ETHNIC CONFLICTS AND POLITICAL INSTABILITY IN NIGERIA
Kizito Chike Osudibia
B.Phil., Bigard Memorial Seminary, Ikot Ekpene, Nigeria, 1989
B.Th., Bigard Memorial Seminary, Enugu, Nigeria, 1993
(Both, affiliate campuses of Urban University Rome).
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts (M.A.)
2010 by Kizito Chike Osudibia
All rights reserved.
This thesis for the Master of Arts
Kizito Chike Osudibia
has been approved
.Dec ^ / 2/-ip
Osudibia, Kizito Chike (M.A., Political Science)
Ethnic Conflicts and Political Instability in Nigeria
Thesis directed by Professor Amin Kazak
With the 1914 Act of Amalgamation, the work of binding together the two
British separate Protectorates the North and South in the geographical area,
the Niger area, hence Nigeria, was completed. These various peoples that now
embody Nigeria lived in relative peace and interacted with one another through
trade, especially. Each group pursued its own independence and advancement,
and respected primordial boundaries. The colonial intervention not only
disregarded these arrangements by lumping people together, but also by
favouring a group through disproportionate division of the ensuing regions, and
political empowerment. The seed of discord was sown with dire consequences,
which have played out in one section dominating the political terrain of the
country, civil war and religious crises between the Muslim north and the
Christian south. The constant threat that these problems still pose to the nation
dictated the need for this research. Can Nigeria outlive the debacles of dogged
ethnicity? Can it live in peace as one country? These are the subjects of this
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.
This work is dedicated to all the victims of ethnic conflicts, either dead or
alive, and to those who have been adversely affected by political instability
God Almighty has done it again to Him be all the glory and honor forever. I
thank all my professors for the good work they do. In particular, I thank Profs.
Amin Kazak (Chairman of my thesis committee), Thad Tecza and Glenn
Morris for the painstaking work of directing this thesis.
I owe a special debt of gratitude to Dr. Bill Barry, who through his kindness, I
was able to defray more than half of the cost of this program. The same depth
of gratitude goes to Ron and Cathy Diodosio. Their assistance made the
beginning of this program an easy one. To Michael and Michelle Noe, I say
thanks for your friendship. Special thanks to Michelle for her dedication and
arduous job of editing this work.
Worthy of mention here are my Secretary, Patty Schmidt, for her hardworking
and tireless services, and for being at my beck and call, and Nancy Truszynski,
who selflessly did the formatting of this work. To all my parishioners, I say,
many thanks for your cooperation. Finally, to my good friends (I cannot
mention your names one by one), my gratitude reaches out to you. THANK
TABLE OF CONTENTS
1.1 Expounding The Key Words...................................................5
1.1.1 Ethnic Conflicts.........................................................5
1.1.2 Theories of Ethnic Conflict..............................................7
1.2 Political Instability.....................................................14
1.3 Reason For This Work......................................................14
1.5 Literature Review.........................................................18
1.5.1 Nigerian History........................................................18
1.5.2 Origin and Causes of Ethnicity..........................................20
1.5.3 On the Effects of Ethnicity.............................................20
1.5.4 Attempts at Diffusing Ethnicity.........................................22
2. The History of Nigeria....................................................24
2.2 Nation-States Before the Advent of Colonialism...........................26
2.3 Nigeria Under Colonialism................................................31
2.3.1 The Factors.............................................................32
2.3.2 Colonial Administration
2.4 The Era of Nationalism 1929-1960........................................37
2.5 The Era of Military Domination............................................41
2.5.1 First Phase (1966-1975)..................................................42
2.5.2 Second Phase (1983-1999)................................................49
2.5.3 Synopsis of the Military Era...........................................53
3. Origin and Causes of Ethnicity in Nigeria..................................56
3.1 The Colonial Dimensions..................................................56
3.2 The Early Nationalist Movements...........................................64
3.3 Political Parties in the First Republic..................................71
3.4 Sundry Causes (Recent Findings)...........................................74
4. The Effects of Ethnicity in Nigeria.......................................86
4.1 Negative Effects..........................................................86
4.1.1 The Nigeria/Biafran War..................................................86
4.1.2 Political Instability...................................................88
4.2 Positive Effects.......................................................101
4.2.1 The Rise of the National Question.......................................102
5. Attempts at Diffusing Ethnicity...........................................106
5.1 The Aburi Summit........................................................106
5.2 Political Party Reforms..................................................110
5.2.1 Assessment of the Reform................................................115
5.3 Emphasis on Federalism...................................................121
6. Evaluation: Can Nigeria Outlive the Debacles of Ethnicity?................128
6.1 African Democracy Versus Western Democracy..............................128
6.2 Power Sharing and the Federal Character..................................132
6.3 The Confederacy Option.............................................138
6.4 The Diarchy Option.................................................142
6.5 Religious Dimensions...............................................144
7. Recommendations and Conclusion......................................149
LIST OF TABLES
3.1 Ethno-Regional Party Orientation..........................................72
3.2 Unequal Revenue Allocation Formula........................................77
4.1 Nigerian Leaders Since Independence, Time in Office and
Their Places of Origin in Chronological Order............................91
4.2 Frequency of Examination Malpractices in Nigeria.........................100
5.1 Ethnic Distribution of Leaders of the Second Republic Parties.............116
5.2 Ethnic Distribution of Leadership and Membership
of the Third Republic Parties............................................117
Randomly, we notice almost effortlessly how many scholars of Ethnic Studies have
thought and taught that ethnic clashes are as old as humanity itself. Milton Esman
(1994) argues that ethnic identity, ethnic solidarity, and ethnic conflict are by no
means new phenomena (17). He says, from the dawn of history communities
organized on putative common descent, culture, and destiny have coexisted,
competed, and clashed (Ibid). Similarly, Andreas Wimmer (2004) thought that
ethno-nationalist conflict has become the dominant form of mass political violence
over the past decades. These statements have relevance to Nigeria.
The overwhelming majority of civil wars in the post World War era were
fought in the name of ethno-national autonomy, independence or secession (Scherrer
1994: 74). The secession clause is also very correct about Nigeria, hence the
Nigeria/Biafra war, 1967 1970, where over three million Igbos of the defunct Biaffa
lost their lives. This war was fought at the apogee of ethnic tensions in Nigeria of
which Pade Badru (1998) writes: The pervasiveness of ethnic problems within the
military, and the failure by the officer corps to resolve serious ethnic antagonisms
within its rank and file led ultimately to the bloody civil war (1998, 79). Many
thought that the war would unite the country afterwards (Ojukwu, 1989). Has that
been the case? This work will make an inquiry into this question.
The main problem this work sets out to investigate is the fact that even before
the Civil War, and long before political independence, ethnicity and ethnic clashes
were ubiquitous in Nigeria. Even before the attempted secession by the then Eastern
Region (later Biaffa), it was the powerful Northern Region (which was in control of
the Federal government) that first threatened to withdraw from Nigeria.
As the events of July1966 unfolded, it became clear that the intention
of the northern officers was secession from the federal union. Colonel
Yakubu Go won ... was immediately mandated by the northern elite to
pursue the dismantling of the federal structure (Adegboyega 1981, 35).
This shows that the level of fragmentation then was alarming, and because the
situation seems to linger on, I have chosen to investigate if Nigeria can survive as an
entity. It is not enough that the problem of ethnicity still bedevils Nigeria, it is worthy
of note that some external forces help to fuel the already degenerative problems. The
influence the British colonizers have on Nigeria remains a jinx yet to be broken. For
instance, it was garnered that when Gowon was scheduled to read his speech to the
nation, announcing the disintegration of the country into three autonomous entities
The British, through their ambassador in Lagos,1 opposed and
dissuaded him to delete the section of his speech dealing with the
secession of the North. His reason: since power is in the Northern
hands, they can manipulate the country anyhow (Badru 1998, 76).
Why would he offer such advice? Some have argued that this was the time
petroleum was discovered in commercial quantities, and the British dreaded the
government of the Eastern region, the source of this oil (Rajat and Achebe, 1997).
1 Lagos was the capital of Nigeria from colonial days to independence, and continued until 1990 when
the federal government finally moved to Abuja.
Others argue that the British wanted to keep Nigeria united (Badru 1998). The two
reasons seem appealing to me, but I need to know the philosophy behind the efforts of
the British to keep Nigeria together. This will form a major heading in this study the
colonial origins and involvement in the conflicts and instability of the Nigerian
The entity now called Nigeria has had an interesting history from its inception
in 1914. The early elites could not even perceive Nigeria as one political entity. For
instance, J. Gunter called it a geographical monster three countries in one (Inside
Africa 1955, 10); for Oba Adeniji (western region), it is a creation of the British, not
of God (F.J. Ella 1983, 25); the Sarduana of Sokoto (northern region), brands it the
Lugard mistake of 1914. And for Nnamdi Azikiwe (eastern region and first
President-General of Nigeria), what history has joined together, let no man put
asunder (Tribalism, 1964).
In the face of these negative conceptions or misconceptions comes the thesis
question: can Nigeria with such fragmented history exist or coexist as a single and
indissoluble entity? How much longer can Nigeria last as one nation-state given the
prevalence of heinous conflicts and the most proximate potentials of war? These
questions have informed this research. And this is how I wish to present my inquiry
and information. This work is divided into seven chapters.
In this chapter, I will explain the key words in my broad heading and why I
chose the topic. This chapter will also contain the methodology I will employ and
briefly the literature review of some of the works I have read on this topic.
Chapter Two will feature an in-depth history of Nigeria. In this chapter, the
origins and various stages that the country has traversed will be given adequate
attention. In this history most of the problems bedeviling the country lies.
Chapter Three is a follow up to Chapter Two. It discusses the origins and
causes of ethnic conflicts. This chapter traces this origin from British incursions to the
earliest elites, who rather than striving to build a modem statehood, continued with
the divide-and-rule legacy of the colonial lords.
Chapter Four discusses the effects of ethnic conflicts as known to the nation.
The major areas it has eroded terribly are the body politics, religion, social and
economic inequality and official corruption, to mention a few.
Chapter Five presents the arguments in favour of keeping Nigeria as a single
and indissoluble federation (Attempts at Diffusing Ethnicity). What has been done,
what has failed, and probably what needs to be done to ensure a peaceful future.
Chapter Six will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments for
and against Nigeria4s continued peaceful coexistence.
Then my conclusion and recommendations will necessarily form the
concluding chapter (Seven).
1.1 Expounding The Key Words:
This chapter aims at explaining the key terms used in my thesis topic and the theories
underlying and favoring ethnic conflicts; why I chose this study and its importance.
Also the main source literatures will be reviewed. By doing this, I hope to reveal my
reason for undertaking this study.
1.1.1 Ethnic Conflicts:
In the 1990s, newspaper and magazine headlines were boldly dominated by crises
generated by ethnic clashes. We read something like Pitched battles between Serbs,
Croats and Muslims in Bosnia or between Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka or
between Muslims and Christians in northern Nigeria, (Esman). This only provokes
the inevitable question: what is the connection between ethnic group and religion? In
other words, is there an interrelationship between religion and ethnicity? Studies have
shown that the answer is positive. Peter Kivisto, writing in the Encyclopedia of
Religion and Society, focuses on the impact of religious sects in the development of
American politics. He writes:
By contrast, the Irish were clearly identified with Catholicism, and
here religion played a crucial role in forging ethnic group identity
and creating ethnic boundaries (Para. 3).
Going further, he stressed that religion and ethnicity are integrally connected.
Among these religio-ethnic groups, we include Jews, Greeks, Amish and the
Hutterites (Ibid.). Here also, Kivisto reports that the conflict (in America) between
the Italians and the Irish Catholics was engendered by the fact that Italians had a long
history of hostility to the Catholic Church, so they feared the domination of the Irish,
especially as they (Irish) were building parochial schools (Ibid.).
Coming back to Africa, Southern Sudan is a case in point. South Sudan is
predominantly Christian, but it has been dominated by the Muslim north. The conflict
there has been between the Christian south and the dominating Muslim north (just as
it is in Nigeria). The Sudan Tribune reports:
Southern Sudan will hold an independence referendum on whether
or not it should remain as a part of Sudan in January 2011. This is part
of the 2005 Naivasha Agreement between the Khartoum central
government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army/Movement
(SPLA/M). A simultaneous referendum will be held in Abyei on
whether to become part of Southern Sudan (2009).
Thomas Pettigrew defines an ethnic group as a group of people with
characteristics in common that distinguish them from most other people of the same
society (Pettigrew, in World Book, 1979). Members of an ethnic group, according to
him, have ties of ancestry, culture, language, nationality, race or religion, or a
combination of these.
Etymologically, the word ethnic derives from the Greek word ethnikos,
which means belonging to a national or foreign group (Pettigrew, 1979). In a multi-
national country like the United States of America, the term ethnic group refers
especially to nationality groups that have immigrated to America since about 1840
(Esman, 1994). These groups include Chinese, Germans, Greeks, Irish, Italians,
Japanese, Jews and Poles. Others include the Mexicans and Hispanics. Some try to
include the African-Americans in this category. In the United States, some cities and
localities are crowded with people of the same ethnic group.
In certain countries, such as Switzerland, citizens ties to a major ethnic
group do not affect their status in the larger society, whereas in some other places, a
persons ethnic identification may affect both social standing and access to power
(Pettigrew 1979). This explains why, in South Africa, the white controlled
government followed a strict policy of apartheid; a rigid segregation and
discrimination of the Zulus and other native blacks from elective positions. It also
explains why the minor ethnic groups fight against the dominant ethnic group usually
in power, as is the case in Nigeria, and between the Tutsis and the Hutus.
For a people to cling to some ethnic relationship, there must be some
identifying and identifiable homogeneity. The Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary
(1989) defines ethnic as pertaining to or characteristic of a people, especially to a
speech or culture group. Language, culture and the worship of some common deity
or ancestor must be a distinguishing feature. These people usually have their own
laws and government, and sometimes, a well-defined geographical area.
On the other hand, conflict means: to come into collision or disagreement;
be contradictory, at variance, or in opposition; clash; battle; discord, etc. (Webster
1989, 308). Usually conflicts occur where there is a clash of interests, or where one
group feels threatened or dominated. Ethnic conflicts therefore arise where one group
feels oppressed, dominated or cheated by another, especially the bigger group or the
one in power. Certain theories explain ethnic conflicts (James McKay, 1982).
1.1.2 Theories of Ethnic Conflict:
The theories of ethnic conflict are debated by political scientists and
sociologists respectively. The theories Primordialism, Instrumentalism and
Constructivism are used to explain the causes of ethnic conflicts (Esman, 1994).
The primordialists hold that ethnicity as a collective identity is so deeply
rooted in historical experience that it should properly be treated as a given in human
relations (Esman 1994). Aristotle had some primordialist views. He taught that the
state is a natural entity, from natural evolutionary means. For him, it is formed from
the unity of several families (starting from the man/woman, slave/master
relationships) (Sinclair 1983,trans. 59). The state, for him, exists by nature as the
earlier associations too were natural. Anyone who by his nature and not simply by ill
luck has no state is either too bad or too good, either subhuman or superhuman
(1983, 60). He sees that person as the war-mad man condemned in Homer as having
no family, no law, no home (p.60). For him, therefore, what we call an ethnic group
today, must have originated from some natural background.
Pierre Van den Berghe argues that ethnicity is at root a biological
phenomenon; an expression of the powerful drive to extend genetic endowments into
future generations (1981). The instinct of self-preservation is written large in the
ethnic kinship and relationship; once one group sees itself as members of one family,
it makes it difficult for disintegration. That is why they will resist any interference or
any act of domination by other groups.
This is the position of Donald Horowitz (1985) and Steven Grosby (1994),
respectively. They argue that nationalities exist to preserve their language, beliefs and
culture against external aggression. Hence, there is bound to be conflicts in the face of
adversity and threat to the preservation of the family.
The position of the primordialists does appeal to me as a traditional African
and a tribes-man. But, critically speaking, the fact remains that it needs to further
explanation why people who are geographically located, and claim some sort of
homogeneity and nationality, still fight amongst themselves. Benedict Anderson
(2006) seems to be critical of the primordialists thesis also. He argues, for instance,
that the origin of some religious communities owes largely to the prevalence of the
sacred language (Latin), and the origin of national consciousness due to the print
industry and capitalism. So how did these new communities come into being since
they are not naturally homogenous? And how does this explain ethnic conflicts? Let
us turn to another theory for further inquiry.
