Nigeria Political System And The Impacts Of Ethnicity

Project and Seminar Material for Political Science

Nigeria Political System And The Impacts Of Ethnicity


This study has examined the effect of ethnicity and religion on the Nigerian politics, much directly, the Nigerian electoral outcomes, with particular reference to the 2015 general elections. The study examined critically news reports and analysis, contents of some newspapers and also made use of primary data from a population in Kogi state. From the analysis, the study showed that ethnicity and religion has a major implication in the Nigerian political system, and the people’s choices during elections are mostly sentimental. The study has in addition, established that even in some instances when conflicts arose as a result of other factors, they usually assumed religious colourations thus making them intractable. The study further discovered that the mass media in Nigeria in these instances of reportage of ethno-religious conflicts played roles as diverse as the interests of their owners and editors, geographical locations, ethnic and religious affiliations of the owners or editors.

Chapter One

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background of the Study

Nigeria has witnessed the transition from the military regime for a quite long time to a democratic system of government since the year 1999, Nigeria failed to resolve its ethnoreligious and political violence which contributed to the weakening of democratic governance and national integration. As a multi-ethnic nation, with diverse religious and cultural background the political system is expected to cope with and control both human and natural resources effectively, but in contrast this diversity becomes the source of ethno-religious and political violence. The issue of ethno-religious violence has tended to occur constantly in Nigeria since during the period of fourth republic 1999 where organized ethnically based actions with their ethnic and regional agenda escalate into series of violent conflict (Edlyne 2002). Studying ethnicity as a political characteristic one has to consider the following questions: Does the concept of ethnicity be regarded as a means for the political actors to depend their political interest? Why then any political struggle in Nigeria is often misinterpreted as an ethnic or religious struggle? Is there any empirical findings outline a relationship between the social construction of ethnic identities and the probability of ethnic violence?

Research attention has been shifted now from technological and scientific development to centre on the politics of religion and the democratization of Nigeria and religion in politics in Nigeria‟s new democracy. This tacit reality has been discovered that not enough justice has been done to this phenomenon in recent times, most especially on its significance to the multiple conflicts and violence that has engulfed the entity called Nigeria. This illusion caused Sulaiman (2009), to observe however that there have been competing interests amongst the various religions and ethic nationalities as to who should run the government of the country, this is premised on the fact that most ethnic nationalities have developed along religious conglomeration between Christians or Muslims?

It is as a result of these conflicts of interests amongst the adherents of the various religious and ethnic nationalities and their political leaders that have generated these spates of violence in the country. This is so because different political parties came around with different candidates and different interests in terms of party manifestoes and regions where the presidency should be zoned to. This has resulted in a lot of accusations and counter accusations being made as to which zone should lay claim to the presidency and the zone that should not. It is a known fact that if equity is to be preserved, the north in its entirety should not even seek to hold the presidency in the next 20 years since they have produced the first civilian president in 19791983, after which the military took over and since then till the return of the country to civilian rule in 1999, it has always been the north and nobody else. Shehu Shagari, Mohammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Abdulsallam Abubakar, before Olusegun Obasanjo took over in the civilian regime and handed over to another northerner Umar Musa Yar‟ Adua and back to Goodluck Jonathan.

The need for political stability in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. Indeed, all segments of the Nigerian society are interested in the political future of the nation. However, this interest is approached from various dimensions. A major interest in the Nigerian polity is the relationship between religion, ethnicity and politics. The Nigerian society is religiously and ethnically pluralized and this significantly influences political decisions and policies of the nation. On the other hand, there are people who hold the strong opinion that this relationship should not be stressed and that religion, ethnicity and politics should be allowed to operate separately without one interfering with the other. Those who hold this view argued essentially from the position that religion mixed politics or ethnicity mixed with politics is mostly like to imbibe various vices associated with politics. Also that politics may not be properly and dispassionately played if mixed with religion and ethnicity.

The use of ethnicity and religion in political competition is a common feature in the politics of many African countries. In countries such as Kenya, competition between ethnic groups has dominated the political scene since the introduction of multiparty politics, and also in Zambia, ethnicity has emerged as an important factor in political contention (Posner 2005; 2007; Bratton and Kimenyi, 2008). In Nigeria, both religious and ethnic competition has been a distinctive feature of the country‟s political history, and one that has frequently led to violent conflict.

