Historically, Nigerian ethnicgroups had achieved a high level of integration prior to the colonial conquest.Long distance trade, migratory movements and socioeconomic inter-group relationshad helped make ethnic and cultural integration an integral part in theevolution of modern Nigeria. Obafemi Awolowo’s view that ‘Nigeria isgeographical expression and a country artificially created by the British’ hasbeen faulted on historical realities. This is in relation to the country’sdiverse cultures, languages, histories, religions and worldviews.
Historically,nations emerged from diversity and continued to adjust to historical andpolitical processes. The evolution of modern France and Germany exemplify thisprocess. In the case of Nigeria, pre-colonial ethnic migrants were in manyplaces integrated and assimilated into their host communities.
The geo-political entity definedas Nigeria remained the most enduring hangover of the British colonialism.Before the 1914 popular amalgamation of the northern and southernprotectorates, each of the over 250 ethnic groups that make up Nigerian Stateexisted to some extent independently and distinctively in culture andtradition, but not that they were not interacting with one another in favorableterm. What happened in the 1914 episode of the northern and southernunification was reminiscence of a marriage, which may not be so pleasant butcannot be easily divorced. Consequently, the British displayed their politicalcraft by introducing federalism. Still, the 1914 exercise it did not bring tobear the desired integration and inter-group relations. Arising from theproblems inherent with federalism or federal arrangement, Federal CharacterPrinciple was introduced as a therapy.
In addition to the economicdecline and associated problems, Nigeria and Africa at large suffers fromcontinuing conflicts and security problems which has led to hostile inter-grouprelationships. Osei-Hwedie (1998) has also stated that multiparty politics hasheightened ethnic and regional divisions that were intensified and consolidatedunder colonialism. African conflicts often have domestic and regional causes.This is due to problems associated with social, ethnic, cultural and religiousdifferences in the context of massive inequalities in the distribution ofpower, wealth and other resources that make challenges to the status-quoinevitable. According to Deng and Zartman (1991) the fight against colonialismbrought together different ethnic groups against a common enemy, and thus for awhile, differences were put aside as such as in Nigeria, as a common front wascrucial in the Nationalist struggles. The people have reconceived and sharpenedtheir demands from purely social and ·economic to political demands which havebeen refocused on relative autonomy and self-determination for their ethnicareas within the context of the Nigerian federation. All this has resulted in acircle of conflict between the government and the people and between thecommunities and other communities and their groups. ETHNICITY; Ethnicity has been perceived by varioussociologists and anthropologists as a much corseted concept.
It is a basiseither for national separation or for political subordination. In practice,ethnicity tends to be used loosely to refer to commonality of language,religion, identity, national origin and even skin color. According to Bulmer(1986) along with many sociologists and anthropologists, the core element in ethnicityhas to do with “memories of a shared past”, involving the collectivememory of a people. The challenges and opportunities of contemporary ethnicrelations in Nigeria are shaped within the framework of social, political,economic and cultural institutions. Contemporary trends, currents of opinionand attitude are influenced by significant events and woven into a porousconfiguration of local, regional and national relationships. The colonialmasters introduced ‘the principle of divide and rule’ in the administration ofpre-independence Nigeria thereby deepening the ethnic division in Nigeria.
Thecolonial masters also left at independence a country that was ethnically andreligiously divided. It was this situation characterized by suspicion and distrustthat eventually resulted in Nigeria’s civil war experience regarded as thebloodiest political crisis .in Nigeria which was more of an “ethniccleansing”, a terrible euphemism for genocide as it claimed over 30,000lives of Igbo’s living in the Northern region. One cannot also forget thefallouts of the annulment of the June 12, 1993 Presidential election whichChief M.K.O. Abiola was said to have won.
Following the annulment and eventualincarceration, ethnic sentiments were provoked as political tension mounted.The annulment generated much resentment among the Yoruba ethnic group who sawit as a deliberate attempt to deny them the opportunity to rule the country,especially when the election was acclaimed to be the freest ever in the historyof Nigeria. The consequent effect of this was disorder, chaos and violence inthe Western part of the country and some other parts of the country. Ethnicrivalry is a major cause of Africa’s backward states. Thousands have beepmanipulated during inter-ethnic clashes in Africa particularly in countrieslike Somalia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Uganda, Chad, Niger Republic,Nigeria etc. CONFLICTS AND INTERGROUP RELATIONS;One of the earliest definitions of conflicts was by Karl Max (1818-1883) a conflict theorist who defined conflict as the existence of divergentinterests within a group or the result of each group or class trying to pursueher interest and in the process come against one another with conflictemerging.
The World Bank Report on Nigeria (1996) described Nigeria as aParadox: “the country is rich but the people are poor … Nigeria is richin land, people, oil and natural resources.
If more wealth had been channeledto the development of its people … Nigeria could have been poised for a promise”