Conversely, instrumentalists argue that ethnicity is not a given at all, but in
fact a highly adaptive and malleable phenomenon. Their reason is that, in response
to changing conditions, the boundaries of an ethnic collectivity can expand or
contract, individuals move in and out and even share membership in more than one
community (Parsons 1975, 82). For them, what primordialists hold natural, like
symbols, culture, language and meaning of a particular collective identity, can and do
evolve. In effect, ethnicity is a dynamic, not a fixed and immutable element of social
and political relationships (Parsons).
Other instrumentalists are more skeptical about the integrity of ethnic identity
and solidarity. For them, ethnicity is primarily a practical resource that individuals
and groups deploy opportunistically to promote their more fundamental security or
economic interests and that they may even discard when alternative affiliations
promise a better return (Esman 1994, 11). This is particularly likely to be one weapon
in the hands of some world leaders. The famous speeches of Chairman Mao Tse-Tung
in 1939 China (Brandt et al, 1952, 245), and that of Ho Chi Minh in 1946 Vietnam
(Fall, 1967; 156), have been aptly viewed as instrumentalist. In their rhapsodies, they
stressed the brotherhood and common descent of all Chinese and Viet Namese
people, and urge them to rally for action.
Again, the addresses delivered by erstwhile President George W. Bush, Jr.,
and Osama Bin Laden after the 9/11 unfortunate incident seem to smack of
instrumentalism,2 even though it has no particular ethnic appeal, it takes advantage of
a state of affairs.3 In these enthusiastic talks, Bush called on all US allies to join in the
fight against terrorism and thanked those who had already responded by joining
forces, equipment and air spaces (you can see how, through this speech, he created a
new interest group he created a new bloc by appealing to US friends world over.
That is what Instrumentalism does). Osama, on the other hand, called on all Muslim
2 These speeches have no ethnic appeal, but give insight into Instrumentalist machinations. How elites
can create blocs. Hence, for Bush, it is all the allies and those who want to fight terrorism. Whereas for
Osama, it is all Muslims world over.
3 Abner Cohen, Two-Dimensional Man: An essay on power and symbolism in complex society.
London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974. The instrumentalist approach, on the other hand, treats
ethnicity primarily as an ad-hoc element of a political strategy, used as a resource for interest groups
for achieving secondary goals such as, for instance, an increase in wealth, power or status.
brothers4 to join and fight the head of infidels world-wide Bush and America
(Bruce Lincoln, 2006; 103-107). Osama did make it clear that these events have
divided the world into two camps, the camp of the faithful and the camp of infidels
(p. 107), that is, two groups of people one is Islamic and the other is Christian.
The ongoing is clear instrumentalist manipulation. What it does is to create
artificial or imaginary boundaries and peoples to advance a special course, which may
or may not be sustained. While this theory is acceptable on the grounds that nations
like the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, have been together united as
a geo-political entity, it does not explain why others like the former USSR,
Czechoslovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, etc., have disintegrated and formed small
republics along ethnic lines.
The failure of one theory to explain convincingly the reason for a particular
state of affairs, leads to postulating other theories as a supplement or an addendum.
Although this word was coined by Nicholas Onuf, and has no strict reference to
ethnic politics, Constructivism is found relevant here inasmuch as it describes
approaches to the study of world politics that stress the socially constructed character
of international relations (Jackson and Sorensen, 2006) of which ethnic nationalities
are part of.
4 Muslim brothers the UMMAH. Ummah is an Arabic word meaning "community" or "nation." It is
commonly used to mean either the collective nation of states, or (in the context of pan-Arabism) the
whole Arab world. In the context of Islam, the word ummah is used to mean the diaspora or
"Community of the Believers" (ummat al-mu'miniri), and thus the whole Muslim world (source:
Constructivism, according to Amin Kazak, is a school of thought that regards
ethnic identity as a product of enduring social constructions, that is the result of
human actions and choices (unpublished lectures, 02.03.2009). Benedict Anderson
calls it Imagined Communities (2006, 5-7). This corroborates the assertion that
Constructivism claims that significant aspects of international relations are
historically and socially contingent, rather than inevitable consequences of human
nature or other essential characteristics of world politics (Jackson and Nexon, 2002).
We can trace the origin of this theory the way others have been considered.
Going back to the classical writers, Plato could be termed constructivist for he
attributed the origin of the society to mans insufficiency and agreement to come
together to help one another provide each others needs. According to him, when we
have assembled quite a number of partners together to live in a place, the name given
to the resultant settlement is community or state (The Dialogues of Plato, 117).
Thomas Hobbes, though aware of Machiavellis (1971) negative perception of
human nature as fickle and fraudulent argues that, men and women are, first of all,
natural machines seeking felicity, and wanting peace and security in order to live as
long as possible and to enjoy life with as much certainty and confidence as possible
(Michael Oakshott, ed., 82). This, according to Hobbes, is the origin of the
construction of the State, that great Leviathan, a necessary evil to keep peace (Higgins
Anderson (2006) argues that the main causes of nationalism and the creation
of an imagined community are the reduction of privileged access to particular script
languages (like the use of Latin as divine and religious language), the movement to
abolish the idea of divine rule (theocracy) and monarchy, as well as the emergence of
the printing press under the system of capitalism, what he, Anderson, calls print
capitalism (2006, 37-41).
Given these facts, one could hasten to the conclusion that groups ethnic or
states are artificially constructed. But a critical examination of the Constructivist
arguments evokes some thoughts. There are other facts that remain unproven by
Constructivism, such facts as the reality of some indigenous tribesmen, like the
Native American Indians and other tribes that exist in different parts of the world,
who lay claim to one natural origin and aspiration. How can Constructivism explain
The three theories under discussion have given us some pertinent information
about the origin of ethnic groups and why there are clashes. As reasonable as they all
seem, Instrumentalism and Constructivism are most likely to be questionable as far as
this work goes. Nigerian tribes, like other tribes in Africa, have intrinsic features that
make intimate attachments inevitable (George Ayittey, 2005). A closer look at the
above theories will suggest that the only principle that can explain these intrinsic
features and intimate attachments more vividly is Primordialism. Primordialism gives
us a natural basis and inclination for the formation and preservation of the Nigerian
communities; this we shall see as we progress. I will therefore accept Primordialism
as the basis of this paper.
1.2 Political Instability:
Political is the adjectival form of the noun, politics. This is a derivative of
two Greek words: Polis meaning, city or state; and techne meaning, art or science.
Hence, pertaining to, or having to do with the art or science of the city-state, politics
(Webster Dictionary 1989, 1113). Political has to do with the government.
Instability, on the other hand, is a Latin derivative. From instabilitas, the quality or
state of being unstable; lack of stability or firmness. Political instability, therefore, is a
situation whereby a country is currently going through political turmoil. It may also
involve the death of people within that country or state, and in many cases, the
country deteriorates in terms of its economic progress.
In the Nigerian case, political instability is manifest in constant change of
government through unconstitutional means, especially through coups detat, both
bloody and palace arrangement. Whenever a government changes through this way,
the people suffer; the economy suffers nonetheless. The international community is in
sympathy for the masses and may go on to impose sanctions on the country. Nigeria
has had several sanctions imposed on her on account of military incursions into
politics. How this phenomenon has affected the country will be a major discussion in
the course of this work.
1.3 Reason for this work:
This study has been undertaken in order to investigate whether Nigeria can
live in peace and unity as one country. Nigeria was, prior to the Act of Amalgamation
of 1914, made up of diverse ethnic groups. Some historians say that over 200 ethnic
groups have so far been identified (Falola and Heaton, 2008). Popularly, 250 ethnic
groups exist, with over 300 languages and dialects. Before the 1861 official
occupation of Lagos, these various peoples interacted with each other through trade
(Ekeh, 1975) especially. From all available literature on this subject, there was
relative peace and harmony except for few inter-tribal and intra-tribal clashes, which
Falola and Heaton (2008) argue was the order of the day at that material time.
Of great interest to this study is the fact that Nigeria seems to have been
orchestrated from the long era of British colonialism to be a mutually conflictual
country (Badru, 1998). Virtually every article or book that attempts a historical survey
of ethnicity or ethnic conflicts in Nigeria, traces the origin to colonialism. First of all,
they used their superior military forces to subjugate the diverse groups to bend to their
will, and lumped them together (Falola and Heaton 2008) as one. Then they made use
of existing sophisticated political structures in the North the Caliphates and Emirates
(Falola and Heaton 2008). Then the unequal division of the Provinces or Protectorates
(the southern and northern protectorates, respectively) into Three Regions Northern
Region being the largest. The northern province (protectorate) was twice the size of
the southern province (both in population and land mass), but yet, the Macpherson
Constitution of 1951 went ahead and divided the southern province (protectorate) into
two, hence Eastern and Western Regions, respectively, leaving the North to exist
We have to bear in mind that the northern region (dominated by the
Hausa/Fulani ethnic group), harbours diverse minority ethnic groups such as the
Tivs, the Kanuris, the Bomus, etc. They had centralized government and are
predominantly Muslim, and therefore, united by a common religion and leadership.
Whereas, the Eastern region, dominated by the Igbos (Ibos) is predominantly
Christian with some traditional religions, and completely politically decentralized. In
fact, one of the early pacts made by the northern province and the British colonial
government is that no Christian influence from the East should be allowed in the
North (Uwazie, et al. (eds.), 1999). We shall be discussing this in the course of this
work, (that is, the dimension of religious conflicts as it affects the peace and unity of
Nigeria). Then the Western region has the Yorubas as the dominant ethnic group,
also with some adhering minor ethnic groups. The religion here is mixed with some
parts as Christians, some parts as Muslims, and others as traditionalists.
The fact to be noted is that as colonialism progressed in Nigeria, Badru
recorded that the British were able to impose a political arrangement that was to
create the foundation for todays military intervention in the political process and
other ethnic conflicts. In desperation, Badru continues, the British imperial state
had succumbed to pressure from powerful northern economic interests and designed a
constitution that gave serious concessions to northern elites. This means that the
model that was proposed was modulated by a system of proportional representation in
which the federal parliament would be dominated by the ethnic group with the largest
population (Badru 1998).
This form of parliamentary arrangement had an inherent flaw, which was
probably why the first republic collapsed shortly after independence. A Commission
of Inquiry was set up to find out why the first republic collapsed. The Commission
found out that there was an inherent contradiction in the arrangement of the
parliamentary system where you have a Prime Minister who would wield executive
power and a figurehead President.
The 1960s played out those debilitating contradictions and has the record of
the worst forms of ethnic conflicts that eventually polarized the country and led to the
civil war Nigeria-Biafra War 1967-1970. It was a war between the then eastern
region, with the Igbos at the fore front, and the Federal government. Some argue that
the war was fought to unite Nigeria, but since the war ended, ethnicity has continued
unabated. This work will demonstrate that the end of the civil war was indeed the
beginning of the worst forms of ethnic discrimination and domination that have ever
exacerbated ethnic conflicts.
The methodology I have employed in the course of this work is purely an
academic research method. I acquired relevant books from libraries around, especially
the Auraria campus library. I also ordered some books from Amazon. Furthermore, I
engaged some search engines like the Academic Search Premier, The Prospector, etc.,
to search for necessary information. I employed the use of scholarly articles from
academic journals like, Journal of African History; Africa: Journal of the International
African Institute: The Journal of Modem African Studies; Royal Institute of
International Affairs, Jstor, etc. Everything I have written is therefore based on
deductive and empirical methods.
1.5 Literature Review:
This review will focus on the five major headings in my table of contents:
The History of Nigeria; The Origins and Causes of Ethnicity in Nigeria; The Effects
of Ethnicity; Attempts at Diffusing Ethnicity in Nigeria (which will include both
failed and successful attempts); and then comes my thesis question: Can Nigeria live
together in peace as one country? Finally, the conclusion will follow.
1.5.1 Nigerian History:
Toyin Falola and Matthew M. Heaton (2009), in their book, A History of
Nigeria attempted, in chronological manner, to articulate the problem with the
Nigerian polity. In going about this, they began with the pre-colonial history of
Nigeria, which discusses the formation of human societies in the period before 1500
CE., the development of states in the territories of modem day Nigeria, from the
period of the earliest archeological findings in the Late Stone Age (LSA) to the
coming of European traders in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries CE (p. 16),
otherwise known as economic transformation. Then, they examine the transformation
in the political and cultural landscape, beginning with the North in the late nineteenth
The next three chapters cover the period during which Nigeria came under the
British colonial rule. Here, they discussed the long, slow process by which the British
took direct political control of the territories that were soon to become the geo-
political unit called Nigeria. The development of the system of Indirect Rule as the
primary model of colonial administration and the establishment of a colonial economy
based on the expansion of cash crops towards an export market (p.85), is another area
of focus. The rise of the nationalist movements is a major factor within the chapters
under review. The period between 1930 and 1960 when Nigeria gained independence
is remarkable in this history. The formation of nationalist movements helped to bring
colonialism to a quicker end than it would have taken (p. 136).
Pade Badru (1998), in his Imperialism and Ethnic Politics in Nigeria, began
his analysis of the history of Nigeria only from the point of nationalist struggle as a
precursor to decolonization, and the way ethnicity was used by the British imperial
state (Pp. 4-7). He does not go into the earliest history like Falola and Heaton. Rotimi
Suberu (2001) began his discourse on this issue from the time of the Amalgamation in
1914 (Federalism and Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria ).
Tom Mbeke-Ekanem, in his Beyond the Execution: Understanding Ethnic
and Military Politics in Nigeria (2000), never talked about the history of Nigeria at
all. He delves into the main problems, the trials and tribulations of Nigeria since
independence. In the 1960s, there were high hopes and great expectations from the
newlyindependent state. By the mid 1960s, it had become clear, however, that the
political class that dominated the First Republic was showing signs of corruption and
undemocratic tendencies. In the words of the authors, the specter of domination
hung in the air, as ethnic/religious groups throughout the country feared that any
region that obtained control of the government would use that to better itself at the
expense of the others (Falola and Heaton 2008, 13). These fears engendered
widespread corruption and massive election rigging, which finally eroded the first
1.5.2 Origin and Causes of Ethnicity:
Writing about this issue, virtually all the books consulted pointed to
colonialism as being the bedrock on which ethnic conflict was built. In the first place,
the lumping together of people from different walks of life and nation-states pursuing
their own destinies and aspirations, seems to be an issue that runs across the readings
(Falola and Heaton 2008, 100-125; Badru 1998, 1-4; Suberu 2001, 1). This issue as a
colonial legacy is the main focus of Lemuel Odehs masterful article Ethno-Cultural
Conflicts in the Nigerian Polity: A Colonial Legacy. Kelechi Kalu (2004) minces no
words when she writes: Contentious issues in the Nigerian State and Constitution are
traceable to Nigerias colonial history and promises to remain an aspect of future
Abdul Raufu Mustapha (National Question and Radical Politics in Nigeria)
argues that the British colonialism fostered ethnic conflicts through inequalities -
educational inequality, economic inequality and political inequality (1986, Pp. 83-86).
Moses Ochonu (2008), in his article, Colonialism Within Colonialism, illustrates
how the British colonial system used the Sokoto Caliphate (in the northern region) to
civilize5 those considered not civilized enough for Indirect Rule.
1.5.3 On the Effects of Ethnicity:
Margery Perhams Reflection on the Nigerian Civil War (1970) tells us a lot
5 This was actually an idiom coined by the British to refer to those ethnic groups like the eastern
region, which were completely decentralized.
regarding the effects of ethnicity in Nigeria: I remember the shock with which, a few
years before independence, I noted that the Northern premier, the Sarduana of Sokoto,
was ruthlessly pushing the educated Southerners, mainly Ibo, out of the Northern
administration and heard the Western leader, Chief Awolowo, declare, in the same
context, that he would have no outsiders in his police force (p.232). Odeh (2002) is
very blunt here:
That conflict emanates from every fabric of the build-up of Nigeria
is no news. The news however is the recent dimension the crisis is
assuming intermeshed amidst constant accusations of unfair
treatment, as can be seen in the marginalization cries of the
Northern Arewa, the Ohaneze Ndigbo, and the Odua Peoples
Congress6 struggling for Sovereign National Conference.
