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Analysing Ethnicity, Ethnic Crises in Nigeria and its Management

Analysing Ethnicity, Ethnic Crises in Nigeria and its Management

Given the increasing cases of ethnic crisis across geopolitical zones and states in Nigeria, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Group in collaboration with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the European Union recently held a multi-stakeholders’ consultative forum on peace and security challenges in Nigeria themed “Ethnicity, Ethnic Crisis and National Security: Implications and Consequences”. Chiemelie Ezeobi reports

Nigeria has over 400 ethnic groups, which ordinarily should amplify its rich culture but the reverse seems to be the case. These groups are broken down between religious, languages, and tribal lines. These divisions existed ever since but were further broken down at independence to a multi-ethnic nation state.

With the divisions, the nation has been battling with the problem of ethnicity on the one hand, and the problem of ethno-religious conflicts on the
other, as has been witnessed severally when ethnicity and religious intolerance lead to ethno-religious conflicts.

According to historians, it was these conflicts that gave birth to many ethnic groups like the O’ dua People Congress (OPC), Bakassi Boys, Egbesu Boys, Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC), Igbo People Congress (IPC), Arewa Peoples Congress (APC), and Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB).

Since independence, Nigeria has experienced an avalanche of ethno religious conflicts that resulted in loss of lives and unquantifiable damages on properties. No doubt, the violent nature of ethno-religious conflicts, which often take the form of riots, sabotage, assassination, armed struggles, guerilla warfare and secession in Nigeria, have implications on the political and economic development of the nation.

Ethnic Conflict

According to reports, ethnic conflict is an issue that, particularly during the last decade or so, has crept to the forefront of international political debate. According to Stremlau (1999-03-26:1), “polarisation between ethnic groups and resulting conflict between them as they compete for resources, political and economic power and other goals, has spawned negative consequences of tremendous proportions, of which genocide, ethnic cleansing and civil war are but a few examples, have caused several loss of lives, livelihoods, displacements as well as properties”.


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 as they are most times often initiated by people who benefit from control of state resources and power which are the bases of their patronage networks, thus they seek to instigate violent ethnic conflict.

They often get away with this because of the high rate of unemployment, illiteracy, marginalisation and an unequal distribution of the national wealth in their areas dominated by their ethnic groups.


Undoubtedly, the consequences of such ethno-crises have been far reaching. According to paper on Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria: Causes and Consequences by Ali Usman and Yahaya Garba of the Department of Public Administration, Taraba State University, “the consequences of ethnic conflict on women, aged and children had the most damaging impact, thousands of women, the aged and children have been compel to desert their homes and seek refuge in neighboring villages, towns and countries due to the ethnic conflict, they are internally displaced persons (IDPs) in their own country”.

The paper which was found on International Journal of Scientific Research in
Multidisciplinary Studies further posited that “violence against women, the aged and children is devastating which include emotional and
physical injuries, rape as a traumatic injury, sexually transmitted diseases, maternal mortality, unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortion and the use of child soldiers’ to fight in ethnic conflict.

“Ethnic conflict have affected the government and the people generally and have resulted to political and economic instability, weakened patriotism, breed suspicion, lack of trust and true relationship among different ethnic groups in the
country, it is believed that responsive and responsible government would restore confidence among the population and promote de-Ethnicsation policy among the competing ethnic groups in Nigeria”.

Recent Wave in Nigeria

In Nigeria, and the recent wave ethno-crises have become alarming as it has become a daily routine across practically across all geopolitical zones and states.

Aside the raging war between farmers and herdsmen, with the former bearing the brunt of the menace, gunmen recently attacked the Police Headquarters in Imo State, set several vehicles ablaze, and executed a jailbreak at the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCoS) facility in the state capital, Owerri, where over 1,800 inmates escaped.

In Anambra, they attacked the Police Zonal Headquarters at Ukpo and killed two policemen while setting a found in the compound. In Ebonyi State, over 18 people were killed in an ethnic clash between locals and armed herdsmen. Same was also witnessed in Enugu State.

In Shasha in Oyo State, an ethnic war followed the killing of a cobbler by a cart pusher that escalated to Ibarapa and some other parts of the state, leaving many people dead and properties destroyed.

In Ogun State, AK47-wielding herdsmen sacked remote agrarian villages in Yewa North and Imeko Afon Local Government Areas (LGAs) such that surviving locals were reported to have fled to neighbouring Benin Republic.

Practically across states in the South, bandits and and terrorists masquerading as herdsmen have resorted to raping, killing and kidnapping natives with reckless abandon without recourse to justice. Also in some Northern states, these armed brigands have carried out mass kidnapping for ransom and cold blood murder of school pupils, travelers and anyone.

Stakeholders Forum

It was in a bid to address these that the Civil Society Legislative and Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) in collaboration with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Nigeria with support from the European Union recently held a stakeholders consultative forum on Peace and Security Challenges in Nigeria.

