterogeneous collection of people with little or no common bond holding them together.’


Once these groups were brought together, Nigeria became a conglomeration of many diverse ethnic groups and political units with differing cultures and characteristics devoid of overarching sense of nationhood. Statements by Balewa and Awolowo summarize the state of the Nigerian union very well.

‘Since the amalgamation of the Southern and Northern provinces in 1914, Nigeria has existed as one country only on paper. It is still far from being united. Nigerian unity is only a British intention for the country. Balewa(1947)

‘Nigeria is not a nation. It is a geographical expression. There are no “Nigerians” in the same sense as there are “English” or “Welsh” or “French.” The word “Nigeria” is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria from those who do not. (Awolowo,1947)


As the period of colonialism ended, A new Nigerian Elite inherited the colonial structures with the opportunity to create a horizontally integrated state. Unfortunately this never materialized.

Ake (1996)

“Even though they co-operated against the colonial regime, their relationship was never free from tension and conflict. Although the ethnic coalition fought against the colonial power, they worried about the enormous power they were trying to wrestle from it, power they could not entrust to anyone of them or even share in a way that could reduce political anxiety”

From this point in Nigeria’s history, one can analyze ethnic conflict through the theoretical framework of elite based theory. This theory considers the role of intellectuals and politicians in mobilizing ethnic feelings and inter-ethnic strife as key.

The elite as the holders of pre-eminent positions in society manipulate the non-elite in their attempt to optimize their assets to gain maximum resources. They achieve this through their actions and utterances.


Such utterances were made by prominent Nationalist leaders during the build up to Independence;

“Let me make it clear to you that if the British quieted Nigeria now at this stage, the northern people would continue their interrupted conquest to the sea”.

Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa (1947 Legislative Council Debates)


“It would appear that the God of Africa has specially created the Ibo nation to lead the children of Africa from the bondage of the ages ‘and that’ the martial prowess of the Ibo nation at all stages of human history has enabled them not only to conquer others but also to adapt themselves to the role of preserver… The Ibo nation cannot shirk its responsibility”.

Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (1949 West African Pilot)

These statements served as a warning as well an incentive for elite from other parts of Nigeria to seek greater ethnic identity which has led to fierce inter-ethnic struggles and violence in Nigeria. The concept of conquest present in the two statements was very inciting.

(Nnoli 1978) expanded on this

“The remarks create possibilities for the emergence of conflict spirals capable of escalating inter-ethnic hostility into violence. By their negative effects on the perceptions of ethnic opponents, such utterances create the opportunities for the emergence of an increasingly intense spiral of self-reconfirming, self-reinforcing, and self-perpetuating hostile suspicious actions, and counteractions which fan the embers of ethnic antagonism and violence”.

Another factor worth noting in the analysis of ethnic conflict, is the psychological fear of domination often expressed by discriminated and dominated minority groups.

According to (Horowitz 1985).

“These are the fears of having one’s established values changed thus cutting one adrift in a wider and more uncharted sea called Nigeria that seems to lack an articulated goal and value system, the fear of competition for scarce resources, and a lot of other fears that may be explicit or implicit. This irrational fear of losing cultural integrity”

Consequently, the Political elite opted for a federal arrangement when deciding the choice of a political system to adopt. Nigeria became a federation in 1954.

According to (wheare,1963)

A federal government itself is said to exist when the powers of government for a community are divided substantially according to the principle that there is a single independent authority for the whole area in respect of some matters each set of authorities being co-ordinate with, and not subordinate to, the others within its own stated spheres.

Federalism gave state units a level of local autonomy and minimized the struggle for power at the center as well as reduces the fear of domination by other ethnic groups. This being said, the dominant ethnic groups in the different geographic regions sought to control and dominate each of these regions. This led to the agitation by minority groups, the elites of which embarked on carving out states for themselves resulting in further division of the Nigerian federation. Unfortunately further state creation did not address the ethnic problem.

