ETHNICITY AND RELIGION IN INTER GROUP CONFLICTS IN NIGERIA
Ethnicity as a concept is an immensely complex phenomenon that portrays different perceptions. Even a search through the literature has revealed that ethnicity is relatively a new concept and it made its first appearance in the literature less than half a century ago.1 According to Osaghae, ethnicity refers to a social formation resting upon culturally specific practices and a unique set of symbols and cosmology. A belief in common organs and a broadly agreed common history provide an inheritance of symbols, heroes, values and hierarchies and conform social identities of both insiders and outsiders. As a social construct, ethnicity can be regarded as the employment of ethnic identity and differences to gain advantage in situation of competition, conflict and cooperation. In his own conception of what ethnicity is, Depress define ethnicity as largely a subjective process of status identification..3 Hence ethnic groups are formed to the extent that actors use ethnic identities to categorize themselves and others for the purpose of interaction. In similar view, ethnicity can be conceived as an interaction or relationship that exist among people of different ethnic groups who decides to base their relationship on their differences, such exist when two or more ethnic groups, interest relate with one another which normally brings about competition on issues like power or wealth.
The concise Oxford Dictionary defines ethnicity as how the aspirations and interest of ethnic groups are pursued in relation to other groups. To help it off, someone can say ethnicity is the contextual discrimination by members of one ethnic against the others in the process of competition for natural resources. Okwudiba Nnoli has defined ethnicity as a social phenomenon associated with interactions among members of difference ethnic groups. He also proceeded further to define ethnic group as: Social formation distinguished by the communal character of their boundaries. The relevant communal factor may be language, culture, or both. In Africa, language has clearly been the most crucial variable. As social formations, however, ethnic groups are not necessarily homogenous entities even linguistically or culturally.
Religion means different things to different people. There is no consenting of opinion on its meaning, that is why Egwu argued that religion is a subject of inquiry including attempts at its definition and conceptualization.5 Religion is thus defined in many ways and the definitions usually vary among scholars. According to Adeniyi, religion is a body of truths, laws and rites by which man is subordinated to the transcendent being.6 This implies that religion deals with norms and rules that emanated from God and which must be followed by believers. According to Ejizu, religion is man’s intuition of the sacred and ultimate reality and his expression of that awareness in concrete life.7 Many scholars such as Goody and Horton agree that the notion of “sacred” indicates the idea of the transcendent concept of religion and they both go further to undermine the fact that the ‘sensuous religion’ is a district type of experience that is essentially characterized by a feeling of mystery and awe. Ayinla understands religion as a particular system or set of systems in which doctrines, myths, rituals, sentiments and other similar elements are interrelated.
Religion according to the Oxford Dictionary is defined as one of the systems of faith that are based on the beliefs in the existence of a particular God or gods. The concept has also been defined as a particular interest or influence that is very importance in one’s life. In its own definition, the Oxford learner’s dictionary explained religion as the belief in a super human controlling power that is entitled to obedience and worship. It goes further to state that it is a particular system of faith and worship that one is entitled to.
The word “conflict” has multiple ranges and meaning on the vocabularies of the west on the plane of biography, it usually stands for inner stress and tension, as when a self evolves from the childhood and dependency; when choices between rival moral challenges or course of social action have to be made, or when competitive ideas intrude upon the mental process of seeking certainty and truth.9 Indeed it is hardly possible to appreciate the stream of scientific discoveries artistic inventions, or philosophical theories carried out by this culture without realizing that each represents the resolution of conflicting principles.
Conflict could be described as a situation or condition of disharmony in an interactional process. Banks claim that a situation of conflict is one in which the activity of one is actually or forcibly imposed at unacceptable cost, materials or psychic, upon another. For conflict to occur, Banks put forward three required factors which are intensity and salience of the issues at stake, the status and legitimacy of the parties and the clustering of interest and coincidence of cleavages within a community.10 These factors determine the extent to which conflict can stretch. Imobighe points out that conflict is not limited to any particular level of interaction.11 In other words, it could occur at any level of human interaction and it often manifests violent activities.
Conflict, simplistically, could mean different things but with central themes like: to fight, battle, contend, to be antagonistic, incompatible or contradictory, be in opposition, clash, sharp disagreement or opposition as of interest, ideas, etc. It may mean an emotional disturbance resulting from a clash of opposing impulses. The Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary 6th Edition, defines conflict as a situation in which a group or groups of people or countries are involved in serious disagreement or argument; it is also a situation in which there is opposing ideas, opinion, feelings or wishes, a situation in which it is difficult to choose. Conflict may also be defined as the lack of harmonious existence between two or more individuals, two or more ethnic groups, nation states etc. This is the cessation of peace where it had previously existed. Key factors for the cessation of peace (which brings about conflicts) are: injustice or perceived sense of injustice, unfair distribution of benefits or perceived unfair distribution of benefits and betrayal of trust or perceived betrayal of justice. Conflict could also be seen as a disagreement through which the parties involved perceived a threat to their needs, interests or concerns.