Themed “Ethnicity, Ethnic Crises and National Security: Casual Analysis and Management Strategies”, the stakeholders drawn from both military, lawmakers, security and paramilitary organisations, as well as civil societies, tackled the causes of such ethnic crisis which is presently breeding security challenges across the country and in essence threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria. Essentially, the stakeholders advocated for dialogue of all ethnic nationalities and inclusiveness if the issues are to be addressed holistically.


According to the organisers, the objective of the forum was to cross fertilise ideas, analyse gaps and the threats of separatists’ agitation across the country and its implication on national security and develop a policy recommendation;
raise awareness on implication of ethnic champions and its threats to national security; and enhance cooperation and collaboration between state and non-state actor as a collective response to unism.

Definitive Constitution

In his speech, Executive Director CISLAC, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) said there was need for a new constitution that defined rights and privileges of citizenship in terms of residency rather than nativism, ancestry and religious
background, adding that the new constitution must devolve power over resource distribution and development from an all-powerful central government to local constituencies to enthrone economic justice and equity.

In his opening remarks, he said: “This periodic event brings together key players within the security space to look critically and think of ways to resolve the ongoing fiasco on ethnicity and its implication on national security, which currently undermines human security in Nigeria and has largely become a threat to socio-economic and political culture of our co-existence.

“Nigeria with over 300 ethnic groups, over 1000 dialects, practicing several religions, with different cultures and histories came under the British imperialist in the 19th century. With the 1st of January, 1914 amalgamation of Southern and Northern Protectorate the foundation of a nation now called Nigeria was laid. Nigeria is now populated by over 200 million people and has adopted the federal system of government with 36 States and a Federal Capital Territory.

“Mismanagement of national resources and misrule by multi ethnic and multi-religious coalitions of successive rulers since independence have impoverished and denied opportunities to the majority of Nigerians. As a result, religious rhetoric blaming of members of other religious communities and proposals for religious reform as a solution to society’s ills have found purchase among the masses. This genuine, if misplaced, quest for a religious utopia has given some opportunistic political gladiators an excuse to curry legitimacy through politicised appeals to piety and religious fervor.

“Official graft needs to be tackled headlong, a new constitution that defines rights and privileges of citizenship in terms of residency rather than nativism, ancestry and religious background also needs to be crafted. This new constitution needs to devolve power over resource distribution and development from an all-powerful central government to local constituencies.

“This will ensure economic justice and equity. It will also make central political power less attractive, less corrupt, and the contests over national political offices less contentious. The use of religious and ethnic appeals as tools of political mobilisation will become less attractive and it will find a diminished reception in a climate of justice, equitable resource distribution, and equal opportunities for all.

“Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), in collaboration with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) with the support from European Union (EU) has worked collectively to institutionalise a participatory system that is vibrant, robust and effective. One of the expected deliverables for today would be to equip participants with sound understanding on how to mitigate ethnic gaps within the security framework, processes, practices and spending.

“Ethnic champions have now arrogated to themselves powers to issue quit notices. This is very unhealthy, dangerous and a big threat to national security. urge all of us in this room this morning to come up with knowledge based solutions that can support the recovery from what is considered a bad case. We must do something to rescue this country and corridor it from those misery vendors and merchants of death.”

Kinetic and Non-kinetic Approaches

In his remarks, Defence Minister, Major General Bashir Magashi (rtd), highlighted some of the issues causing further division among the people including absence of social justice, feelings of marginalisation and lack of equality.

The minister who was represented by Major General Benson Akinroluyo, advocated the use of kinetic and non-kinetic approaches in addressing the issues, noting that force alone would not yield positive result, just as he called for dialogue, noting that the implications of separatist
agitations and other forms of insecurity on Nigeria were enormous.

According to the minister, there was no doubt the country was confronted with multiple security challenges that were affecting socio-economic wellbeing and threatening the survival of the nation state. He listed the implications to include under development, social tension, displacement of citizens, destruction of private and public property, disruption of means of livelihood and educational system.

He said: “I am aware that this meeting is being organized in collaboration with the House Committee on Army and Friedrch-Ebert Stiftung (FES) Nigeria with support from the European Union to share ideas, proffer solutions and develop a policy recommendations on the threats by several separatist agitations across the country and its implication on national security.

“In this regard, there is no doubt that Nigeria is confronted with multiple security challenges, notably the Boko Haram terrorists in the North-east and militancy in the Niger Delta, increasing violence between herders and farmers, banditry and kidnapping especially in the North-west and Central regions as well as separatist agitations for Biafra and now Oduduwa Republics in the South Eastern and Western parts of the country respectively.