As Ukiwo (2015) explains;

The minority politics from the late colonial period to the onset of the civil war were subordinated to the conflicts of the major ethnic groups, the state creation exercise that started in 1967 reconfigured the terrain of contestation. It led to the rise of the ‘majority minority’ who have increasingly been accused of oppressing the ‘minority minorities.’”


Years after independence, it can be acknowledged that some things have changed for the betterment of Nigerians, but for the most part, the colonial structure has stayed intact. This colonial structure remains totalistic in scope and a powerful tool used by the political elite to both oppress the lower class of society and accumulate  wealth.

The critical issue here is the management of the Nigerian state has changed; yet the character and nature of the colonial state and its ruling class still persist. The political elite have played a major part in exacerbating ethnic conflict as explained by (Nnoli, 1978);

“Much of the instability of the Nigerian nation state is due to factional struggle and lack of unity within the Nigerian ruling class, this class has consistently, since independence till date”embarked on the use of the political machinery to pursue their class interest”

Unfortunately, due to the absence of strong class consciousness, the lower class of ethnic groups and communal groups reflected these tensions and animosity.

Ake(1996) speaking on the divisive effect of the political elite on the polity,

“They also tended to separate along these lines, and indeed many of them sought power by politicizing national, ethnical and communal formations.’

This process of politicizing differences was very dangerous because the masses are often willing to follow their leaders out of ethnic allegiance irrespective of the consequences. In such situations that led to conflicts along ethnic lines, such followers were ready to sacrifice as well as to use the most violent methods to achieve goals advocated by their political elite.

 Diversity and Ethnic Conflict

Heterogeneity in itself does not lend itself to ethnic violence. Ethnic violence is not as a result of primordial innate tribal hatred for others. Ethnic-Conflict in Nigeria is as a result of human needs both physical and psychological exacerbated by a monetized economy and the need to compete to survive.

In these conditions, ethnicity is used as the vehicle for mobilization to achieve access to scarce resources, factors of production and state power.

This is further complicated when the masses of citizens cannot come together to demand more from their political elite because they have been divided along the lines of ethnicity, religion and class.

As young avers; ‘The absence of strong class consciousness or organizations (such as political parties) with strong ideological base makes communal groups easily adaptable as infrastructure for carrying out this struggle’

John Burton’s human needs theory touches on the key factors that lead to ethnic conflict. These needs can be broken down in to two main categories.

Biological needs-These are factors that are necessary for the sustenance of life such as food and natural resources.

Psychological needs– These are factors related to communal growth and development, such as a peoples need for identity, security, recognition, participation, and autonomy.

This explains the desire in communal groups to violently attack groups they fear might be encroaching on their identity or groups they feel would come to dominate them. There is also the constant struggle between the natives and the settlers. All of which go back to human needs. As cities grew and people had more reason to interact, these places became social theaters of competition. People naturally used group affiliations to struggle for resources.

Young(1976) avers ‘The importance of scarcity of resources and competition for status in the crystallization of contemporary identities can hardly be overstated’.

Nnoli (1978) asserts that ethnicity is not peculiar to Africa nor is it basically the consequence of pre-colonial politics; ‘this is evidenced by the fact that in the various Nigerian languages, there is no equivalent concept for tribalism. Therefore he observed that the colonial urban setting was the cradle of contemporary ethnicity.’

Coleman (1958) opines that ‘with political stability and internal security assured by the British presence , the new economic forces gave rise to new urban centers and accelerated the growth of most traditional centers’. Hence the urban centers became the melting pot for people from different ethnic backgrounds, the struggle for the scarce opportunities created by the monetized economy led to the formation of ethnic based associations,

(Otite 2000)’These ethnic conflicts have been generated from conditions of contested claims over access to or control of scarce resources, opposing perceptions by multiple users or potential beneficiaries, of limited resources and politico-economic dividends of government and governance .’

