Causes Of Ethnic Conflict Within Nigeria

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Most developing countries are ethnically diverse. Ethnic diversity may lead to increased civil strife. This perception is tottered both by some graphic individual scenes of inter-ethnic violence, and by an aggregate correlation: Africa has not only the highest ethnic diversity, but also the highest incidence of civil war. Potentially, this might account for the detrimental economic effect of diversity. In countries of traditional stability, ethnic conflict is becoming an increasing factor. Ethnic conflicts have become the serious challenge of our times, which perhaps explains why ethnicity is seen as the reigning concept in African studies at present. In Nigeria, the colonial masters provided urban setting, which constitutes the cradle of contemporary ethnicity. The colonialist while pretending to carry out a mission of uniting the warring ethnic groups, consciously and systematically separated the various Nigerian people thereby creating a suitable atmosphere for conflict. With the heterogeneous nature of the country, the tendency of the various nationals is towards parochial consciousness at the expense of national consciousness.

Chapter One


An ethnic conflict is a conflict between two or more contending ethnic groups. While the source of the conflict may be political, social, or economic, the individuals in conflict must expressly fight for their ethnic group’s position within society. This final criterion differentiates ethnic conflict from other forms of struggle. (Varshney, Ashutosh 2002)

Ethnic conflict does not necessarily have to be violent. In a multi-ethnic society where freedom of speech is protected, ethnic conflict can be an everyday feature of plural democracies. For example, ethnic conflict might be a non-violent struggle for resources divided among ethnic groups. (Olzak, Susan 1992) However, the subject of the confrontation must be either directly or symbolically linked with an ethnic group. In healthy multi-ethnic democracies, these conflicts are usually institutionalized and “channelled through parliaments, assemblies and bureaucracies or through non-violent demonstrations and strikes.” (Varshney, Ashutosh 2007) While democratic countries cannot always prevent ethnic conflict flaring up into violence, institutionalized ethnic conflict does ensure that ethnic groups can articulate their demands in a peaceful manner, which reduces the likelihood of violence. On the other hand, in authoritarian systems, ethnic minorities are often unable to express their grievances. Grievances are instead allowed to fester which might lead to long phases of ethnic silence followed by a violent outburst. (Varshney, Ashutosh 2007) Therefore, ethnic peace is an absence of violence, not an absence of conflict. Another consequence is that violent ethnic rebellions often result in political rights for previously marginalized groups. (Koos, Carlo 2016)

Academic explanations of ethnic conflict generally fall into one of three schools of thought: primordialist, instrumentalist or constructivist. Recently, several political scientists have argued for either top-down or bottom-up explanations for ethnic conflict. Intellectual debate has also focused on whether ethnic conflict has become more prevalent since the end of the Cold War, and on devising ways of managing conflicts, through instruments such as consociationalism and federalisation.

Ethnicity refers to a group of people with a common socio/cultural identity such as language, common worldview, religion and common cultural traits (Boaten, 2000). Thus ethnic groups are social formations distinguished by the communal character (such as language and culture) of their boundaries (Nnoli, 1980). In other words, ethnic groups represent categories of people characterized by cultural symbols including language, value systems and normative behaviour, and whose members are anchored in a particular territory (Otite, 1990). Actually, the word ethnic is derived from the Greek word ethnos which means a group of people who share a common and distinctive culture. In its classical meaning, ethnic relates to a member of a particular ethnos (Imobighe, 2003). Hence ethnicity according to Imobighe should be seen as the feeling of belonging to a distinctive cultural or linguistic group, or a manifestation of ethnic consciousness in relation to other groups.

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