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Ethno-religious Cleavages in Nigeria

Ethno-religious Cleavages in Nigeria

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Different countries have different roots of conflict. Most of these conflicts arise due to dissimilarities in religion, ethnic background, and cleavages between residents. Nigeria has divisions that adversely affect its economic development and political progress. These divisions are mostly based on ethnic background, beliefs, and regional lines. There are approximately 250 different ethnic sects in Nigeria. Majority of the citizens relate to three main communities, which are Hausa-Fulani, Igbo, and Yoruba. The three communities are mainly in control of politics in the country. In this essay, I will discuss how ethnic-regional cleavages shape the presidential and party politics in Nigeria’s democracy.

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During the colonial era, the three groups had some form of autonomy in their governance. The British colonialists, applying the tactics of divide and rule, divided Nigeria into three states based on the three groups; the Eastern state belonging to the Igbo, the Western State for the Yoruba, and the Northern state for Hausa/Fulani (Ayatse, Onaga, Ogoh, 2013). The Igbo even before the arrival of the British had a decentralized form of governance where each village, consisting mostly of members of one extended family, had autonomy. The decentralized governance made it very easy for them to convert to Christianity and to accept western education. Many became part of the Nigerian elite and obtained jobs in government. The Yoruba organized into different chiefdoms led by a powerful chief. They cringed to their traditions, which they mixed with the new religions of Christianity and Islam(Ikeanyibe, 2014). The community accepted either Christianity or Islam depending on the interactions they had with the members of either religions. The Hausa-Fulani had a hierarchical leadership and majority were devout Muslims. They resisted the western culture including education, seeing them as a threat to their way of life.

The British keen to extend their influence in post-independence Nigeria had to figure out how the three would become one and who would be in charge. The Igbo were too enlightened, having accepted education and western culture at the earliest opportunity (Ikeanyibe, 2014). The Yoruba were more or less the same and were fiercely independent-minded wanting a state for themselves and identifying first as Yoruba and secondly as Nigerian (Ayatse et al. 2013). The Hausa-Fulani were weak since majority were uneducated and feared the Yoruba and Igbo. The British found them very suitable as custodians of Nigeria’s independence since they would have to rely on them for support. Nigeria was therefore problematic from the beginning.

At the beginning of independence, each of the three regions formed a political party to champion its interest. In every election that followed, each region would vote for the candidate who was acclaimed in the region. Since the regions were hived out for the three major tribal groupings, voting for a candidate from one’s region effectively meant voting for someone of the same ethnic group (Ikeanyibe, 2014). Therefore, presidential candidates receive majority of the votes from the states in the region they come from and ultimately fromm their ethnic groups. Since the Northern region has the highest population, it tends to have a bigger role in determining, whether democratically or by force, who rules the country.

The parties therefore act as means for different regions to have their own ascend to power. They have weak structure and are controlled by regional and ethnic interest. The individuals are stronger than the parties are since parties are just vehicles to assist individual to ascend into power. When a region’s representative defects to another party, his ethnic group follows him wherever he goes. In the 2015 elections, Jonathan Goodluck received overwhelming support from the Eastern region, while the Western region ganged up with the Northern region in supporting Muhammadu Buhari, effectively defeating the incumbent Jonathan. Jonathan was accused of breaking a PDP tradition where the presidency rotates between the Muslim north and the Christian south every eight years.

In conclusion, ethnicity is a major challenge to many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. People tend to identify with their ethnic group first and with their nationality second. This stifles democracy and development as ethnic groups and regions struggle to outdo each other for selfish gains. Political parties are weak and are heavily dependent on an individual in such countries. Nigeria presents a perfect example of such scenario. Effects of colonial policies continue to haunt the country several decades later. The minorities who feel forgotten take arms to fight for access to resources, bringing about ethnic strife and civil wars.

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