The point being made here is that ethnic conflict is primarily tied to competition, access and preservation of identity. Any solution that does not take these factors in to consideration is more a palliative than a long term solution. The question then arises how does one limit completion while ensuring economic growth and free movement within the federation? To what extent do communities and ethnicity have to shed their identity to become a part of federation? This is particularly relevant to communities with cultural practices that have a negative impact on citizens or run counter to the laws of the Nation e.g Sharia courts and Child brides. Finally to what extent does the federation allow resource control to the host community?

Competition & Scarcity


(Nnoli 1978),The earliest near riot situation that brewed between the Hausa settlers and the indigenes of Jos area for ascendancy was in 1932. This smoldering ethnic struggle culminated in the Jos riot of 1945. The riot was an ethnic conflict between the Hausa and the Igbo that lasted for two days. Two people were killed with many injured and considerable property was destroyed or damaged. The Igbo masterminded general strike of 1945 occasioned severe hardship for the Hausa who readily, gulped the British colonial administration’s insinuation to catalyze the riot.


(Northern Region of Nigeria Report 1953), “There was also the Kano violence of 1953 that erupted between the Hausa and Igbo. The genesis of this violence was the contentious issue of self-government in 1956, but the Hausa-Fulani led ethnic groups in the north were strongly opposed to that date. At the height of the tension between the northern and southern leaders violence ensured which mainly engulfed the Igbo ethnic group, which has, over the years, become the traditional victims of Northern hostility because they are the major socio-economic competitors of the Hausa. This conflict lasted for four days leaving thirty-six dead and two hundred and forty-one wounded


Power, Access & Participation.


In 1960, the middle belt witnessed ethnic conflict between the indigenous Tiv population and the Hausa –Fulani settlers.  As a counter to the Northern Hegemony, J.S. Tarka created  the United Middle Belt congress as a rival political party to the Northern People’s Congress. His aim was the liberation of the Tiv from socio-economic domination by the Hausa-Fulani.

During the election, The United Middle Belt Congress had a land-slide victory over its chief opponent, the Northern People Congress in Tiv land to the displeasure of the Hausa–Fulani political and traditional elites.

In response to this, The traditional rulers using the Native Authority system embarked on an oppressive campaign against Tiv supporters of the United Middle Belt Congress. Many were dismissed from employment, while many were harassed, arrested and imprisoned. This sparked off the spiral of conflicts that occurred between August and November 1960 characterized by large scale arson and murder. Similar riots occurred in Tiv land in 1964 in which about two thousand people died with much property destroyed.


According to (Nnoli 1978):

“Igbo lives and property were attacked on a massive scale on 29 and 30 May, 1966. It began with the demonstration in Zaria of the students of the Institute of Administration and the Ahmadu Bello University against the unification decree which they feared would adversely affect their competition for jobs by throwing open the relatively closed job market of the North to Southerners. Following closely in the wake of these May killings came the July massacre of the Igbo within the armed forces…. the Northern soldiers were determined to end Igbo supremacy in the military and the Federation. On 29 July, 1966, they descended with ethnic vengeance on the Igbo officers and men, eliminating them in large numbers, and forcing the others to go into hiding”.

These conflicts led to the Biafra civil war that lasted for thirty months. During the civil war millions of people lost their lives and property. This reinforced ethnic divisions and mistrust, as did the annulment of the 12 June election of 1993.



Identity: Today, Nigeria has to grapple with Ethno-religious conflict in the North East in a war against secessionist fundamentalist sect (Boko-haram).

Competition and Access: In the Middle belt and Southern parts of Nigeria, Fulani herdsmen are terrorizing farmers and villages. They do this by killing and terrorizing farmers in a bid to give their cattle access to grazing lands.

Resource Allocation and autonomy: In the South-South, the Niger Delta Avengers are attacking the federation economically by sabotaging the production of crude oil which is both linked to power generation as well as export earnings for the federation.



The government has enacted several policies to reduce ethnic conflict. These policies fall under four main categories.