“The implications of these separatist agitations and other forms of insecurity on Nigeria are enormous. These include socio-economic implications such as under development, social tension, displacement of citizens, destruction of private and public property, disruption of means of livelihood and educational system. Others are fanning the embers of disunity, overstretching of security agencies and loss of lives. Therefore, the combination of the above implications is continuous cycle of insecurity that has led to heighten tension and violence that is capable of affecting the survival and corporate existence of the country.

“The Armed Forces of Nigeria and other security agencies who are constitutionally saddled with the responsibility of protecting the territorial integrity of Nigeria as well as maintaining law and order have continued to confront these challenges through both kinetic and non kinetic instruments.

” Specifically, Sections 217 – 220 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) charged the Armed Forces with the primary role of defending Nigeria from external ggression and maintaining its territorial integrity as well as securing is borders from violation on land, sea and air. The Constitution passes the Armed Forces the secondary role of suppressing insurrection and act in aid of civil authorities to restore law and order when called upon to do so by the President. This secondary role provides the basis operations in the country.

“However, it is worth noting that the efforts of the Armed Forces and other security agencies using kinetic means alone may not bring the peace and security we all desire in the country. Kinetic and non kinetic measures must be applied to complement each other.

” The non- kinetic measures could take the form of addressing all the major causes of insecurity and discontent through genuine dialogue, economic empowerment, good governance, provision of employment and social infrastructure. Other non-kinetic means include fighting corruption, extreme poverty, hunger and maladministration, provision of equal opportunities to all citizens as well as addressing perceived to the current multi-dimensional security challenges facing our nation.

” The timing of this meeting is very apt as it is coming at a time when some of these security challenges are posing serious threats to the corporate existence of our country will assist appropriate authority to address all forms of insecurity implementabir solutions that would engender effective policies towards addressing the myriad of security challenges facing Nigeria today.”

A Lawmaker’s View

In his remarks, Chairman, House Committee on Army, Hon. Abdulrazak Sa’ad Namdas, who also doubles as Chairman, Technical Working Group on Protection of Civilian and Civilian Harm Mitigation in Armed Conflict, decried that tribalism has been elevated to dominate national discourse, control how people think, talk and determines who they oppose or support.

He said: “It is promoted by the political elites, embraced by the young and the old, passed from generation to generation, and even has base in the constitution. This explains the assumption that conflicts in Nigeria is motivated by ethnic competition Nigerians must ask, “How did we get here, what and who are responsible’? “Why are other countries (India, Indonesia, Brazil, United States, Switzerland, Belgium, China, etc.) which are as diverse as Nigeria not half as obsessed with their diversity? The ethnic diversity of Nigeria has more or less been a threat rather than a source of national pride and development as countries above have experienced. Why?

“Ethnic tensions are boiling over. At the centre of it all are herdsmen who for as long as anyone can remember have roamed the country grazing their cattle. Even as a little boy, growing up in my community in Adamawa, I recall coming across the harmless looking herders who usually only had a stick slung languidly across their shoulders.

“These days, a new generation ply their trade caressing AK47 rifles to ward off threats. Over the years the damage done to farmlands as they traversed the land became a flashpoint. Now, they are regularly accused of being involved in the booming kidnapping business.

“It’s hard to dismiss this accusation because of testimonies of countless victims on the Abuja-Kaduna Expressway and other parts of the country as to the ethnicity of their captors. Unfortunately, despite public outcry in many states, official response has never adequately addressed the problem. This is not the best time to succumb to sentiments. Refusing to address the issues at stake in an honest and unbiased way is the worse form of injustice. For instance, to suggest that what is happening is just a blind attack or ethnic profiling on any ethnic group is unhelpful.

“Finally, the constant reference to tribal animosities and differences affects the youth’s psyche and has created a pattern or legacy of hate and suspicion which the successive generation carries like a mantle. Ethnic and religious intolerance has exposed the nation to bizarre conflict experiences with loss of lives and properties, creating uncertainties in the polity.

“Boko Haram insurgent group is a classic example of the outcome of a long stretch of ethnic distrust and rivalry. Nigeria must not go the way of Sudan, Central Africa Republic, Mali, Somalia, etc. Nigeria has a testimony of resilience and the fact that, even though there are so many distrust and suspicion, the people still believe in the indivisibility of the country.”


CISLAC is a non-governmental, non-profit legislative advocacy, information sharing and research organization in Nigeria. CISLAC works towards bridging the gap between the legislature and the electorate; by enhancing strategies; engagement of bills before their passage into law; manpower development for lawmakers, legislative aides, politicians and the civil society, as well as civic education on the tenets of democracy and Human Rights.

About FES

FES began to work in Nigeria in 1976. In 2002 the main office was moved from Lagos to Abuja but FES still maintains an office in Lagos. Throughout its presence in Nigeria, FES has collaborated with human rights and pro-democracy groups, the labour movement, researchers and many civil society organisations.

The priority areas of FES Nigeria are: good Governance and Democracy Promotion; Trade Union Cooperation; and Nigeria’s Role in International Affairs.

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