The character of the Nigerian state is responsible for the country’s deepening ethno–religious contradictions. This plural nature originates a constant feeling of distrust between the component units and the fear of one ethnic or religious group dominating the other is rife. A pattern of largely discernable ethnic suspicion and intrigues that had existed prior independence in 1960 led to the military coup d’etat of 1966, the traumatic civil war between 1967, and 1970, mutual distrust afterwards, the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential elections and the incessant ethno- religious skirmishes that are presently threatening the very fabric of our nascent democracy and national existence.
Nigeria has within its various stages of development, embraced three of the exiting world religions these are Traditional religion, Christianity and Islam. In tracing the impact of each of these religions on Nigeria’s social, political and economic life, some contribution made use of periodization, denoting the level of religiosity of the nation before independence and after the attainment of self government. The existence of any group is the existence of a power above them which regulates their lives and provides them which the survival hit with which the vicissitudes of life are combated. Religion therefore came to describe the totality of man’s outward pattern of behaviour as he struggles to emulate the ways of that being who must be good and to be in the right relations with his being. This belief is found in all communities and societies of the world at varying degrees and with varying conceptual understanding and postulations. Basically therefore, each of the religions existing in Nigeria presents the outward interpretations of qualities of this being, and their perception of his infinity and benevolence. The different location and geographical classifications of peoples has occasioned the conception of the being and their expressions in objects, creed, tenets and worship. The acceptance of this position, dictates of necessity, the existence of groups of people with their religion in Nigeria before the advent of Christianity or Islam.
The origin and history of ethnic conflict can be traced from internal state rivalry to external. And its root cause is not very far from power competition and decision making over economic resources and their important human factor, like position. The implementation process has always involved more than one or two person. In general concept, conflict could be traced back to the first and early patriarchal of human history an ever since then, there has been an increase in various dimensions of conflict in the face of human world. Some are personal (internal) conflict, family, community, group, intellectual, state, national and international in nature.
In confronting to this idea, Badawi in his statement titled “World Apart” stated thus, “Indeed the greatest discord today is among the descendants of Abraham. These are the people of the book, the followers of Judaism, Christianity and Islam who had in fact share a common beginning in the religion of Abraham”.14 In shading more light in the above statement, Badawi’s statement goes far beyond religion, rather, he was tracing one of the earliest source of conflict which Badawi mentioned the off springs of the said Abraham. Even before Abraham there had been conflict, so it is as old as human history down to the Abrahamic period, to ancient kingdoms, Dukes and kings.
Ethnic and religious issues are part of the most recurring issues in Nigeria’s body politics. The issue has permeated the landscape since the colonial period and up till the present time, there seems to be no solution in sight to the accompanying conflicts of ethnic rivalry and religious intolerance.15 The dominant and minority ethnic groups treat each other with suspicion and the different religious world view clash at the slightest provocations. Institutional efforts which were made to satiate these tendencies since independence in 1960 has provided inadequate. The long years of military rule increased the gap of distrust as the elites deliberately employed state power to pursue primordial sentiments thereby increasing the gap of intolerance in Nigeria. The current political cum religious battles is fuelled by certain quarters and individuals who benefits at the expense of the state and citizens. According to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, innumerous actors have a stake in the promotion of ethno-religious conflicts because the associated arithmetic of numbers underpinning the conflicts translates into jobs, contracts, the creation of local governments and states as well as representation in the National Assembly.
The introduction of the Sharia legal system has introduced another dimension into the whole farce. While the Moslems justifies its introduction as part of the dividends of democracy, the Christians see its introduction as contrary to the spirit of secularism, as provided for in section 10 of the 1979 and 1999 constitutions, with states that ‘’the government of the federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as a state religion’’. This brings to fore the fact that the real problem in Nigerian is not so much the level of ethnic differences, secularity or religiosity but fears of political domination of one ethnic or religious group by the other. The years between 1952 and 1966 brought changes in the political culture of the country, transforming the three regions into three political entities. Thus, the struggle for independence was reduced to the quest for ethnic dominance. At this time, ethnic and sub – ethnic loyalties threatened that survival of both East and West, while the North was divided religiously between Christianity and Islam. It was a period of politicized ethnicity and competition for resources, which worsened the relationships between ethnic groups. There was a high degree of corruption, nepotism, and tribalism. The national interest was put aside while politicians used public money to build and maintain patronage networks. 18 Since independence, the situation in Nigeria has been fraught with ethnic politics whereby the elite from different ethnic groups schemed to attract as many federal resources to their regions as possible, neglecting issues that could have united the country. The anarchy, competition and insecurity led to the demise of the first republic. Military intervention culminated in the gruesome ethnic war from 1967 to 1970, when the mistreated Igbos of eastern Nigeria, called Biafrans, threatened to secede from the federation the Igbo’s grievances were because they were denied of their basic human needs of equality, citizenship, autonomy and freedom.19 Wherever such basic needs are denied, conflict often follows as the aggrieved groups use violent means to fight for their human right.