Y. R. Barongo (1989) wrote in Ethnic Pluralism and Democracy, that the
basic source of conflict was the mobilization of people, not towards some
transcending national loyalty, but rather towards identification with an intermediate
cultural section. This identification was made most often in situations of competition
between sections, and it was here that the system of rewards had its total impact. The
system structured political life in such a way as to make it a constant struggle for
rewards of various kinds, and much of this struggle is between the sections of the
There seems to be an agreement that military incursions into politics were
ethnically motivated, to keep a certain tribe perpetually in power. In the words of
6 These are ethnic nationalist organizations. The Arewa is for the north, the Ohaneze is for the East,
while the Odua is for the West. The Easterners have been crying out against marginalization ever since
the end of the civil war. The Northerners started crying out because a Westerner won in the general
elections, which returned the country to civil rule in 1999 (the 4th republic).
Major Gen. David Ejoor, the North has maintained absolute control of the army
...Southern officers have been gradually eliminated by retirement... the control of
the federal government and the armed forces has enabled the North (in civilian as in
military regimes) to gradually dominate and exploit all aspects of the national life
(Ejoor 1989, quoted in Suberu, p.128).
They discuss the abysmal failure of the military, which led to the civil war and
the mismanagement of the oil wealth in the 1970s oil-boom era. The succeeding
civilians of the second republic 1979 to 1983, were also indicted for inexperience,
corruption, and ineptitude. In the period between 1983, when the military returned on
the political stage, to their exit in 1999, was another baneful period discussed by the
authors. And again, the period between 1999 and 2007 was another desert experience,
which the authors describe as authoritarian and stark economic decline (Falola and
Eleaton 2008, 240 242; Badru 1998, 65-74; Mbeke-Ekanem 2000, 3-42; Suberu
1.5.4 Attempts at Diffusing Ethnicity:
Several works on ethnicity in Nigeria have committed to examining the
impact of the following approaches to the management of ethnicity, Federalism, the
creation of regions and then states and local governments; the shift from a
parliamentary system to a presidential system; the institutionalization of quota
systems, the prohibition of ethnic political parties; and the adoption of the federal
character principle. These are approaches that have been taken to manage ethnic
diversity and conflicts. They have enjoyed the intellectual backing of Eke and
Osaghae eds. 1989; Ademolekun ed. 1991; Ekekwe 1986; Horowitz 1985; Mustapha
1986; Nnoli 1995; Osaghae 1998; Suberu 2001. This is just to mention a few.
In the course of our analyses, we shall learn whether these attempts have
solved the problems of ethnicity in Nigeria, or generated more problems than it set out
to solve. For instance, Suberu writes on the issue of states creation; Given the sheer
multiplicity and fluidity of the territorial and cultural cleavages that can be used to
justify the demands for new states and federal resources they bring with them, there is
no certainty that the states-creation process will ever be concluded in Nigeria (2001,
With this brief review, let us now proceed to examine the history of Nigeria.
2. The History of Nigeria.
In this chapter, we shall be discussing the history of Nigeria. The aim is to acquaint us
with the knowledge of the territory we now call Nigeria, beginning from the
independent nation-states that form the present geo-political unit, to the modem day.
Again, I hope that from this discussion, we will understand the origin of the conflicts
that this thesis sets out to investigate.
Nigeria as we have it today is made up of 36 states and the Federal Capital
Territory. It is divided into six geo-political zones: the North-west, North-east and
North-central. Others are, the South-east, South-west and the South-south. The name
Nigeria was coined by Flora Shaw who would later become the wife of Lord Lugard,
the colonial administrator of Nigeria in the late 19th century. The name Nigeria was
taken from the great River Niger. In the mind of the colonialists, it is Niger Area
(Elizabeth Isichie 1983, 120). Nigeria is a large country covering 356,668 square
miles; it is roughly twice the size of California and three times the size of the United
Kingdom (Falola and Heaton 2008, 2).
The map of Africa locates Nigeria in the West African region or sub-Saharan
Africa. The country is bordered to the south by the Bight of Benin and the Bight of
Biafra,7 which are on the Gulf of Guinea in the Atlantic Ocean. To the west, it is
bordered by Benin republic, Niger republic on the north, and Cameroon on the east.
Lake Chad separates Nigeria from Chad in the extreme north-east. It stretches 700
miles from west to east and 650 miles from south to north, covering an area between
3 degrees and 15 degrees E longitude and between 4 degrees and 14 degrees Latitude
(Falola and Heaton 2008, 12).
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, is composed of more than 250 ethnic
groups; (for Falola and Heaton, it is composed of over 200 ethno-linguistic groups).
The following are the most populous and politically influential: Hausa and Fulani
29%, Yoruba 21%, Igbo (Ibo) 18%, Ijaw 10%, Kanuri 4%, Ibibio 3.5%, Tiv 2.5%.
The official language is English. Other main languages are: Hausa, Yoruba,
Igbo (Ibo), with due respect to over 250 indigenous languages.
Muslim 50%, Christian 40%, indigenous beliefs 10%
Nigerias population is 149,229,000 (Index Mundi 2010). According to the
Central Intelligence Agencys report, the Hausa/Fulani accounts for 21% of the
population, the Yorubas 20%, while the Igbos make up 17% (CIA, The World
7 The Bight of Biafra disappeared from the map after the Nigerian/Biafra War in 1970. Every memory
of Biafra was virtually erased from history.
2.2 Nation-States Before the Advent of Colonialism:
V.C. Uchendu (1970) has argued that large groups such as the Igbo, Yoruba
and Hausa/Fulani should properly be called nations rather than tribes he continues,
Nigerias problem is that it encompasses a plurality of nations in demographic,
political, economic and cultural imbalance(56 57). Historians have been able to
demonstrate that before the evolution of nation-states, people have lived and inhabited
the area under discussion. According to Susan McIntosh (1981), archaeological
excavations show that human beings inhabited that area (Nigeria) in 9000 BC. For
Falola and Heaton, The Last Stone Age, between roughly 10,000 BCE and 2,000
BCE, was a period of major firsts for human development in the territories in and
around modern-day Nigeria (2008, 18). Rather than dwell on the prehistoric times, I
deem it fit that we proceed straight to the nation-states.
We have diverse and sometimes conflicting sources about the origin of what is
today known as Nigeria. What we call Nigeria today was non-existent before 1914
(Boomiel998). Boomie claims that present day Nigeria consisted of four different
empires, like present day Ghana or Cameroon (1998). The four empires or kingdoms
according to her are as follows: the Northern empire, which was composed of the
Bomo empire and the Hausa states Zazzau, Gobir, Kano, Katsina. Birori, Daura -
and some other small groups like, Gwari, Kebbi, Nupe, Yelwa, etc. The Hausa States
or Hausa Kingdoms were a collection of independent city-states situated in what
became Northern Nigeria. Despite relatively constant growth, the city-states were
vulnerable to aggression and, although the vast majority of its inhabitants were
Muslim by the 16th century, they were attacked by Muslim jihadists from 1804 to
1808. In 1808, the last Hausa state was finally conquered by Usuman dan Fodio and
incorporated into the Sokoto Caliphate (Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, 1989, 67).
The Calabar Kingdom in the present day South-south geo-political zone of the
country, is one of the coastal states believed to have been founded around 1000 A.D.
The old Calabar Kingdom consisted of loosely governed territories that included:
Annang, Akamkpa, Efik, Eket, Ibibio, Ikom, Opobo (now Ikot Abasi), Oron, Western
Cameroon, and the offshore island of Fernando Po (now Equatorial Guinea). Calabar
served as the capital city for the Kingdom as well as for the Efik State (George Onah,
2004).The Kingdom was ruled by the King of Calabar, but his power was not very
strong outside Calabar city, the capital of the Kingdom and also the capital of Efik
state. The King's title was protected by the Ekpe Secret Society, as Ekpe made laws
and executed them, and the King became the upper grade of Ekpe (Nair, 1972, p. 19).
The Ekpe was used as a means of bringing the hinterland people who lived in
Cross River within the orbit of Calabar influence, which was done by selling Ekpe
honors to those who dwelled outside Calabar (Nair 1972, page 19), but Calabar did
not exercise extensive control over the territory Kingdom (Nair, 1972, page 234).
This kingdom has record of the oldest contact with the Europeans and has the
oldest Church built in Nigeria dating back to 1850 (Boomie 1998). It is difficult to
separate this kingdom from the Cameroons. They are believed to be founded by twins
according to Boomie.
Next is the Oduduwa Empire. This is the ancestral home of the Yorubas. Like
the Stool of the Asante empire in Ghana, the legendary Oduduwa was believed to
have descended from heaven at Ile-Ife from where he created the world. He is the
ancestor of the Yoruba kings and this accounts for the reason why the Yoruba kings
veil themselves and talk through an interlocutor (Onwubiko 1980, 213). Upon the
death of Oduduwa, there was a dispersal of his children from Ile-If? to found other
kingdoms such as, Owu, Ketu, Benin, Ila, Sabe, Popo, Awori and Oyo. Each making a
mark in the subsequent urbanization and consolidation of Yoruba confederacy of
kingdoms, with each kingdom tracing its origin to Ile-Ife. The Oduduwa empire and
the Yoruba states make up the South-west geo-political zone today.
Then the Benin8 empire (Benin used to be the capital of the mid-western
region. Now part of it is in Delta state, which is in the south-south and some part in
Edo state south-west). Benin was well known before the 1800s and had people and
culture in Togo, Benin republic and Ghana. It is also well known for its sculpturing
(Boomie 1998). Its bronze work is a major factor that popularized the Benin empire.
It derives from a Yoruba word, Ibinu, which means, vexation. Its full name is Ile-
Ibinu the land or house of vexation, believed to have been founded by one of
Oduduwas sons, who had a quarrel with his father and ran away from home
8 This Benin kingdom is not to be confused with the Benin republic. The Benin republic is French
speaking and their original name was Dahomey.
A Critique of Boomie:
The first question that comes to mind is, what is the place of the Igbos (Ibos)
in this history as presented by Boomie? Why this conspicuous exclusion of the Igbo
nation in this account? The Igbo people who now occupy the South-east geopolitical
zone, and are bordered by the south-south and the south-west below the middle-belt,
with the north up above them, couldnt just be so overtly missing in this history.
Again, Boomie had mentioned elsewhere that after the 1914 amalgamation, the
Northern and Southern Protectorates were divided into four administrative Provinces;
the colony of Lagos, Northern, Western and Eastern Provinces respectively (Boomie
1998); from where or how did the Eastern Province, which houses the Igbos,
emerge? How is it that the heartland of the Igbo tribe suddenly became the capital of
the Eastern Province to dominate over other peoples/kingdoms, even the so-called
Calabar Kingdom? Or, could the reason be that the Igbos were completely
decentralized until the 11th and 12th centuries AD (Falola and Heaton 2008) and so
have no place in her analysis of the ancient kingdoms? Boomies historical account
must be taken with caution.
From every other available historical data, the Igbos have lived in the areas
now designated since the 6th and 7th centuries A.D. From Uzukwu E. Elochukwu, we
garnered that In southeastern Nigeria the Kingdom of Nri of the Igbo people
flourished from the controversial date of around the 10th century until 1911. This is
consistent with Falola and Heaton; that some Igbo groups adopted monarchical
characteristics from neighboring centralized states (2008, 22); while some remained
decentralized until the coming of the British colonialists in the early 20th century.
The Nri Kingdom was ruled by Eze Nri (that is, Nri King). The city of Nri
was considered to be the foundation of the Igbo culture. He continues in Worship
and Body Language, Nri and Aguleri, where the Igbo creation myth originates, are in
the territory of the Umeuri clan, who trace their lineages back to the patriarchal king-
figure, Eri (Uzukwu 1997, 58).
The history/origin of the Igbos is not as straightforward as the creation myth
of the Yorubas or the Caliphates, the Sultanates and Emirates of the north. Some
recent studies link the Igbos to the Jews. The author of the article The Origin of the
Igbos for instance, calls them the The Igbo Jews. And goes further to make his
claim: they migrated from Syria, Portuguese, and Libyan Israelites into West
Africa. The time of this migration started around 740 C.E. as historical records
show (Wikipedia, Origin of the Igbos).
Chinedu Nwabunne, a Jewish trained historian, who resides at UCLA has
researched this subject and claimed that the migration of the Igbos started when the
forces of Caliph Mohammed the last leader of Umayyads and his Qaysi-Arab
supporters defeated the Yamani-Arab Umayyads of Syria in 744 C.E. (Wikipedia).
The time proximity with the above unnamed author attests to the relevance of this
Katharine Slattery (2001), discussing the Igbos said, Igboland is the home of
the Igbo people and it covers most of Southeast Nigeria. This area is divided by the
River Niger into two unequal sections, the eastern region (which is the largest) and
the midwestem region. The Igbos are sporadically found around the Niger Delta
divides and though, now dispersed to other states, still see themselves as one people
(in different states).
Having seen the heterogeneity and diversity of the pre-colonial Nigeria, one
might want to ask at this point; what was Nigeria like during the Colonial Era? How
did they come together under one nation?
2.3 Nigeria Under Colonialism:
So far we have seen a fragmented, nonexistent Nigeria. With time, precisely in
the middle of the 19th century, this region started acquiring the shape of a nation. How
did it all start? We must remember that all those nation-states (Kingdoms and
Empires) made one contact or another with the external world. The Portuguese
explorers were the first Europeans to begin trade in Nigeria, and called the port Lagos
after the Portuguese town of Lagos, in Algarve (Forgge 1998, 78 ). They made their
inroad in about 1485. A strong mercantile relationship developed with the Edo,
trading tropical products such as ivory, peppers and palm oil with the Portuguese for
European goods, such as manila and guns.
The empire also traded in slaves with the Portuguese, but this was much less
than previously thought, as history and the movements of the peoples during the trans-
Atlantic slavery showed (Bondarenko, 2005). In the early 16th century, the Oba of
Benin sent an ambassador to Lisbon, and the king of Portugal sent Christian
missionaries to Benin City. Some residents of Benin City could still speak a pidgin
Portuguese in the late 19th century (Roose and Bondarenko 2003, 67). There are
vestiges of their earliest (1600s) missionary visit to Benin (cf. Catholic Directory,
issued annually by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria). They traded in
merchandise, human and material, until the Napoleonic wars, when the British
expanded trade with the Nigerian interior (Roose and Bondarenko 2003).
After the Partition of Africa in 1884-5, that is, at the inception of Legitimate
Trade,9 British claims to a West African sphere of influence received international
approbation and the following year, the Royal Niger Company was chartered under
the leadership of Sir George Taubman Goldie. The company, seeking protection of
their business, appealed to the British government. And in 1900, the companys
(mainly the southern hinterlands) territory came under the control of the British
government (Onwubiko 1980), the Southern Protectorate. Nigeria was fast moving
into the modem era. On Jan. 1, 1901, what was to become the Northern region
became the Northern Protectorate. Some factors made it rather compelling for the
British to commence occupation of these various parts.
2.3.1 The Factors:
As must be expected, both the Royal Niger Company and other religious and
interest groups already in Nigeria, felt that their interests could best be protected only
through more direct British political control (Onwubiko 1980).
1. The primary actors pushing for greater British political involvement were
9 The Legitimate Trade is the term employed by African historians to represent the new forms of
business (like trade in palm produce and other agricultural produce), which took the place of the
wicked slave trade.
Christian missionaries, who wanted the areas converted to anti-slavery, to legitimize
commerce, and, ultimately, to ideas of Christian civilization.
2. British trading interest also lobbied hard for British intervention, to regulate what
they saw as the chaotic situation arising from increased competition among British
firms and the monopolistic practices of indigenous middlemen. And lastly,
3. British politicians themselves began to see the need for a stronger political
presence in the Nigerian region as French and German traders and military
expeditions moved dangerously close to the British sphere of influence (Falola and
Heaton 2008, 86).