  • Policies that reduce competition
  • Policies that preserve Identity
  • Policies that foster National integration
  • Policies that engage regional autonomy well as resource control

Policies that reduce competition as enacted by the government include;

National Boundary Commission

The commission was first established by the National Boundary Commission Act., Chapter 238 of 1987.  That Act has now been repealed and is now replaced by the National Boundary Commission (Establishment) Act, 2006.  By the new Act, a new National Boundary Commission was born created with enhanced powers and functions to deal with boundary problems between Nigeria and her proximate neighbors as well as inter or intra-boundary disputes between States, Local Government Areas and Communities in Nigeria.

This policy seeks to reduce ethnic conflict based on border issues , land rights and claims through an official agency set up to ensure peaceful dispute resolution. To a large extent this policy has been successful and has successfully reduced violent conflicts by officially delineating land ownership and their verdict is backed by the highest laws of the land.

 The Proliferation Of State Creation

Before and after independence in 1960, Nigeria was a unitary state of three Regions: Northern, Western, and Eastern. In 1963, the new Mid-Western Region was carved out of the Western Region. In 1967, by a military decree, the regions were replaced by 12 states. In 1976, seven new states were created, making 19 altogether. The Federal Capital Territory was established in 1991. In 1987 two new states were established, followed by another nine in 1991, bringing the total to 30. Another 6 states were created in 1996, resulting in the present number of 36 states.

With State creation, regions were given more autonomy, their identities preserved and it reduced the level of completion at the federal level. To an extent this brings peace as relates to the psychological needs of ethnic groups.

Unfortunately those who get state power have used it for their own selfish interest.

Nnoli (1978) the most ardent of advocates of new states or regions have always been aspirants to high positions in the political. Administrative, professional and business fields who have failed to attain positions of pre-eminence at the national, regional or state levels and who hope to attain such heights in smaller constitutional entities,

Due to the hoarding of the common wealth by the political elite, inadequate resources are allocated for the benefit of the masses. Social services such as Health and education facilities are underfunded as well as essential structures that would allow the flourishing of the state’s economy. Furthermore most of these states that have been created are not economically viable. These conditions create scarcity which increases competition and leads to ethnic conflict. Ironically, Ethnic tensions have not only continued to increase with the new state creation, it has also intensified. Socio-economic policies in states that serve to act as protective barriers to completion from non-indigenes, such as exclusive employment opportunities for indigenes whilst this prevents competition on the short term, it does not foster national integration.

 Policies that preserve Identity enacted by the government include;

The Federal character principle

Enshrined in the 1979 constitution, the federal character principle seeks to ensure that the distribution of appointments on the federal level reflects the plurality of ethnic identities that make up Nigeria (Okpako1998). The states must be similarly run to reflect the existence of different ethnic groups of local government areas. This policy is supposed to allows all ethnic groups gain access to the topmost level of government. This gives the various ethnic groups a participatory sense of belonging. The failings of this principle have been the sacrifice of merit in favor of ethnic balancing.

(Okpako 1998) avers that ‘The pursuit of the federal character principle has proved inadequate for effective nation building in Nigeria. It is argued to be at the heart of corruption among high office holders, who see their appointments as privilege, not responsibility, and are primarily concerned about enriching themselves and their people.’

(Ojie1998) had this to say about the failings of the federal character principle.

‘It sacrifices national progress and development on the altar of ethnic sectarianism as mediocrity takes precedence of meritocracy in the conduct of state affairs. These are evident in the admission of students into our national and state institutions, appointments to positions in federal and state governments and parastatals , localization of industries and amenities .’

This policy is encouraged and accepted by the masses based on their psychological need for ethnic representation at the federal level. The typical Nigerian monitors the ethnicity of appointments as one would do a football match, without recourse to how this appointee can contribute to sustainable national development. Even when appointees have been shown to be corrupt, people of his ethnic group would defend him out of ethnic allegiance at the detriment of National development.

The inadequacy of the federal character principle to eliminate ethno-regional conflicts in the polity led to the evolution of the principle of rotating presidency among the political elite.

