Ethnic Conflict In Nigeria

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Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria

Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria

Ethnic Conflict And The Quest For Democracy In Nigeria


The vilification of ethnicity as the scapegoat of all vices associated with the Nigerian body polity has made the subject a dominant theme in the study of Nigerian political economy. No work is deemed 'scholarly' that does not consider the salience or irrelevance of ethnicity in its analysis and conclusions. Thus, analysts interested in such diverse issues as nationalism, decolonisation, national integration, political parties, military intervention, corruption, economic development, structural adjustment, democratisation and violent conflict have all considered the 'ethnicity' variable. This was the case even in the 1960s and 1970s when the major intellectual traditions felt ethnicity was of secondary importance as an explanatory variable; at best an epiphenomenon and at worst a mask for class privilege (Sklar 1967).

The result of such interest in ethnicity, which is proportional to the high level of 'ethnic consciousness' in the Nigerian society (Lewis et al 2002), is a legion of literature on ethnicity, making a critique a Herculean task. It is apposite to note from the onset that the title of the present article is not only ambitious, but also somewhat restrictive. It suggests that it is possible to isolate what might be called 'ethnic studies' in Nigeria from the wider scholarship on ethnicity. Actually, much of the material on Nigeria has been inspired by the paradigms of the study of ethnicity in the social sciences generally. As Jinadu (1994: 166) rightly puts it, 'the study of ethnic relations in Nigeria has passed through a number of phases reflecting changes in the country's political status as well as changes in fashions and trends in the social science research agenda'. The title is borne from the fact that the works in review focus on Nigeria and very little attempt has been made to bring in comparative materials. This introductory section is followed by conceptual clarifications and a critical analysis of the different explanations scholars have advanced for understanding the phenomenon of ethnicity in Nigeria. Following this, the themes that have dominated the study of ethnicity in Nigeria are examined, outlining some of the neglected issues.

Conceptual Issues

To begin with, ethnicity1 may be defined as “the employment or mobilization of ethnic identity and difference to gain advantage in situations of competition, conflict or cooperation” (Osaghae 1995:11). This definition is preferred because it identifies two issues that are central to discussions on ethnicity. The first is that ethnicity is neither natural nor accidental, but is the product of a conscious effort by social actors. The second is that ethnicity is not only manifest in conflictive or competitive relations but also in the contexts of cooperation. A corollary to the second point is that ethnic conflict manifests itself in various forms, including voting, community service and violence. Thus, it need not always have negative consequences. Ethnicity also encompasses the behaviour of ethnic groups.

Ethnic groups are groups with ascribed membership, usually but not always based on claims or myths of common history, ...
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