Differing regional circumstances, however, meant that different tactics were
attempted in order to gain control of these regions. For instance, the treaty that
annexed Lagos as a British colony in 1861 (when King Kosoko was forced to flee and
Akintoye was installed), was the same treaty that was invoked to settle the Ijebuland
disputes in 1892, and in fact, to conquer all the Yoruba land (Falola and Heaton 2008,
95). And when they penetrated further southward, any opposing king was either
deported, executed or forced to sign a treaty. In the end, certainly, the most common
and most effective tool of colonial expansion was the British willingness to use
superior military might to subdue any opposition violently (Falola and Heaton 2008,
The decentralized nature of Igboland made it extremely difficult for the British
to penetrate as they had to fight one town after another to subdue them (Onwubiko,
1980). In some cases, they ran into village or town defense organizations like the
Ekumeku,10 not the regular army.
The north also proved to be a hard nut to crack because the north had already
developed centralized government unlike the Igbos. Lord Lugard feared that, since
the Caliph had been the suzerain over some territories, which now fall under British
protection, the influence of the Caliph would undermine Lugards own authority and
conceivably lead to internal revolts in the British controlled territories (R.A. Adeleye,
1971, Pp.213-313). Again, the Sokoto Caliphate offered yet another avenue through
which the French might make a play for the Niger. And if the French conquered the
Caliphate before the British move to do so, the French would be able to move their
forces all the way down to the banks of the Niger (Adeleye, 1971).
Such fears, doubts and, of course, invitations, made the British adopt different
measures for the different peoples they conquered in this area Nigeria.
These protectorates (North and South), remained separate entities until 1914,
when Nigeria became one administrative unit with the Act of Amalgamation of the
Northern and Southern Protectorates, by Lord Fredrick J.D. Lugard, the first
Governor-General. To be noted here is the role of violence by the British to take over
the territories that make up the various protectorates of Nigeria. To refuse to play by
British rule was to sign your death warrant or face deportation. Having conquered
these territories, what were the changes that the new modem (colonial) administration
10 The Ekumeku was an organization established by western Igbo communities as a communal defense
system. Whenever one community faced a military threat, surrounding communities sent soldiers to
combat the threat (Falola and Heaton 2008, 106).
2.3.2 Colonial Administration:
Ostensibly, the primary reason for the amalgamation of the protectorates was
economic rather than political (Joel D. Barkan, et al. 2001; Falola and Heaton 2008,
116) . The Northern Protectorate, which became the Northern Province, had annual
budget deficits, while the Southern Protectorate, which became the Southern Province
had surpluses. To eliminate the subventions from the British treasury, the budgets of
the two components were integrated. In addition, some central institutions were
established to anchor the evolving unified structure (Barkan, 2001).
Despite the efforts of Lugard and his successors to reorganize the finances of
northern Nigeria, the economy of the northern protectorate had floundered under
indirect rule and had not become fully self-financing (Falola and Heaton 2008, 116-
117) . Michael Crowther (1973) observes that:
Taxation had not produced enough revenue to cover the
administrative needs of the protectorate, and commerce had not
grown sufficiently to make the region profitable. The only option
this situation left for the colonial administration, he continues, is to
finance itself by relying on annual subsidies from the southern
protectorate and an imperial grant-in-aid from the British
government to the tune of approximately 300,000.00 pounds per
To get out of this quagmire, Lugard thought that the best way would be the
unification of the north and south through amalgamation. The Governor-General
(Lugard) then organized a Central Secretariat at Lagos11, which was the seat of
government, and established the Nigerian Council (later the Legislative Council) to
11 Thus preparing the way for Lagos to be the capital of Nigeria.
provide a forum for representatives drawn from the provinces (Barkan, 2001).
The system of indirect rule12 seemed to have worked out perfectly well in
the northern protectorate. These people have well organized religio-political
structures or institutions for government, such as the Caliphates, the Emirates and the
Sultanates etc. Margery Perham (1937) and Robert Haussler (1968) suggest that
Lugard had dwelt on these structures for tax collection, local adjudications and direct
answerability to colonial officials. In the decentralized south (mainly in the Igbo area
who are republican), such leadership structures were apparently lacking. What did
Lugard do to surmount this challenge?
Despite his policy of permitting the culture of the people, Lugard went on to
appoint the Warrant Chiefs13 to administer in the native courts. The institution of
the native court system gave executive and judicial powers to individuals who had no
traditional claim to them. The warrant chiefs became poor representations of the
traditional governing apparatus in the protectorate and they got little or no respect
from the subjects under their jurisdiction (Falola and Heaton, 113). As might be
expected, the warrant chiefs became corrupt through excessive taxes and other forms
In summary, the colonial administration through the process of indirect rule,
theoretically preserved the indigenous religious-political institutions in the north. In
12 The point of indirect rule was to govern through existing indigenous rulers and available
structures. And in the way through which the indigenous people are accustomed.
13 This was a phenomenon totally strange and unknown in Igbo land.
the south, it did more harm than good in creating structures and people that were
considered alien and indeed harmful to their culture, especially with the way and
manner these people were chosen (Afigbo 1972, 56-77). Among other
transformations were the agrarian economy, the introduction of export economy, and
forcing people to work for cash. These changes virtually brought about further
changes concomitantly. Cities grew, gender roles shifted, and a new class of middle-
class elites emerged that was both indebted to and frustrated by the colonial system.
People found ways through which they vented their anger and frustrations over the
racist and often brutal colonial systems.
2.4 The Era of Nationalism 1929-1960:
One of such ways is Nationalism. Colonial rule had inspired anti-colonial resistance.
The climax was the Aba Women Riot of 1929, popularly known as the Womens
War. Falola and Heaton say: The Womens War of 1929 might be seen as a viable
turning point in the trajectory of anti-colonial resistance (2008, 135). This era, as we
shall now see, also marked the beginning of ethnic conflicts in Nigeria. Within this
period also came the colonial constitutions such as, the Richard's Constitution of
1946, the Macpherson Constitution of 1951 and the Lyttelton Constitution of 1954.
The 1951 Constitution divided Nigeria into three regions.
The opportunity afforded by the 192214 Constitution to elect a handful of
representatives to the Legislative Council gave politically conscious Nigerians
14 This is called the Cliffords Constitution. Sir Hughes Clifford was Governor-General of Nigeria.
The 1922 constitution never allowed for people's participation as it only gave an opportunity, for the
first time to Nigerians to elect their representatives.
something concrete to work on. The principal figure in the political activity that
ensued was Herbert Macauley, often referred to as the father of Nigerian nationalism.
He aroused political awareness through his newspaper, the Lagos Daily News, while
leading the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP), which dominated elections
in Lagos from its founding in 1922 until the ascendancy of the National Youth
Movement (NYM) in 1938 (Metz 1991).
During World War II, three battalions of the Nigeria Regiment fought in the
Ethiopian campaign and many other places. Wartime experiences provided a new
frame of reference for many soldiers, who interacted across ethnic boundaries in ways
that were unusual in Nigeria. The war also made the British reappraise Nigeria's
political future. The war years, moreover, witnessed a polarization between the older,
more parochial leaders inclined toward gradualism and the younger intellectuals, who
thought in more immediate terms (Ibid.).
The rapid growth of organized labor in the 1940s also brought new political
forces into play. In the different unions, people discussed the political future of
Nigeria. Nigeria's first political party to have nationwide appeal was the NCNC15,
founded in 1944 when Azikiwe encouraged activists in the National Youth Movement
to call a conference in Lagos of all major Nigerian organizations to "weld the
heterogeneous masses of Nigeria into one solid bloc" (Chronicles, 1981).
The Action Group (AG) arose in 1951 as a response to Igbo control of the
15 Initially, National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons. Later, National Council of Nigerian
NCNC and as a vehicle for Yoruba regionalism that resisted the concept of unitary
government. The party was structured democratically and benefited from political
spadework done by the NCNC in the Western Region in the late 1940s. As a
movement designed essentially to exploit the federal arrangement to attain regional
power, however, the Action Group became the NCNCs competitor for votes in the
south at the national level and at the local level in the Western Region (Metz 1991).
The Northern People's Congress (NPC) came as a response to NCNC and AG.
This was organized by a small group of Western-educated northern Muslims who
obtained the assent of the Emirs to form a political party capable of counterbalancing
the activities of the southern-based parties. It represented a substantial element of
reformism in the Muslim north. The most powerful figure in the party was Ahmadu
Bello, the Sardauna (meaning, war leader) of Sokoto, a controversial figure who
aspired to become the sultan of Sokoto, still the most important political and religious
position in the north (Ibid.).
Often described by opponents as a "feudal" conservative, Bello had a
consuming interest in the protection of northern social and political institutions from
southern influence. He also insisted on maintaining the territorial integrity of the
Northern Region, including those areas with non-Muslim populations. He was
prepared to introduce educational and economic changes to strengthen the north.
Although his own ambitions were limited to the Northern Region, Bello backed the
NPC's successful efforts to mobilize the north's large voting strength so as to win
control of the national government (Chronicles, 1981).
This scenario seems to have set the stage for ethnicity. As Anthony Akintola
(1991) puts it, the Parties were:
Severely limited in their capabilities to integrate the components of
that of that great diversity of societies known as Nigeria. The NPC was
the party of the Hausa-Fulani-Kanuri in the North, and did not extend
its membership to the South; the AG more or less represented the
Yorubas in the West; while the NCNC drew its support largely from
the Igbos in the East.
As a result of urbanization and antecedent associations, ethnic identities had begun to
solidify and become politically meaningful by the 1940s, and ethnic affiliations were
simultaneously emerging (Falola and Heaton 2008, 150).
To be noted as a major problem in the history of Nigerias ethnicity is the
problem created by the colonial constitutions. The 1951 Macphersons Constitution,
which among others set out to actively involve the people in greater participation in
politics, like its predecessors, was flawed. For instance, the central legislature
became a House of Representatives with half the representatives allocated to the north
and half divided between the south-west and the south-east (Falola and Heaton 2008,
152). This flagrant and embarrassing disequilibrium in the division of the political
components of Nigeria has made some political and social thinkers to think that the
British actually sowed the seed of discord among the Nigerians (Pade Badru, 1998, 4).
However, as the regions grew to attain self-rule under the Macpherson
Constitution, and parties were pushing harder for more autonomy, the Lyttleton
Constitution of 1954 was gradually preparing the way for Independence. By an act of
the British Parliament, Nigeria became an independent country within the British
Commonwealth on October 1, 1960. Azikiwe was installed as the first Govemor-
General of the federation and Balewa (whose party won the 1959 parliamentary votes)
continued to serve as head of a democratically elected parliamentary, but now
completely sovereign, government. The Governor-General represented the British
monarch as head of state and was appointed by the crown on the advice of the
Nigerian prime minister in consultation with the regional premiers. The Governor-
General, in turn, was responsible for appointing the prime minister and for choosing a
candidate from among contending leaders when there was no parliamentary majority.
Otherwise, the Governor-General's office was essentially ceremonial.
After Independence, the prospects appeared promising and expectations for
the future of the country were high. The system of government weak center16 -
seemed to have enhanced the order of the day. But not quite long, the military made
an incursion into politics. What could account for this?
2.5 The Era of Military Domination:
I have divided this era into phases for easy assimilation. The first phase is the period
between 1966 1975.
16 This was a kind of Confederacy for the three-region (and later four in 1963) controlled their
resources, with royalties paid to the center (Chronicles, 1981; Margaret Peil, 1975).
2.5.1 First Phase 1966-1975:
Besides the growing economy of this young nation, petroleum was discovered
in commercial quantities in the Niger delta (south-south and south-east) region in
1958. This means that country was headed towards greatness. The ethnocentric nature
of politics at this time degenerated into the fight for ethnic domination. Where the
southerners are the most educated part of the country, the NPC and its leadership
feared a situation where the government will be dominated by the elites from the
south. In Badrus own words,
The leadership of the NPC was not particularly interested in early
political independence for the country, fearing that political
independence would only bring about the domination of the country by
the educated Southern elites (Pade Badru, 1998, 6-7).
As could be expected, the northern leadership proposed a limited form of
independent nationhood in which the political authority of the British would still be
recognized. He continues, In desperation, the retiring British administration
succumbed to pressure from powerful northern economic interests and designed a
constitution that gave serious concessions to northern elites (Badru, 1998).
As the strong desire to dominate gripped all the regions (cf. 2.4), the country
degenerated into corruption and widespread anarchy. As I mentioned earlier (in 1.5.3),
full-blown ethnicity started playing out overtly. There was pogrom in the north,
targeting only the Igbos and other southerners. In the words of Nzeogwu, the
acclaimed leader of the first coup,
My dear countrymen,.. .the aim of this revolution is to establish a
strong united and prosperous nation, free from corruption and internal
strife.. .our common enemies are the political profiteers, the swindlers,
.. .that seek bribes, those that seek to keep the country divided
permanently so that they can remain in office, the tribalists....17
(Mbeke-Ekanem 2000, 8).
The ethnic composition of the January 15th coup of 1966 reflects the legacy of divide
and rule that was imposed by the British colonizers. The coup seemed to have been
induced by a variety of factors, the chief of which was ethnic polarity and the
increasing class differentiation18 (Badru 1998, 74).
The leader of the January coup was an Igbo officer, Major Chukwuma Kaduna
Nzeogwu. The other five majors were similarly drawn from the south; some of them
may have been motivated by reasons beyond ethnicity. In the main, most literature
suggest that the coup was planned and executed in order to forestall a political
arrangement which would have favored total control of the federal structure by the
northerners19 (Alexander Madiebo 1980; A. Adegboyega 1981).
The coup was not successful, and given the fact that the casualties of the coup
were mainly the northern oligarchs (Badru), and few western leaders, and none
from the east, it was branded an eastern (Igbo) coup with the plan to eliminate all
northern leaders. This propaganda or fear was reinforced when finally, the most senior
Army officer, Major-General J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi (also of Igbo extraction), was
invited by the senate president, Dr. Nwafor Orizu, to take over the government (Badru
17 Underlinings are mine for emphasis.
18 Underlinings are mine for emphasis.
19 Underlinings are mine for emphasis.
Major-General J.T.U Aguiyi Ironsi (Jan.-July 1966):
His short regime threw all the coup plotters in jail and headed towards
pacifying the nation when he was cut short in a counter-coup plotted by the northern
officers. Their grievance was captured by Major-General Joe Garba,20 who wrote: At
the invitation of Dr. Nwafor Orizu, General J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi, an Igbo, proclaimed
himself the head of state ... He then went on to issue decrees that imposed unitary
government, a centralized civil service and abolition of the regions ... (Joe Garba
1995, 75). Garba is trying to demonstrate here that Ironsis actions were impetuous
and could not placate the restive north (Garba 1995).
This disenchantment of the northern officers led to the July counter-coup led
by Major T.Y. Danjuma. These officers took it upon themselves to retaliate against
the slaughter of northern officers and politicians in January, and in the process, they
captured power (Badru 1998). It was indeed a vendetta as all the casualties this time
were southerners, especially the Igbos.
Colonel Yakubu Gowon (July 1966 1975):
He later became a General. He is Christian from northern minority, his real
name is Jacob, his friends called him Jack (Falola and Heaton 2008, 174). Ojukwu
(1989) reports that he changed his name to Yakubu, the Moslem equivalent of Jacob,
in order to appeal to the northern (Moslem) elites. The remaining officers of the
south-east refused to recognize Gowons authority. Colonel Ojukwu, who was
20 He was a highly placed officer in the subsequent Gowons administration. Gowon succeeded Aguiyi
Ironsi. Both Gowon and Joe Garba are northerners.
governor of the East, refused to recognize him on the condition that there were
officers higher in rank and experience than Gowon (Falola and Heaton 2008). And
that the Commander-in-Chief was missing and must be accounted for before anybody
could ascend the throne of leadership. And then, on the condition that displaced
Igbos from the north and the survivors of ethnic animosities played out in pogroms21
over in the north, be rehabilitated first (Badru 1998, 77; Falola and Heaton 2008,174;
This situation created tension between the government of the eastern region
and the federal government. Following the trend of events, Colonel Ojukwu convened
a meeting of the Eastern Region Consultative Assembly (Mbeke-Ekanem 2000, 11),
composed mainly of Igbo elders in Enugu (the capital of the eastern region), where he
was given the mandate to create a sovereign state as a safe haven for the people of
eastern extraction, especially the targeted and brutalized Igbos (Badru 1998). This
sovereign state was later to be known as Biaffa. This meeting was held on the 27th of
May 1967, following the division of the country into twelve states by Gowon.