The Secular Nation and its Sharia Courts

The 1979 constitution in section 10, the government of the federation or a state shall not adopt any religion as a State Religion”. Whilst in section 275 the sharia law is adopted in to Nigeria secular legal system.  (Islamic judiciary system is established), A sharia court of Appeal (subject, however to the Supreme Court). Despite the contradiction, these policies were put in place to assuage the fears of the mainly Christian south of Northern Nigeria’s plans to Islamize Nigeria. To achieve this, the constitution had to make allocations to respect the identity and culture of Northern Nigeria in relation to the Sharia court.

Whilst for the most part this has reduced conflict between the North and South along religious lines, It has not reduced ethno-religious violence in the Northern part of Nigeria. Furthermore regardless of this constitutional provision, the fear of religious imposition still lurks in the psyche of Southerners while northerners are also very protective over the introduction and thinking related to Christianity being introduced to the North.

Policies that foster National integration

National Youth Service (NYSC), Unity Schools & Federal Government Secondary Schools

Policies such as the National Youths Services Corps (NYSC), unity schools, and federal government secondary schools were implemented in the hopes of creating a more harmonious intercultural and inter-ethnic citizenry each with a larger national horizon after their NYSC service year.

The policy mandates graduates below thirty years of age, to undergo one year national service in an ethno-regional area different from one local to the graduate. These policies have resulted in the encouragement of inter ethnic marriages and domiciliation in ethno-regional areas other than one’s own. The program has been a major success. Unfortunately NYSC members have been known to be attacked by ethnic violence in certain parts of the country.

Similarly, the unity schools and the federal government secondary schools aim to bring youths from diverse ethnic groups and social classes into close contact very early in life to create an enduring atmosphere of commonality, love and trust for each other that should lead to a reduction in mutual suspicion and mistrust.


Policies that address Resource control

Resource control & Derivation

To assuage communities from which the Federation derived its significant revenue, the derivation formula was put in place. The derivation formula refers to the percentage of the revenue oilproducing states retain from taxes on oil and other natural resources produced in the state. These allocations have varied from as much as 50%, owing to the First Republic’s high degree of regional autonomy, to as low as 10% during the military dictatorships it is currently 13% and even at that, there is still loud agitation for greater regional autonomy. To mitigate this as well as the complaints by ethnic groups local to the area for more access to oil revenue and ownership as well as the unprecedented amount of damage to their land caused by pollution due to gas flaring and oil spills, the Federal government set up the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

The Niger Delta Development Commission was established by Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo in the year 2000 with the sole mandate of developing the oil-rich Niger Delta region of southern Nigeria. In September 2008, President Umaru Yar’Adua announced the formation of a Niger Delta Ministry, with the Niger Delta Development Commission to become a parastatal under the ministry.

Unfortunately these parastatals have been riddled with corruption scandals and as we have come to see, the elite of their society simply used the genuine desires of the masses to push for their own self enrichment.


Policies that have been implemented aim to solve short term conflicts that allow us manage the ‘cleavage’ of our diversity. Very few policies have been put in place that strives to make our union great. National integration is achieved historically when a people have cause to form hegemony in order to cope with foreign foes. To achieve this, Nigerian leadership must endeavor to de-emphasize our differences and focus on our similarities in creating and defining a national ideology as well as a means to achieve it.

An ideology that all the diverse ethnic groups can key in to must be based on equal access to justice in a timely fashion as well as true federalism and regional autonomy. The main tools to achieve this new identity are as follow.

  • Education
  • Fostering Inter-marriage
  • Communication barriers
  • Restructuring of the Nation
  • Reformation of the Judiciary
  • Empowerment of Civil society Nationwide


Formal Education

The current educational system should be revised to be African centered ( students should not be told decades after independence that Mungo Park discovered River Niger.) Using subjects such as history and interlinking it with science (genetics) as well as chemistry and engineering, Students should be thought Pan-african history. Courses should focus on the shared heritage of Africans, from the ancient African Kingdoms in Egypt, Kush, to the Nok Empire and the Songhai Empire etc. The focus would be to celebrate the achievements of Africans and give students a bigger identity to key in to by teaching them the shared humanities.

