The history of ethnic minority politics in Nigeria started with the Henry commission of 1959 when the minority groups in the southern and middle belt regions in the north and south of Nigeria ask for a separate region in order to beat the clause of marginalization and the denomination of the three other bigger ethnic groups in the north, west and east. This lead to other nationalities like the ijaws, nupe, Tivs, Jukuns, becoming agitated and seeking for recognitions, thus the history of ethnic minority politic in the country started.
DEFINITION OF ETHNICITY
The concept ethnicity and tribalism has always been a confused matter. Some scholars use the two concepts as though they carry the some meaning and strongly inseparable. The origin of ethnicity began with the evolution of the Nigeria federalism. It was Sir Bourdillon who initiated the idea of federalism for Nigeria in 1939. He divided the country into provinces and regional councils along the three major ethnics in the country.
THE PEOPLE OF NIGERIA
Nigeria’s three largest ethnic groups, the Hausa–Fulani, Yoruba, and Igbo, represent 71 percent of the population (although as in most of Africa, ethnic labels are often imprecise, obscuring differences within groups and similarities among groups). Of the remaining 29 percent of the population, about one-third consists of groups numbering more than 1 million members each. The remaining 300-plus ethnic groups account for the final one-fifth of the population.
The Hausa, concentrated in the far north and in the Republic of Niger, are the largest of Nigeria’s ethnic nations. Most Hausa are Muslims engaged in agriculture, commerce, and small-scale industry. While most live in smaller towns and villages, others occupy several larger indigenous cities. Many people of non-Hausa origin, including the city-based Fulani, have become assimilated into the Hausa nation through intermarriage and acculturation. Other Fulani continue to depend on their livestock and have retained their own language, Fulfulde, and cultural autonomy.
The Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria incorporate seven subgroups—the Egba, Ekiti, Ife, Ijebu, Kabba, Ondo, and Oyo—each identified with a particular paramount chief and city. The oni of Ife is the spiritual head of the Yoruba. There is a strong sense of Yoruba identity but also a history of distrust and rivalry dividing the various groups. The majority of Yoruba are farmers or traders who live in large cities of precolonial origin.
The Igbo of southeastern Nigeria traditionally live in small, independent villages, each with an elected council rather than a chief. Such democratic institutions notwithstanding, Igbo society is highly stratified along lines of wealth, achievement, and social rank. Overcrowding and degraded soil have forced many Igbo to migrate to nearby cities and other parts of Nigeria.
Other large ethnic groups include the Kanuri, centered in Borno State; the Tiv, from the Benue Valley near Makurdi; the Ibibio and Efik in the Calabar area; the Edo from the Benin region; and the Nupe, centered in the Bida area. Although small by Nigerian standards, each of these lesser groups has more members than almost any of Africa’s other ethnicities.
HISTORY OF ETHNIC MINORITY POLITICS IN NIGERIA
NIGERIA is a federal constitutional republic comprising of 36states and its federal capital, Abuja. Nigeria as a nation is a constituent of several nationalities.
There are over 250 ethnic groups and the major ones are Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa. It is however very disturbing that Nigerians have become slaves to their ethnic origins instead of harnessing these diversities towards national development. Nigerians are fanatics when it comes to ethnicity. It is therefore not surprising for a Nigerian to get angry because he/she is wrongly associated with another tribe. This is not the true reflection of a federal nation. “One of the sociological problems hindering the growth of the nation is an multi-ethnicity”.
In addition, before the coming of the white man, the various ethnic groups were inter- dependent but they did not constitute themselves into one society. It was in 1914 that they were amalgamated. Nigeria is a British creation by uniting the various entities into a single country called the federal republic of Nigeria. Some Nigerians are of the view that ‘’Nigeria is a forced marriage which did not receive the approval of the couples involved’’
Furthermore, whatever is done in Nigeria always has an ethnic undertone be It, politics, employment and provision of social amenities. Tribal affiliations are always very strong and visible. Over the years, since independence there have been cases of ethnic violence resulting from allegiance to one’s ethnic group and this has not worked well for the development of the country. It is very common in Nigeria for an ‘’Igbo landlord’’ to turn down a would-be tenant simply because he is ‘’Hausa’’
Since independence, there has been the struggle for superiority and recognition among the various ethnic groups and this is what led to the Nigerian civil war from 1967-70. The war was fought between Igbo Biafrans and the federal government, mostly dominated by Hausas and headed by General Yakubu Gowon. Today in Nigeria, there is serious rivalry among these tribes such as political and religious rivalry.
However, despite all these, there are issues which point to the fact that ethnicity is not the problem in Nigeria but Nigerians themselves who choose to abuse ethnicity for their own tribal interest. There is nothing wrong with ethnicity. It can make and create avenues for healthy competitions in economic development. The period after independence saw a healthy competition between the major tribes in Nigeria. South-west led in cocoa production, groundnuts and cereals in the north while palm products and root crops dominated the economy of the south-east.
It is clearer now that, ethnic sentiments and the cut-throat struggle and competition among the ethnics in Nigeria today have a genesis in the political and economic activities which were the reasons for colonization and imperialism. So, ethnicity cannot be totally separated from colonialism. It was colonialism that forcefully brought the different ethnic groups who were initially separate, together to govern them in diversity. It was this forcefully union of the various ethnics that have generated sentimental feeling by the ethnic group against the others hence the state has proved to be a failed state for not guarantying the safety and provision of social amenities to the people.
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