Authors argue that this states creation was a ploy to destabilize the east (Mbeke-
The Civil War:
As an outcome of the above-mentioned meeting and resolutions reached by
21 Falola and Heaton estimate that over 80,000 100,000 Igbos were massacred in the north. Other
historians estimate over 200,000 (Onwubiko; Adu Boahen 1983). The spate of massacre made Ojukwu
and other Igbo elites wonder whether Igbos could live in harmony within a federal Nigeria (Falola
the Assembly, Colonel Ojukwu, on May 30, 1967, declared the east a sovereign state
with the name Indepedent Republic of Biafra. On July 6th 1967, Go won declared war
on Biafra (Suberu, 2001). Some scholars have argued on the reason for declaring war
on Biafra. First, it is argued that Gowon sincerely believed in the practicability of
Nigerian unity and was willing to fight to preserve it.22 Second, to allow the secession
of Biafra would be to invite the secession of any minority group within the federation
at any time. Lastly and more importantly, the region of Biafra contained 67 percent of
the known petroleum reserves in Nigeria.23 The secession of Biafra thus threatened
what had the potential to be a very lucrative revenue for Nigeria (Falola and Heaton;
Margery Perham, 1970). All these reasons run pari passu with
The pervasiveness of ethnic problems within the military, and the
failure by the officer corps to resolve serious ethnic antagonisms
within its rank and file led ultimately to the bloody civil war ... and the
casualties of the war, mainly the Igbos of Southern Nigeria are still
being treated as second class citizens.24 (Badru 1998, 79).
The civil war raged for 30 horrible months. When it became clear that the war could
no longer be sustained, on 12th January 1970, Ojukwu handed over power to his
second-in-command, Major-General Philip Effiong, and fled Biafra to Ivory Coast, on
self-exile. And on 14th January 197025, Biafra capitulated. Effiong surrendered to
Gowon (Mbeke-Ekanem 2000, 16). The war cost the Igbos a great deal in terms of
22 Watch Gowon himself demonstrate this in Youtube Nigeria/Biaffa War pt.2.
23 Underlining is mine.
24 Underlining is mine. Any underlining in future quotes is also mine, placed there for emphasis.
25 Some say January 12th, Falola and Heaton 2008, 175; St. Jorre 1972; Niven 1970.
lives, money and infrastructure. It has been estimated that up to three million people
died in Igboland due to the conflict, most from hunger and disease. Some analysts
argue that it was more of a genocide than a civil war(Cengage).
At the end of the civil war, Gowon sustained the decree that created the 12-
state structure. Nigeria subsequently experienced the oil boom. With so much
money floating around in the 1970s era oil boom, corruption was given a face-lift
(Falola and Heaton 2008, 183). Gowon had early in 1970 announced the time-table
to return to civilian rule in 1976. But in 1974, he announced an indefinite delay in
handing rule over to the civilians (Mbeke-Ekanem 2000, 18). His government was
losing credibility because of this and the widespread corruption (Falola and Heaton
General Murtala Mohammed (1975-1976):
This is another northerner. On July 29,261975, Gowon, who reneged in his
handing over date to the civilians, was toppled by Brigadier (later, General) Murtala
Mohammed (Chronicles). Like his predecessors, as usual, he claimed a messianic
role. But he had a hidden agenda (Falola and Heaton 2008, 188). He came to
reinforce northern hegemony, which he saw threatened with the 1973 census result
that showed the southerners to be almost as many as the northerners. He also made
the transfer of the federal capital from the southern city of Lagos to the northern city
of Abuja an utmost priority (Mbeke-Ekanem 2000, 20).
26 Falola and Heaton say July 30, and that the actors were Gowons own Chief of Security, Col. Joe
Garba and Lt. Col. Musa Yaradua in a bloodless coup.
As a practical step to demonstrate that northern Nigeria was more populated
than the south, he created four new states in the north and only three in the south. This
brought the total number of states to 19 (10 in the north, 5 in the west and 4 in the
east). However, he set a program to return the country to civil rule on October 1 1979.
Murtala Mohammed was assassinated on 13th February 1976. The British government
was accused of complicity in this assassination27 (Olajide Osunsanki, 1997).
General Olusegun Obasanjo (1976-1979):
This was the only time a southern soldier would head the nations
government. He is from the west a Yoruba he was Murtalas deputy and Chief of
Staff. Obasanjo promised to be faithful to the policies of the late head of state in
respect and honor for his love to fatherland (Mbeke-Fkanem, Pp.20-21). He kept to
his promise, drafted a constitution in 1978, and on October 1 1979, he voluntarily
handed over power to a democratically elected government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari -
A Brief Interlude (1979-1983):
The Second Republic under Shehu Shagari quickly proved itself to be
unequal to the challenges of securing the hoped-for truly national governance outlined
in the constitution (Falola and Heaton 2008, 201). There was a replay of all the ugly
scenes of the First Republic with the addition of stark looting of the federal treasury
27 After the assassination, Col. Dimka, the leader of the coup, walked across the road to the British
High Commissions office and requested to speak to Gowon, who was then exiling in Britain. The
British High Commissioner was declared persona non grata and recalled to Britain, while the federal
government vainly sought the extradition of Gowon (Olajide Osunsakin, Headlines, No. 285, February
(Falola and Heaton 2008), and denial of federal grants to the Igbo states (Arthur
Nwankwo, 1984). With the oil glut in the world market in the 1980s, Nigeria became
a borrower and beggar nation. Coupled with other excesses of politicians and lapses
in administration of the day, the masses had had enough. Citizens were openly calling
on the military to stage a comeback. Change 83 was a slogan that rent the air as the
election drew near.
After the 1983 general elections, the same Shehu Shagaris Party, National
Party of Nigeria (NPN), won. Amidst the confusion that ensued, the military bounced
right back on the 31st of December 1983. The battered civilians once again heaved a
sigh of relief, thinking that a messiah had come on board.
2.5.2 Second Phase (1983-1999):
This phase of military operation began with General Muhammadu Buhari and Major-
General Tunde Idiagbon, his deputy. While Buhari is from the north, Idiagbo was
from the west.
Buhari/Idiagbon (31 December 1983-27 August 1985):
This administration was known by Buhari/Idiagbon because it was difficult to
know who was really in charge. The greatest achievement of the duo was in sanitizing
Nigeria. Mbeke-Ekanem (2000) wrote: civility almost returned to Nigeria during this
era. They introduced the WAI, an acronym for War Against Indiscipline. He
continued, anyone caught giving or taking bribes was thrown into jail. As expected,
most of the corrupt politicians were thrown to jail. Drug traffickers faced death by
firing squad .. .Nigerians began to learn what it was to be disciplined (22-23).
Popularly, people believed that they meant well for Nigeria despite their draconian
Just around the time Nigerians were settling down to the new way of doing
things, another military messiah struck. On August 27, 1985, General Ibrahim
Babangida struck and of course, denigrated his predecessors and accused them of
intimidating the nation, among other things.
General Ibrahim Babangida (27th August 1985-1993):
Also a northerner. He was called Maradona after the Argentine soccer
wizard Diego Maradona, who dazzled the world in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
Babangida dribbled Nigerians with surprise moves and unpredictability. He became
the first Nigerian to fire the highest ruling body of the land the Armed Forces Ruling
Council (AFRC), and also to remove his number two man F.hitu TJkiwe (an Igbo,
from the east), in 1986 (Mbeke-Ekanem 2000). Babangida performed all kinds of
political experimentation that were meant to cause confusion in the nation and thereby
entrench him in power. At some point he banned all the old politicians, then un-
banned and re-banned them again (Mbeke-Ekanem 2000, 30). He experimented with
Diarchy from 1991 until 1993.
In 1987, for instance, he ignited a terrible religious conflict by secretly
enrolling Nigeria into the Organization of Islamic Conference, OIC. This event began
to rock the foundation of the countrys stability (Iheanyi Enwerem, 1999, p.129). The
effects of this continued to linger until 1991. As usual, it was a blood bath. In some
major cities in the north, Christian/Muslim clashes claimed 500 lives in Kaduna in
April of 1991. In October 1991, over 300 people were killed in Kano (Mbeke-Ekanem
Then in 1993, he annulled the June 12th presidential election, presumed to
have been won by M.K.O. Abiola from the south-west (Social Democratic Party,
SDP). Abiolas opponent was Bashir Tofa from the north (National Republican
Convention, NRC). With this, he scuttled the smooth transition to the third republic,
which had already been enacted as the state governors and federal houses had been
constituted (Badru 1998, 119-123). The aftermath of this act was described by
Marxwell Oditta (2010): Apart from the Nigerian Civil War and the crisis preceding
it, the June 12 crisis was perhaps the greatest imbroglio that the country ever
Chief Ernest Shonekan (27th August 17th November 1993):
More than 100 were killed in riots before Babangida agreed to hand power to
an interim government (Interim National Government, ING) on August 27, 1993. He
later attempted to renege this decision, but without popular and military support, he
was forced to hand over to Ernest Shonekan, a prominent nonpartisan businessman.
Shonekan was to rule until elections scheduled for February 1994. Although he had
led Babangida's Transitional Council since 1993, Shonekan was unable to reverse
Nigeria's economic problems or to defuse lingering political tension (Mike Allen,
2006, 89; U.S. Dept, of State; Mbeke-Ekanem 2000, 54).
General Sani Abacha (17th November 1993-June 8, 1998):
With the country sliding into chaos, Defense Minister Sani Abacha (from the
north) quickly assumed power and forced Shonekan's "resignation" on November 17,
1993. Abacha dissolved all democratic political institutions and replaced elected
governors with military officers. Abacha promised to return the government to
civilian rule but refused to announce a timetable. Following the annulment of the June
12 election, the United States and other nations imposed various sanctions on Nigeria,
including restrictions on travel by government officials and their families, and
suspension of arms sales and military assistance. Additional sanctions were imposed
as a result of Nigeria's failure to gain full certification for its counter-narcotics efforts
(U.S. Dept, of State).
Abacha never budged to pressures. In his October 1, 1995 address to the
nation, Gen. Sani Abacha announced the timetable for a 3-year transition to civilian
rule. Widely expected to succeed himself as a civilian president on October 1, 1998,
he was seen as every one of his predecessors. He remained head of state until his
death on June 8 of that year.
General Abdusalami Abu-Bakr (1998 1999):
Abacha died of heart failure on June 8,1998 and was replaced by General
Abdulsalami Abubakar also a northerner. He strove to return Nigeria to civil rule. In
August 1998, Abubakar appointed the Independent National Electoral Commission
(INEC) to conduct elections for local government councils, state legislatures and
governors, the national assembly, and president. The NEC successfully held elections
on December 5, 1998, January 9, 1999, February 20, and February 27, 1999,
respectively (no author, wikipedia). On May 29, 1999, he successfully handed power
to retired Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo, and the Fourth Republic was ushered in.
Obasanjo ruled for two tenures, which spanned into 8 years. He made a successful
transition on May 29, 2007 to Shehu Musa YarAdua, who was elected president. On
November 23, 2009, President YarAdua was flown to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for
emergency medical treatment. After a prolonged absence, on February 9, 2010, the
Nigerian National Assembly passed a resolution that transmitted presidential power to
Vice President Goodluck Jonathan, giving him the title and responsibilities of Acting
President. Following the death of President YarAdua on May 6, 2010, the Nigerian
Chief Justice swore in Goodluck Jonathan as President (U.S. Dept, of State).
2.5.3 Synopsis of the Military Era:
The era of military domination saw the reign of eight Generals, more than 10 coups
detat (including known, abortive and phantom coups) and the antecedent reign of
terror. Their carelessness and ineptitude plunged the country into a catastrophic civil
war (1967-1970) from which the affected parts are yet to recover. With all the military
lies, inconsistencies and unfulfilled promises, the hands of the clock were set back for
the countrys development.
The military era was marked by greed, graft and gross abuse of power. Human
rights violations are too common to be mentioned. Gen. Babangidas regime
witnessed the disappearance of $12.4 billion accrued from oil at the height of the Gulf
War. His tenure opened the floodgate of ferrying money abroad as more than 3,000
top officials have Swiss accounts totaling $90 billion and in Britain $75 billion (G.C.
Gen. Abacha seconded him in looting the federal coffers. It was estimated that
between 1993 and 1998, he looted the nation of $12 $16 billion. He lodged the
money in banks scattered all over America, Europe and the Persian Gulf
(Transparency International Country Report (TICR), 2004). $4 billion was stashed
away in various Swiss banks, of which $1.9 billion was released during the Obasanjo
(then civilian) regime (Igbuzor Onyewuenyi, 2008).
The Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF) established during the Abacha regime and
under the chairmanship of retired Gen. Buhari (a one time military head of state), to
alleviate poverty in the society was squandered to the tune of 136 billion Naira (local
currency) out of the 146 billion ear-marked for the scheme (D.O. Elumilade, et al.,
2006). Press freedom was not. The meeting of political, cultural and even religious
open gatherings were strictly prohibited. Assassinations of investigative journalists
and civil rights activists were common place.
Above all, to be a military head of state, you must be a northerner as we have
seen. The first coup executed by southern officers (January 15, 1966) failed. The
counter-coup executed by northern officers (July 1966) succeeded. In 1990, the coup
plotted against Babangida by Major Gideon Okhar and his colleagues (on April 22
12:30 a.m.) failed. The plotters were from the middle-belt. Lt. Gen. Diya, a Yoruba
westerner and Gen. Abachas second, was framed of plotting to overthrow Abacha.
On the other hand, Gen. Murtala Mohammed overthrew Gen. Gowon (1975), both
northerners. Buhari/Idiagbon overthrew Shehu Shagari (civilian), all of them
northerners. Babangida successfully overthrew Buhari/Idiagbon, all of them
northerners. We dont mean to draw conclusions yet. To further our inquiry, we will
now probe into the Origin and Causes of Ethnic Conflicts.
3. Origin and Causes of Ethnicity in Nigeria
In the previous chapter, we attempted to trace the history of Nigeria from the pre-
colonial period to the colonial era. We saw the rise of the Nationalist Movements, the
Independence of Nigeria, and what the post-independent nation looks like up to the
present day. To say that Nigeria has ever been encumbered by problems of ethnicity
from the earliest days of its creation, is just to affirm the obvious. This chapter hits at
the core of the problem. It explores the origins and causes of this problem, who is
involved, and what factors have fostered or nurtured it. We shall be discussing the
A. The colonial dimensions
B. The early nationalist movements
C. Political parties in the first republic, and
D. Sundry causes (recent findings).
3.1 The Colonial Dimensions:
Nigeria was first formed in 1914 by the amalgamation of North and
South. Before independence, the British colonial administration
encouraged communal sentiments among different ethnic groups. It
seized every available opportunity to spread the myth and propaganda
that they were separated from one another by great distance, by
difference of history and tradition, and by ethnic tribal, religious and
political barriers. The various ethnic groups in the country became
exclusive and inbred with a serious level of tribal selfishness,
animosity and hostility against one mother. That is, in Nigeria, ethnic
group in itself has been transformed to ethnic group for itself through
the colonial contact situation. The basis for the emergence of a
common consciousness among ethnic groups has been intcr-cthnic
competition for scarce resources resulting in ethnic conflicts.
(Excerpts from Tokunbo Simbowale Osinubi and Oladipupo Sunday
It has often been debated that the British colonial enterprise in Nigeria was the bane
that has hitherto beleaguered the country, and has not only made it difficult for
progress, but made it impossible for her unity. Several reasons account for this. T.
Edoh (2001) contends that Nigeria, as a complex and plural society with over 250
ethnic groups whose components and social aggregates remain sharply divided,
should not have been one. He calls it a major defect bequeathed to the country by her
colonial master. Edoh (2001) gave two reasons for his assertion: first is the
unbalanced nature in the size, shape and structure of federation adopted for the
country, which was a contrast to the postulate of the laws of a workable federation.