The history of religion as well as the capacity for Religion to be used as a political tool to conquer and enslave should be taught to students via historic case studies, so these minds become less susceptible to fanaticism and radicalization.

Students should also be taught about the African’s experience in the world thus far. From the enslavement of Africans, to the colonization, to the civil rights struggle and all the attendant pseudo science that came with that.  This way lessons can be learnt from experiences and African heroes that have stood for the good of their people can be immortalized and remembered. In this way our society shows its citizens the kind of qualities it values and celebrates. We must connect our experiences with our cousins in Africa America, Haiti and Brazil. It must be enshrined in the minds of students our shared experience and common destiny on this planet.

Informal Education

Grants should be giving to film makers, artist, cartoon animators, digital game animators as well as TV directors to produce media that address and are inspired by our history as well as a projection of an ideal unique African future. Our local popular culture should be inundated by these works that show our history and future in a positive light translated in to multiple local languages making it accessible to everyone. This also creates a psychological vision citizens can key in to.


Inter-ethnic marriage is one of the most powerful tools to use to build hegemony within a fractured populace. Building on the Success of the NYSC, the government should actively encourage inter-marriage. Subsidies or grants can be given to inter-married couples in the form of free education for 2 children produced from that union. The government could go further by giving grants to inter-ethnic married couples on a scale that is directly proportional to the distance between the couple’s ethnic-regions.

Communication Barrier

A major impediment to Nation building is the language barrier. It should be made mandatory for students to learn conversational understanding of any two ethnic languages other than their own. This would increase trade as well as increase regional travel. This helps to create a web of interlinked interest.

Economic policies that tackle scarcity

The government needs to actively invest in agriculture. By engaging progressive agriculture policies which can be interlinked to the existing NYSC program with partners such as Innosson and several others, engineers can taught to build and repair mini tractors, chemist can learn to produce compost fertilizers, young people can be reintroduced to farming and processing in a bid to get the next generation in to farming as well as reduce scarcity and access to basic needs such as food. Investment and programs such as these would directly benefit the widest demographic as well as the largest segment of our population. It would also help reduce rural urban migration.

Restructuring of the Federation with an aim to achieve true federalism

Nigeria needs to return to its initial organization of regional government with regional autonomy. The current system has concentrated a lot of power in the center with a very expensive governance structure. Furthermore it has led to the rise of rent seeking governors, whose sole value addition is the collection of FAAC as and when due. An attempt was made to set Nigeria on this Path by the former President Good luck Jonathan with the 2014 National conference. The Conference report produced addressed and renegotiated the Nigerian Union.

Implementation of the National conference report will put an end to several uprisings currently going on in the country be it the Niger Delta Avengers, MASSOB, IPOB or the new agitation for the state of Biafra.

Resource control by the states and fiscal federalism would give states greater control of their development with the liberty to develop at its own pace according to its own priority. It would also stimulate Governors to start actively adding value as relates to Internally generated revenue as well as minimize the cost of their respective governments.

Reformation Of The Judiciary

Faith in the court of law minimizes conflict to a large extent. If the common man has access to the court of law as well as Justice in a timely fashion, such people might not be in a rush to meet out justice themselves. Policies like the open door court house for alternative dispute resolution should be opened all over the country.

Specialized Judiciary panels should be set up to try cases. An increased number of such panels would make the delivery of justice more expedient. The Judicial system would go a long way in mitigating / preventing Ethnic conflict if people buy in to the idea that they can get Justice in an expedient time frame.

Empowerment Of Civil Society Nationwide

Civil society acts as an aggregator for the voices of the masses. The more there are committed civil society groups all over the country, the higher the likelihood of groups coming to civil resolutions without resorting to violence. In the event that violence or conflict ensues, it would be these civil right champions that would bring these atrocities to specialized Judiciary panels on Ethnic conflict and ensure the victim gets justice.