In terms of religion, throughout Nigeria‟s independence history both Christian and Muslim institutions have actively sought to influence political issues of their concern, and in particular the Muslims have developed narratives of discrimination vis-à-vis the state and the Christian institutions. Skirmishes between Christians and Muslims intensified and became more public from the mid 1980s throughout the 1990s, which raised concerns about the future state of religious relations in the country ( Heilman and Kaiser 2002; Mbogoni 2005; Mesaki 2011; Tambila 2006; Liviga and Tumbo-Masabo 2006).

With over four hundred (400) ethnic groups, belonging to several religious sects, Nigeria since independence has remained a multi-ethnic nation state, which has been grappling and trying to cope with the problem of ethnicity on the one hand, and the problem of ethno-religious conflicts on the other. This is because over the years the phenomena of ethnicity and religious intolerance have led to incessant recurrence of ethno-religious conflicts, which have given birth to many ethnic militias like the O’ dua People Congress (OPC); the Bakassi Boys; the Egbesu Boys; the Ijaw Youth Congress (IYC); and the Igbo People Congress (IPC). Others include the Arewa

People‟s Congress (APC) the Movement for the Actualization of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB); and the Ohanaeze N’digbo (Daily Trust;’20/8/2002! p.; 16). With the emergence of these ethnic militias and the deep divides between the various ethnic groups, religious intolerance has become more violent and bloody with more devastating results using the ethnic militias as the executors of ethno-religious agenda.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Nigeria’s struggle for democracy and good governance has so far been pursued within the federalist logic, though under a perverse practices condition of the successive limilary regimes with no exception to the ethno-religious and political crises. Most notable of such perversions relates to the recent Boko Haram and the recurring bomb attacks in Nigeria. Scholars and political commentators have argued that it is an attempt to impose religious ideology through terrorism (Bagaji, et al, 2012). Religion has manifested itself as a potent force in the political development of the Nigerian state from time immemorial. More so, it is very difficult to separate the state from religion-voting behavior and many times ascension to political offices is circulated on the basis of religious affiliation (Kukah, 1994; Danjibo, 2009; Omotola, 2010). In a religious country like Nigeria, it is expected to be at peace with itself and all those living within its sovereign territory. Paradoxically, recent studies have revealed that the role of religion and ethnicity in Nigeria is in negative light than its positive contribution.

Nigeria remains underdeveloped and always ranked low in indexes such as health care, poverty reduction, capacity building, educational standard, unemployment reduction, water supply and sanitation. The reason behind this is as a result of the various ethnic and religious politics played and social conflicts caused by our leaders, religious fanatics, greedy politicians and self-centered individuals (Coleman, 1995). As religious as Nigeria is, the country‟s major „national issue‟ remains largely an unresolved political, economic and social crisis. The steady growth and consolidation of communal allegiances and ethno-religious identities among various ethnic and religious groups in pursuit of competing material and value preferences, and their negative aftermath effect have characterized most of Nigeria‟s political, economic and social underdevelopment, particularly since the 1950s ( Usen, 2010). Across the length and breadth of Nigeria, ethnic and religious considerations in political, economic, social and academic matters can hardly be avoided. Politics is ethnic oriented; ethnicism is more often than not the consciousness of Presidents, Heads of states, Ministers, and those on National assignments. This has been one of the most important causes of social conflicts in Nigeria, especially in a situation where this consideration do not favour the minority group and some elites in the majority group. This social conflict in the form of violence resulting from destruction of lives and properties has been perceived in general as a major obstacle to the overall political, social and economic development of the country.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

The main objective of this study is to evaluate the impacts of Ethnicity and Religion on the political processes in Nigeria.

The specific objectives are;

  1. To examine the relevance of religious groups on the political processes in Nigeria.
  2. To evaluate if ethnicity and religion are distracting factors to the political processes in Nigeria.
  3. To determine if ethnicity and religion are the basic causes of political conflicts in Nigeria.

1.4 Research Questions

To evaluate the impacts of ethnicity and religion in the politics of Nigeria, this study intends to provide answers to the following research questions;

  1. What is the relevance of religious groups on the political processes in Nigeria?
  2. Ethnicity and Religion; are they distracting factors to the political processes in Nigeria?
  3. Ethnicity and Religion; are they the basic causes of political conflicts in Nigeria?

1.5 Research Hypothesis

This study will be based on the following assumptions;

  1. Ethnicity and Religion have strong impacts on the politics of a nation
  2. The influences posed by ethnicity and religion on the political processes of a nation are not always negative
  3. Leadership choices of the members of a country‟s population are as a result of the ethnic and religious classes they belong to.