The fact to be stressed here is that in size and population, the north is greater than the
south, east and west put together. The 1952/53 census, for instance, placed the north
at 16.84 million, while the south numbered 13.18 (Reuben K. Udo, 1998, p.356). The
1963 census depicts that the north was 29.8 million, whereas the south was 25.86
million. Again, the 1973 figures show that the north almost doubled the population of
the south; whereas the north was 51.38 million, the south was placed at 28.38 million
(Ian Campbell, 1976, 247; Aderanti Adepoju, 1981, 33).
Given the fact that the distribution of federal government resources aptly
depends upon population and size of the regions (Larry Diamonds, 1988, 65), the
north will always be at an advantage over and above the south. Again, given the
ethnic rifts at the decolonization period, the division of the south as the east and west,
means more political advantage to the still larger north.
The second reason Edoh advanced is that of the failure of the British, which
is deliberate, to develop or cultivate anything remotely related to national identity and
sentiments capable of transcending the primordial affection operative at the pluralistic
units. It is on record that the British colonial administration signed a treaty with the
northern protectorate, barring the southern Christians from migrating to the north as a
prerequisite for accepting colonial rule (Abdul Karim Bangura, 2006, p. 178). This,
among others, rather than promoting national/federal thinking, seems to alienate
Nigerians and promote sectional/regional/ethnic thinking. In the words of Arendt
The key reason for the collapse of the asymmetric three region federal
system bequeathed by the British at independence was precisely that it
gave inadequate recognition to the multiplicity, complexity, and latent
fluidity of ethnic territorial interests in the federation.. .it transformed a
multiple ethnic balance of power into a federal imbalance with the
northern region alone comprising more than half the countrys
population and three quarters of its territory (also see, Suberu, 2001,
In chapter one, I indicated that I was going to adopt Primordialism in this
work as I think it best analyzes the Nigerian situation. Edoh supports this. This is also
the claim of Claude Ake (1984) when he writes: The advent of colonialism has
indeed brought about the disorganization and debasement of our sense of purpose and
integrity, and the resultant effect is the evolution and clinging to ethnic and cultural
identities which are dangerous for co-habitation. Peter Ekeh (1975) argues that
colonialism brought two publics in Africa, the urban publics loyal to the colonial
masters, and the tribal publics still loyal to their ethnic groups. In another
development Ake (1995) writes: The Nigerian colonial experience was an anti-thesis
of democracy for the usurpation of self-determination, of which the only issue was the
locus of power and not good governance to be pursued covertly or overtly. Greed,
which is one of the major causes of ethnicity in Nigeria, is traced to colonialism:
To start with, capitalism was bequeathed to us without regards to the
strong brotherhood cultures of our forefathers, for the African suciely
depended largely on extended family system for survival as well as
communalism coupled with Ujamaa principle. The ideology and its
mode of production made Nigerians to imbibe the culture of acquiring,
grapping and amassing wealth at all cost (Ake 1995).
What Ake is arguing here is that this brand of capitalism created an
antagonistic relationship between the different ethnic groups, which often culminated
into conflicts and clashes. This situation also created unhealthy competition and the
struggle for scarce goods and ethnic interest.
Mauros (1995) opinion that ethno-linguistic fractionalization is correlated
with corruption finds its relevance in Nigeria as each ethnic group sees their corrupt
members in government as representing them and getting their own share of the
national cake (that is, money). Gen. Abacha, former military head of state, who
embezzled more that $5 billion, is being eulogized and eanonized by the tliree former
heads of state from the northern Hausa/Fulani ethnic group as a courageous visionary
and honest leader who had the best interest of the nation at heart (The Punch 2008).
Cultural imperialism (Odeh 2006) was another of the hallmarks of the so
called civilizing mission of colonialism in Africa. Odeh (2006) argues that this
mission was premised on the inferiority of the colonized and was nurtured into an
ideology of development for the blacks. This ideology prescribes the West as the ideal
setting to be emulated by the African nations. Odeh argues further that this invention
led to cultural disorientation. For Ake (1989), it is living in a cultural wasteland: we
have been dislodged from our traditional cultures and yet we cannot feel at home in
western modernized cultures. Instances of this Odeh points out are the segregation
in the Health, Education and Housing provisions in the colonies. The Government
Reserved Areas (GRAs) syndrome was used for housing the whites and special
school/college for white kids limited job opportunities in the Colonial Civil Service
for blacks (sic), etc.; these were the order of the day.
Succeeding governments continued in the tradition of the white supremacy
(supremacy of the rulers tribe), and the inferiority of others from different tribes.
The British made use of existing political structures (the Caliphates, Emirates, etc.) to
perpetuate Indirect Rule (Moses Ochonu 2008; Falola and Heaton 2009). In his
address to the Nigerian Council on December 29, 1920, Sir Hugh Clifford, then
Governor-General, among other things, promised to maintain this tradition. He said:
.. .It is the constant policy of the Nigerian government to maintain and
support the local tribal institutions and the indigenous forms of
government... (Udogu 1994,163).
The situation in which this has left the country is such that the northerners feel
superior to other tribes. Ethnic chauvinism was bom. When the Northern Peoples
Congress (NPC) won the first parliamentary elections (1959), it became clear to the
Nigerian elites that the colonial plan to institutionalize the northern and colonial
hegemony had worked out. The path to domination had been created. To the
northerners, leadership of Nigeria is their birth-right. Openly they boast that they
are bom to rule. Ehi Aimiuwu (2008) laments:
Islamic Nigeria has made a statement, a stand, and proclamation that
they are the only ones bom to mle Nigeria. They claim that they are the
majority in population even without counting their farm animals. They
feel no one else can lead that country without their political and
economic support (Para. 3).
Aimiuwu refers to the north as Islamic Nigeria.28 Hence,
After making all Nigerians speak Arabic, putting Arabic on the Naira
notes, (putting Arabic symbols at strategic places, entering and leaving
the capital territory),29 putting Nigeria among the Islamic nations, or
getting a federal grant to go to Mecca, will that guarantee constant
electricity and water supply for our homes and businesses?
In other words, what has the northern domination done for the country? Sir Ahmadu
Bello (president of the NPC and Premier of the Northern Region) is popularly known
to have bragged to deep his Koran into the sea30 (Elechi Angelo, 2001). Bello was
perhaps the most politically powerful person in Nigeria during the first 5 years of
independence. Despite this, his role in national politics remained anomalous. He had
an expressed distaste for the Southern style of politics and had no desire for
participation in the federal government, which would require his residence in Lagos
(Answers 2010). He would not leave his northern domain to the south because it was
infra dig (Angelo 2001): a legacy of British Cultural Imperialism.
28 I know that there is a difference between Northern Nigerians, who are mainly Muslims, and Islamic
Nigeria, which includes the southern Muslims. For the sake of this article, I will simply refer to them as
Islamic Nigeria, since the southern Muslims basically have no say anyway compared with the
Northerners (Bom To Rule: A friendly Remark to Nigeria).
29 Bracket is mine.
30 Meaning to Islamize the South, which is predominantly Christian. Also note that his title, the
Sardauna of Sokoto means War Leader. This man was also the grandson of the great 19th century
Jihadist, Uthman Dan Fodio.
Besides encouraging ethnicity through the unbalanced division of the
Protectorates (and later, the Regions), the divide-and-rule system, and the cultural
imperialism, are the constitutional issues. For four decades after its formal
amalgamation into a single country says Suberu (2001), Nigeria was finally
established as a three-region federation under the 1954 Lyttleton Constitution (19).
In other words, Nigeria had been governed as a unitary state for a long time before,
giving the countrys three large but unequal regions substantial powers over the
internal policy and administration, while leaving external affairs and interregional
issues largely to the center (2001, 19). What could account for this decisive change
to a federal form of government?
William D. Graf analyzed three interrelated, yet under lying factors: first, he
sees a staggering diversity and sheer strength of ellino-linguistic forces in the
federation; second, he sees the impact the colonial administration will have at the
regional level with regard to modernization and mobilization; and last, he thinks that
the sub-nationalities will benefit enormously from the federal structure (Graf 1988,
17). From Grafts perspective as a theoretician, these look plausible at first glance. But
the fact that even before independence, the federation was questioned by the some
elites,31 and after independence there was, and still is, greater agitation for autonomy32
31 In the 1948 Constitutional Conference, for instance, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa stated Since the
amalgamation of the north and the south provinces in 1914, Nigeria had existed as one country only on
paper...it is still far from being united (see Ayeni Olugbenga, Which Way Forward, in West Africa
(February 14-20, 1994).
32 The Civil War 1967-1970 is a case in point. Also the recent nationalist movements like the
Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MASOP), Movement for the Actualization of the
of the sub-nationalities renders Grafs analysis inadequate.
Many scholars of Nigerian history and socio/political analysts argue that
Nigeria could have been better off if they were left alone at their primordial and
geographical constituencies, and governed as one unitary state (Suberu, 20). Adiele
Afigbo (1991); Uma Eleazu (1977); and S.E. Oyovbaire (1983), argue, for instance,
that the configuration of the three-region federation bequeathed by the British was
rooted in the pattern of colonial domination and the structures of colonial
administration, rather than in the natural boundaries of Nigerias constituent ethnic
communities. In other words, this three-region structure was deliberately designed to
secure autonomy for the countrys three major nationalities the Igbo, the Yoruba,
and the Hausa/Fulani. Although each region incorporated substantial numbers of
ethnic minorities, each was dominated by a major ethnic group that constituted the
political center of gravity of the regional government.
This colonial arrangement does not seem to have worked out as most of the
conflicts that have plagued the country are a protest to this British amalgam. Chief
Obafemi Awolowo (1947) one of the foremost elites of the Nigerian nationalism,
Nigeria is not a nation. It is a mere geographical expression. There are
not Nigerians in the same sense as there are English, Welsh or French.
Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), etc. are all pertinent cases.
The word Nigeria is merely a distinctive appellation to distinguish
those who live within the boundaries of Nigeria from those who do not
With this kind of thought, one would expect a cacophonous aftermath: All across
Nigeria there is an ever-lengthening thread of ethnic violence: Ife/Modakeke, Ogoni
and Andonis, Sagamu, Kano, Zango-Kataf, Jukons/Tivs, etc. (Workers Alternative,
July 22, 2002 ). This is not to mention the oil-rich delta area crises, the Umuleri and
Aguleri land tussle, or the ultimate Biafran War.
We can see that the constitution that amalgamated and regionalized Nigeria
(inter alia) is the root of the Nigerian ethnic conflicts, as long as that primordial filial
boundary still exists; and as long as people still feel alienated from their primordial
groups. The next question is: if colonial enterprise in Nigeria sowed the seed of
conflicts, who nurtured it? What other causes are responsible for ethnic conflicts in
3.2 The Early Nationalist Movements:
In his book, Theories of Nationalism, Anthony D. Smith (1983) articulates
the core propositions in the nationalist political philosophies of Rousseau, Herder,
Fichte, and Hegel, which drew upon and transformed Immanuel Kants ideas
(Raymond Taras, et al., 2006). These propositions are that: humanity is naturally
divided into nations; each nation has its peculiar character; the source of all political
power is the nation; for freedom and self-realization, people must identify with a
nation; nations can only be fulfilled in their own states; loyalty to the nation-state
overrides other loyalties; the primary condition of global freedom and harmony is the
strengthening of the nation-state (p.21). Our discussion in this section will take these
proposals or principles into consideration.
The earliest nationalist movements, like the West African Students Union
(WASU), were formed primarily in reaction to the racist British administration in the
region (Toyin Falola, 2001, Pp. 97-180; Olisawunche Esedebe, 1994, p.3-94). In the
1920s, Herbert Macaulays journalism and organized protests in some parts of the
country indicated a strong antagonism to alien rule and a belief that Nigerians should
govern themselves. These events resulted in the implementation of the Clifford
Constitution in 1923, which allowed for elected representation of Nigerians in the
newly-formed Legislative Council (Falola and Heaton 2008, 138).
As more and more young Nigerians returned from studies in the United
Kingdom and the United States respectively, nationalist awareness was being created.
These young graduates continued to find employment as clerical staff in the colonial
government or European firms, as well as becoming teachers, clergymen, or low-level
civil servants. Focusing not only on voicing discontent with the colonial regime, the
new generation of students embarked on campaigns of self-help, organizing kinship
unions in urban centers (Falola and Heaton 2008). Very important to note is that
membership in these unions was based on ones ethnicity or place of origin, and
therefore they cannot be called nationalist as such (Ibid, 136-140). They were
movements aimed towards decolonization. These Unions established linkages
between the urban dwellers and the rural dwellers and by the 1930s they were already
making waves around the country.33
Lagos, then capital of Nigeria, was the melting pot for all political activities in
the country, and Herbert Macaulays party34 had dominated the political spectrum in
Lagos. With the emergence of the Lagos Youth Movement, LYM, in 1934 however,
Macaulays control was highly challenged, as the Movement became the most
powerful nationalist organization in Nigeria (Falola and Heaton 2008, 141), within
four years of its formation. To illustrate its pan-Nigerian goals, the name was changed
in 1936 to Nigerian Youth Movement (NYM). Falola and Heaton (2008), report that
between 1938 and 1941, the NYM became the first pan-Nigerian nationalist
movement in the countrys history (141). Going further, they explain why it is pan-
The movement was pan-Nigerian in the sense that its explicit aim was
to unite across ethnic boundaries in order to create a common voice
with which to confront the colonial government...push for greater
indigenization of the civil service, better wages and working
conditions for Nigerians, and more elected representation in
government; in short, a Nigeria for Nigerians (Ibid).
How did ethnicity penetrate into the Nigerian polity, given the fact that the pan-
Nigerian movement spread its influence so fast; and given the fact, that, at. this point,
Nigerians wanted Nigeria for Nigerians?
By 1938 the NYM was agitating for dominion status within the British
33 For example, in 1921 a strike by the Mechanics Union of railway workers prevented a threatened
wage reduction, and at Udi in 1929 coal workers were able to force the removal of illegal wage
deductions through a successful strike (Ekundare 1973, 367-74).
34 The Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). This was the first organized political party to be
formed in Nigeria.
Commonwealth of Nations, so that Nigeria would have the same status as Canada and
Australia. In elections that year, the NYM ended the domination of the NNDP in the
Legislative Council and moved to establish a genuinely national network of affiliates.
This promising start was stopped short three years later by internal divisions in
which ethnic loyalties emerged triumphant. The departure of Azikiwe and other Igbo
members of the NYM left the organization in Yoruba hands; during World War II, it
was reorganized into a predominantly Yoruba political party, the Action Group, by
Awolowo. Yoruba-Igbo rivalry had become a major factor in Nigerian politics (Metz
The exit of Azikiwe and other prominent members of the NYM led to its
demise, and in 1944, Azikiwe founded the National Council of Nigeria and the
Cameroons (NCNC)35 (Falola and Heaton 2008). The Igbo Federal Union
metamorphosed into some sort of political organization that threw its weight solidly
behind the NCNC and Azikiwe, who was being mercilessly pilloried in Yoruba
newspapers (Uzoigwe 1999, 12). This organization (NCNC) is widely believed to be
the leading nationalist organization based on pan-Nigerian motivations (Metz 1991;
Falola and Heaton 2008, 150). But by the 1940s, ethnic affiliations and identities had
begun to emerge rapidly in the urban settings to the detriment of objective
35 Note that at this time, Eastern Cameroon was still part of Nigeria. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was Igbo
(East) and one of the early fathers of nationalism.
As a reaction to the NCNC, Obafemi Awolowo,36 and some other educated
Yoruba, met in London and founded Egbe Omo Oduduwa,37 a pan-Yoruba cultural
association. In anticipation to the formation of the Egba, a newspaper38 wrote, We
anticipate ... an era of wholesome rivalry among the principal tribes of Nigeria ...
[and], while they must guide against chauvinism and rabid tribalism, the great Yoruba
people must strive to preserve their individuality (Coleman 1986, 320).
After the formation of the Egba, a member of the Yoruba elite, obsessed with
hatred, commented that they foresaw that the allegation would be made that the aim
of the Egba was anti-Igbo ... and decided that not only must we not be anti-Igbo but
we must not make it appear that we are anti-Igbo (Coleman 1986, 345-346). In the
same year, the president of the Egba wrote: This big tomorrow is the future of our
children ... How they will hold their own among other tribes of Nigeria. How the
Yoruba will not be relegated to the background in the future (Ibid, 346).