This paper has tried to show that Inter-ethnic conflict is not a product of an innate primordial violent characteristic neither can it be eradicated by modernization. As long as biological and psychological needs and fears are not assuaged, ethnicity would be the vehicle through which ethnic groups will agitate and mobilize.

Historically the political elite have taken advantage of this principle and tapped in to these fears to consolidate power for their own selfish purposes, unfortunately this has led to conflict accompanied with death and loss of property.

The Nigerian leadership must focus on reducing scarcity and completion between ethnic groups while encouraging intermarriage and through education define a vision and an identity Nigerians can key in to.

The Nigerian government must actively curb expansionist tendencies of some ethnic groups that seek to consolidate their hold on their traditional ethnic-regions while simultaneously seeking control of other territories. This neither fosters trust nor does it facilitate National integration.


Ake.C (1996). Democracy and Development in Africa. Nigeria: Spectrum Books Ltd

Awolowo,O (1947). Path to Nigerian freedom. London : Faber and Faber

Burton, John (1997) “Violence Experienced: The Source Of Conflict Violence and Crime And Their Prevention”. New York. Manchester University Press.

Burton, John (1990) Conflict Resolution And Prevention: St. Martins Press

Burton, John (1979) Deviance, Terrorism and War: The Process Of Solving Unsolved Social and Political Problems, (New York: St. martins Press)

Coleman, J.(1958). Nigeria: Background to Nationalism. Berkeley and LosAngeles: University of California Press.

Danjibo, N.D. Islamic Fundamentalisim and sectarian violence: The ‘Maitatsine’ and ‘Boko Haram’ Crises in Nothern Nigeria.

Dudley, T.B(1973). Instability and Political order: Politics and crisis in Nigeria. Ibadan Univesity Press.

Falola,T.(1988). “The Evolution and Changes in Nigeria’s Federalisim” In R.A. Olaniyan(ed) Federalisim in a changing world.Lagos: Office of the minister for Special Duties, The Presidency, Federal Secretariat.

Geertz, Clifford (1963). The Integrative Revolution: Primordial sentiment and Civil Politics in the New states. Old societies and new nations, New York: Free Press of Glencoe

Horowitz D 1985. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley: University of Califonia Press.

Nnoli O 1978. Ethnic Politics in Nigeria. Enugu: Fourth Dimension

Ojie AE 1998. Prejudice and Discrimination in Nigeria:A Sociological Overview.In: UA Igun, AA Mordi (Eds.): Contemporary Social Problems in Nigeria. Ijebu-Ode: Shebiotimo Publications, pp.35-49

Ojie AE 2004. The Problem of Ethnicity and Religious Fanaticism in Nigeria. South-South Journal of Culture and Development,  6(2): 145-174.

Okpako D 1998. Rotating Presidency or Looting. TheGuardian, October 19, 1998, p.49

Otite O 2000. Ethnic Pluralism, Ethnicity and Ethnic Conflicts in Nigeria. Ibadan: Sheneson C.I. Ltd.

Otite O 2001. The challenge of Ethnicity. Vanguard,February 5 and 6: pp 33 and 34.

Skylar,R.(1967).”Political Science and National Integration: A Radical Approach.” The Journal of modern African studies, Vol.5.No2

Ukiwo,U.(2005). On the study of ethnicity in Nigeria.

Wheare, K.C. (1963). Federal Government, London: Oxford University Press

Young, Crawford (1976). The Politics of Cultural Pluralisim. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.



One thought on “How Can Multi-Ethnic Tension Be Managed In Multi-Ethnic Societies Like Nigeria?

  1. Another great piece! It is ironic that the most beautiful thing about us is what divides us. Our strength and glory lies not in the oil fields or plantations; it is in the men and women of our land, irrespective of ethnic or other affiliations.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s