Ethnocentrism in the country and evidenced corruption of the electoral and political process led in 1966 to a number of revengeful military coups in the country. 20 The first military coup was in January when a collection of young leftist under Major Emmanuel Ifeajuma and Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu led a coup, it was partially successful. The coup brought about the death of some notable figure such as the former Prime Minister , Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Premier Ahmadu Bello of the Northern region and Premier Ladoke Akintola of the western region. Though they could not set up a central government, therefore, president Nwafor Orizu was then pressured to hand over government to the Nigerian Army under the command of General JTU Aguyi Ironsi. Later on, there was another counter coup by another successful plot, which were primarily supported by the Northern military officers and those northerners who were in favour with the NPC. This time, it was planned and carried out by the northern officers and gave Lt. Colonel Yakubu Gowon to become head of state. This series of coups led to an increase in ethnic tension and violence. The northern coup, which was mostly motivated by ethnic and religious reason, the result was a bloodbath of both military officers and civilians, especially those of Igbo extraction. The violence against the Igbo increased their desire for a demand of their own authority and protection from the military’s wrath. By May 1967, the eastern region had declared itself an independent state calling themselves “Republic of Biafra” with Lt. Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu as the leader. Inspired by the Pan – Yoruba militant groups, the Afenifere and the Oduduwa People Congress (OPC) in south – western Nigeria threatened secession and intensified violent protest across the country.
Ethnic conflicts in Nigeria continued through the democracy transition. Olusegun Obasanjo, a civilian, has been president for several year. 21 However, conflict continues to escalate, as various ethnic groups demand a political restructuring. The federal structure has developed deep racks and demand urgent action to mend it. But what is more worrisome is the religious dimension of ethnic competition for power and oil wealth in Nigeria. The multiple ethno–religious conflicts in the northern cities of Kano, Kaduna, Jos and Zamfara spring from the introduction of Muslim Sharia courts and the south’s demands for autonomy. The continuing conflict is an indication that Nigeria lacks effective mechanism to manage ethnic conflicts.
O.A. Fawole and M. L. Bello, ‘’The Impact of Ethno – Religious Conflict on Nigeria Federalism’’ , International NGO Journal Volume 6, No. 10, 2011, p. 212.
E. E. Osaghae, ‘’Ethnicity and Democracy’’, In A Fasoro et al (eds) Understanding Democracy ( Ibadan: Book Craft Limited, 1992), p. 51
L. A. Despres, “Towards a Theory in Ethnic and Phenomenon’’, in A. Heo and L. A. Despres (eds) Ethnicity and Resource Competition Impaired societies (London:The Haugues Montor Publishers, 1975), p. 51.
Okwudiba Nnoli, Ethnic Politics in Nigeria, (Enugu: Fourth Dimension Publishers 1980) p. 5.
S. G. Egwu, Ethnic and Religious Violence in Nigeria, (Jos: St. Stephen Inc. Book House 2001) p.7.
M.O. Adeniyi, ‘’Religion and Politics: An Eye Bird’s View of Development in Nigeria’’, In R. D. Abubakar, (ed.) Relilgion and Politics in Nigeria, (Ilorin, NASR Publications 1993) p. 23.
C. J. Ejizu, ‘’Religious and Politics in Nigeria: The Perspective of the Indigenous Religious’’, In R.D Abubakar, et al (eds) Religion and Politics in Nigeria ( Jos: St. Stephen Inc Book House, 1993), p.15.
S. A. Ayinla, Managing Religious Intolerance and violence in Nigeria, Problems and solutions, A Paper Presented at the National Conference on Social, Problems, Development and the Challenges of Globalisation, organized by Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, 2003.
A. B. Bozeman, Conflict in Africa (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. 3.
M. Banks, Conflicts in World Societys (London: Wheat sheaf Publisher, 1984), p. 100
T. A., Imobighe, ‘’Human Needs Approach to Conflict Resolution: Neglect Aspects’’, Nigerian Journal of International Affairs, Volume 18, No. ,1 1992, p. 32.
R. I. Jacob, ‘’Historical Survey of Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria’’, Asian Journal of Social Science, Volume 8, No 4, 2012 p. 13.
R.J. Jacob, ‘’Historical Survey of Ethnic Conflict in Nigeria’’, p. 15.
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