Impact Of Tribalism On Nigeria Democracy

Project and Seminar Material for Political Science

Impact Of Tribalism On Nigeria Democracy

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study

Tribe is often shrouded in negative coloration relevant to societies regarded as underdeveloped, primitive or inferior. It has indeed sometimes become a curse-word, a resented language and a lower-form categorization. The Oxford Dictionary (1980) defined tribal as ‘a racial group especially in a primitive or nomadic culture-living as in a community under one or more chiefs’. There is a tendency for human beings to live together in a known natural community. This communal living provides protection, confidence, security, wellness, wholeness and mutuality of consciousness. To Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, one of Nigeria’s original nationalists, every human being is a member of a particular tribe within which are ‘customs and traditions established to guide, direct and control the beliefs, attitudes and habits of its individual members’ (Azikiwe Nnamdi; 1968;). There are pejorative descriptions and connotations of tribes, usually it is regarded as a state of being organized or advocating for a tribe in terms of conformity, ‘thinking and behaving in which people are more loyal to their tribe than to their friends, their country, or any other social group’ a way of being based upon variable combinations of kinship-based organizations, ‘a distinct sense of difference by nature of common culture and descent’. It is as powerful as religion in Africa and in Nigeria (Adeyanju G. Colling). It is currently frequently employed derogatively to identify the peoples of Africa and Asia, who were then described as primitive and backward or what most writers in the 19th century used to identify as ‘barbaric societies’. Vaaseh (2013) insists that ethnicity is an unfriendly, parochial, spiteful and resentful attitude towards a particular person or harm done to someone else because he or she is of another ethnic group. It is unfortunate that academic disciplines have also popularized this group label. ‘Whereas the citizens of a European country are referred to as ‘nationalists’ of that country, the citizens of Africa are generally referred to as ‘native’, or successor deprecatory titles like ‘negroes’, ‘blacks’, ‘slaves’, ‘defenders’ or ‘adopted strangers’. Despite the odium of tribalism and ethnicity, it was a common feature of many African countries; “In Rwanda and Burundi, the Hutus and Tutsis struggled for supremacy, in Ghana, the Ewes demanded a reunion with their Kith and Kin in Togo, in Uganda, the subjugation of the Buganda by Obote, in favour of his own group unleashed a complex of hostilities; in the Congo and Nigeria, Kantagese and Ibo attempts at secession led to civil war….”. These are apart from forced and violent tribe-driven conflicts in ‘Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, Algeria, Angola, Congo, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, Zaire and Mozambique’4 (Caron, Gboyega & Osaghae eds; 1992; p223).

In Nigeria since the immediate past independence era, Nigeria State has been undergoing several forms of ethnic clashes both political and socio-economic. Other equally abound which are of ethnic religious dimension at different points under the post colonial arrangement and various regimes these situation have severally tempted the total paralysis of Nigeria’s Federal structure and the weakening of its democratic spirit. In particular, contemporary Nigeria is replete with the division of her people along various ethnic and religious constituencies. A dimension of this readily is to be found inter-alia in the recent ethnic conflict in Aguleriumuleri war of attrition over the Otuocha piece of land (the guardian 1999:12) agitations by the movement for the actualization of a sovereign state of Biafara (MASOB), the UrboboItsekiri crisis the movement for the survival of the Ogoni people.

A vibrant civil society is sine qua non to the sustenance of any nation‘s development. Studies have shown that the role of civil society groups is vital in the political, social and economic development of African countries (see Diamond, 1999; Ndegwa, 1996; Yohanness, 1997; and Gyimah-Boadi, 2004). According to Yohanness (1997), this role can be view from three dimensions. First, improving the quality of governance; second, developing the capacity of governments to apply the principles of accountability, transparency and openness; third, working towards gaining the commitment of all elected officials, public servants, and NGOs to good governance. In view of this, one can infer that, CSO‘s have, contributed immensely to democratic consolidation and sustainable development in Nigeria. In fact, the responsibility of ensuring sustainable development rest on the shoulder of CSOs. This is because; they are the agents of development in any nation.