Subsequently, the battle seemed pitched between the elite groups Igbos and
Yorubas. There were recriminations; the use of inflammatory statements became the
order of the day. For instance, a Yoruba elite accused the British who bunched us
together and named us Nigeria ... and the Arch Devil (Azikiwe) to sow the seed of
distrust and hatred ... we have tolerated enough from a class of Igbos ... (Uzoigwe
36 He was Yoruba (West); also an early nationalist. He was the leader of the Action Group (AG).
37 Literally, this means, Society of the Descendants of Oduduwa. Oduduwa being the mythical founder
of the Yoruba people.
38 The Daily Service, October 17, 1944.
1999, 13). Following this and other forms of threat, the West African Pilot39 warned,
Flenceforth, the cry must be one battle against Egba Omo Oduduwa: its
leaders at home and abroad, up hill and down dale, in the streets of
Nigeria and in the residences of its advocates ... It is the enemy of
Nigeria; it must be crushed to the earth .. .There is no going back until
the Fascist organization has been dismembered (Coleman 1986, 146).
With these intemperate statements heard and read everywhere, the rift and animosity
between the Igbo and the Yoraba worsened.
Throughout all these momentous developments, the Hausa-Fulani, the
dominant group in the north, had remained significantly taciturn. They appeared to be
uninterested in Nigerian nationalism and the ethnic conflict between the Yoruba and
the Igbo (Uzoigwe 1999, 14). They were ensconced in their northern kingdom,
trusting that colonialism was in their favour (Ukiwo, 2005; Bangura, 2006). But with
increasing migration of the Igbos into urban centers in the north, they awoke from
their long sleep of fearing cultural infections and to protect what they considered
their interests. So, like the Igbos and the Yorubas, they started off with cultural
organizations40 that were to metamorphose into a political party, the Northern Peoples
Congress, NPC. Uzoigwe writes:
The interesting thing about the NPC is that it made no pretense about
its purely sectional interests or its lack of anxiety to get rid of the
British ... Because the north lagged behind the south educationally and
economically, they feared southern domination if the British were to
depart suddenly (Uzoigwe, ibid.).
39 This was the Newspaper Industry founded by Azikiwe to combat colonialism.
40 The Bauchi General Improvement Union, founded in 1943 by Mallam Saad Zungur, Mallam
Aminu Kano, and Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, three of the of the few northerners who had attained high
standards of European education at that time (Falola and Heaton 2008, 151).
Furthermore, the north used the medium of Islam and Hausa language to foster unity
(Uzoigwe 1999). They also feared that the non-Muslims in the middle-belt might tilt
to the south, so they used the medium of the NPC local government machinery, as
well as the local police to discipline recalcitrant groups or individuals.
The NPC chose Abubakar Tafawa Balewa41 (who would later become the first
Prime Minister) as their leader at the antinational level. Balewa preferred northern-
western alliance because of his distrust for Azikiwe and the Igbos, but unfortunately,
his boss, the Sardauna of Sokoto, preferred Azikiwe to Awolowo and worked for a
northern-eastern alliance instead (Uzoigwe 1999). Since then, however, Hausa-
Yoruba relations have been largely free of conflict, except for the rivalry between the
Hausa residents in Ibadan (west) and the Yoruba over the trade in cattle and kola nuts
in 1916. And in the mid-1960s, when some AG supporters exploited the breakdown
of law and order in Nigeria and killed a few Hausa and destroyed and looted their
properties (Coleman, 1986). With respect to the Igbos, Uzoigwe reports:
Inter-ethnic conflicts between them and the northerners have been
economic and political. Starting from the attacks against Igbo settlers
in Jos (north) in 1933, other attacks involving loss of lives and
property occurred in Kano (north) in 1953, and culminated in the
pogroms of May and September 1966.
Uzoigwe is very careful not to mix economic-political conflicts with religious
conflicts. Sporadically however, different forms of conflicts have lingered since the
end of the civil war, especially from the 1980s till the present time.
41 Tafawa Balewa was from a minority tribe in the north, but a valued friend of the colonial
administration. It is believed that this arrangement was cosmetic since it was common knowledge that
the real power in the north was Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto (Uzoigwe, 1999).
In summary, the early nationalists started off with one agenda, which was to
react against the British racist administration, to give the people more voice in the
Councils, to give the people more job opportunities, and in the case of Nigeria, to
leave Nigeria for Nigerians. But close to independence unfortunately, divisions started
setting in (we have seen how). The good nationalist motives turned to bad,
acrimonious, selfish, ethnic, rather than national interests. And the country has
suffered the aftermath until date. Let us progress with our inquiry into the causes of
3.3 Political Parties in the First Republic:
Party politics in Nigeria have been characterized by intense struggles for
power by various ethno-regional elite groups. An element of this struggle has been the
tension between elites from the largely Moslem north and the Christian south. Ukiwo
(2007) has analyzed the core of this tension. Central to the political tension he
writes, are the fears in the North that the more educated South would dominate state
institutions as well as concerns in the South that the more populous North would have
upper hand in majoritarian electoral contest.
In the First Republic,42 the political tension between the dominant elite groups
was exacerbated by the existence of three major ethnic parties43, namely, the NPC, the
NCNC and the AG, respectively. The excesses of the elite leaders of these parties led
42 1960 to 1966.
43 The NPC, Northern Peoples Congress, was dominated by the Hausa/Fulani in the north; the NCNC,
National Council of Nigerian Citizens was dominated by the Igbos in the east; and the AG, Action
Group, dominated by the Yorubas in the west.
to the first coup, and ultimately, to the civil war which marked a turning point in
Nigerian politics. It became clear after the war who is at the top of the ladder in terms
of power: the Hausa/Fulani (north) was placed at a hegemonic position, followed by
the Yoruba, and then the defeated Igbo.
A dominant feature of the political parties in the 1950s and 1960s, as we have
seen, was their ethno-regional orientation. Anthony Akinola (1989) makes a vivid
description in which the parties were:
Severely limited in their capabilities to integrate the components of
that great diversity of societies known as Nigeria. The NPC was the
party of the Hausa/Fulani/Kanuri in the north, and did not extend its
membership to the south; the AG more or less represented the
Yorubas in the west; while the NCNC drew its support largely from
the Ibos (Igbos) in the east.
The following data44 corroborates the above claim.
Ethno-Regional Party Orientation
Party Igbo Other easterners Yoruba Other westerners Hausa/ Fulani Other northerners Others
NPC 6.8 51.3 32.4 9.4
NCN 49.3 9.9 26.7 5.6 2.8 5.6
AG 4.5 15.2 68.2 7.6 3.0 1.5
From the above table, we notice almost effortlessly, that the first political parties had
ethno-regional undercurrents. The AG is the party known mostly for spearheading
44 This is the ethnic distribution of leaders of the First Republic parties. It shows the percentage of their
partys total membership. Skier and Whitaker (1966: 612, Table 3.1); also see, Orji Nwachukwu, 2002,
sectional political mobilization. The party as we have seen is an offshoot of the Egbe
Omo Oduduwa, which is a pan-Yoruba cultural organization. Its aim was essentially
to mobilize Yoruba support in the inter-elite competition for power (Nkwachukwu,
According to Mbeke-Ekanem (2000) in 1956, due to the popularity of NCNC
in the Yoruba west, Azikiwe (leader of NCNC) vied for premiership of the west
against Awolowo (leader of AG). To cut into NCNCs dominance, Awolowo made
free education the cornerstone of AG. Mbeke-Ekanem reported that during the
campaign, Awolowo invoked ethnic sentiments, telling his fellow Yorubas, tiwa ni,
tiwa ni, meaning what is ours is ours (Mbeke-Ekanem 2000, 5). When the election
result was released, Azikiwe, who was expected to win, lost to Awolowo in what was
described as massive rigging. The report continues, Azikiwe then went back
home to the east, where his fellow Igbos were the majority. From that moment on,
NCNC essentially became an Eastern Nigerian party (lost its nationalist appellation)
In order to claim control of the East after losing the West to Awolowo and
the Yorubas, Dr. Eyo Ita,45 the premier of the East, was immediately ousted and
replaced with Azikiwe by the Igbos, who were the majority in the Eastern House of
Assembly. These waves of Tribalism, of course, sent a terrible signal across the
nation. To avoid losing their local base, each party tightened control of its region and
45 Dr. Ita was a minority from Efik in the old Calabar kingdom (recall ch. 1), now in the South-south,
but formerly in the Eastern region.
made sure that it secured all the seats in the region. In the do or die electoral contest
that ensued, the three parties resorted to various forms of electoral malpractices and
the incitement of one ethnic group against another (Mackintosh 1965, p.22).
Meanwhile, the NCNC and the NPC were pursuing an alliance, whereas the
west had divided following a fallout between Samuel Ladoke Akintola (premier of the
west), and his boss Awolowo. Akintola formed a new party, the New Nigerian
Democratic Party, NNDP. Hence, the AG (west) became divided (Mbeke-Ekanem
2000), and the minorities in the east lost confidence in the Igbos. In November 1965,
there was a complete breakdown of law and order in the west following allegations of
electoral malpractices (Osaghae 1998; Nwachukwu 2002). The same was the case in
some other areas of the federation.
When the military struck in January 1966, their main claim was that the
politicians failed to maintain law and order in the country ,.. and that they (the
military) want to establish a strong united nation ... and keep it from politicians who
seek to see the country permanently divided... (Mbeke-Ekanem 2000, 8; Ikime
Obaro 1980; Kirk-Green 1971). Before the enactment of the subsequent republics,
however, there were steps to reform the political party system, to make it look more
national than ethnic. Yet, parties still bear ethnic undertones and marks. But that will
be left for another inquiry.
3.4 Sundry Causes (Recent Findings):
Okwudiba Nnolis book, Ethnic Politics in Nigeria (1978), represents the
first comprehensive effort to investigate ethnicity in Nigeria (Ukiwo 2005). It creates
a link between the past and the present. In the first place, Nnoli (1978) traced and
condemned the roots of ethnicity to the exploitative tendency of the colonizer and the
scarcity of socio-economic and political opportunities in the colonial period, which
generated intense elite competition (Nnoli 1978, 22). He argues further that the
colonial administration deliberately promoted ethnicity through policies of indirect
rule, categorization of Africans by tribe and promotion of separate settlements
between natives and settlers of urban centers (Ibid.). By emphasizing the colonial
experience, Nnoli draws attention to the role of the socio-economic system in the
politicization of ethnicity. His ultimate argument therefore, is that dependent
capitalism pursued by colonial and post-colonial Nigeria, which promoted and
exacerbated inequalities and placed emphasis on distribution instead of production, is
the cause of ethnicity (Ibid, 25).
I Jkiwo (2005) expounding on Nnolis arguments writes: the outcomes of the
divide and rule oriented policies that led to the rise, spread and consolidation of
ethnicity include: socio-economic competition, regional inequalities, lack of
economic unity, rivalry in provision of amenities, low class consciousness,
intemperate utterances and factional politics, among others.
Nnolis work is enlightening in many respects. It shows colonial origins of the
problem at stake, and how the disoriented, subjugated and humiliated natives
directed their aggressive impulses against other colonized natives with whom they
competed on the basis of equality (1978, 22). He finds ethnic group membership
useful in this competition (Ibid.). This demonstrates the primordial approach, where
people identify with their own people. Again, his arguments identify some materialist
underpinnings of ethnicity. Ukiwo (2005) explains that inter-ethnic contact does not
necessarily provoke violent conflicts especially where there is socio-economic
division of labour and exchange. In other words, conflicts abound where this is
lacking. This brings us to the contemporary causes of ethnicity.
1. Resource Control:
Nigeria is a very rich country. The figures below, from the U.S. Department of
State, are only the tip of theiceberg:
GDP (2008): $183 billion (agriculture 33%; industry 39%; services
Real GDP growth rate (2009): 4.4%. Oil growth: 18%. Non-oil
Per capita GDP (2009): $1,418.
Natural resources: Oil and natural gas (37% of 2006 GDP), tin,
columbite, iron ore, coal, limestone, lead, zinc.
Agriculture: Productscocoa, palm oil, yams, cassava, sorghum,
millet, com, rice, livestock, groundnuts, cotton.
Industry: Typestextiles, cement, food products, footwear, metal
products, lumber, beer, detergents, car assembly.
Trade (2007): Exports$65.5 billion: fuels and mining products
(97%); agricultural products (cocoa, rubber, oil, nuts) (2.2%);
manufactures (0.8%) (CIA 2010).
As noted in chapter two, the amalgamation of Nigeria was motivated mainly
by economic reasons. Whereas the north was running deficit, the south had surplus.
Funds were raised from the south in order to maintain the administration of the north
(Joel D. Barkan et al., 2001). This trend still lingers. With the exception of tin,
columbite, iron ore and zinc, the north, as large as it is, has practically nothing. Which
accounts for their reluctance to join the east and the west in their fight for nationalism
(Ukiwo, 2005; Bangura, 2006), as I also pointed out in chapter two. The table below
shows revenue allocation between 1959 to 1975 (in percentage)46:
Unequal Revenue Allocation Formula
Region 1 April 1959-31 March 1966 1 April 1966 -31 March 1968 1 April 1968-31 March 1969 1 April 1969-31 March 1975
North 42.1 42.0 42.0 51.8
East 32.6 30.0 30.0 23.6
West 19.0 20.0 20.0 18.2
Mid West* * 6.3 8.0 8.0 6.4
This table shows that the north is always at an advantage because of its numerical
strength and land mass. The problem is that the oil, which is now the main stay of the
economy, and which comes from the south-east and south-south, rather than help
develop these areas, degrades their environments, and then, develops the north. Falola
and Heaton lament the situation:
The petroleum .. .located mostly in the Niger delta region, rather than
contributing to the overall development of Nigeria and to improved
living conditions for Nigerian citizens, however, this wealth is
distributed unequally, benefiting primarily those people who have
access to state power (2008, 181).
This has left the country with agitation. The affected people are sad and yearn for
good governance and better understanding of the situation. The people from these
areas no longer have confidence in the government; they feel disconnected a
46 A.O. Phillips, Nigeria Federal Financial Experience, in The Journal of Modem African Studies,
Cambridge, vol. 9, no. 3, October 1971, Pp. 389-408.#
*Mid-West: The Mid -Western region was created in 1963 from the Western region. If you add the
percentage that was allotted to it to that of the Western region, it totals an average of 27/28%. If you
add the figures allotted to the east, west and mid-west in the period 1969-1975, you will discover that
the figure for the north in that whole period is still bigger. This is the point.
disconnection that continues to afflict Nigeria (Ibid, 151). Given this scenario, the
northerners cling tenaciously to power and are not willing to relinquish it. Hence, the
bom to rule syndrome. The worst of this scenario is that the biggest refinery in
Africa is located at Kaduna, one of the northern states in fact, the heart of the
northern region. This is also funny because no where throughout the northern region
will you find an oil deposit. That leaves people to question the reason behind
spending billions of dollars, to build the biggest refinery, in an arid and semi-desert
area, without the least deposit of petroleum?
2. Religious Bigotry:
In his book, A Dangerous Awakening... Iheanyi Enwerem (1995) wrote, in the last
16 years alone, Nigeria has witnessed more than 22 communal riots, most of which
may be described as religious conflicts (2). This figure has escalated. In 2001,
Religious Riots in Nigeria Leave Hundreds Dead. Leaders condemn the use of
religion as a tool for violence is the banner headline of many national and
international newspapers (Ogochi Elekwa, 2002, 98). Oct 1, 2001 ... Deadly riots lead
to suspension of Islamic law. (March 31,2000), Nigeria On the Brink of Religious
War / Northern states adopt Islamic law,... (Google search). On February 23, 2006,
the Washington Post Foreign Service reported, Christians Turn on Muslims In
Nigeria; More Than 30 Die. As if the chain is interminable, just recently, on
Wednesday, 20 January 2009, the BBC World News reported, Nigeria religious riots
'kill 200' in Jos.