1.6 Scope of the Study

This work will succinctly and specifically cover the historical and present perspective of the Nigeria political system and the impacts of ethnicity and religion on it. The work will also cover some of the political challenges that have been encountered within the political system of Nigeria over the years.

1.7 Limitation of the Study

The following are the constraints and shortcomings which the researcher encountered in the course of the study

  1. Time Factor: This was the major constraint I encountered was carrying out the research in conjunction with my other academic engagements.
  2. Cost expenditures were incurred in the course of exhuming relevant facts from various sources till the completion of this research work.

1.8 Definition of Terms

1.8.1 Sub-nationalism:

is the movement of people to exit or pursue independent state hood or regional autonomy within a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state. We also refer to sub-nationalism as a movement or revolt of peoples against the unitary nature of state, reinforced by indigenous rights and contention of power. Sub-nationalism leans to mobilization and ethnocentrism for political and economic advantage of one ethnic group against another.

1.8.2 Ethno-religious conflicts

Refer to all conflicts which regiments primordial identities of a group in competitive relations with other groups or disputes arising from ethnic and religious differences. Such conflicts are often associated with ethnic or religious sentiments.

1.9 Organization of the Study

  • Chapter one is the introductory section which contains Background to the study, statement of research problem, research questions, significant of the study, scope and limitation of the study, operational definition of terms and plan of the study
  • Chapter two contains Literature review, conceptual framework and theoretical framework
  • Chapter three contains Research methods, research design, area of study, research population, method of data collection, Data Analysis and Technique.
  • Chapter four contains data representation and interpretation of findings.
  • Chapter five contains the summary and recommendations.

Chapter Five

Conclusion and Recommendation

5.1 Conclusion

In the western world, the effect of ethnicity is not as pronounced as it is in Africa. In Nigeria for example, the choice of who becomes the President of Nigeria is often decided by a group, comprising the retired generals, traditional rulers and the captains of the Nigerian industries. It is the preferred candidate of this group that subsequently emerge the winner in every election. Therefore, one tends to wonder what is democratic about the Nigerian democracy, where a few individuals can impose a candidate on a party, ignoring primaries. Ideally, it is the party executive that should organize the primaries where the most deserving candidates within the party are elected to contest in the main elections. This is not the practice in the Nigerian democracy. It thus appears that the Nigerian electorate has no choice for now of who becomes the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, so long ethnicity and religion remain the major considerations in the Nigerian politics. This is why this paper is recommending that the Federal Government adopts a model where the office of the President of Nigeria will be rotated among the six geo-political zones as was earlier recommended by Chief Anthony Enahoro. It could be recalled that Chief Enahoro evolved the ideology of the six geo-political zones to minimize the negative effects of the north and south dichotomy in the Nigerian politics. The present political arrangement does not appear to have made room for a fair representation by the six geo- political zones in the office of the President of Nigeria. Therefore, while the ‘brain-box’ of the Nigerian politics is deciding on who becomes the next President of Nigeria after Buhari’s administration, it is important to consider as a matter of national interest the election of a Nigerian President of an Igbo origin. This might require that the mentors of the Nigerian democracy look out for the most deserving candidates among the Igbos in all the political parties, to mentor for the office for the office of the President of Nigeria. Except for other considerations outside the pages of the Nigerian political history (pre-dating the birth of modern writers), it would be reasonable for the other ethnic nationalities in Nigeria to support the emergence of a Nigerian President of an Igbo origin after the tenure of President Muhammadu Buhari in the interest of equity and justice in power sharing in the Nigerian politics.

5.2 Recommendations

In order to further enhance the objectivity of the Kogi State electorate, this research recommends the following:

  1. That government should make laws that will ensure that public office holders adhere strictly in the distribution of state resources so as to ensure its equitable distribution among the different ethnic groups.
  2. The electorate should insist on voting credible candidates irrespective of their ethnic nationality as against ethnic voting. This is because every good leader is equitable, just and fair in their governance and distribution of state resources. Therefore, all socio- political organizations of all ethnic nationalities should enlighten their members on the need to vote only credible candidate irrespective of their ethnic nationalities.
  3. Political parties should properly screen their contestant so as to present candidates with proven moral integrity, as well as records of hard work and achievements. Furthermore, they should give their elected public office holders the necessary leadership training so that the go into office to serve with integrity in administration of the diverse ethnic groups under their jurisdiction.
  4. Government should also constitutionalize the rotational policy to major public offices, so as to carry all ethnic groups along and give them a sense of belonging in the activities of the state.

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