Ethnicity in Nigeria has attained monumental levels. These include the Ife Modakeke Communal Conflicts of Osun State in 1999 the Hausa/Fulani and the Ketaf in Kaduna State. In 1999 the Ijan and Sekiris of Warri in Delta State, 2000 the Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba ethnic Conflicts in Ogun and Lagos State respectively, 1999/2001 the Jukunchaba and Kuteb and the Tivs in Taraba State 1989/2000, Igakwuomer Aguleriumaleri and Umeleri Communal Conflicts of Anambara in 2002 (2004).

Be that as it may, political and development analysts have rightly come to give great prominence to the activities of CSOs. One must note that the collaboration and participation of the civil society is frequently a crucial factor in the successful implementation of development initiatives. This point is premised on the view that CSOs are typically closer than most government actors are to the grassroots of the community, with consequent advantages both in the ability to mobilize at the levels governments may find difficult to reach and in the sensitivity to grassroots needs that may be vital to the achievement of development objectives (African Development Forum [ADF], 2004). This can be seen from the activities of CSOs on the input side of large-scale initiatives, in consultations and forums at all levels, and also in the effective pursuit of goals such as achieving targets for representation, promoting regional integration and international cooperation, and maintaining or restoring respect for human rights in Nigeria. It is on this ground, that this paper aims to analyse the impact of the roles of CSOs in promoting, maintaining and consolidating socio-economic and political development in Nigeria.All these are clear signals and obvious indicated that all is not well with ethnicity and democratization in Nigeria.However, the study tends to examine the impact of tribalism on Nigeria democracy

1.2 Statement of the Problem

The goal of any research is to identify certain problems and find solutions to such problems. In connection with this study, the researcher has observed the following problems to which seek solution.Operation of a true democratic system has been difficult in Nigeria and this has often leads to political instability ethnicity political unrest and other socio-economic problems.

Nigeria as a federal state has faced many problem relating to substance of democracy. The major problem is that the project is all about the impact on democratization in Nigeria. Each group wants to retain government powers in its hand. All these have direct negative impacts on average Nigeria’s. Hence the intention of this study is to find the way forward out of these predicaments.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

The main objective of this study is to examine the impact of tribalism on Nigeria democracy. This study aims at enlightening the incoming generations about the previous and attendant ethnic clashes in Nigeria. The causes, impact on democratization in Nigeria and postulate ways to avoid such problems. In the same vein, the researcher shall examine the role of ethnocentrism in any democratic set up and its contribution to the betterment of democracy in a federal state of Nigeria.

Specific objectives include;

  1. To examine if there any relationship between tribalism and sustenance of democracy.
  2. To find out if there are effects of ethnocentrism on Nigeria Democracy
  3. To find out the ways of combating ethnic rivalries in a Democratized Nigeria policy

1.4 Research Questions

  1. Is there any relationship between tribalism and sustenance of democracy?
  2. What are the effects of ethnocentrism on Nigeria Democracy?
  3. What are the ways of combating ethnic rivalries in a Democratized Nigeria policy?

1.5 Research Hypotheses

Hypothesis I
  • H0: There is no significant relationship between tribalism and sustenance of democracy
  • H1: There is a significant relationship between tribalism and sustenance of democracy
Hypothesis II
  • H0: There is no significant effects of ethnocentrism on Nigeria Democracy
  • H1: There is a significant effect of ethnocentrism on Nigeria Democracy
Hypothesis III
  • H0: There is no ways of combating ethnic rivalries in a Democratized Nigeria policy
  • H1: There are ways of combating ethnic rivalries in a Democratized Nigeria policy

1.6 Significance of the Study

This write up has its own focus of benefiting the potential leaders of Nigeria so as to try as much as possible to guide against ethnic, a confused and complicated situation in Nigeria.