First, we may ask, when and how did all this begin? As we proceed, let us
remember that while Christianity is a religion associated with the south, mainly with
Igbos, Islam is associated with the north, the Hausa/Fulanis (Bangura, 2006). From
available historical data, religious conflict in Nigeria can be traced to the national
debate on Sharia at the Constituent Assembly in 1977-78. The debate centered on the
creation of a Federal High Court of Appeal for Muslins (Enwerem, 1999). Up until
this time, we can infer that Nigeria had enjoyed relative peace among the different
religious groups. In 1979 the story began to change. Muslim Students Society of the
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria (in the north), staged a demonstration against what
they perceived as the Muslim loss of the Sharia debate at the constitutional
conference. Similarly motivated demonstrations followed soon in Kaduna (also in the
north) (Enwerem, 1999).
In December 1980,47 the Maitatsine riots were to spark a conflagration of the
series of religious unrests in the country. Paramount among these unrests are the well-
known Maitatsine uprisings of the early to the mid 1980s; the
Kafanchan/Kaduna/Zaria/Funtua religious riots of March 6-12, 1987; the
Bauchi/Katsina riots of April 1991; the Zangon-Kataf ethnic/religious riot of May 17-
19, 1992; and the Kano disturbances of December 26, 1994 (Enwerem 1999), not to
mention the most recent ones as outlined above.
Each of these riots, even though they took place in the north, has one
47 Maitatsine was the leader of a fundamentalist Islamic religious sect. They were very intolerant even
to fellow Muslims whom they believe are liberal or have gone contrary to the real Islamic teaching.
Enwerem argues that his inroads with his followers damaged whatever cordial relationship that existed
between Christians and Muslims.
implication or the other for the federation. What are these implications? The
Maitatsine riots, for instance, were characterized as Nigerias major national religious
conflict. It is the most militant and widespread religious protest against the secular
and religious establishment in the country since independence (Bako 1990, 21). The
Kafanchan/Kaduna/Zaria/Funtua riots are recorded as being the first time ever that the
indigenous northern Christians, in a public show of militancy, asserted their
legitimate rights to religious liberty within their politically Muslim-dominated region
The Bauchi and Katsina riots of 1991 show clear evidence of direct external
connection or influence in religious conflicts in Nigeria.48 Here, there was proof of the
precipitatory involvement of the Iranian-based Shiite Muslim sect in the riots
(Enwerem 1999). And, the Zangon-Kataf/Hausa-Fulani, were the first of the riots to
show very clear ethnic and religious connections. Their origins could be traced to a
long history of bitter animosity and rivalry between two contending ethnic
communities the Zangon-Katafs and the Hausa-Fulanis ever since 1902, when the
British imposed Hausa-Fulani district heads over the Zangon-Kataf people49 (Duniya,
48 In April 1985, Major-General Tunde Idiagbon, the 2nd in command in General Buharis junta,
hinted of the existence of a new group of Iranian and Lebanese mullahs who have tried to introduce
fundamentalist and revolutionary doctrines to corrupt Nigerian Islamic culture and way of worship and
lamented that the youths have embraced this blindly (West Africa, May 6,1985, p. 876).
49 Duniya (1995) contends however, that there is something similar to these riots which occurred in
1902, 1904, 1905-1907, 1946 and 1853-1958, when native Zangon-Kataf Christians and settler Hausa-
Fulani Muslim communities demonstrated their dislike and contempt for each other.
Further implications of religious violence still play out in inflammatory
statements by some elites. For instance, Enwerem (1999) reports that many
Christians still recall a 1992 statement made of the late Alhaji Gumi50 that Muslims
will not accept to be under a Christian leadership (40). Christians, on the other hand,
resent any notion that they were bom to be ruled by Muslims in Nigeria (Ibid.).
Situations such as these are not healthy for peaceful religious and ethnic co-existence.
That was probably why the issue of the rotational presidency featured prominently in
the 1994 constitutional conference.51 It may be recalled that despite opposition by the
northern elites, the government of Abacha, faced with pressure, went ahead and
endorsed the rotational presidency, to ensure equitable power sharing and reduce the
possibility of Muslim domination of politics in Nigeria (Ibid, 127).
3. Oil and Official Corruption:
Websters New Collegiate Dictionary defines corruption as impairment of
integrity, virtue or moral principle, decay, and in the social context, it is an
inducement to wrong doing by bribery or improper or unlawful means and a departure
from what is pure and correct (1989, 256). From its Latin root corruptus, it means
morally degenerate or perverted, spoilt or depraved. It connotes bribery, selling of
political favours or other improper conducts (Alastair Wilson, 1965 and!992).
50 He was a fundamentalist Muslim cleric whose dislike for Christians was an open secret in the
51 The rotational presidency is a provision whereby the 6 geo-political zones (north-east, north-west,
north-central, south-east, south-west and south-south will take turns to produce a president. In this case,
power will be equitably shared and no area will feel marginalized (see dawodu.com, May 29,2005).
Official corruption, then, suggests the authoritative institutionalization of some wrong
or immoral behaviour.
This is easily noticed in high places, among government top functionaries
vested with the authority to initiate, formulate and sign contracts. This kind of graft is
perpetuated by presidents with their top aides who act as fronts, governors, ministers,
etc. Top class politicians who utilize their privileged positions in terms of decision
making to control government institutions at their own gain and advantage are
included in this category. Where there is official corruption, the beneficiaries are
those at the corridors of power and ethnic group (members) of the officials in power.
In concrete terms, the excesses of Nigerian leaders are exemplified in the
cases of Siemens and Wilbros scandal involving 10m Euros and $6m as bribes and
kickbacks to government officials, ministers, Nigerian National Petroleum
Corporation and their Shell collaborators; the revelations were shocking. These
revelations came to light when Albert Stanley, former executive of Global
Engineering and Construction Services, appeared in a US court in Texas, and stated
that he bribed Nigerian officials $180m (N21 billion) to obtain an oil contract during
the administrations of Gen. Sani Abacha, his successor Gen. Abdusalami Abubakar
and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo (rtd. Gen.) from 1995-2005 (The Guardian, 2008).
Nobody has bothered to prosecute anybody whose name came up in this hearing.
Oil, which accounts for 95% of the countrys export earnings and 80% of its
revenue, has subverted Nigeria instead of the promise it gave it in 1956 when it (oil)
was discovered in the Niger Delta area (south) (National Geographic 2007, 97).
Successive governments have neglected the agricultural and other mineral products
and concentrated on oil that the country, which exported its products now imports
more than it exports (Human Rights Watch 1999). It is not just that other economic
products are neglected, but that the people themselves, especially those from the
Niger Delta areas, are mindlessly neglected. They have become poorer than they were
in the 1960s.52
Poverty and urbanization in Nigeria are on the rise, and official corruption is
considered a fact of life. The resultant scenario is one in which there is urbanization
but no accompanying economic growth to provide jobs. This has led to a section of
the growing populace assisting in destroying the ecosystem that they require to sustain
themselves (Okonta and Douglas 2001).
A 1982 Revenue Act implemented by the Shagari government would
eventually be modified by yet another military regime in 1984 via Decree 36 which
reduced government share of oil revenue from 80% to 55%. 32.5% go to states and
10% to local governments (Human Rights Watch, 1999).53 The remaining 1.5% was
earmarked as a special fund to develop oil producing areas, however, it was during
the Shagari regime54 that corruption in Nigerian governance reached its zenith and
52 You can access the poor degraded conditions of the environment around this area in the National
Geographic channels or internet. Also see, http://www.essentialaction.org/shell/report/intro.html
53 The Price of Oil: Corporate Responsibility and Human Rights Violations in Nigeria's Oil Producing
Communities (Human Rights Watch, 1999)
54 Gen. Ibrahim Carangid (the Maradona), 1985-1993, seems to have beaten this record of the most
corrupt regime in Nigeria (cf. Ch. Two).
capital flight out of Nigeria peaked, while the oil-producing peoples continued to
receive little or no share of the oil profits (Okonta and Douglas 2001).
Tom ONeill (National Geographic 2007, 97) quotes the World Bank which
categorizes Nigeria as a fragile state, beset by risk of armed conflict, epidemic
disease, and failed government. Nigeria is beset by risk of armed conflict because
of the emergence of local militias to protect their environment from oil spillages and
demand for more allocations and attention from the federal government (Mbeke-
Ekanem 2000, 93-97). Hence, the birth of the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni
People (MOSOP), on the 26th of August 1990. Others include, the Movement for the
Emancipation of Niger Delta (MEND).
MEND organization claims to expose exploitation and oppression of the
people of the Niger Delta and devastation of the natural environment by public-
private partnerships between the Federal Government of Nigeria and corporations
involved in the extraction of oil in the Niger Delta. The Economist has described the
organization as one that "portrays itself as a political organization that wants a greater
share of Nigerias oil revenues to go to the impoverished region that sits atop the oil.
In fact, it is more of an umbrella organization for several armed groups, which it
sometimes pays in cash or guns to launch attacks (2008).
Next is the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biaffa
(MASSOB). This movement is both political and reactionary. It claims that since the
end of the civil war, the people of the south-east (which are also oil producing), have
suffered untold hardships and marginalization.55 On the 18th of November, 2003, the
Biaffan Foundation, gathered in Maryland, USA, and resolved to demand the
convergence of a Sovereign National Conference by the Nigerian government. On
April 17th 2004, through their spokesman, they issued an ultimatum to declare a
Biafran government abroad if the Nigerian government does not comply by mid-night
of 18th April, 2004 (Biaffan Foundation 2004).
Cause and effect are coterminous. Having dealt extensively with the causes of
ethnicity in Nigeria, let us turn attention to the observable effects and impact this has
made on the country.
An Address delivered by the leader of MASSOB, 8 July, 2003.
4. The Effects of Ethnicity in Nigeria
Ethnicity has been the subject of our inquiry. Hitherto, we have traced the origins and
causes of this problem. Now, we shift our attention to the impacts this has made on
the country. In the course of my research, I discovered that ethnicity has had two
easily noticeable effects in Nigeria (good and bad). I therefore give these two effects
the characterization Negative and Positive effects. I would like to begin with the
4.1 Negative Effects:
In the negative effects, we shall be dealing with how adversely ethnicity has affected
the country. The first is the Civil War.
4.1.1 The Nigeria/Biafran War:
The war began with ethnic rivalry in the armed forces (Mbeke-Ekanem, 2000;
Margery Perhaml970). After the military coup in January 1966, in which Tafawa
Balewa's govenmieiil was overthrown by junior Ibo officers, Major-General Johnson
Aguiyi-Ironsi, an Igbo, was appointed head of government by ministers that survived
the January 1966 coup. Anti-Igbo (Ibo) riots followed with traditionalist Muslim
attacks on Igbo (Ibo) people residing in the north, in September of 1967, which
resulted in a massacre; 30,000 deaths and massive Ibo flight of over 1 million, from
the north to the east. Easterners, who had previously supported the idea of a united
Nigeria, now opposed it based on fear of safety outside the eastern region (Ibid.). The
Federal Military Government (FMG) invited the military governor of the eastern
region, Lieutenant-Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, to peace talks in
Lagos, (the former capital located in the west). Ojukwu turned down the invitation
noting that his life was not safe in Lagos (West) (ICE Case Studies).
In January, 1968 (sic., 1967), Ojukwu finally met with Gowon, some other
regional leaders and the police chiefs on neutral territory Aburi, Ghana under the
protection and mediation of the Ghana's military government. One of the agreements
reached at this conference was that a loose confederation of the regions might solve
Nigeria's ethnic problems (ICE Case Studies). This agreement was vehemently
opposed by civil servants in Lagos. Awolowo, the leader of the western region,
demanded the removal of all northern troops in the west, and threatened to quit the
federation should the east do so first (Falola and Heaton 2008, 172-180). The FMG
subsequently removed northern troops from the west; "and issued a decree dividing
Nigeria into twelve states, contrary to the Aburi decisions." Ojukwu and the other
eastern leaders rejected it by voting in May to secede from Nigeria. The mid-western
region announced that it would remain neutral in the event of a civil war (Falola and
On May 30, 1967, Ojukwu formally announced that Biafra would be an
independent Republic. He stated that the Nigerian government's inability to protect
the lives of easterners and its collaboration in genocide forced the Igbos to secede
from the federation. In July, army combat units were dispatched to the east, but were
met with rebel troops (Suberu 2001). Biafrans retaliated by taking control of strategic
points in the mid-western region. The FMG reacted by sending large numbers of the
armed forces to fight in a full-scale civil war (Ibid). The FMG regained control of the
mid-west and the delta region, and terminated Biafra access to the sea by the end of
1967, yet, they were unable to penetrate the Igbo heartland resulting in a stalemate
Outnumbered and outgunned, the Biafran troops who had the advantage of
excellent leadership and morale, were weakened (Perham, 1970). However, the re-
division of Nigeria inlo twelve states was a timely strategic move, which won over
eastern minorities and deprived the seceding region of its control over the oil fields
and access to the sea. The East Central State, formerly the heartland of Biafra, was
reintegrated into Nigeria after the cease-fire in January of 1970 (Perham, 1970).
The Biafran war, 1967-1970, resulted in 100,000 military casualties. However,
between 500,000 and 2 million Biafran civilians died from starvation during the war
(ICE Case Studies) and from diseases. Infant mortality was high. The population of
the Igbos plummeted (Falola and Heaton 2008) and of course, the clock was set back
for the progress of Nigeria. The following negative effects followed as a chain-result
of the civil war.
4.1.2 Political Instability:
Nigeria is one of the many countries in Africa with an unstable government due
mainly to elite or leadership ineptitude. In terms of political instability in Africa
generally, Anthony Otieno Ongayo (2008) writes, it is undeniable that the continent
has had some difficult moments during the last fifty years or so. But what is still
unexplained in the many analyses that have been looking at events in Africa is the fact
that in almost all the cases of political instability in Africa, it is evident that the major
problem is leadership. He continues, In this context, Africa has seen its freedom
heroes turn into dictators, while plunder of natural resources, politics of exclusion and
deprivation to tilt the balance of power continues to dominate the public sphere. This
is typical about Nigeria.
But to attribute the problem of political instability only to our leaders may not
be an objective fact. The western model of governance was learned by the actors of
our nationalist movements from the colonialist. Hence, Cabral Amikar argues that
colonialism by "denying to the dominated people their own historical process,
necessarily denies their cultural process" (1980, p.142). Again, that the colonialist did
not leave the continent willingly (Ongayo 2008), suggests that through some nexus,
they probably left behind surrogates to maintain their legacy (of divide-and-rule)
(Cabral, 1980) at the expense of the new nations (Pade Badru, 1998, p.70). Kofi Anna
could not have been talking from the air when he remarked that, the post-colonial
governments sought national unity through the centralization of political and
economic power, employing vestigial colonial laws and institutions to stifle and
suppress pluralism (Annan, 2008).
While identifying the graft associated with Nigerian leaders and the colonial
enterprises, many scholars argue that in all these cases, there is always a hidden hand
of external interests, who would like to retain the status quo or where they support
political change, and then their choice of preference is always contradictory to the
wish to the people (Ongayo, 2008). For instance, while many countries took a tough
stand on Arap Mois regime in the 1980s and early 1990s, Britain did not take a
strong stand against Mois regime, due to their interests in Kenya. Britain had an
investment worth $1 billion in Kenya (Murunga, 2004, p.198). In this case the safety
of their investments and profits was enough justification to accept the Moi regime
after flawed elections in 1992 and 1997 (Rok 1997; Murunga, 2004; Oyugi et al.
2004). Similarly, when under the Abacha regime, Nigeria was sanctioned to force him
to return the country to civil rule, the Arab and African Muslim countries recognized
him (Africa Focus Bulletin, 2006).
In Nigeria, per se, political instability has played out in many ways. A major
interplay has been unconstitutional means of changing power. It has been one military
coup after another. Every successful coup comes up with empty and unfulfilled
promises, which makes it possible for another to strike, claiming that the previous
administration has reneged in their promises to the people. As the table below shows,
the only successful and sustained coups are those executed by northern officers.
Where they serve the interest of their people (who are majority in number and land
mass), their position is ensured. Where they do otherwise, or, where their interest is
threatened, another northern officer is used to topple them (Tom Mbeke-Ekanem
2000,20; Alyward Shorter 1978,21).
Nigerian Leaders since Independence, Time in office and
their Places of origin in chronological order56 (OnlineNigeria 2010)
56 Umaru Musa Yaradua is added by me. It was not originally in the source.