All the same, Nigerians especially the coming generation will gain one or two things in this work on ethnicity and its democratization impact on Nigeria.

This study will be of immense benefit to other researchers who intend to know more on this study and can also be used by non-researchers to build more on their research work.

This study contributes to knowledge and could serve as a guide for other study.

Lastly, solution to Nigeria’s tribal problems and the sustenance of democracy would emerge at the end of the study.

1.7 Scope of the Study

This study is on the impact of tribalism on Nigeria democracy. The write up shall not be extended more than the issue and problems of ethnicity in Nigeria and how it affects the process of Democratization since independence till date between 1999 till date.

1.8 Limitations of the Study

The demanding schedule of respondents at work made it very difficult getting the respondents to participate in the survey. As a result, retrieving copies of questionnaire in timely fashion is very challenging. Also, the researcher is a student and therefore has limited time as well as resources in covering extensive literature available in conducting this research. Information provided by the researcher may not hold true for all institutions but is restricted to the selected organization used as a study in this research especially in the locality where this study is being conducted.

Financial Constraint:

Insufficient fund tends to impede the efficiency of the researcher in sourcing for the relevant materials, literature or information and in the process of data collection (internet, questionnaire and interview).

Time Constraint:

The researcher will simultaneously engage in this study with other academic work. This consequently will cut down on the time devoted for the research work.

Finally, the researcher is restricted only to the evidence provided by the participants in the research and therefore cannot determine the reliability and accuracy of the information provided.

1.9 Definition of Terms


Is the consciousness of and belonging to a particular ethnic or tribal group in a large society.


As a system of government under which the people exercised their voting power to close their representatives.


This simply means a time of great difficulty or danger or when an important decision must be made.


Is a system of government in which governmental powers that exists in a country are shared between a central government that represents the whole country and government of component regions or states.

1.8. Organization of the Study

The study comprises of five chapters which are chapter one; background to the study, the statement of the problem, the research questions, research objectives, research hypotheses, significance of the study, the scope and the organization of the study. The chapter two comprises of the literature review, conceptual clarification, theoretical review and empirical review. The chapter three is on the methodology and chapter four is on presentation and analyst the final chapter is the summary, conclusion and recommendation.

Chapter Five

Summary, Conclusion and Recommendations

5.1 Summary of Findings

The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of tribalism on Nigeria democracy

Hypotheses were formulated (generated) to guide the researcher.

Hypothesis I
  • H0: There is no significant relationship between tribalism and sustenance of democracy
  • H1: There is a significant relationship between tribalism and sustenance of democracy
Hypothesis II
  • H0: There is no significant effects of ethnocentrism on Nigeria Democracy
  • H1: There is a significant effect of ethnocentrism on Nigeria Democracy
Hypothesis III
  • H0: There is no ways of combating ethnic rivalries in a Democratized Nigeria policy
  • H1: There are ways of combating ethnic rivalries in a Democratized Nigeria policy

The objectives of the study were to;

  1. To examine if there any relationship between tribalism and sustenance of democracy.
  2. To find out if there are effects of ethnocentrism on Nigeria Democracy
  3. To find out the ways of combating ethnic rivalries in a Democratized Nigeria policy

5.2 Conclusion

While the Sheikh is correct in asserting the omnipresence and significance of tribalism in modern Jordanian society, his insistence that tribal connections rightfully have preeminence over ideological ones highlights the fundamental challenge in Jordanian democracy: the political subjugation of national interest to tribal interest. So long as this remains the norm, political parties will continue to fail; people will continue to rely on tribes on account of economic necessity; and the cycle which reinforces the subjugation of ideological association to familial association will be perpetuated.

This is not to say that tribalism and democracy are untenable co-habitants of a nation state. To say this would be to ignore a millennium of European history, where smaller groups of loyalty and affiliation existed within larger, nationalistic kingdoms and states. A peasant was loyal to his family and village, who in turn were loyal to a minor lord, who in turn was loyal to another lord, who in turn was loyal to a king. The modern United States can be seen to exhibit a similar form of expanding and overlapping loyalties:

“We find a sense of belonging, of unconditional pride, in our neighborhood and community; in our ethnic and social identities and their rituals; among our fellow enthusiasts. . . And then, most critically, there is the Über-tribe that constitutes the nation-state, a mega tribe that unites a country around shared national rituals, symbols, music, history, mythology, and events, that forms the core unit of belonging that makes a national democracy possible” (Sullivan 2017).

The phrasing of an “Über-tribe” is reminiscent of an aspect of Jordanian tribalism mentioned by the Sheikh: smaller families exist within larger families, with the larger family being the more important socially. If loyalty to this larger family was effectively nested inside a larger loyalty to the Jordanian nation, as occurs in established western democracies, it would not retard democratic development: “Tribalism only destabilizes a democracy when it calcifies into something bigger and more intense than our smaller, multiple loyalties; when it rivals our attachment to the nation as a whole” (Sullivan 2017).

However, while the medieval feudal systems in the world provide historical precedent for the prioritization of national loyalty in other countries, no such history exists in the Middle East. Instead, tribal loyalties predating most modern countries are pitted against loyalty to hundred year-old nation states, artificially imposed by colonial powers. This discrepancy is further exacerbated by the ineffectiveness of the Jordanian government, which has failed to provide the same economic assistance and social welfare support which tribes continue to provide to their constituent members. Political parties, do not escape public blame for this, having continually failed to translate the will of the public into government action. While this is largely due to historical and contemporary government efforts to limit party power, often by strengthening tribal influence, the public rightfully sees tribes, and not parties, as the more effective method of ensuring continued, personal well-being.

It is unclear how to change this reality. The most straightforward answer: by increasing government responsiveness to the will of the people, is not presenting a solution, but merely restating the problem. Many believe the answer lies in political parties, and there is truth to this as well: parties’ superior ability to affect government change is well documented. However, so long as parties are hamstrung by a government which is, at best, only half-heartedly committed to increasing party power and efficacy, they will continue to fail. But this causality speaks to the root of the issue: the government rules, not through the mandate of the people, but through the mandate of the Western powers which established the Hashemites as constitutional monarchs and which continue to sustain the government monetarily. So beholden, the government remains a poor representative of its people, unable to give parties, and through them, the people, full control of the government for fear of losing the foreign aid on which they rely. The peace with Israel is the quintessential example of this: a political decision implemented and maintained at the behest of Western desires, not the desires of people. Tribes are not so susceptible to Western influence. This is the cause of tribal loyalty’s precedence over national loyalty, which in turn hinders democratic progress in the country: the greater ability of tribes to be responsive to the needs and desires of the people.

5.3 Recommendations

While this study focuses on the role of tribalism in the political sphere, the research only scratched the surface of tribalism’s deep-seated role in Jordanian culture. Further studies could analyze this impact further, investigating tribal influence in the economic and social activity of Jordanians, especially considering wasta and its effect on society.

Similarly, this study focused only on Jordan. Another study could be conducted in a different Arab country, investigating the similarities of the tribal-political intersection across the Arab world.

On a broader political note, over the course of this study, many interview subjects mentioned the importance of both female, and youth political participation. Another study could analyze the correlation between these factors and the health of a democracy. Possible operational definitions of youth and female political participation include voter registration, voter turnout, political party membership, representation in elected bodies, etc.

In addition, several interview subjects discussed the influence of religion on political parties and voting patterns. This could give rise to a variety of studies, including, but not limited to, a comparison of the importance of religious issues in politics in the Arab world to the importance of such issues in Western democracies; an analysis of how economic factors influence the popularity of religious parties; and an examination of the effect of religion on the propaganda of both religious and non-religious parties in the region.

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